What the $&@? Is a Children’s book

Recently I saw the children’s author and illustrator Peter Brown (chowder, Creepy Carrots) speak about his creative process. One of my clever colleagues asked him about moral messages in children’s books. His answer surprised me- he said he felt they were important and that he hoped each of his books has a message and teaches a lesson.
Mr. Brown also cited Maurice Sendak as an influence, and I think that Sendak’s attitude was different. His wild rumpus was an overdue antidote to preachy adult controlled books for children. His work focused on children as they often are (messy, mean, willful) instead of as we would like them to be (polite, receptive, tidy). Max does not, to my mind, learn a lesson on his adventure.
Brown’s emphasis on morality and his character’s learning over the course of a brief narrative was a surprise to me. I do think a moral lesson (such as don’t take other people’s carrots, or be yourself even if that is different from those around you) can flatten an illustrated story. Possibly this is a simple matter of length.
Two authors who have recently grappled with overtly moral tales Grace Lin (The Starry River of theSky) and Adam Gidwitz (in a glass grimmly) have fashioned stories of depth and ambiguity out of similar lessons (don’t take other people’s things) and (be yourself, not what other people want you to be. Or you’ll die). Part of those two books success lies with their excellent writing- Lin builds a beautiful tale with believable characters that seems quiet and real even among the fantastical elements. Gidwitz plays at gruesome middle grade horror but his language and narrative surprises give this page turner depth and feeling.
Brown shared some of his inspiration- the illustrations for Creepy Carrots pay homage to dozens of old movies and tv shows, especially The Twilight Zone. By borrowing from longer works, brown gives his book a depth that otherwise would be difficult to achieve. What do you think about picture books with messages?

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Author: Emily

Writer/ Librarian

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