The edges of a child’s world congeal when her assumptions go unchecked. But when she bumps up against questions about what she takes for granted, then she has the opportunity to occupy a wider universe.
Here are four books that prompt children to enquire deeper and tease the edges of their world out a little further.
1. The Black Book of Colours by Menena Cottin and Rosana Faria
What would colour mean to you if you couldn’t see? Could you feel yellow from the sun on your skin? Would green appear to you with the smell of cut grass? Is white in the sound of seagulls as they fly over the beach? With its embossed black drawings on black paper, I’ve never known a child who hasn’t wanted to brush their finger over this book’s mysterious pages. Touch, sight, smell and taste; our senses become bleached with everyday use, that is until you’ve read The Black Book of Colours.
2. It Might be an Apple by Shinsuke Yoshitake
To see a world in a grain of sand and a curled up fish in a red apple…Well, that’s not exactly what Shakespeare said, but what if an apple might not be an apple but a ball or a post box or an apple you peel only to find more peel inside? If you eat it, then it might turn you into a giant, or turn to rubber in your mouth. The apple might start to eat you. Yoshitake rejoices in the move from “is” to “might”, from how a child’s world must be to what could be.
3. This is not a Book by Jean Jullien
When is a book not a book? Does it have to have words inside or are pictures enough? Do the pictures have to follow on from one another or can it still be a book if they are random? Does a book have to be about something? If there are pages, a spine and a front and back cover, does that mean it must be a book? Is the front door of your house like the front cover of a book? What I love about showing this book/non-book to children is that its lack of text allows me to be silent as I present each page to them and so it gives me the chance to watch their faces as their minds brim with questions.
4. The Big Ugly Monster and the Little Stone Rabbit by Chris Wormell
A monster is so hideous that in his company the trees shed their leaves and the grass turns brown. Even the stones smash when he smiles at them. All but one that is. One that he has carved into the shape of a rabbit. The monster and the rabbit become friends. On the barren land, they sing, dance and lark. Then, after a death in the story, comes the blossoming of spring, catching the reader off guard. I sometimes ask children, “If a librarian was putting happy books in one pile and sad books on another, where would this one go?” They frequently go back and forth in their answer. For children, there is often no simple take-away from the book other than the desire to read it again. A story they can’t quite touch the edges of, this always gets them reaching further.
Andy West is a senior specialist and training officer for the Philosophy Foundation. He tweets @AndyWPhilosophy