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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

Helping kids communicate emotions through picture books

February 11, 2014

Even the youngest child communicates her needs and feelings. Just ask a parent. They understand the difference in their infant's cries; some say hurt, hungry, uncomfortable, and on occasion just plain angry. Let's face it; all children come with their own unique temperament and they learn to express how they're feeling one way or another.

Children often learn how to express themselves by observing the adults in their lives. Not only do adults model healthy responses, but they help children gain the words and labels to associate with various emotions. And books are certainly a way to prepare children for emotions that are sure to experience.

Some books are explicit; others are more subtle and convey emotion primarily through image.

There is no question as to what the word wall is all about in one picture book classroom. Miss Cady begins each week with "Mood Monday." Theo's Mood (Whitman) is hard to describe. Even though he announces that he's got a new sister, he's not sure if he's in a good mood (excited? lucky? grateful?) or a bad mood (jealous? confused? sad?). After other children share how something specific made them feel, Theo describes his mood as all of those things. Plus Theo feels proud because he feels like a big brother.

Few words are needed to express the emotions in The Lion and the Bird (Enchanted Lion). Delicate wash and line illustrations carefully composed and formatted on each page convey friendship, joy, loss, and renewal over the course of a year. It is autumn when a lion comes across a bird with a wounded wing and together they share a snowy winter in lion's cozy cottage. When spring comes again, the bird leaves to rejoin its flock, leaving a lonely lion who continues on. When autumn comes again a single musical note on an otherwise blank double page spread foreshadows the happy conclusion.

Though the books are very different in theme and appearance, each is effective in communicating emotion and is sure to generate discussion. And when it comes to positive behaviors, what could be better than for adults to model reading and to start a conversation over a book?

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"Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words!" — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1943