I may have said it before, but I love picture books. They can touch on some pretty heavy issues, but present it in a way that makes it easy for kids to understand.

The One with the Scraggly Beard

A little boy asks his mom about why a man, so much like himself with his missing front tooth and pocket full of tools rather than rocks, is living under the bridge. The mom tries to answer her son’s questions and sooth his fears that he, too, may one day not have a home.

I like that the story points out how the boy and the man are not so different and the explanation the mother gives her son about why the man might have come to be homeless. I also like the honesty of author Elizabeth Withey, who tells readers that her brother, as boy, wanted to go to outer space in a rocket ship, but is instead homeless. Withey explains she has “yucky” feelings when she thinks about her brother – angry, sad and embarrassed, but she also feels love and joy.

“What is life all about?…It’s the people you love and the who love you no matter what.”

The One with the Scraggly Beard is for kids ages three to five and retails for $19.95 from Orca Book Publishers.

No Matter What, A Foster Care Tale

Josh is a squirrel who doesn’t have a family. Grace, the pelican, takes him to family to family who seem not to want him, which is just as well as Josh just wants to be by himself. One day, Grace leaves him with Rodney and Christine Elephant, who ignore Josh’s antics, such as tying their tails together or bringing a skunk into their home. They remind Josh they are glad he is with them and they will be even happier he is with them tomorrow.

Josh plays a final trick to get the elephants to get rid of him, taking it a step too far.

“Will he finally be convinced that his family is his?”

The books is a “mostly autobiographical tale about finding home.” Author Josh Shipp dedicates the book to his foster parents, Rodney and Christine.

It must be so difficult to be in the shoes of a child in foster care – and equally difficult to be a foster parents. No Matter What was a lovely story with beautiful illustrations by Yuliya Pankratova.

No Matter What is from Raincoast Books and Familius and retails for $24.99.

The Shadow Elephant

You know in high school when your English teacher asked you what author was trying to say in whatever book she made you read? I always hated that. And I was never good at it. Does there have to be some deep, dark meaning or could it just be? In The Shadow Elephant, I felt like I was back in high school trying to discover the meaning of this story. I have no idea. And there is no inside flaps to tell me.

The back of the book reads: “Some said the elephant was gloomy. Some said he was trying to hide his sadness. Some said he preferred the shadows.”

Elephant’s friends tried to cheer him up with jokes, dances and his favourite snack, but elephant didn’t twitch a smile or move, remaining instead in the shadows until a little mouse asked to sit beside him, not to change his mind or share a story (although he did), but to just sit. Once they both cried, elephant helped the mouse find his way home.

Maybe I am being the English teacher and there is no deep meaning in this story. Instead it’s about a sad elephant who ends up helping a new friend.

I really like the look of this book. The illustrations by Valerio Vidali are so unique. I don’t know if it’s the paper used or the way it was drawn, but it’s so beautiful, with rich, vibrant colours and chunky illustrations.

The Shadow Elephant is $28.50 and is from PGC Books.

Swift Fox All Along

I must confess, I have mixed feelings about Swift Fox All Along by Rebecca Thomas.

The story is based on the author’s own experience and features a young girl, likely around eight, who is off to meet her dad’s side of the family for the first time.

Usually when her dad comes to visit, they go to the park and eat ice cream, but this time they go for a long drive to learn how to be “Mi’kmaq.”

When Swift Fox asks her father what that means, her father replies “It’s who you are! From your eyes to your toes. It’s what’s inside of you.”

The young girl is nervous about meeting her family, fearing they won’t like her. When it’s time to smudge, Swift Fox doesn’t know how to do it, yet her father insists she does because it’s who she is.

Swift Fox gets upset and runs away. While she is hiding outside, she meets a cousin, a boy about her age, who has the same butterflies in his stomach and who is nervous about meeting his extended family. Together they learn who they are together.

I don’t want to judge, but why is this girl just meeting her dad’s family now? Why has her mom decided she is old enough to do so? Why wasn’t she old enough before? Why shouldn’t she have seen her aunts and uncles and cousins before she was eight? I don’t get it.

The message of embracing who you are is important, although I think one doesn’t need to be a certain age in order to do so.

Swift Fox All Along is $21.95 and is from Annick Press.

The books are courtesy of Annick Press, Orca Books, Raincoast Books and PGC Books for an honest review. The opinions are my own.