Read an amazing picture book today called WHEN THEY FIGHT by Kathryn White, illustrated by Cliff Wright. It's about a family of badgers, and when the Mom and Dad fight, tooth and nail, it's overwhelming and scary for their child. But when the Mom and Dad are happy, the child feels safe and begins to realize how strong he is. The book is intended to help people, children and parents, work through and explain their emotions.
A little heavy? Certainly. According to my classmate, who shared the book with me, it couldn't even find a UK publisher until a publisher in the US picked it up. But the book doesn't feel irrelevant for a child. Parents do fight, children do get scared. We've been talking in class about the emotional core in picture books, and how the best stories speak to something inside children that is true and makes them feel accepted. Remember Max in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE? He's not a good boy; he gets sent to bed without his supper. The subtext in the pictures is even more terrible. Is he nailing his bed sheet to the wall? Has he hung his stuffed toy by the neck?
Because of the recent movie, Maurice Sendak has received a fair amount of publicity lately for his anger over parents saying WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE might be too scary for children (here's an article about it in the Guardian). Sendak says, in referring to an argument about whether or not Max's supper should be "hot" as opposed to "warm": "Just trying to convey how dopey 'warm' sounded. Unemotional. Undramatic. Everything about that book is 'hot'."