Determining Interrelationality in Picture Books


How do we spot interrelationality in children’s books? Boykin et al. (1997) describe this Afrocultural concept of communalism as a “spirituality, which suggests a focus on the vitalistic, shared essence of all things” (p. 409). This shared essence might be recognized in a children’s book when a harm to one character is felt by many, or by whole communities.

Susan Verde’s I Am Human (2018) is an example of a very literal approach to human interrelationality. While it doesn’t emphasize the full reach of interrelationality, it does discuss in plain terms the way we (humans) are all connected–which holds significant restorative justice meaning as well.

Cover art by Manuela Adreani

Amanda Addison and Manuela Adreani’s picture book Boundless Sky (2020) tells the story of both a migrating bird and a young girl, Leila, who is forced from her home to seek refuge. It’s done gently and beautifully in a way that connects the lives, perseverance, and courage of both creatures in a way that is poetically interrelational.

Interrelationality is demonstrated when humans are not separate from other living things and landscapes. Christina Dendy and Katie Rewse’s the Wall and the Wild (2017) is one such story. While its intentions are good-hearted in its attempt to demonstrate that humans cannot control nature and that the more we interfere, the more harm we do, there is a clear line drawn between the man-made world and “the wild.”

“At the end of Ironbark Way,” writes Dendy, “the town of Stone Hollow edges against the wild.” Not only does this bring up questions of what qualifies as “the wild” (much has been written on this question), but it clearly removes the humanity and interrelationality from such a term.

The innate justice reflection tool addresses interrelationality by asking in what ways does or doesn’t the book embrace interrelationality? A book that embraces interrelationality is nourishing of innate justice. This might be represented through the connection between people, landscapes, plants, and animals, like in A New Green Day (2020) by Antoinette Portis.

Amanda Fisher-Katz-Keohane