It’s often hard for very young children to know the right thing to do when faced with an ethical dilemma. As the late Charlotte Zolotow once wrote, a child’s feelings can be just as intense as an adult’s, but children don’t have the defenses and filters to which grown-ups are so accustomed. “Humor, irony, religion, resignation — anything to give us control and protect us from the full impact,” she wrote. “[C]hildren experience anger, loneliness, joy, love, sorrow, and hatred whole and plain; we, through our adult protection and veneer.”
All the more reason to cheer picture books for young children that nail how powerful and even profound their emotions can be—the books, that is, that do so without talking down to children. Or without straight up lecturing them on what they should do or how they should react in thorny situations.
Salina Yoon’s Found is one such book. Written with honesty and while looking right at eye level with child readers, she tells the story of Bear, who finds in the forest one day a plush rabbit. It’s clearly someone’s toy, and it has clearly seen better days. With sewn patches on its body, readers can tell the toy was once very loved. Bear happens to think the toy is fabulous.
But he also suspects that the Bunny is lost and makes “lost” flyers to help the toy find its way home. Children will enjoy lingering over the other flyers on a town bulletin board (which also appear in the book’s endpapers). Look closely and you’ll even spot a reference to Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back. (“LOST MY HAT … I want it back,” says a flyer with an image of the same red, pointy hat that Klassen’s bear was so desperate to locate.)
As Bear searches all over for the toy’s owner, readers can tell he’s endearing himself to the toy, which he immediately loved to begin with. Bear wishes Bunny was his to keep, Yoon writes. At the same time, however, Bear knows the toy’s family must be really worried. Our protagonist is considerate and concerned; since he adores the toy, though, he feels the conflicting emotions of someone who also wants to keep something for himself.
The next day, they play together. It’s a wonderful day for Bear, but lo and behold, on his bike ride (Bunny is safely tucked in the bike’s handlebar basket) he passes by a moose, who calls out, “FLOPPY, my bunny!”
In the next spread, Yoon gives readers a very close shot of Bear with tears in his eyes. It’s a moving moment, not maudlin. “The bunny was finally going home,” she writes. But Bear’s heart is broken.
But here’s the thing: Moose is now grown. How do we know this? “As a young calf,” Yoon writes, “Moose had loved Floppy very much.” Bear is still young—and gets great comfort from cuddling with a favorite, beloved toy, as children are wont to do. So, Moose hands Floppy over, asking Bear if he’ll take good care of his special toy. Beloved toys, after all, are intended for passing on to those special folks you meet in life.
It’s a sweet, but not sticky-sweet, tale of generosity. And Yoon executes the story with bright, vivid colors—a lot of happy light blues and greens—and simple, thickly-outlined shapes, which will catch the eye of the youngest of readers. She knows when to stop illustrating, leaving her spreads refreshingly uncluttered.
A good find, this one.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.