[Monday Reading] Beyond Poverty: Portrayal of Hard Work in Diverse Picturebooks


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date).


For 2022, our reading theme is #DecolonizeBookshelves2022. Essentially, we hope to feature books that fit any of the following criteria:

  1. Postcolonial literature and/or [pre/post] revolutionary stories
  2. Stories by indigenous / first-nation peoples / people of colour
  3. Narratives of survival and healing, exile and migration, displacement and dispossession
  4. Books written or illustrated by people who have been colonized, oppressed, marginalized

Brick By Brick (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written and Illustrated by Heidi Woodward Sheffield
Published by Nancy Paulsen Books(2020)
ISBN: 0525517308 (ISBN13: 9780525517306) Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Winner of the Ezra Jack Keats Award, this is a beautifully told story about a son and his father who “helps build the city, brick by brick.”

Too often, there is shame that surrounds what it is like to be part of the working class. The sense of delicious joy and brimming pride is clearly conveyed with the young boy who looks up to his father and regards him as a role model.

The image above is what made me resonate even more deeply with this book, with the young boy’s aspirations and ideals that also set him apart from his father, evident with a sense of ownership in his declaration: “Mine is book by book.”

I would have appreciated even more a deeper nuance in the narrative: a family history that is perhaps conveyed in images (not even through text) – or a working mother (rather than the stereotypical homemaker) – the sense of otherness or even the need for such backbreaking work seems glossed over and made invisible.

However, that may be the exact intention: to surface just the joy of family life and the freedom to dream of an even better life, and have that dream turn into reality – and there is beauty in that, too.

The Paper Kingdom (Amazon | Book Depository)

Author Helena Ku Rhee Illustrator Pascal Campion
Published by Random House Books for Young Readers (2020) Literary Award: CLEL Bell Picture Book Awards for Talk (2021) ISBN: 052564461X (ISBN13: 9780525644613)
Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

A young boy named Daniel was woken up by his parents in the middle of the night. Daniel’s parents work as night janitors in a huge building and there was no one available to take care of him that night while they worked, so Daniel needed to come with them.

I like how Daniel’s resentment and endless questions were adroitly fielded by his parents who made something mundane quite magical. This transformation of drudgery to something otherworldly made Daniel feel a sense of hope rather than feel shame in behalf of his parents for cleaning up after people who can afford to pay someone else to do it for them.

The very credible portrayal of Daniel’s conflicted emotions may be attributed to the fact that the author experienced what Daniel was going through as a young child with parents who also worked as night janitors.

The author’s note definitely added a more textured dimension to this narrative, as Helena Ku Rhee shared:

I have vague memories of dozing on office chairs while my parents mopped, swept, and vacuumed. And to keep my grumpiness at bay, they told funny stories about the people who worked in the offices during the day. My parents used their humor and imagination to make an unpleasant situation seem full of possibility and magic.

There were no quick fixes in the narrative – yet the fact that the author is now in a position to make stories like this one that would make Daniel feel seen is what adds even more power to this narrative.

#DecolonizeBookshelves2022 Update: 52 out of target 100

May 30, 2022 at 06:31AM Myra Garces-Bacsal