One of these things is not like the other…

As a librarian, books are connected in my head in different ways, and I always look for more ways to find things that tie books together. Are they funny, do they feature new ways to use shoes, or would they be good for a three-year old who eats things he shouldn’t? The more I can figure out about a book, the better I’m able to use it in programing and recommend it to others. So here is the library test, four books all with a connection, one of which does not fit with the others:

Our Tree Named Steve First, Our Tree Named Steve by Alan Zweibel, illustrated by David Catrow.

Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs (Goodnight) Second, Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs, written and illustrated by Tomie DePaola.

Samantha Jane's Missing Smile: A Story About Coping With the Loss of a Parent Third, Samantha Jane’s Missing Smile, by Julie Kaplow and Donna Pincus, illustrated by Beth Spiegel.

The Tenth Good Thing About Barney And last: The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, by Judith Voirst and illustrated by Erik Blegvad.

All of these books share a major theme, and you get a special sparkly librarian star if you can tell me what the subject is! Each book tells a story, and during the telling of the story children can learn about this theme. But one of these books was written with the express purpose of dealing with this issue, it has a “parent’s guide” and uses teaching moments to help children deal with their emotions and learn to express themselves. It isn’t a bad book, and could be useful for the right child in the right moment, but this book is not literature. Rather, to my mind, this type of book is a tool, a resource, and should be located with the other books on similar topics in the non-fiction. Because it is a book written specifically for children to read when facing this issue, it has less appeal for a wider audience. Whereas, the other books on the same topic are perfect to introduce children not facing this challenge to the emotions and situations they have yet to face.

One of the major differences I see in these books is that three of them feature real characters, who have lives and emotions that are complicated and varied, while one features a character who is defined by this one thing that has happened to her. I find that most books written for the express purpose of bibliotherapy are poor literature, and face characters that are one-dimensional, defined only by the lesson they are designed to teach. For me, these books-as-tools should be put in the non-fiction, while the picture books and chapter books should be filled with multidimensional characters who face all kinds of issues, but are not defined by them.


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