Friday, October 11, 2013

Children's books that promote simplicity in a materialistic world

Recently, I stumbled upon a study conducted by a University of Vermont student who analyzed how 30 award-winning and best-selling children's picture books promote materialism to young readers. It got me thinking about the books that I've been reading to my own children, aged 5 and 2.5. It's true that a good many books focus on "stuff," and how great it is to obtain more stuff. So I wanted to highlight just a couple of books we've read in the last few months that present a different message:

The Biggest House in the World

by Leo Lionni

I'm a big fan of Leo Lionni. My mom read him to me when I was little... and I've bought just about every title for my three boys. Lionni's illustrations are always captivating. The storylines are always simple. And the messages are usually just the sort of lesson I want to teach my kids. In this case, a little snail longs for a bigger, better house until he hears the fable of an older, wiser snail about a snail who spent his all to create an outlandishly huge and beautiful shell. The house was big and beautiful enough to draw the attention of other garden creatures, but the snail was unable to move and eventually the snail was "left behind, and with nothing to eat he slowly faded away. Nothing remained but the house. And that too, little by little, crumbled, until nothing remained at all." After hearing the tragic end, the little snail proclaims he'll keep his own shell light and spend his life exploring the world. I think this message of valuing adventures more than things helps combat materialism by showing how the quest for more stuff keeps us from truly enjoying life.


by John Rocco

I discovered this book at our local library. The dramatic cover drew me in, and it doesn't hurt that it sports a Caldecott Honor medal on the front. The illustrations and text are set up almost comic book style, telling the story of a typical urban family of four in frames. A little child-- I can't quite tell if the kid is a boy or girl-- seeks partners to play a board game, only to find that Dad is busy cooking, Sister is on the phone, and Mom is clacking away at the computer. Suddenly, the lights go out in their apartment building and across the city. The summer heat drives the family to the roof of their building and eventually to the streets, which have become vibrant with candlelit conversations, communion and celebration of the simple pleasures of the city at night. Eventually the lights come back on and everyone returns to their original occupations, but the little child turns out the lights and the family happily comes together to play the board game. This book is valuable because it shows a situation to which most families can relate. Technology and busyness keep us from connecting with the ones we love... and sometimes an imposed "fast" from these distractions is all it takes to regain the joy of spending quality time together. My boys also enjoyed the story and requested it a few nights in a row.

The Herd Boy

by Niki Daly

Another library find... Even though the starving children in Africa are kind of a cliché that all parents have used at one time or another to try to get their own children to appreciate all the toys, food or clothing that they have, I found this book a great gateway to discussing how children live in other places. The protagonist of this story, Malusi, spends his days protecting his family's herd of goats. Malusi and another herd boy wile away the hours in the hot sun playing games and sharing their future dreams. They don't complain about the hard work or monotony of their lives, and they don't shrink when danger presents itself. At the end of the day, when a rarely seen fancy car rolls into their little village, the passenger gives Malusi some inspiring words. The back page of the book includes a note from the author, who was inspired by Nelson Mandela's humble beginnings. My five-year-old loved this book and requested it multiple times through out the week that we borrowed it. You might find yourself a little tongue tied at the African names and a sprinkling of vocabulary used throughout the story, but your kids won't notice if you mispronounce things. The story is a great opening to talking about poverty, hard work and dreams.

No comments:

Post a Comment