Children’s picturebooks can help tackle difficult conversations with our children, build language skills and provide hours of entertainment. They are a window into our society and now the power they wield has been encapsulated into a free online course delivered by one of New Zealand’s most celebrated children’s book experts.
Waikato University’s Dr Nicola Daly, who has just judged the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, partnered with Senior Lecturer and digital learning expert, Dr Dianne Forbes, to develop the four-week course which will be delivered free on FutureLearn.
“People often underestimate the power of picturebooks, but their beauty is in their ability to present complex issues in a pared back way and as images and text work together we can study society’s attitudes and social trends through their pages,” says Dr Daly.
The four-week course is open to anyone and Dr Forbes, a former primary school teacher, says it may appeal to teachers, parents or people wanting to understand the complexity and power picturebooks present.
There are currently people from 52 countries around the world registered for the online course which includes interviews with well known New Zealand authors including Dame Lynley Dodd of Hairy Maclary fame and Dr Darryn Joseph a bilingual children’s book author.
“We will explore how picturebooks can be used to help us understand other people’s points of view and we want participants to expand and think about the ideas being presented in them,” says Dr Forbes.
“One of the most important things is that the adult sits down and reads the book with the child. So, the interactions and the discussions and the breaking down of ideas from within the book are shared with the child.”
The course is split into four modules, the first a reminiscing about favourite picturebooks, the definition of a picture book and their history. The second week explores the visual analysis of picturebooks and how we make meaning from their images and includes a discussion with Dame Lynley Dodd.
The third week explores bilingual picturebooks and the importance of picturebooks in building language attitudes, including an interview with bilingual picture book author Dr Darryn Joseph.
The final week discusses how picturebooks provide a window into societal issues, equity and socioeconomic struggles. Dr Jannett Kelly-Ware reads Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress. The book, written by Christine Baldacchino and illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant, tells the story of Morris who likes to wear a tangerine dress at playtime but his friends at school don’t understand why and tease him.
Daly says the health of picturebooks both in New Zealand and internationally is flourishing. She recently spent time as a Fulbright New Zealand Scholar at the University of Arizona, World of Words Center, where there there are thousands of books from around the world in the collection, as well as a range of programmes, all supporting the use of children’s literature to, “build bridges across global cultures through children’s and adolescent literature.”
“There are so many books coming out from those that are funny and light to those that deal with serious issues. They’re a vehicle for serious learning, communication, and pure enjoyment. As particular issues become important in society there is a bit of a lag and then the picturebooks come,” says Dr Daly.
Among her favourite books are the Hairy Maclary series for the imagery, humour and the rhyming text while Dr Forbes says her favourite is Patricia Graces’ The Trolley, which is read by their colleague Sharyn Heaton during the online course.
The book explores socioeconomic inequality. The week before Christmas a mother checks her bank account and discovers she cannot afford to buy presents for her children. She worries because all the other neighbourhood kids will have new bikes.
She builds a trolley out of recycled materials she finds that blows all the other kids away.
“I find it a beautiful book. There is a nice bit at the end where the mother Tania gets on the trolley, and they say cool trolley, and a pretty cool mum too. That’s the power of these books as vehicles for social messages for learning,” says Dr Forbes.
You can register to begin the free online course here.