Picture books truly are a format that can work with any and all ages. For those who think they're only for the youngest child, I would counter that there are books that encompass the complexity and nuance of certain subjects every bit as well as chapter books or nonfiction. Of course, these selections need to be used with the right audience, but when chosen carefully, picture books shed new light on a topic or open up opportunities for critical thinking for children and adults alike.
A perfect example of this is the work by Eve Bunting and David Diaz. Never ones to shy away from a tough subject, Bunting and Diaz have produced some stunningly beautiful literary works. Their collaboration Smoky Night, written in response to the LA riots, won a Caldecott for its unique and dazzling illustrations, which underscore the tense, emotional plotline. One glimpse through this title and you'll see why it draws strong responses from its readers.
Going Home, their next book together, is a similar melding of thought-provoking text and complex, evocative illustrations. In the book, Carlos and his family are on their way home to Mexico for Christmas. The family hasn't been back since Mama and Papa left years before; though the parents are looking forward to going back, Carlos and his sisters really don't know what to expect. After all, California is home to them. It may not be perfect -- Papa and Mama must do backbreaking labor in the fields, and Carlos never seems to see the opportunities that immigration promised them -- but it's what the children know.
But now the world of their homeland begins to open up to the children. As they drive they see the land that their parents left behind, and it isn't what they expected. There is beauty here, lots of it: in the flowers and trees, in the buildings and little villages, in the faces of relatives and those who knew their parents, once upon a time. And most of all there is beauty in Mama and Papa, who come alive in this place in a way that Carlos and his sisters have never seen.
What Bunting and Diaz have created here is a masterful opening to any conversation about immigration and the experience of people who leave their home for another. We can approach this topic from a variety of ideologies, but one common root remains: the notion that finding oneself far from home is hard, no matter what the reasons are for leaving. For older children, pair this with a title like Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez; younger readers might be ready for Grandfather's Journey by Allan Say or La Mariposa by Francisco Jimenez, for a look at the immigrant experience.
Going Home by Eve Bunting and David Diaz, published by HarperCollins
Sample: "There is a wooden plow outside Grandfather's house. I remember when Mama and Papa saved the money for it. Later they also sent money for two oxen. I wonder where the oxen are and if we will be friends."
Bonus: Video interview with Eve Bunting from Reading Rockets