Fact and Fiction in Picture Book Form

If picture books are your form, take a moment to read Luli and the Language of Tea by Andrea Wang. There are other children in the play room but Luli always plays alone. Each child sits in isolation because none of them speak the same language. Their parents are in an ESL class and the children are simply biding time.

But that isn’t going to work for Luli. The next time she comes, she brings a treat to share – a pot of tea. She calls everyone over and begins to pour. I’m not going to tell you the two marvelous twists in this story. You’ll have to read it yourself.

This is a story all about tea and the fact that the names for tea worldwide are variations on a closely related theme – tea or chai. In the author’s note, Wang explains that the similarities in the word for tea worldwide have always fascinated her.

She could have written about this in a nonfiction book. That’s what Ann Morris did in Bread, Bread, Bread. I haven’t discussed this with Wang but perhaps she didn’t choose a nonfiction route because it would be too similar to the many books written by Morris on bread, hats, shoes, homes, weddings and more.

Many topics can be approached either way. But a straight nonfiction approach, handled less artfully than Morris does, can feel at worst preachy and at best like a lesson. “Hey, kids! I’ve got something you need to know.” With skill, Morris has created numerous books that show of the joyous variety found in our world.

Wang’s fictional story does the same thing while also demonstrating the compassion of the young characters and just a bit of humor. Do you have a nonfiction story that isn’t quite working? Could you spin the information into a fictional story?

–SueBE