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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
by Bernard Waber
Walter Lorraine Books/Houghton Mifflin,(October 2002)
There are many kinds of courage.
And everyday kinds.
Still, courage is courage, whatever kind.
Courage is riding your bicycle for the first time without training wheels.
--Courage by Bernard Waber p. 1-7.
What exactly is courage? And do you have it? Reading Waber's Courage , readers will come to see that indeed they do have courage—and many more levels of it than they may have thought. Waber (Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, Evie and Margie ) tells readers that there are many kinds of courage—awesome kinds and everyday kinds—but that it all is courage, from standing up to bullies to keep your younger sibling from getting picked on, to breaking a bad habit, to being the first to make up after an argument. Courage is encouraging, reassuring, and poignant, as well as humorous (mostly through the illustrations, though some of the text items are simply silly).
Waber's text opens and closes with gentle, inspiring, and reassuring statements, while the middle—the bulk of the text—is episodic, listing what courage is. The items listed start off very concretely ("Courage is riding your bicycle for the first time without training wheels"), while near the end become more abstract and moving ("Courage is holding on to your dream").
There's an interesting mixture of both humorous and somewhat superficial examples of courage ("Courage is deciding to have your hair cut") and examples that go deeper and hold more meaning ("Courage is starting over"). This brings variation, but it would have worked much better for me if more of the examples had some depth and meaning. Still, this lightheartedness may make the book more fun for some readers, and allow the meaning to be more easily absorbed. Some of the examples don't feel like they quite fit the definition of courage ("Courage is admiring but not plucking [flowers]").
Some examples feel like they mostly fit children (riding a bicycle without training wheels), while some feel like they fit an older audience (holding onto your dream). Most of the examples are things that readers of all ages can relate to and identify with (such as having the strength to not blab a friend's secret.) There is an occasional example that feels like adult intrusion or forced, like saying that courage is eating a vegetable before making a face, or being a firefighter...but many of the examples are strong and feel kid-like.
Each page has one to two examples of what courage is, and the text is brief. The brevity of the sentences, as well as the variation in content, make the pages move quickly; readers will want to keep turning pages to see what the next example of courage is.
The closing text (and illustration) is moving and tender, and feels like a truth—that courage is what we give to each other. It Moving ending, connecting with others. It has a reassuring feel to it, and a nice closure. Waber shows readers that there are many ways of courage—and many of his examples feel like the encourage the reader to have a strong moral compass and be a good person (which takes courage).
Waber's cartoon-style ink-and-watercolor illustrations are humorous, and convey emotion. Characters and objects are outlined in thin lines of black ink, and drawn freely. Some of the backgrounds are made up of color and texture, while others show detail settings. The illustrations also range in size; some take up a full spread, others a full page, others are two illustrations per page—some with thin borders, others with no border at all. A few pages are also divided comic-strip style. The opening and closing sections have one scene per page or spread (which brings a nice feeling of repetition and coming full circle), while the rest (the list items) mostly have two illustrations per page. This variation helps bring some visual interest.
Most of the illustrations are concrete in their interpretation of the text, while some are metaphorical (such as a girl with a zipper for a mouth (not telling a friend's secret) and a boy floating through the air, propelled by hearts and love (as he admits to someone that he actually likes them).
There is humor in the illustrations, through some of the examples of courage coming from a dog's point of view ("Courage is it's your job to check out the night noises in the house"), and through some of the expressions on people's faces as they attempt to be brave.
Different characters are used in each illustration, and there is a mixture of races, gender, and even species (human and dog) represented, which may increase reader identification, and allows for greater inclusion. It also reminds readers that everyone has courage.
This book encourages the reader to draw on their own courage and to do what is right, in small and big ways in their life. It also encourages readers to recognize the courage they have, and the ways they already show it in their lives. This is one of those books that will speak to many people. Recommended.
-Added March 2007
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