By Heather, Oroville Library
Author Meera Sriram believes in the power of stories. Having lived almost equal parts of her life in India and the United States, Meera is almost always tempted to write about experiences, places, and people less visible in children’s literature because those stories have the power to take us into newer spaces and unseen lives. She hopes these stories leave us more empathetic and inspired to celebrate our diverse world.
Meera is the author of A Gift for Amma, about a girl’s vibrant exploration of an Indian market as she searches for a gift for her mother, and The Yellow Suitcase, a story about grief and the memory that lives on inside of us.
Grief and mental health can be tough subjects for anyone, children included. Mental health themes in picture books can help young readers think about tough subjects and work through feelings. As Meera’s picture book, The Yellow Suitcase, explores loss I thought she would be the perfect person to ask:
What are some great picture books that touch on tough subjects that you recommend? Here’s what she had to say:
“When life throws a curveball and we try to cope, our kids are watching, listening, and often struggling too. Picture books are a great tool to help them get through hard times. That said, reading picture books on difficult themes at any time is as important because they raise awareness, help us empathize, and open up conversations.
As a parent, I’ve turned to picture books to navigate some of the most challenging subjects with my kids. I remember us discussing race and loss and incarceration as we read Jacqueline Woodson, my writing hero! In my debut, The Yellow Suitcase, with art by Meera Sethi, we follow the emotional arc of a child grieving the loss of a loved one in a new country. A more recent book on loss that tugged at the heart is Dance Like A Leaf by AJ Irving and illustrated by Claudia Navarro. Bird by Zetta Elliot and illustrated by Shadra Strickland is an award-winning picture book suited for older kids that not only talks about loss, but also about drug addiction. More importantly, it shows a boy who draws to cope with his family’s challenges. In Cancer Hates Kisses, written by Jessica Reid Silwerski and illustrated by Mika Song, we meet a cancer-fighting superhero mom. Finding mirrors in books can be comforting for kids, especially when stories reflect the not-so-happy life experiences.”
“With the daily onslaught of negative news, children are frequently left confused and worried. Books that prompt important conversations include Luca’s Bridge written by Mariana Llanos and illustrated by Anna Lopez Real – a hopeful story on deportation – and The Hunt by Margaux Othats, a wordless book that shows the power of creativity in the face of (gun) violence. An optimistic book that could be reassuring during scary times is Most People, with words by Michael Leannah and pictures by Jennifer E. Morris.”
“Picture books also offer children the vocabulary to express their feelings and to form opinions. There are many wonderful books that talk about emotions – a recent favorite is The Many Colors of Harpeet Singh, written by Supriya Kelkar and illustrated by Alea Marley, in which little Harpeet who picks out his turban colors to match his moods learns to adapt when his family moves. A great read-aloud, My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood written by Tameka Fryer Brown and with art by Shane W. Evans offers children ideas on ways to express their moods. In When Sadness Is At Your Door, Eve Eland opens with the words, “Sometimes Sadness arrives unexpectedly. It follows you around and sits so close to you, you can hardly breathe” – and when that happens, we want our kids to be able to breathe, cope, and move on. Picture books can certainly help with that.”
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. For more information about Children’s Mental Health visit the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth