Picture Books to Introduce Difficult Topics

Both “Pictures and Stories from Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and My Family’s Changing expose children to difficult realties that exist or have existed in society through the use of a “Picture Book.” In my personal experience, I have seen picture books used to help children understand a difficult reality: divorce. The Keywords for Children’s Literature article “Picture Book,” written by William Moebius, points out that some readers and writers “see the picture book as a site for ‘absorption'” (171). Through pairing words with pictures, children have an easier time understanding difficult ideas and concepts. I know this to be true because when I was ten, my parents got divorced. My older sister and I were able to understand and discuss our new reality, but my younger sister and brother were only six and seven at the time. Due to their young age, they had a hard time understanding the changes. I can recall my mother coming home with a book, that still sits in my basement, called My Family’s Changing. It is a picture book that covers the topic of divorce and includes questions for the young readers that allows them to think about their own feelings on the topic. The book introduced the idea of divorce to my young siblings, allowing them to begin to comprehend my parents’ situation and understand that many other young kids go through it as well. The book was used as a form of therapy for my siblings and a helpful parenting technique for my newly divorced parents.


Similarly, “Pictures and Stories from Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was used as an introduction to the concept of slavery for children in the 1800s. Just as divorce is a hard topic to cover with young children of divorced parents, slavery was a difficult topic to discuss during the time period that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was released. “Picture and Stories from Uncle Tom’s Cabin” helped children to begin to understand slavery and its negative impact without touching on it in too much detail, and it still helps children to understand slavery today.

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“Pictures and Stories from Uncle Tom’s Cabin” provides a child with insight into the historic issues of slavery and racism during the 1800s, while My Family’s Changing provides a child with age-appropriate psychotherapy. Moebius supports these uses of the picture book in the closing line of his article that says, “The uses of the picture book – be they psychotherapeutic, sedative, role modeling (gender), mathematical skill-building, or as memory books for geography, cultural heritage, or history – are, to echo Barbara Bader, limitlesss” (173). Regardless of how a picture book is used, children take some form of knowledge away from each one they read.


8 thoughts on “Picture Books to Introduce Difficult Topics”

  1. You make a really good connection between these two pieces. It is very interesting to see how much power and influence material culture can hold in teaching young children difficult topics such as divorce and slavery. I especially like how you were able to see such connections with didactic literature taking place throughout your own childhood.

  2. I agree that picture books can be very helpful with teaching difficult topics to children. It seems like they help provide a visual picture for the child and just starts to give them an idea of the topic without going too in depth. In discussion we talked about whether the picture book version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was too light or too far off from the true story, and I believe that it needs to be that way due to its intended audience. I believe that this version does a great job of introducing slavery to children and just giving them enough to get an idea of what slavery is and strategically utilizes pictures so the children can “absorb” the information.

  3. Picture books are something that can be utilized in many different ways. I think because they are capable of bringing life to situations and making things relatable, they are very effective with children. This is why they can be utilized to explain a difficult concept, like divorce. However, I wonder if picture books possibly downplay certain situations and circumstances too much. I think that if an adult is going to use a picture book to explain a concept to a child, they must supplement it with information that is more straight forward in nature as well. If a picture book is the sole source of information, a child may believe a tough situation won’t have much depth. This may be okay for the child initially, but in the long run I believe this possibly could harm them.

  4. The points made in this piece were very good to make us think. I feel like many times people don’t think much about picture books… they are simply an object used by parents to entertain their children. When I think about picture books, I don’t immediately think about how they can teach lessons. However, I think it is important for people to remember that picture books are and should be used to teach lessons. They are a fun and easier way for children to start understand topics that might be hard to bring up otherwise.

  5. This made me reflect on my own childhood as well. Quite often I either refused to read or just didn’t like the subject of a book and my mom found it challenging to read to me so I quickly fell behind all of my friends and classmates in school. I strongly disliked reading because I much rather color or draw. So, my mom and my teacher came up with a plan. I would sit down beside my teacher, or my mom, (depending on if I was in school or at home) and listen to whatever story was being read to me and draw pictures of what was occurring in the book. It was a great way to maintain my attention and build upon my listening skills while having an adult read to me as a child. Eventually, this created a desire to emulate the adult and boom…I started reading.

  6. I think picture books are excellent forms of education for children. It’s amazing to reread picture books that I read as a child and see how the themes that they discuss are not only appropriate for children, but can also be meaningful for adults. Because it’s very important that children begin learning about difficult topics at a young age, picture books are such a necessary form of literature that extend beyond the recommended reading age.

  7. You make a great connection between these two pictures books and how they both serve a purpose of teaching children about difficult topics. It goes to show that this way of educating children has existed for quite some time. Picture books are clearly a great tool for parents to use as shown with your own family. I bet there are similar texts out there for many other issues that children may face in their lives.

  8. I think the use of picture books to help young children through difficult times is a great thing. I’m a fan of the MTV show Teen Mom 2 and just recently Kailyn’s husband Javi was called to duty overseas for six months, leaving Kailyn to care for their two children Issac and Lincoln. In one episode after Javi left Kailyn reads their two young boys a book about fathers leaving to serve the country. It seemed as though in the episodes the boys were better able to understand what was going on in their lives because of the book. I think books for young children are really a great way to help them through difficult times, and the characters in the books allow them to have someone to relate their feelings to.

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