When writers are seeking mentor texts that depict subtle ways to convey a message, the standouts can be challenging to find. There are picture books galore with themes of kindness, understanding, and acceptance, but far fewer that convey those themes with a light touch that permits young readers to experience the sentiment as it's developed rather that have it stated to them. Two recent standouts in the area of nuanced, subtle storytelling are Blanca Gómez's DRESS-UP DAY (Abrams, 2022) and Mac Barnett's JOHN'S TURN (Candlewick 2022).
With smart, sparse text and evocative illustrations that make the characters' emotions dance off the page, Gómez conveys a message of acceptance and kindness without once stating or summarizing the theme of her story. The actions and illustrations do the heavy lifting but leave the interpretation to the reader.
In JOHN'S TURN, Barnett never once mentions that ballet is often considered by many to be a female pursuit, nor does he state that the children may be dubious of John's choice of interest. Rather, he lets the children's reactions--from a few snickers to intrigued silence to impressed applause--show how John's talent and passion for ballet breaks down the boundaries of conventional--though outdated--gender norms. Barnett's simple yet strong text--along with expressive illustrations by Kate Berube--gives the reader the space to experience the emotional power of the story without once pointing out the message.
Both DRESS-UP DAY and JOHN'S TURN are consummate examples of picture book texts that address themes of acceptance and kindness in a most subtle manner.