Mentor Texts: Emotional Impact in Picture Books

THEY CALL ME RIVER by Maciek Albrecht (C) 2021 published by Cameron Kids Abrams 

Jacket cover description: In this beautiful and moving tribute, a river is born and carried along. It plays, sparkles, grows, moves. It rushes, falls, and is still. It carries. When a river reaches the sea, it rises up into the sky, rains down, and begins again.

I plotted out my own emotional journey through the story. From contentment to storms and finding the flow again, this book packs an emotional punch showing that a river is “not unlike life.” Albrecht uses a parallel structure with the river as a metaphor for the journey in life. Technically, the text is about the water cycle. “I begin as rain.”  The ending circles back with “And then, drop by drop, I return to the sky. And I begin again.” The artwork shows human life birth to death alongside water from river to the sea. The colors add to the beauty of this story. The vital idea is life flows with ups and downs. It is important to preserve family and the connections saved through support of each other. 

THE RHINO SUIT by Colton Jackson (C) 2022 published by Sounds True, Inc. 

Jacket cover description: When one little girl sees litter in the streets, an animal without shelter, and the pain of a parent, the weight of the world feels too much to bear. She feels everything do deeply, it makes her want to hide. “A timeless story about letting all life in.”

This book is identified by the Library of Congress as juvenile fiction with the subjects / themes of sensitivity, mindfulness, empathy, and conduct of life. Its sparse text and whimsical illustrations – add to the heartfelt story of an unnamed girl who begins overwhelmed by problems she sees and experiences. She is vulnerable from the first spread through to her creative solution. The big reveal of her solution lands on pages 18-19. From there, she tries it out but soon realizes that it too, presents problems. She continues to be vulnerable as she opens her heart to take action by caring for herself and others. 

THE 1619 PROJECT: BORN ON THE WATER by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith (c) 2021 by Kokila an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Jacket cover description: With lyrical verse, this powerful picture book from the 1619 Project provides a pathway for readers of all ages to reflect on the origins of American identity by chronicling the consequences of slavery and the history of Black resistance in the United States.

As an adult reader, I entered into this picture book feeling as blue as the cover image. I recognize that class assignments are all to often received by children who have little background in family and ancestral history. The family depicted in BORN ON THE WATER learned. “Come, let me tell you our beginning. Let me tell you where we’re from.” Subheadings lead to many beautiful lines of text. (1) They Had a Language, (2)Their Hands Had a Knowing, (3) And They Danced, (4) Stolen, (5) The White Lion, (6) Point Comfort, (7) Tobacco Fields, (8) How to Make a Home, (9) The Tuckers of Tidewater, Virginia (10) William Tucker, (11) Resist, (12) Legacy, and (13) Pride. The emotional impact is heavy and heartfelt. “Ours is no immigration story.” I left the last page still blue.

DRAGONFLY by Aimee Bissonette, illustrated by Catherine Pearson, published by Albert Whitman & Company (c) 2020

Library of Congress Catalogue Nonfiction description: We can fly straight up or down, backwards or forwards, stop and hover, make hairpin turns – at top speed or in slow motion. And we’ve been on Earth for around 300 million years.

The facts presented are written in such a way that inspires the reader to want to learn more. Dragonflies start out as nymphs in a watery world where they live in constant jeopardy. After one to three years when they crawl out of the water and fly into the air, they live a beautiful but short life. I’m certain readers will be inspired to observe and study dragonflies.

WHERE BUTTERFLIES FILL THE SKY: A Story of Immigration, Family, and Finding Home by Zahra Marwan, published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books (c) 2022

Jacket cover description: When Baba and Mama tell Zahra that their family is no longer welcome in the only place she’s ever known, and they must say goodbye, Zahra wonders if she will ever feel at home again. And what about the wonderful people she will leave behind?

The text and illustrations pull at my heartstrings. The tension of an unwanted and hard-to-understand move from Kuwait builds spread after spread. “I say my goodbyes without knowing why and travel far, far away to a new place where each day feels like a year. Where no one speaks like me. Are my ancestors still watching?” I love the connection of the 100 butterflies in the skies of their homeland to the 100 hot air balloons in their new home’s New Mexico skies. Butterflies in the NM sky float as a metaphor for messages of love from family. Children who experience a move may see that a new place can become home.

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