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Picture Book Trends Highlight Lessons in Compassion 📚

How one store owner in Boulder is making choices to help foster well-grounded, empathetic citizens of the world.

by Pam Martin

With forty-three years in the business of nurturing young minds and hearts, Grandrabbit’s Toy Shoppe owner, Lynne Milot, has a particular soft spot for children’s literature. “I want our book selection to reflect the store’s mission to help develop passionate, collaborative-minded future citizens,” Milot said. “We want to encourage children to keep asking the question, ‘What else is possible?’” And that includes young readers from all corners of the globe.

To that end, the current publishing climate has taken strides to showcase these diverse experiences of childhood, which excites Milot. “Right now, there are so many books to choose from, and each is another example of how the world is only made richer by our different backgrounds and experiences.” What follows is a selection of some of Grandrabbit’s newer picture books, which offer lessons in how compassion for others, who might look different from ourselves, builds a more solid footing for all of us to stand on.

Consider Olympic gold medalist and NBA champion, LeBron James’s new picture book, I Promise, a vibrantly illustrated call to action, encouraging young readers to be the very best version of themselves they can be. The book is inspired by the kids impacted by the author’s educational foundation in Akron, Ohio, which aims to develop the whole child, encouraging hard work, a respect for the game plan, and remaining strong yet humble in the face of every win and defeat.

Lesson: Success in life is determined by the choices we make every day.

Share Some Kindness Bring Some Light by Apryl Stott is a wintery tale of hope for a lonely bear. None of the animals in the forest feel they can trust him—he’s a huge, scary bear (with big, sharp teeth)! It’s not until Bear, with the help of his human friend, Coco, rescues Baby Deer from a snow drift, that Badger, Skunk and the rest of his neighbors realize that Bear is truly kind after all.

Lesson: No matter your size , you can make the world a better, friendlier place by offering help to someone in need.

Kind by Alison Green, with a foreword by Axel Scheffler (the illustrator of the newer classic, Room on a Broom), includes illustrations from 38 talented artists. The book shows, by its own example, how a more open policy toward others can create its own kind of magic and synergy. To promote a kinder, gentler world, readers can start by giving someone a smile. They can hug a friend who’s feeling blue, or make sure no one’s left out when playing a game.

Lesson: Small acts of kindness can uplift others as well as ourselves.

Inspired by the thousands of children she’s met through her work for UNICEF and Save the Children, Sophie Blackall’s If You Come to Earth, offers sweeping ideas brought down to earth by pithy, child-friendly text. A picture book to get lost in— Blackall embodies the idea of scale with a double-paged spread of a lone boat on an empty sea (“The sea looks empty,” the book’s young narrator writes), followed by a lushly contrasting spread of an ocean teeming with life (“but it’s actually full”)— along with numerous other examples of the colorful diversity found here on earth.

Lesson: No matter where we live , or what kind of family we come from, we all have gifts to share with the world.

Addy’s Cup of Sugar by Jon Muth continues his series featuring the wise panda, Stillwater. Addy’s kitten, Trumpet, has died in a car accident, and her grief sends her to Stillwater for medicine to help bring him back to life. Taking a page from the Buddhist legend, The Mustard Seed, Stillwater’s remedy requires Addy to borrow a cup of sugar from a home “where death is a stranger.” But each person she visits has lost someone dear to them, and in the process, Addy feels less alone in her sadness. In the end, she realizes Stillwater’s “medicine” was meant for her all along. The charming watercolor illustrations hit just the right note.

Lesson: There's no cure-all for grief, and the most any of us can do to comfort someone who’s lost a loved one is to be there with them, to hear them, and to acknowledge their pain.

One Little Bag by Henry Cole is a story inspired by an Earth Day celebrated by the author when he was a boy. His book opens like a movie, with a series of images following a paper bag’s journey from tree, to log, to paper mill, to store, where it eventually carries the lunch of a boy on his first day of school. In an effort to conserve the earth’s precious resources, Cole carried the same bag to school every day for three years (as told in the author’s note), and in that time, it came to reflect the story of his life—filled with doodles and phone numbers, homework assignments and scribbled notes. His book has a similar theme, providing the backdrop for the boy’s journey from childhood to manhood. Evocative and deep, this wordless picture book will hum in the memory of readers long after the final page is read.

Lesson: In addition to protect ing our planet’s precious resources, living sustainably can help connect us with others.

Check out Grandrabbits Toy Shoppe for a complete list of books or to order the ones above.

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