PPBF – Sleep Well, Siba & Saba

I’m keeping with the back-to-school theme this week, as I always think of school in September. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that they both start with the letter S, as do the names of the main characters of today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Sleep Well, Siba & Saba

Written By: Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl

Illustrated By: Sandra van Doorn

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing Ltd./2017

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: school, lost possessions, dreams, #ReadYourWorld

Opening:

Siba and Saba lost things. Not a day slipped by when the sisters hadn’t lost something…somewhere.

Brief Synopsis: Two sisters in Uganda dream of items they’ve lost each day, until one day their dreams are of the future.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover Uganda, in central Africa, the setting for this story;
  • Have you ever lost something? What did you do? Describe or draw something you’ve lost. Did you find it? How did you feel?
  • Describe or draw a dream you’ve had.

Why I Like this Book:

With its two loving sisters and snippets of their lives in Uganda, Sleep Well, Siba & Saba acts as a window into a place and lifestyle that many of us probably may never experience. As the story begins, the reader learns that the two sisters constantly are losing things, like scarves and shoes, everything except what really matters: each other. Each night, the sisters dream of the items they’ve lost. Often these dreams incorporate colorful scenes from Uganda, including the savannah and landmarks like Sipi Falls and Ssese Islands.

But one night, the girls’ dreams turn from past lost items to the future, including, for Saba, a new school uniform. In the final spread, the sisters encounter a signpost with several international cities, Mount Everest and the moon featured – as they dream of the future, who knows what they’ll see.

I love the positivity of this story. Incorporating Ugandan phrases and names and utilizing lyrical language, Sleep Well, Siba & Saba transported me into their fantasy-filled world. I especially loved the whimsical and colorful illustrations filled with the fabrics, wildlife and plants native to Uganda. And I think younger children will enjoy finding their pet dog in most scenes. Even she dreams of future treats!

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, Isdahl includes Ugandan phrases, names, and landmarks to place us in the story. Van Doorn furthers this by including sweeping savannahs and colorful fabrics throughout the spreads. By incorporating dreams and fantastical illustrations, I think the author and illustrator heighten the sense that we’re visiting a unique world where dreams, in fact, come true. That a school uniform is part of that dream shows, I think, that education is the way for Siba and Saba, and all readers, to reach their goals – even the moon.

Sleep Well, Siba & Saba is Isdahl’s debut picture book. Isdahl, an American-born writer of Ugandan descent who now lives and works in Africa, is also the author of Sing to the Moon, illustrated by van Doorn. View more of van Doorn’s illustrations at her website.

Lantana Publishing is an independent UK publisher, “an award-winning social enterprise with a mission to see all children reflected in the books they read.”

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Speeches

As we approach another anniversary of one of the saddest dates in history, I couldn’t help but remember the days that followed, during which world leaders and preachers attempted to bring comfort and courage to many. Although Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not among those preachers, his words spoken decades before were in my mind and heart then, and they continue to bring comfort and courage to many now, as he preached of dreams and unity and hope for all.

A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech that inspired a Nation

Author: Barry Wittenstein

Illustrator: Jerry Pinkney

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books (Holiday House Publishing, Inc.)/2019

Ages: 7-10

Themes: Martin Luther King; Civil Rights; March on Washington; I Have a Dream speech

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Much has been written about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 1963 March on Washington. But there’s little on his legendary speech and how he came to write it. Find out more in this gripping book with illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was once asked if the hardest part of preaching was knowing where to begin. No, he said. The hardest part is knowing where to end. “It’s terrible to be circling up there without a place to land.”
Finding this place to land was what Martin Luther King, Jr. struggled with, alongside advisors and fellow speech writers, in the Willard Hotel the night before the March on Washington, where he gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. But those famous words were never intended to be heard on that day, not even written down for that day, not even once.

Barry Wittenstein teams up with legendary illustrator Jerry Pinkney to tell the story of how, against all odds, Martin found his place to land.

Read a review at Picture Books Help Kids Soar.

 

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968

Author: Alice Faye Duncan

Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie

Publisher/Date: Calkins Creek (an imprint of Highlights)/2018

Ages: 9-12

Themes: Martin Luther King, Civil Rights, protest

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This historical fiction picture book presents the story of nine-year-old Lorraine Jackson, who in 1968 witnessed the Memphis sanitation strike–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final stand for justice before his assassination–when her father, a sanitation worker, participated in the protest.
In February 1968, two African American sanitation workers were killed by unsafe equipment in Memphis, Tennessee. Outraged at the city’s refusal to recognize a labor union that would fight for higher pay and safer working conditions, sanitation workers went on strike. The strike lasted two months, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was called to help with the protests. While his presence was greatly inspiring to the community, this unfortunately would be his last stand for justice. He was assassinated in his Memphis hotel the day after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon in Mason Temple Church. Inspired by the memories of a teacher who participated in the strike as a child, author Alice Faye Duncan reveals the story of the Memphis sanitation strike from the perspective of a young girl with a riveting combination of poetry and prose.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because I believe that reading them together will help children gain a more complete picture of this epic era and the legacy of Dr. King and his dreams. In A Place to Land, Wittenstein explores the genesis of King’s most well-known speech and shows that its impact arises not just from the ideas of Dr. King but also from the preacher’s passion that infused his speech and inspires us still. In Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, Duncan “mined” history books and the “memories of a Memphis teacher” who had marched as a young girl and whose father was a striking sanitation worker. Duncan tells the story in short, poetic vignettes (quotations from Introduction). Both texts include wonderful backmatter to further readers’ experiences.

Looking for similar reads?

See, I Have a Dream, the words of Dr. King’s well-known speech paired with paintings by Kadir Nelson (2012) and Martin Rising: Requiem for a King, Andrea Davis Pinkney & Brian Pinkney (2018).

PPBF – Neema’s Reason to Smile

I was fortunate to win today’s Perfect Picture Book in a giveaway late last year from Pragmatic Mom. It was reviewed for Children’s Multicultural Book Day this past January by my friend, Vivian Kirkfield, so I wanted to wait until just the right time to review it, too. Because so many kids are returning to school this month, I think today is the perfect time. I hope you agree!

Title: Neema’s Reason to Smile

Written By: Patricia Newman

Illustrated By: Mehrdokht Amini

Publisher/Date: Lightswitch Learning, a Sussman Education company/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: school, Africa, poverty, dreams

Opening:

Mama and I climb the hill to our favorite rock overlooking the savanna. We dream of the future while elephant take mud baths in the fading light.

Brief Synopsis:

Young Neema dreams of attending school to better her life, and, with her Mama, works hard to fill the Dream Basket to collect money for school fees.

Links to Resources:

  • Create your own Dream Basket, by following the instructions in the book. What will you do with the money you collect? Buy something for yourself, a family member or friend? Donate to a favorite cause?
  • Neema walks to and from school each day. How do you get to school? Describe in words or pictures your route to school;
  • Describe in words or pictures something that makes you smile;
  • Learn about the real school on which Neema’s school is based, the Jambo Jipya School in Mtwapa, Kenya, and see how you might support its work through the reason2smile organization.

Why I Like this Book:

As children in much of the world head back to school this month, I think this is a perfect book to explore how much education means to so many in this world. Set in an unnamed African village, Neema’s Reason to Smile follows young Neema as she dreams of attending school. But attending school in her region costs money, for school fees, supplies, and a uniform. So Neema helps by selling fruit that she carries on her head to the village, and Mama sews to add, slowly, to the Dream Basket of coins.

Just as Neema worries that they’ll never earn enough to pay for school, they learn that maybe the Basket holds enough after all (I won’t spoil the ending by sharing any details).

Newman peppers the story with references to local characters and comparisons to animals found in the savannah, like the lion, gazelle, egret, and zebra.

Amini’s vibrant and colorful illustrations made me feel like I was journeying with Neema to the village and school.

Whether you read this at home with your school-aged child or in a classroom setting, I think kids and adults will enjoy learning about how one girl dreams of a better future and how she works hard to achieve that goal. Included are Discussion Questions, Activities, a Group Activity, Author’s Note and Glossary to further your knowledge.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Newman informs readers that the idea for Neema’s Reason to Smile arose from a phone call with a librarian in New York City who wanted to share the story of a real school in Kenya, on which Neema’s school is based. After many telephone calls with the school’s founders and teachers and after viewing many videos of the school and students, Newman wrote this fictional story which highlights the desire for learning exhibited by the real students and their perseverance to attend school. Creating a fictional main character and story while remaining true to the experiences of actual students enables Newman to draw a more complete picture of the school, I think, and better incorporate universal themes into the story.

Visit Newman’s website to see more of her books that “empower young readers to act”.

Amini was born in Iran but currently lives in England. Visit her website to see more of her work.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing – Promotes Social Action

I met both of these authors at a fabulous recent Highlights Foundation Master Class for Non-Fiction writers. When I read these books, I knew I had to pair them! And for those heading back to school now, note that the first book features a classroom setting.

Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You

Author: Carole Boston Weatherford

Illustrator: James E. Ransome

Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury Children’s Books/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., social justice, take action, multicultural

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

You can be a King. Stamp out hatred. Put your foot down and walk tall.

You can be a King. Beat the drum for justice. March to your own conscience.

Featuring a dual narrative of the key moments of Dr. King’s life alongside a modern class as the students learn about him, Carole Weatherford’s poetic text encapsulates the moments that readers today can reenact in their own lives. See a class of young students as they begin a school project inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and learn to follow his example, as he dealt with adversity and never lost hope that a future of equality and justice would soon be a reality. As times change, Dr. King’s example remains, encouraging a new generation of children to take charge and change the world . . . to be a King. 

Read a review in School Library Journal.

 

Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights

Author: Rob Sanders

Illustrator: Jared Andrew Schorr

Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: protest, equal rights, concept book, multicultural

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A primer for peaceful protest, resistance, and activism from the author of Rodzilla and Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag

Protesting. Standing up for what’s right. Uniting around the common good—kids have questions about all of these things they see and hear about each day. Through sparse and lyrical writing, Rob Sanders introduces abstract concepts like “fighting for what you believe in” and turns them into something actionable. Jared Schorr’s bold, bright illustrations brings the resistance to life making it clear that one person can make a difference. And together, we can accomplish anything.

Read my review.

I paired these books because they both prompt children to take action to promote social justice. While Be a King encourages children to follow the lead of the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights emphasizes actions through an A to Z of social activism. Read together, these picture books will have children ready to boycott, be a friend, march, protest and create a better, more inclusive world, including in their own classrooms.

PPBF – Tahmineh’s Beautiful Bird

As we near the “unofficial” end of summer with September looming and kids heading back to school, I want to feature a Perfect Picture Book that captures the joy and beauty of summer landscapes. I think today’s choice does just that.

Title: Tahmineh’s Beautiful Bird

Written and Illustrated By: Parviz Kalantari

Publisher/Date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd./2015 (originally published in Persian, Chekkeh Publisher, Tehran, Iran/2012)

Translated By: Azita Rassi

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Iran, nature, handicrafts, memory, #ReadYourWorld

Opening:

It was summer, and Tahmineh’s tribe were living with their animals on the grassy high pastures. When winter came they would pack everything up, and move down to the lower plains. But Tahmineh liked the summer pastures best.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl tries to preserve the lovely sounds of a beautiful bird of summer using her artistic skills.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

In this vibrantly illustrated picture book, Kalantari introduces readers to a little-known people, the nomadic Qahqai tribespeople, while exploring a universal theme, the desire to capture beauty, but doing so in a way that doesn’t harm the natural world. Like the main character, Tahmineh, I think children will be charmed by the appearance of a beautiful songbird that shares its gorgeous melody. I think, too, that they will be intrigued by the idea of capturing the “memory” of the bird and by Tahmineh’s method of doing so.

Although capturing the memory as Tahmineh does may not occur to many young readers, they will understand the need to keep the memory, while allowing the bird to remain free. And the magical ending is sure to please young and old readers alike.

A Note about Craft:

While focusing on the lives and traditional crafts of a little-known nomadic tribe, Kalantari manages to explore a universal issue, too: enjoying nature without harming it. I think Kalantari manages this duality well: I was intrigued to learn more about Tahmineh and her tribal culture, and I was so happy to learn that she and her family care about something that I care about. I think that by showing how we are similar to Tahmineh and her fellow Qahqai tribespeople, it encourages readers to want to learn more about them.

Per the publisher, Kalantari is a prominent Iranian writer, illustrator and painter who focuses on the “everyday life of nomad tribes, desert people, and those living by the sea.”

Tiny Owl Publishing is a UK-based independent publisher of beautiful and thought-provoking picture books, many of them by Iranian authors and/or illustrators.

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Caribbean Canvas

I found today’s Perfect Picture Book in my local library, and I was excited to see that it’s illustrated by a favorite artist who has long painted this beautiful part of the world.

Title: Caribbean Canvas

Written  & Illustrated By: Frané Lessac

Publisher/Date: J.B. Lippincott, a division of Macmillan Publishers/1987

Suitable for Ages: all

Themes/Topics: poetry, Caribbean islands, multicultural

Opening:

The Song of the Banana Man

Up in de hills, where the streams are cool,/ Where mullet an’ janga swim in de pool,/ I have ten acres of mountain side,/ An’ a dainty-foot donkey dat I ride,/ Four Gros Michel, an’ four Lacatan,/ Some coconut trees, and some hills of yam,/ An’ I pasture on dat very same lan’/ Five she-goats an’ a big black ram. (Evan Jones)

Brief Synopsis: A series of poems and proverbs featuring Caribbean stories and culture and accompanied by paintings by Lessac.

Links to Resources:

  • Draw a picture of a place you enjoy living or visiting;
  • Learn more about the many varied islands of the Caribbean region.

Why I Like this Book:

In this classic collection of 19 poems written by various Caribbean-based poets and a few proverbs paired with her colorfully-detailed, folk-art paintings, Lessac introduces several Caribbean islands to young readers. I love how the various cultures are shared through the words and pictures, depicting a multicultural world of villages, farms and market squares, and the sea.

In Una Marson’s poem, Kinky Hair Blues, the poet shares that she “don’t envy gals/What got dose locks so fair” and instead prefers her own “kinky hair”.  I love the empowering self-acceptance! Similar to the story of the Big Bad Wolf, a West Indian proverb notes that you don’t need to worry about a hurricane if you’ve prepared and live in a cement house. And a few poets discuss their hesitation to leave small islands via emigration or death.

Although the vernacular poetry is at times difficult to read aloud (see the opening, above), I appreciate that it includes the rhythms and vocabulary of island speakers. I also was pleased to discover a celebration of the multicultural aspects of this region, published over 30 years ago.

A Note about Craft:

More anthology than picture book per se, Lessac’s exploration of the Caribbean islands truly is a “canvas” of this varied region. By pairing her own vibrant paintings with the words of native poets, I think she offers a celebration for those who call or called the Caribbean islands “home” and an introduction for those not familiar with the region.

Visit Lessac’s website to view more of her artwork and books.

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing – of Grandparents & Balloons

I saw the first book featured today on a shelf in my local library, and I immediately thought of one of my favorite picture books from last year – the recipe, in my mind, for a perfect pairing! Note, too, the publication date of the first book featured and its inclusion of a multicultural family.

 

A Balloon for Grandad

Author: Nigel Gray

Illustrator: Jane Ray

Publisher/Date: Orchard Books, a division of Franklin Watts, Inc./1988

Ages: 4-7

Themes: intergenerational, multicultural, balloons, family, imagination

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Unhappy when he loses his silver and red balloon, Sam is comforted by imagining it on its way to visit his grandfather in Egypt.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

The Remember Balloons

Author: Jessie Oliveros

Illustrator: Dana Wulfekotte

Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/2018

Ages: 5-9

Themes: intergenerational, memories, balloons, family

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

James’s Grandpa has the best balloons because he has the best memories. He has balloons showing Dad when he was young and Grandma when they were married. Grandpa has balloons about camping and Aunt Nelle’s poor cow. Grandpa also has a silver balloon filled with the memory of a fishing trip he and James took together.

But when Grandpa’s balloons begin to float away, James is heartbroken. No matter how hard he runs, James can’t catch them. One day, Grandpa lets go of the silver balloon—and he doesn’t even notice!

Grandpa no longer has balloons of his own. But James has many more than before. It’s up to him to share those balloons, one by one.

Read a review at Children’s Books Heal.

I paired these books because they feature intergenerational stories in which balloons play an important role. In A Balloon for Grandad, the thought that his lost balloon may be traveling to visit Grandad far away consoles Sam, whereas in The Remember Balloons, the balloons symbolize the memories that bind James and his beloved grandfather. Both books feature loving families and deal with difficult topics: the distance that separates many loved ones and memory loss in older relatives.

Looking for similar reads? See Grandad’s Island.