Social Education 57(7), 1993, pp. 364-367
1993 National Council for the Social Studies

Bridging Time and Space: Picture Books with Historical Settings

Jeanne McLain Harms and Lucille J. Lettow
Experiences distant from children in time and space can be obscure and meaningless (Banks 1990; Huck, Hepler, and Hickman 1993). Picture books with historical settings can provide vicarious visual images that make the long ago and the far away more concrete. Many illustrators carefully investigate their subjects. Such painstaking attention results in visual authenticity and amplification of concepts, experiences, and events.

Changes throughout Time
Illustrations in picture books can extend children's understanding of people and settings as they change over time. In Who Came Down That Road? (1992), George Ella Lyon observes a buffalo trace and its surroundings in reverse chronology from modern to prehistoric times. The illustrator, Peter Catalanotto, depicts various functions of the path for people and animals through the ages.

Several works present the life story of a character from youth to old age-for example, Barbara Cooney's Hattie and the Wild Waves (1990), Island Boy (1988), and Miss Rumphius (1982), and Gloria Houston's My Great-Aunt Arizona (illustrated by Susan Condie; 1992). The Quilt Story, by Tony Johnston (1985), and The Keeping Quilt, by Patricia Polacco (1988), focus on a quilt's place in the lives of people of more than one generation.

In Charlotte Zolotow's This Quiet Lady (1992), a girl chronicles her mother's life through her own birth. On each page, Anita Lobel's illustrations enhance the text by depicting the girl viewing her mother's experiences through photographs.

John Goodall shows the changes in English life throughout many centuries in several textless illustrated books: The Story of a Farm (1989), The Story of an English Village (1979), The Story of a Castle (1986), and The Story of Main Street (1987). His full- and half-page format extends the action of the visual plot progression. Leonard Everett Fisher, in Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon (1988), tells of towering religious monuments in Mexico associated with six cultures over the span of several centuries. Symbols representing each culture accompany the text.

Human Element in Events
Picture books can extend the human element in historical events by offering various points of view and cultural perspectives. For example, several volumes present the harsh realities of children caught up in World War II. In Randolph's Dream, written by Judith Mellecker and illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker (1991), an English boy has difficulty coping with the absence of his soldier father. Na•ve-style illustrations (distinctly outlined &Mac222;gures with few details) of the boy's fantasy during wartime England are juxtaposed with those of the military encampments in the deserts of northern Africa. Christobel Mattingley's story, The Angel with a Mouth Organ (1984), illustrated with Astra Lacis's impressionistic paintings, recreates a mother's memory. The author tells of her family's togetherness as they struggled to survive the war in continental Europe. Roberto Innocenti uses photographic realism in his illustrations for Rose Blanche (1985) to portray the starkness of a young girl's experience in Germany during the Nazi regime.

In Toshi Maruki's Hiroshima No Pika (1980) and Junko Morimoto's My Hiroshima (1990), young children are victims of war. Maruki's surrealistic paintings and Moromoto's illustrations of many styles amplify the chaos caused by the bombing of Hiroshima. In Yukio Tsuchiya's Faithful Elephants (1988), both animals and people are victims of war. In this story, the animals of the Aeno Zoo perish as the war comes to Tokyo. The illustrations depict the anguish of the elephants' fight to survive and their final downfall-starvation.

Several picture books vividly present the aftereffects of war from various points of view. The young European girl in A New Coat for Anna, written by Harriet Ziefert and illustrated by Anita Lobel (1986), hopes that the end of the war will bring a new coat to replace her old one that is too small. She finds, however, that the disorganization of the war's aftermath hinders the fuMac222;llment of her dream. On one of the blank leaves at the beginning of the volume, Lobel depicts the destruction of Germany. Christobel Mattingley's haunting The Miracle Tree (1985) tells of the eventual reuniting of Japanese family members after they had given up hope of finding each other. The charcoal drawings depict the turmoil caused by separation and years of searching for each other; the green pine images in the borders symbolize their hope.

In a much lighter vein, How My Parents Learned to Eat, written by Ina Friedman and illustrated by Allen Say (1984), tells how a young U.S. soldier and a Japanese girl overcome cultural barriers to become romantically involved. In The Bicycle Man, by Allen Say (1982), two young U.S. soldiers, one European American, one African American, replace a view of the unknown enemy with friendship when they visit a school in a small Japanese village. In both works, the artist's simple watercolor illustrations collaborate with the lighthearted mood of the texts.

Details of Life among Ordinary People
The text and illustrations of picture books can convey details of how people lived in a particular historical period. For example, several picture books relate stories of people from diverse cultures in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. Jim Aylesworth's Country Crossing (1991) and Crescent Dragonwagon's Home Place (1990) portray images of rural life in the summertime. The combination of text and illustrations create vivid pictures of life in this era. In Country Crossing, a man and a boy experience the sounds of the night and the approach and passing of a freight train while they wait at the crossing in an early-model car. An evening with an African-American family is portrayed through Jerry Pinkney's illustrations in Home Place. The illustrations' expressionistic style, done in pencil and overlayed with watercolor, lend to the distance of these memories in time.

Rural Appalachia and the region's industry (coal mining) is depicted in Judith Hendershot's In Coal Country (1987) and in Lauren Mills's The Rag Coat (1991). Both stories reßect the closeness of family and community in this region. In Coal Country is a cyclical story involving a year in a young girl's life. Thomas B. Allen's pastel and charcoal illustrations enhance the retelling of a memory and extend the feeling of the grittiness of the surroundings. In Rag Coat, the grip of black death, a lung disease common to coal miners, is part of the conßict. The muted "colors of the day" in the illustrations portray the determined spirit of the Appalachian people as they cope with the bleakness of their lives.

In Roxaboxen, by Alice McLerran (1991), children take over a vacant lot and construct their own town in the rural Southwest. Fifty years later, one former resident returns to find that glimpses of Roxaboxen still exist. Barbara Cooney has created na•ve-style illustrations that collaborate with the storyteller's memory of an imaginary world created in childhood.

Several works portray urban life in the &Mac222;rst half of the twentieth century. Megan McDonald's books, The Potato Man (1991) and The Great Pumpkin Switch (1992), both illustrated by Ted Lewin, picture vendors with their horse-drawn carts and a marvelous automobile of the day. Elizabeth P. Howard's The Train to Lulu's (1988) and Chita's Christmas Tree (1989), and Faith Ringgold's Tar Beach (1991) depict African Americans living in widely different circumstances during this era. The families in Howard's stories are middle-class. In The Train to Lulu's, two girls travel from Boston to Baltimore to visit their aunt. Robert Casilla's watercolor illustrations not only portray train travel in the 1930s, but also mirror the young passengers' changing moods on their long journey. A girl and her doctor father in Chita's Christmas Tree select a tree for the family's holiday. Floyd Cooper's oil wash paintings resemble hand-tinted photographs, conveying the notion that the story is set in a distant time. In contrast, the girl's family in Tar Beach is struggling against a union shut-out of African-American workers. The family enjoys an outing with other families on the roof of an apartment building, calling this setting "tar beach." Ringgold's na•ve illustrations portray a resolve filled with hope: through ßying in her imagination, she addresses her present-day conflict.

In addition to discrimination against minorities, children's books portray other stressful conflicts of this period including World War I and the Depression. In Deborah Hartley's Up North in Winter (1986), a man from a rural area must leave his family to find low-paying work. Family separations and reunions during wartime are the subject of Jane Yolen's All Those Secrets of the World (1991) and Gloria Houston's The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree (1988).

Movement across Cultures
Several works show individuals moving across cultural boundaries to create meaning. Peter Golenbock's Teammates (1990) tells of Pee Wee Reese's efforts to ease racial tensions during Jackie Robinson's early playing days with the Dodgers. Photographs supply authenticity to the story while watercolor sketches underscore the memory of the experience.

In Patricia Polacco's Chicken Sunday (1992), a European-American girl gains brothers, two African-American neighbor boys, in a solemn ceremony performed in their backyard. After the death of the girl's Russian babushka, the boys' grandmother assumes this role for her. Polacco's Mrs. Katz and Tush (1992) focuses on friendship across cultures and generations as an African-American boy gives a cat to his lonely neighbor, an elderly Jewish widow. The expressionistic artwork collaborates with the strong emotions in both stories.

A Japanese woman returning to her homeland in Tree of Cranes, by Allen Say (1991), shares the tradition of the Christmas tree, discovered while living in the United States, with her young son. They decorate their tree with origami cranes, a traditional paper-folding artform and a beloved symbol in the Japanese culture. In Say's El Chino (1990), a Chinese-American youth becomes a bullfighter in Spain even though he is told at first that only Spaniards can become true matadors. The photographic realism of the illustrations supports the cultural elements of the story and establishes the time period.

In Crescent Dragonwagon's Home Place (1990), a European-American girl on a spring outing with her family discovers the ruins of a home. In her imagination, she moves into the past to observe the family who resided there. Jerry Pinkney's illustrations depict this family of yesteryear as African American.

Integration of the Social Studies Strands
Through the collaboration of text and illustration in picture books, the strands of the social studies can portray the wholeness of life in a particular era and the factors that affect people's lives. For example, various economic and political factors resulted in a wide range of life-styles in the late 1800s.

Riki Levinson, in Watch the Stars Come Out (1985), tells of impoverished European immigrants coming to the United States to improve their standard of living. Diane Goode's folk-style illustrations in soft watercolor amplify the perspective of the peasantry among the immigrants of that period. This element is also portrayed in Maxinne Rhea Leighton's An Ellis Island Christmas (1992), based on the childhood experiences of the author's father. Dennis Nolan created watercolor illustrations of interior and exterior views of Ellis Island after visiting the area.

During the westward movement, families lived a subsistence life-style while trying to establish homes in the rural Midwest. Examples of these pioneer stories are Jean Van Leeuwen's Going West (1992) and Ann Turner's Dakota Dugout (1985).

In contrast, the upper middle-class family in Barbara Cooney's Hattie and the Wild Waves (1990) is well-established in the United States. Her acrylic paintings, accented with pencil and pastels, focus on the details of life among the upper middle-class in the New York City area. Bernard Stone's A Day to Remember (1981) portrays a similar life-style during Christmastime in Holland. John Goodall's alternating full- and half-page illustrations in An Edwardian Season (1979), An Edwardian Summer (1976), and An Edwardian Christmas (1978) depict the life-style of the upper levels of British society. Many of the newly arrived immigrants to the United States were trying to escape such highly stratified societies during this period.

Implementation in the Instructional Program
Several volumes that focus on a specific time period or theme can be presented in a reading center. Children can select one or more volumes to read and share with their peers. (You can record some of the works on cassette tapes for those who have low reading ability.) You can also extend these reading experiences through discussion. You can guide children, for example, to understand not only how humans responded to events but how these events affected their responses. Through discussion, children can begin to identify with the human element in a historical period, to compare and contrast the elements associated with a period as portrayed in different works, and to become attuned to cultural elements, thus moving more easily from one culture to another in understanding a time in the past.

Banks, James A. Teaching Strategies for the Social Studies. 4th ed. New York: Longman Publishing Group, 1990.Huck, Charlotte S., Susan Hepler, and Janet Hickman. Children's Literature in the Elementary School. 5th ed. Fort Worth, Tex.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993.Picture Books with Historical Settings
Changes throughout TimeCooney, Barbara. Miss Rumphius. New York: Viking, 1982._____. Island Boy. New York: Viking, 1988._____. Hattie and the Wild Waves. New York: Viking, 1990.Fisher, Leonard Everett. Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1988.Goodall, John S. The Story of an English Village. New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1979._____. The Story of a Castle. New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1986._____. The Story of a Main Street. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1987._____. The Story of a Farm. New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1989.Houston, Gloria. My Great-Aunt Arizona. Illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb. New York: HarperCollins Children's Books, 1992.Johnston, Tony. The Quilt Story. Illustrated by Tomie de Paola. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1985.Lyon, George Ella. Who Came Down That Road? Illustrated by Peter Catalanotto. New York: Orchard Books, 1992.Polacco, Patricia. The Keeping Quilt. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.Zolotow, Charlotte. This Quiet Lady. Illustrated by Anita Lobel. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1992.Human Element in EventsFriedman, Ina. How My Parents Learned to Eat. Illustrated by Allen Say. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1984.Innocenti, Roberto. Rose Blanche. Mankato, Minn.: Creative Education, 1985.Maruki, Toshi. Hiroshima No Pika. New York: Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Books, 1980.Mattingley, Christobel. The Angel with a Mouth Organ. Illustrated by Astra Lacis. New York: Holiday House, 1984._____. The Miracle Tree. Illustrated by Marianne Yamaguchi. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985.Mellecker, Judith. Randolph's Dream. Illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.Morimoto, Junko. My Hiroshima. New York: Viking, 1990.Say, Allen. The Bicycle Man. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1982.Tsuchiya, Yukio. Faithful Elephants. Illustrated by Ted Lewin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1988.Ziefert, Harriet. A New Coat for Anna. Illustrated by Anita Lobel. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.Details of Life among Ordinary PeopleAylesworth, Jim. Country Crossing. Illustrated by Ted Rand. New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1991.Dragonwagon, Crescent. Home Place. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1990.Hartley, Deborah. Up North in Winter. Illustrated by Lydia Dabcovich. New York: Dutton Children's Books, 1986.Hendershot, Judith. In Coal Country. Illustrated by Thomas B. Allen. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987.Houston, Gloria. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree. Illustrated by Barbara Cooney. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 1988.Howard, Elizabeth F. The Train to Lulu's. Illustrated by Robert Casilla. New York: Bradbury Press, 1988._____. Chita's Christmas Tree. Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. New York: Bradbury Press, 1989.McDonald, Megan. The Potato Man. Illustrated by Ted Lewin. New York: Orchard Books, 1991._____. The Great Pumpkin Switch. Illustrated by Ted Lewin. New York: Orchard Books, 1992.McLerran, Alice. Roxaboxen. Illustrated by Barbara Cooney. New York: Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Books, 1991.Mills, Lauren. The Rag Coat. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1991.Ringgold, Faith. Tar Beach. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 1991.Yolen, Jane. All Those Secrets of the World. Illustrated by Leslie Baker. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1991.Movement across CulturesDragonwagon, Crescent. Home Place. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. New York: Macmillan, 1990.Golenbock, Peter. Teammates. Illustrated by Paul Bacon. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990.Polacco, Patricia. Chicken Sunday. New York: Philomel Books, 1992._____. Mrs. Katz and Tush. New York: Bantam Books, 1992.Say, Allen. El Chino. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1990._____. Tree of Cranes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1991.Integration of the Social Studies StrandsCooney, Barbara. Hattie and the Wild Waves. New York: Viking, 1990.Goodall, John. An Edwardian Summer. New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1976._____. An Edwardian Christmas. New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1978._____. An Edwardian Season. New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1979.Leighton, Maxinne Rhea. An Ellis Island Christmas. Illustrated by Dennis Nolan. New York: Viking, 1992.Levinson, Riki. Watch the Stars Come Out. Illustrated by Diane Goode. New York: Dutton Children's Books, 1985.Stone, Bernard. A Day to Remember. Illustrated by Anton Pieck. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1981.Turner, Ann. Dakota Dugout. Illustrated by Ronald Himler. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1985.Van Leeuwen. Going West. New York:Dial Books for Young Readers, 1992.Jeanne McLain Harms is Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Lucille J. Lettow is Associate Professor and Youth Collection Librarian at the Donald O. Rod Library at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa 50614.