Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Tear-jerkers: picture books that make you cry by Malachy Doyle

When I read, I want to care about the characters.  I want to become emotionally involved with them.  I love it when a book makes me laugh out loud.  I also love it when a book makes me cry.

Many picture books make you laugh out loud.  I've just spent a week with my nearly-two year old grandson, Daniel, and we laughed and laughed.  His favourite right now is Ding Dong Gorilla! by a certain Michelle Robinson - it's a scream!



None made him cry, luckily.  But picture books are for two audiences - the prime audience, young children, but also the adult who picks it up in the shop or library, and who then shares it with children.  It's crucial that the book works for both - and works, therefore, on more than one level.

Some books, which children happily accept as one more enjoyable story, somehow have the capacity to reduce adults to quivering wrecks.  I realised this when a very kind reader responded to a previous blog post about my book The Dancing Tiger. 


'Five years and two daughters on and after hundreds of attempts,' she told me, 'I am yet to actually finish the story. My noise twitches when I pick it up, it stings on the opening line and the tears are flooding at ‘But now that I am old and grey...' 
Luckily it hadn't put her off.  'I have discussed this book for hours on end and my sister and I often wonder if you or Steve and Lou (the illustrators) can actually comprehend what you have created. I have ten copies ready to pass to my children and my grandchildren. When my children ask (as they often do), do I believe in magic? I think of your book and gently reassure them that yes I do.'

Isn't that wonderful!  It got me thinking about the picture books that have had a similar effect on me.  I'm not sure if any have been quite so dramatic, but I'd have no trouble naming some that moved me intensely.

Books about death, if they're done right, are inevitably deeply moving: I'm thinking Frog and the Birdsong, by Max Velthuijs.  I'm thinking Badger's Parting Gifts, by Susan Varley.


And then there are books that are so beautifully told and illustrated that you just love them, over and over.  I'm thinking The Mousehole Cat, by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley.  I'm thinking Susan Laughs, by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross.  I'm thinking Owl Babies, by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson.  And I'm thinking Dogger - always Dogger.  They don't necessarily make me cry, but they move me deeply, every time.



Anyone want to own up to crying at a picture book?  Any recommendations for the tear-jerker list?  Or just ones that move you deeply.  I'd love to read a few more.  (And maybe write a few more...) 


On that subject, I've a picture book coming out later this year (hopefully) called Tadcu's Bobble Hat.  Tadcu means grandfather in Welsh, and that's all I'm saying...

23 comments:

  1. What a lovely post - and thank you for sharing Daniel's love of 'Ding Dong Gorilla!' 'Owl Babies' gets me, too (although I think partly because I wish I could write like that!). Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake's 'Sad Book' floors me every time, so I keep it on a high shelf out of harm's way. Raw grief so perfectly depicted. I used to read 'Guess How Much I Love You' to my children as newborns and always cried, but that was probably the hormones. And 'Beegu' by Alexis Deacon gets me every time, have you read that one? It's something about the stillness of Beegu when she's looking into space for her parents coupled with the way the children respond to her - just as children would, without prejudice. Really special.

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    1. Oh Beegu! I love Beegu! Please, please, Alexis Deacon, please illustrate one of my books...

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  2. Dogger. Oh yes Dogger! "Missing Mummy" by Rebecca Cobb had me in floods, in fact I can barely take re-reading it (I'm such a wuss!)

    "Rabbityness" by Jo Empson. Which makes us cry with sorrow and joy at the same time.

    "Winter's Tales" by Metaphrog (and also their gorgeous "The Photographs")

    Excuse me, I think I've got something in my eye...

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    1. Good list. I'll look 'em all out. Here's a tissue.

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  3. I agree with Michelle about 'Sad Book'. 'Mile High Apple Pie' does it for me every time (Laura Langston and Lindsey Gardiner) -about a girl whose granny has worsening dementia. 'No Matter What' by Debi Gliori -which we buried with my mum who'd also loved it (and which is about the enduring power of love, including after death). The book I wrote about love and death and a granny, which hasn't yet found a home but is my agent's favourite story of mine I've written to date... Michelle, did you know about the SCBWI picture book retreat at the end of July, where Alexis Deacon and Helen Stephens are tutoring? It's going to be excellent -but I think that there were only two places left last week so if you're interested, check it out on the SCBWI website straightaway...

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    1. Yeah, it's not easy to get them out there, Clare. I reluctantly turned my characters into bears in the fight for a publisher, but eventually found someone who would do it exactly as I wanted it. I do hope yours gets to see the light of day.

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  4. Thanks, Clare - it sounds great, but I don't get to do retreats just yet, my kids are too little and I'm too skint! Maybe next year...

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  5. lovely post, one of my faves, must say that Stick Man, by Julia Donaldson, which is also one of Daniel's favourites has had my eyes filling, and there was a wonderful book back in the 80s with a purple hippo who wanted to fly that we used to get out of the library over and over again that used to make me cry, must ask hannah if she remembers its name, and of course dogger, always Dogger, thanks Shirley Hughes for all those great memories <3

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    1. Loved that hippo book with the bird friend (an egret I think).

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    2. Anybody know the name of this one? Or the author / illustrator?

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  6. I can't read Sad Book without my voice cracking! I also love The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers - sad and beautiful :)

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  7. Oh yes "But now that I am old and grey..." gets me every time - it's just beautiful! The Paper Dolls makes me well up too, when the dolls fly into her memory. And for different reasons, Oh the Places You'll Go by Dr Seuss - for the sheer love of life it holds and the dreams it taps into about my own children growing up.

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    1. Thanks for that, Helen. And for your recommendations. I must go back to that Dr Seuss.

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  8. Two that make me tear up as an adult are Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and Grandpa Green by Lane Smith. As a child the ones remember crying over were The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell, The Red Balloon by A. Lamorisse and, though not a picture book, I have to include it, The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth.

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    1. Thanks Diane - apart from Sam's (a fellow Northern Irishman), I don't know these. I shall look them out.

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  9. Wonderful. I'm wary if my heart strings are too blatantly plucked, but I'm going to research all the books mentioned and try not to sniff. I have Rosen's 'Sad', but never shared it with my children. However, as you know, I too am an 'Owl Babies' fan and when I read it to my children my voice used to crack at: "I love my mummy," said Bill. Another book that got to me was 'Heaven' by Nicholas Allen. Plus I'm a sucker too for 'special moment' picture books like 'Big Big Sea' (also Martin Waddell), plus 'Owl Moon' by (Yolen/Schoenherr). 'The Whale's Song' (Sheldon/Blythe).
    Jane Clarke's 'Gilbert the Great' gave my son a lump in his throat every time he read it whilst babysitting (it's one of those excellent stories that can be read on several levels so the children he babysat weren't upset).
    Recently I've been buying new picture books as I've decided to let myself buy them even though my children are adults, but I can't think of any that make my eyes moist - perhaps I need the experience of sharing them with a child? Or perhaps very recent picture books aren't of this type?

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    1. Absolutely agree about not wanting the heart strings to be too blatantly plucked, Paeony. Some more, not mentioned yet, that do it for me (in a good way): Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (Mem Fox and Julie Vivas); Penguin (Polly Dunbar); Something Else (Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell) And Jane's Gilbert the Great, of course, is a fine example.

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    2. Oh gosh, I'm coming late to reading this post and I am so moved to find Gilbert in such good company.Thank you Paeony and Malachy.

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  10. 'That Pesky Rat' by Lauren Child moves me very much, even though on the surface it's funny. But, yes, good old Dogger turns the taps on for me too....

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  11. "Annie Rose is My Little Sister" (another Shirley Hughes) gets me every time, as does "Bye Bye Baby" by Janet and Allan Ahlberg...

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    1. Good choices, Juliet. The Ahlbergs and Shirley Hughes - top of the tree!

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  12. "The Chicken Cat",
    "Library Lion",
    "The Giving Tree",
    "Waiting for the Whales",
    "Just One Woof" (oh, James Herriott),
    "Pete and Pickles," (Berkeley Breathed, love this one!)

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