A young preschool student, his hands sticky from a classroom breakfast of whole wheat pancakes and blueberries, was sitting on my lap, wiggling from right to left on my thighbone. Kaleb1 had been absent the day before during our circle time reading of Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart and the Bottle (2010). I, Catherine, was about to read it to him.
This reading was part of a year-long project that saw us collaborating with six expert preschool teachers and over 60 preschool students across three different senior-level preschool classrooms. We had been working on a project focused on hard, painful feelings of grief and trauma and the necessity of remaining open in order to experience the myriad emotions life offers us. This had been a huge undertaking that often proved painful for teachers and students alike.
In many ways, the project began before Shoshana and I met. Having spent a decade teaching preschool, I was returning to doctoral studies in order to reflect on questions of early childhood literacy in my own research. In my teaching practice, I had often come up against colleagues who persisted in reading “tired” picture books, books we might label easy, that never seemed to pose many “problems”—books that did not deal with difficult topics or tackle hard-to-discuss social issues.