The Very Hungry Caterpillar vs Frida: Viva la Vida: The Surge of Esoteric Subjects in Children’s Picture Books

Students and faculty often bring a children’s book up to me and ask me for what age it is suitable. This is one of the hardest questions to answer, particularly when a book appears to be written for a very young child but covers a complex subject.  One trend I’ve noticed in children’s picture book publishing is the surge of very specialized,  mature subjects- more mature than very hungry caterpillar characters, for sure. 
Frida: Viva la Vida: ND 259 .K33 B47

Frida: Viva la Vida: ND 259 .K33 B47

For example, recently, I checked out Frida: Viva la Vida by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand. Bowker’s Books In Print lists this book as appropriate for ages 4 to 8.  Learning about famous artists is wonderful, but I had to wonder if an elementary student would enjoy reading this book. To understand Frida Kahlo’s artwork, which is very personal, one would need to understand the grief and frustration she felt over her husband’s extra-marital affairs (a topic covered in this picture book).  Mention of her sexuality was also worked, somehow, into the story.

Not out of an urge to censor, but out of sheer curiosity, I wonder how these type of books are being received by young children. What is their reaction? Are they bored to death? Do they even understand the topic? Does such specialized subject matter enlighten them and make them want to explore the topic more?

Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter: N 6537 .W28 R83 2006

Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter: N 6537 .W28 R83 2006

I’ve learned a lot over the last several years about people and subjects of which I’ve had little knowledge through these types of children’s picture books. Of course, I’m knocking on age forty, not age four. Maybe these books would be more appropriately categorized as “ageless” and, simply, for anyone who can appreciate them. Other recent examples of children’s picture books about not-your-usual kindergarten subjects include Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter by Susan Goldman Rubin,  Uncle Andy’s by James Warhola, and Action Jackson by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. I guess I’m most fascinated by how an author can take a subject, such as Jackson Pollock, and translate the “essence” of his life and work into a picture book appropriate for young children ages 4-8…according to Books in Print.

Action Jackson: ND 237 .P73 G74

Action Jackson: ND 237 .P73 G74


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