Episode 160: Using Picture Books to Teach about Conflict in Literature

In this episode we discuss using picture books to help our children easily understand the different types of conflict in literature. Come join the fun, and let us know your favorite picture books and the types of conflict revealed in them.

Show Notes with Links:

(00:00): Welcome

(00:40): Seven types of conflict in literature

(01:30): The Panda Problem

(02:45): Character vs Character conflict

Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever (Probably)

(03:28): Character vs Character or Society Group vs Society Group

The Sneetches

(04:18): Character vs Character

The Zax

(04:53): Character vs Character

 Piggie and Elephant books

Waiting Isn’t Easy

The Thank You Book

(05:29):Character vs Nature

The Moon Inside

(06:11): Character vs Nature

Alexander and the Magic Mouse

(07:22): Character vs God or the Supernatural

Jonah’s Journeys: The Minor Prophets, Book 6

(08:14): Character vs Society

Alexander and the Magic Mouse

The Sneetches

Horton Hears a Who

(08:40): Character vs Technology

Chicken Clicking

(09:31): Character vs Technology

Our Table

(09:56): Character vs Self

Hello! Hello!

(10:14): Character vs Self

I’m Not Scared, You’re Scared!

(10:39): Character vs Self


(11:20): Character vs Fate

Knight Owl

(12:14): Character vs Fate


(14:25): Closing


Books Discussed in This Episode:

Transcript with Links:

Welcome to “Books That Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that help us with everyday discipleship every day, sparking important conversations with our children.

Often you’ll hear me talk about how I love to use picture books to teach different literary devices, and I thought I should spend some time talking a little bit more specifically about these things. So today we’re going to talk about using picture books to discuss conflict in stories. I think I’ll do some other podcasts in the future to talk about different literary devices or parts of writing that we can use to help our children to understand the concepts more clearly because the stories are so clear and simple.

So when we talk about conflict, depending where you look, there are six or seven conflicts In most literature. The most common one is character versus character, or we say man versus man. It’s where one character is against another character. Another conflict is man versus nature, or character versus nature, character versus God, or the supernatural character versus society or a group of people, and a character versus technology, a character versus himself or herself. Then there’s another one, character versus fate, and this is where the character is going against what is expected of him because of his lot in life or a prophecy that has been told or something like that. There are six or seven, you don’t always have the man versus fate one listed, so that would be the seventh one. Let’s look at some different books.

The first book of course, that I have to talk about I have mentioned before is called The Panda Problem. It is by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Hannah Marks. This is a wonderful, wonderful book. I have to read a part of it to you because it just had me literally laughing out loud when I read it, the illustrations are beautiful. The panda’s up in the bamboo tree- I just love this book- The narrator is saying, once upon a time there was a panda who lived in a beautiful bamboo grove, but the panda had a big problem and the panda’s up in the bamboo tree eating bamboo, he says, “Nope,” and the narrator says, “Excuse me?” “I don’t have any problems. Lovely view, lots of bamboo to eat, sunny day, what could be better?” And the narrator says, “This is a story. I’m the narrator and you are the main character.” So he’s basically saying, “You’ve got to have a problem if you’re going to be the main character in a story, otherwise the story won’t work. That’s how a story works.” So it really teaches that every story that becomes a good story, shows a conflict, shows a problem that must be resolved, so it introduces the whole concept of conflict in stories, and this one is just really, really well done.

So let’s start with man versus man. I chose a funny story for that one, and that is Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever (Probably). It’s written by Julie Falatko and the pictures are by Tim Miller, and if you know Snappsy the Alligator, there’s three books about this character and the chicken Bert, and it’s just so funny. In this, you see the chicken is trying to plan a sleepover and Snappsy’s like, I don’t want to have a sleepover and introducing all these absurd things, and there’s just this constant conflict between the two of them throughout the story, then it is resolved in the end, so it’s a really cute story for introducing that.

A more serious one is the old classic, The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss, and this one deals with prejudice. It deals with conflict within two. This one could be man versus society as well because you’ve got the two groups battling each other and probably should be more man versus society or group versus group is more how it works, but of course, if you remember this one, it’s the sneetches without the stars on their bellies and the sneetches with the stars on their bellies. The ones with the stars think they’re better, then the guy comes to town and he can put stars on their bellies and it gets very confusing and goes on and on and they finally realize that it doesn’t matter, they’re all just sneetches. It’s dealing with prejudice. That one would probably be more man versus man or man versus society because you’ve got two groups of people.

Then you have of course, and this one is in the same book with The Sneetches that I have my copy of, it’s The Zax, and this is where there’s a north-going Zax and a south-going Zax, and they literally come face-to-face, head on with each other and refuse to move, and it shows the futility of stubbornness and how ridiculous it is to be that stubborn and to not try to solve a problem and that the world goes on around them even though they do not actually resolve their conflict. So that’s another possibility for man versus man.

I’m sure you can find a lot for man versus man or character versus character just because most books deal with that, even Piggy and Elephant books where they have some sort of conflict they’re trying to resolve, something they’re trying to understand, or whatever; Waiting Isn’t Easy is one I think of, then there’s The Thank You Book, where Piggy is trying to thank everybody and Elephant keeps interrupting him and trying to tell him he’s forgetting something, so there’s that conflict there and it’s resolved in the end. So those are cute too, but any of those kinds of books you could deal with and talk about the conflict between two characters, that one would be fairly easy to find.

Now, man versus nature. This one I thought of Sandra V. Feder’s book, The Moon Inside. She was a guest on our podcast last year, I believe this book came out back then. This is really beautiful. It’s talking about a little girl who loves the daytime and all the colors, but she hates nighttime. She gets afraid every time it gets dark, and her mom talks with her and helps her to appreciate the beauty of the nighttime, the moon and the stars, hearing the crickets chirping and all of that, so it’s really a beautiful book, and I really love this book, I think it shows a way that the girl reconciles with her conflict with nature.

Another one that deals with several conflicts in it, this is one of my favorite books, it’s out of print, it’s also one of my daughter’s favorite picture books, so you might have to hunt for it at the library, but it’s a classic. It’s Alexander and the Magic Mouse by Martha Sanders and the pictures are by Philippe Fix. I had this book and it got ruined. I searched and searched for another copy of it and I finally found one and got this used copy and I treasure it, I love this story. In this story, there’s a storm coming and they need to warn the citizens of the city to let them know there’s going to be a bad storm and a flood, so there’s the conflict of the weather, there’s the conflict between the society and the different animals in the story because one of them is an alligator and they’re afraid of him and he’s trying to warn them of the storm. So you have the character versus society, you have all the characters versus nature, you have conflict between the different characters in the story, the animals that live in this house, it’s just beautifully done. It’s layer upon layer of a story, but it’s a great picture book. So that one, you could talk about several of the conflicts in that one.

For character versus God, I can’t think of any better story than Jonah, and there’s a lot of picture books about Jonah. I prefer to get one that says Jonah and the Big Fish because that’s what the Bible says. It doesn’t say a whale, so it always bothers me when they say whale, but whatever. But there’s a really cute one that I like, this one is Jonah’s Journeys: The Minor Prophets, Book 6, and it’s by Brian J. Wright and John Robert Brown. This one, I like the illustrations, I like the way the story’s told, so I recommend this one, but there’s lots of different versions of Jonah’s story, you could just read it straight out of the Bible even and use that to show the conflict of man versus God, and him trying to hide from God and flee away from God. Of course, you could always tell the story of Adam and Eve, you could tell so many different stories from the Bible for that one.

For man versus Society, we’ve mentioned a couple here. Like I said, you can talk about Alexander and the Magic Mouse and The Sneetches, but we could also use some other Dr. Seuss books. Horton Hears a Who, that one, he’s trying to tell them there’s a society that needs their help and everybody’s acting like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, so that one I think is a really good one for man versus society.

Now, man versus technology. I personally had a hard time finding books like this because I don’t really often read books about man versus technology that are picture book level. Of course, older books, you can think of a lot of them, but there’s one that I found that is really cute called Chicken Clicking. This book is a very short little picture book, but it deals a lot with safety on the internet. Chicken, she comes into the house, the farmer’s house when he’s asleep, she starts buying all kinds of things online and the farmer, of course is very upset, he thinks his wife is doing this and she’s like, “No, it’s not me.” Then on top of that little chicken meets someone online and it’s a new little friend online and she’s all excited to meet the new friend and it turns out to be a fox, so it talks about safety on the internet.

Another one that is character versus technology, Our Table by Peter H. Reynolds deals a little bit with that. The little girl is like “We’ve left our table and have gotten caught up in the busyness of life,” which in the story has illustrations of the mom talking on her phone, you know, different things taking us away from just family time, and there’s a couple other books about this kind of an idea.

Another one is, Hello! Hello! by Matthew Cordell. This one is kind of cute. It doesn’t have a whole lot of words in it, but this little girl rediscovers the outdoors as she walks away from the technology, so it’s kind of a character versus technology sort of situation.

There are a lot of good picture books about character versus self. I’ve mentioned before, I’m Not Scared, You Are Scaredby Seth Meyers, pictures by Rob Sayegh Jr. This one, even though there’s a little bit of a conflict between character versus character between the bear and the rabbit, there is also the conflict within the bear’s own life as he’s trying to deal with his own fear, so that’s a good one.

Another one is Sweep by Louise Greig and Júlia Sardà. This one is about dealing with bad emotions and conquering one’s own emotions and sweeping those bad emotions away, that something has to change and we sweep away those emotions, and so it makes it very visual as something triggers the bad emotion and it’s like a leaf blowing in the wind and it messes up your situation or whatever, then more and more leaves collect and he decides to sweep them away, so I love that because it’s showing him as he conquers his own emotions and his own attitudes. It’s a really good book for man versus self.

Now, man versus fate, I did find a couple that we could put into this category. Of course, we’ve talked about Knight Owl before on an episode, and I love this book by Christopher Denise. In this story, of course, Owl wants to become a knight, he’s dreamed of being a knight his whole life and he goes to knight school and becomes a knight, and it shows his limitations in becoming a knight, but he does become a knight and graduates with honor just like every knight does, and then he is on the knight watch, so he has the knight night watch and discovers why some knights have been disappearing at night and it shows him overcoming the situation as a knight would, so even though he’s a little owl and you wouldn’t think of him as being a knight, he overcomes his obstacles, his fate, his lot in life, to become what he always dreamed of being, so that would I think, fall under man versus fate.

Another one is based on a true story, and I’ve mentioned it I believe in another episode, but I love this book and it’s called Listen. This is about a percussionist who is deaf and overcomes the obstacles of her own limitations to actually become one of the first soloists as a percussionist, and she was very well known in Britain. So this is another great story to read to our children, but it also emphasizes that man versus fate, or character versus fate conflict.

So these are some books we can use to talk about the different types of conflict and how the story is made more interesting and more powerful because there’s conflict, because there’s a problem that has to be solved; every book is like that. So then you could pull out some of your favorite books and have your children figure out what conflict they’re seeing in that story. Sometimes there’s more than one, usually for a picture book, most of the time there will not be more than two conflicts. You might have man versus society and man versus self or something like that, man versus man or man versus society, but you rarely have more than just the two conflicts. That’s why Alexander and the Magic Mouse is a little more in-depth, because it actually has quite a few little conflicts going on in there, but the ultimate story shows cooperation, caring, and determination, and I really love that about that story. So as you finish talking about these stories with your younger children and your older children, like I said, I like to use these even with high schoolers when I taught Brit Lit and American Lit to kind of outline what it means to have a conflict and see it resolved and how it is resolved or if it is resolved, then you can go into the more sophisticated literature and the student or the child is more equipped to find and label the different conflicts they see in the story. So that’s what we’re trying to do by using these stories with our older children, is to help them then have an easy way to understand the different literary devices that we’re talking about.


If you have any questions, of course you can always ask or comment on the blog post for this episode, and you’ll find that on my website, which is TerrieHellardBrown.com. We respond to every comment, so feel free to ask any questions you have. Thank you for joining us for “Books That Spark,” where we encourage each other to live out everyday discipleship, helping to equip our children to follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you enjoyed this episode, please like and share on social media so people know we are here or leave a review on a podcast host site, that would mean the world to us. We really appreciate you. If you would like to connect with me, like I said, you can find me on TerrieHellardBrown.com, we love to hear from you. We pray you feel empowered as a parent or caregiver to walk by faith and to embrace everyday discipleship every day with the children in your life.

Your Host: Terrie Hellard-Brown

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to empower children and adults to embrace everyday discipleship every day. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids.

Her blog posts discuss living as a disciple of Christ while parenting our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ and to use the nooks and crannies of our lives to disciple our children everyday.

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 35+ years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 35 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be WONDERFUL” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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