Thursday, November 29, 2012

30 Days of Picture Books - A Bus Called Heaven by Bob Graham

It's Day 29 of Picture Book Month, and the theme of our choice for today is community. Books in general, and picture books in particular, are a major means of teaching cultural norms, which is a critical part of socialization. Young children learn how to work together, how to share, how to be part of society not only through the behaviors they see modeled, but also through more passive channels.

And so armed with that knowledge, I think it's vital to read books that show what we want our kiddos to become. For us, it's important that Sprout become the kind of kid who cares about others and is inspired to contribute as a citizen of the world as well as of his community. So we read books that build social consciousness, books about amazing people like Wangari Maathai and Pura Belpre, and then we read books about communities coming together.

The most amazing community-themed book I've read in recent months, and one that Sprout has asked for again and again, is Bob Graham's A Bus Called Heaven. I've written about Bob Graham's books before, but I must say again that I find his work so very incredible. He hits the nail right on the head when it comes to books that kids will love but which carry deeper messages - about love and acceptance, and in this case about working together. His illustrations are spot on for his target audience, with plenty of small details that kids love to pore over and realism and idealism melded together. Simply fantastic, every one.

In A Bus Called Heaven, Graham gives us another neighborhood story, this time of a group of people who turn an abandoned bus into a de facto community center. Nobody's sure where the bus, labelled with a sign that reads "Heaven", came from. But acting on an idea from shy little Stella, the neighbors rally and convert it into their own place. It's not just for the kids, but for everyone, with movie nights, foosball, a lending library, a gathering spot. Sooner or later, though, the bureaucrats get involved and the bus has to move -- unless quiet Stella's plan to save their bus can somehow be successful.

Here you have the most inclusive backgrounds I've seen in picture books, as Graham peoples his books with elderly and infants, tattooed biker types and glasses-wearing rabbis, moms and dads, multiracial families, and people of all colors and creeds. (Nothing annoys me more than books set in urban areas where there's zero diversity.) Graham gets it right in his message too: that some things are bigger than just one person, that we all need "third places" to connect and involved and be together. The last spread shows the whole point best - at the center of the gray city night is the bus called Heaven -- alive with color and light, festive and drawing together a community, with grass "danced flat".

The bus may be called Heaven - but this book, for us, is too.

A Bus Called Heaven by Bob Graham, published by Candlewick Press

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