Monday, October 31, 2016

Zero Shades of Grey

The recent arrival of Black Cat, White Cat by Silvia Borando got me thinking about other picture books that have a black and white theme and how most of them can be tied into the bigger concept of perspective.

Take Black Cat, White Cat. Black cat only goes out during the day and wonders what he’s missing at night. White cat (as you might expect) only goes out at night and also wonders what might be going on during the day. The two meet and show the other the best part of their own awake-time. The two become close companions.  Very close companions. Any guesses as to the colour of their kittens?

This one speaks very nicely to the concept of perspective – seeing how the other half lives, that’s perfect for primary grades.

What Color is Caesar? by Maxine Kumin is a romp as a dog tries to figure out whether he’s a black dog with white spots or a white dog with black spots. Asking other various black and white creatures their opinions isn’t all that helpful. Regardless of the fact that they, too, are black and white, they seem to perceive themselves as a different colour altogether. The black and white woodpecker sees himself as mostly red because he has a brilliant red crest. The black and white pony sees herself as green based on the important things in her life such as grass and trees.  And so on. It’s not until a make-believe circus guru helps Caesar find his own true colours that he finds some understanding about who he is.

Though the story addresses the idea of identity, it also presents perspective in an interesting way; Caesar seeks to understand himself better by asking others about their perceptions of themselves and of him. This one is good for grades 1-4.

Then there’s the classic, Black and White by David Macaulay. This one is a terrific picture book for older readers (middle school) as four seemingly separate stories unfold at the same time. Each double page spread presents a single frame of each of the four stories: a boy traveling on a train, two children wondering why their parents are acting so oddly, commuters delayed in getting home, and finally a masked robber caught up in a herd of black and white cows as they escape their paddock. Working through the storylines, the reader can take up the different perspectives offered and create their own narrative. Eventually, certain elements begin to overlap between the frames and thus, the stories. What the reader comes to learn is that this is a single story but told from different perspectives. Each storyline has been illustrated in a distinctive style and colour palette that helps the reader distinguish each story.

The last one in my retrospective in also titled Black and White written by Dahlov Ipcar. Originally published in 1963 this was reproduced in 2015 with the illustrations restored and remastered to the quality of the original work.  In this book, a black dog and a white dog are the best of friends, irrespective of their differences. (Think 1963 and civil rights.) The little black dog lives in a black house and dreams in black of dark jungles whereas the little white dog lives in a white house and dreams in white of starkly coloured Arctic landscapes. They share their dreams as best buddies do and get ready to frolic their way through the day, yet again. This one also would work well with the early grades.

So, it's just a matter of perspective whether you see the world in black and white or more like me, in a multitude of grey's. But it's something to talk about and kids, no doubt, will have one they may want to share.


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