Tag Archives: paired picture books

picture books for pairing/on wildness

THE PAIR: Jemmy Button by Jennifer Uman & Valerio Vidali and Wild by Emily Hughes.  Both are books about wild things who choose to stay that way.

Jemmy Button

jemmybuttonThis is a truly extraordinary book. I could see many an art-lover wanting it for her bookshelf. (It was recently named a 2013 NYT Best Illustrated  Book.)

But its extraordinariness doesn’t stop with the illustrations. This picture book is based on the true story of Jemmy Button, whose real name was Orundellico. He was brought from Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America all the way to England in the early 1800s. He was educated in Victorian ways. Months later, he was brought back to his native land. It was thought he would teach his people new, more “civilized” ways. But he didn’t. He shed his fancy clothes and re-learned his language and became himself again. Wild, one might say.


“Once, long ago, on a faraway island, there was a boy.

Some nights he climbed to the tallest branch of the tallest tree to look at the stars.” He listened to the lap of the waves and wondered what was on the other side of the ocean.

One day a boat came with visitors.”


And there begins the story of Jemmy Button. He was given his name for the pearl button the visitors gave his family when they took him across the sea, where everything was a strange surprise.


JU2Thanks to Jen Uman and Good Road for the images.



wildpicturebookWild, on the other hand, is a made-up tale. It echoes stories of children raised by wolves a la Mowgli from The Jungle Book. This child was taught to speak by a bird, to eat by a bear, and to play by a fox. She’s wild and she’s happy. That is until some other humans show up and take her away. Boy are they strange.

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I love how the illustrations give clues to deeper details that aren’t necessary to understand the basic story. Like that it’s hunters driving the girl away in their truck. Or the newspaper clipping that tells us: “Famed Psychiatrist Takes In Feral Child.”

To the wild girl, these strangers talk, eat, and play all wrong. She simply can’t take it. She returns to the woods.

“Because you cannot tame something so happily wild…”


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In both books, the idea of “civilizing” someone out of their true home and culture is debunked. I could see these books being read together for discussion and/or as an introduction to colonialism and its complexities. Or perhaps these books are a way to explore the ways in which we all are a bit wild. The ways we want to stay that way or even cultivate more wildness in modern life.





To the untamed!

picture books for pairing: on bullying

Some books go together beautifully. Which is why I’m starting a series called “Picture Books for Pairing.” This is the first one!

picturebooksforpairingThese two were created in completely different eras, however, they speak to the same thing. The way kids (read people) can be unkind. The way sometimes it’s the easier choice. But how we regret it later.

THE PAIR: The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin and Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis.


The Hundred Dresses

Eleanor Estes wrote The Hundred Dresses in 1944. It’s not technically a picture book in the 32 paged way we think of them today. It’s more of an illustrated chapter book. But it would make a great read-aloud too.


Wanda Petronski was Polish and had a hard to say name. She lived in Boggins Heights, which “was no place to live.” She wore the same faded blue dress every day.


The other girls would always “have fun” with Wanda. Which means they made fun of her. They made fun of her because despite wearing one old dress all the time, she claimed to have one hundred dresses in her closet at home in Boggins Heights. The other girls thought that was a ridiculous thing to say.


When there’s a drawing and coloring contest, the class finds out what Wanda meant by having a hundred dresses. How she’d told the truth. But Wanda’s family has already left town.



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Each Kindness

Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis are the duo behind The Other Side and Coming On Home Soon too. Each Kindness came out in 2012 and beautifully echoes the book from over 60 years earlier.

It’s winter. Maya is new at school. Maya has old, ragged clothes. Maya tries to be friends, but the narrator won’t have it. “‘She’s not my friend,’ I whispered back.”


It’s spring. Someone calls Maya “Never New. Everything she has came from a secondhand store.”


A teacher talks about kindness. “Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.” But Maya isn’t in school. And doesn’t return. And the narrator regrets her lack of kindness. She knows she’ll regret it forever.

In both, a girl is teased for being poor and different In both, the characters we follow eventually realize that teasing was a mistake. In both, the new girl leaves and the character is haunted with remembering. With what she might have done differently.

I could see these books being paired when exploring bullying, or a new school year. I could see them being read together or consecutively to bring up the idea that we’ll remember the stuff we do as kids, later. We’ll remember the hundred dresses. And we’ll remember each kindness as well.