Wisconsin children’s book Pat Zietlow Miller has a knack for introducing important author concepts to children in engaging ways. With the challenges we face in today’s world, these two recent picture books of hers seem particularly relevant.
- First is her New York Times Best Seller, “Be Kind” (2018, Roaring Brook Press, written by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jen Hill, ages 3-8).
When Tanisha spills grape juice all over her new dress during school, everyone laughs. “I almost did too,” our protagonist says. “But Mom always tells me to be kind, so I tried.” Telling Tanisha that purple was her favorite color does not help.
The warm, bright watercolor illustrations show Tanisha running out into the hallway. Our character begins to think about what she could have done instead. Then she explores what it really means to be kind.
“Maybe it’s giving. Making cookies for Mr. Rinaldi, who lives alone. Letting someone with smaller feet have my too-tight shoes.”
Or perhaps it’s helping (putting dirty dishes in the sink), or paying attention (telling Desmond she likes his blue boots). Being kind should be easy, we learn — like saying thank you and using people’s names. But, being kind can be hard, too, such as sticking up for someone when other kids aren’t being kind.
“Maybe I can only do small things,” our character says, reflecting on Tanisha and the spilled juice. “But my small things might join small things other people do. And together they could grow into something big.”
The book concludes in a touching way by showing kindnesses flowing out of their school, their town, throughout the world and right back again, “so we can be kind. Again. And again. And again.”
- In “When You Are Brave” (2019, Little Brown Books for Young Readers, written by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, 3-8), we see a different female protagonist taking one last look at her empty home as the text begins, “Some days, when everything around you seems scary … you have to be brave.”
As our character and her family drive away from their home in the city, Zietlow Miller examines bravery. “Brave as a bird that steps from its nest, hoping to soar through the sky,” or a caterpillar building a bed, waiting to wake, she writes. “… because some days are full of things you’d rather not do.”
Wheeler’s rich, emotive watercolors show the girl reading this very book in the backseat of the car as they travel on, and we’re introduced to other times when one must be brave — plunging into a pool, standing alone in front of a crowd, or boarding a bus to school — times when the world feels too big and loud, and “too much,” and you feel too small, too quiet and “not enough.”
The book’s spare, warm text instructs our character — and the reader — to look deep inside to find their courage, even though it might be hidden away.
“If you close your eyes and breathe, you will see it — shining its light in the dark. Warm. Steady. Safe.”
The text tells us to picture our courage growing from a spark to a flame, then bigger and bolder, while the illustrations swirl with light overtaking darkness. The text instructs us to think of something we’re good at or someone who loves us, and we’ll know we’re ready to face whatever needs facing. And no matter what the result — whether people clap or don’t notice at all, we’ll be all right.
“Because once you find your courage, it’s easy to use again and again,” we read.
At the end, our protagonist stands straight and walks tall as she enters her new home, makes friends with the neighbors and bravely faces her new world.
Alice B. McGinty (alicebmcginty.com) is the award-winning author of almost 50 books for children and is taking registrations for her Words on Fire Writing Camp for Teens this summer at wordsonfirecamp.wordpress.com/.