It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day parenting and delay addressing safety issues such as fires, strangers and earthquakes. Part of the problem may be that these emergency situations don’t naturally come up in everyday conversation.
Picture books are a great way to broach topics that may not arise until it’s too late. The characters serve as prime examples of what to or what not to do, which can be clarified through further discussion.
The following picture books are great for initiating safety discussions.
On a hot summer night in the city, a boy asks his sister, his mom and then his dad to play. However, each one is too busy. When the power goes out, suddenly no one is busy. The family climbs up to the roof to cool off and discovers a block party in the sky. Then, they descend to the streets and find another party in progress with neighbors bonding over ice cream that’s about to melt. When the power returns, the family turns out the lights and continues enjoying family time without distraction.
Francis The Earthquake Dog
Authors: Judith Ross Enderle and Stephanie Gordon Tessler
Illustrator: Brooke Scudder
Publisher: Chronicle Books (March 1, 1996)
Ages: 3 and up
In turn-of-the century San Francisco, a young boy, Edward, saves a dog off the streets and promises to take care of him. But the dog runs off, and Edward worries about where he has gone. Then, the great quake strikes, and Edward worries even more about his little dog. Days pass, and against all odds, Edward and his father pull the dog from the rubble. Based on a true story, this picture book includes information about how earthquakes happen and a checklist of what to do when there is an earthquake.
Horace and Morris Say Cheese (which makes Dolores sneeze!)
Author: James Howe
Illustrator: Amy Walrod
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (2009)
Ages: 5 and up
Horace, Morris and Dolores love cheese—which makes sense because they are mice. They eat it everyday, and they eat all types of it. Until one day, Dolores starts sneezing and breaks out in hives. The doctor determines Dolores has a cheese allergy. Dolores can’t imagine life without cheese, but she adjusts—until she learns about the upcoming Everything Cheese Festival. She begins to see cheese everywhere: at the movies, on the moon, in bed. She breaks down, triggering an allergic reaction. Dolores vows not to eat cheese again, but she is tired of eating the same thing everyday. So she comes up with a creative solution that has everyone else clamoring for her non-cheese dishes.
No Dragons for Tea: Fire Safety for Kids (and Dragons)
Author: Jean Pendziwol
Illustrator: Martine Gourbault
Publisher: Kids Can Press (April 1, 1999)
Ages: 3 and up
When a little girl accidentally bumps into a dragon, he seems so nice that she invites him to tea. However, as they are enjoying their meal, a sprinkle of pepper causes the dragon to sneeze and set the house on fire. The little girl knows just what to do. As soon as the smoke alarm rings, she follows all the proper fire safety steps and gets herself and her new friend out of the house. The book includes a fire-safety rhyme as well as a checklist of discussion points and practical advice.
Office Buckle and Gloria
Author/Illustrator: Peggy Rathmann
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (September 28, 1995)
Ages: 4 and up
In this Caldecott Medal winner, Officer Buckle is a safety expert in the town of Napville. Unfortunately, his safety presentations literally put the kids to sleep—until he partners with Gloria, a police dog. With Gloria at his side, Officer Buckle presents to eager and responsive audiences. Unbeknownst to Officer Buckle, the laughs and cheers are not for him but for Gloria, who is miming his safety tips. When he discovers the truth, a disillusioned Officer Buckle gives up presenting. This leads to Napville’s worst accident ever, which makes Officer Buckle realize the value of his safety presentations.
Once Upon a Twice
Author: Denise Doyen
Illustrator: Barry Moser
Publisher: Random House (August 25, 2009)
Ages: 4 and up
In this lyrical picture book reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” a foolhardy mouse shuns the advice of his elders and boldly seeks adventure during the dangerous night. Predators lurk, waiting to catch a careless mouse. Rather than staying in the shadows, the mouse sits out in the open, becoming an easy target for a snake gliding up behind him. The poor mouse has the fright of his life but survives. Over time, the tables turn, and he becomes the elder mouse educating the young on the dangers of the night.
Author/Illustrator: Melanie Watt
Publisher: Kids Can Press (March 1, 2008)
Ages: 4 and up
As his name suggests, Scaredy Squirrel is one scared squirrel. He fears tarantulas, green Martians and killer bees, among other things. His fears are so out of control that he must keep every aspect of his life in control. He never leaves his nut tree. He follows a rigid daily routine. He even has an emergency kit and plan in place, just in case something unexpected happens. Of course, despite his best efforts, he ends up out of his tree. Luckily, he soars to the occasion and survives.
The Berenstein Bears Learn About Strangers
Authors/Illustrators: Stan Berenstein and Jan Berenstein
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (August 12, 1985)
Ages: 4 and up
Cautious Brother Bear warns his extroverted sister about talking to strangers. Of course, appropriate to her age, she asks, “Why?” Papa Bear explains the stranger danger using examples from the newspaper. This causes Sister to overreact and see danger everywhere. Mama Bear must clarify that all strangers are not bad to help Sister feel comfortable again. This story also addresses the difference between tattling and telling, a fine line often difficult for kids to discern. This picture book also includes a list of the bears’ rules, useful for starting a discussion about rules with your children.
Margaret Greanias (email@example.com) is an aspiring children’s picture book author. She has two young children and lives in Los Altos.