PPBF – Grandpa Across the Ocean

This Sunday, we celebrate Grandparents Day in the United States. I think today’s Perfect Picture Book is a wonderful way to celebrate the bonds that unite grandparents and grandchildren, wherever they live. I hope you agree!

Title: Grandpa Across the Ocean

Written & Illustrated By: Hyewon Yum

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: intergenerational, Asian-Americans, Korea, grandparents

Opening:

My Grandpa lives on the other side of the ocean. Where Grandpa lives, it smells strange. It sounds strange.

Brief Synopsis: There might be many differences between a Grandpa and his grandson who speak different languages and live on opposite sides of an ocean, but many things unite them, too.

Links to Resources:

  • Cook a meal with an elderly relative or family friend that includes a favorite dish of theirs and yours;
  • Celebrate Grandparents Day with these fun activities;
  • Learn about South Korea, the setting for this story.

Why I Like this Book:

In Grandpa Across the Ocean, Yum uses kid-relatable examples to show the differences between the Korean grandpa and his visiting American grandson. In addition to the language barrier, readers learn that Grandpa eats yucky foods, watches news programs instead of cartoons, and “naps all the time in his chair”. And the only toy in the house, a ball, ends up crashing into Grandpa’s potted plants, causing a big mess. What child can’t relate to that?

Like the unnamed grandchild, young readers will expect Grandpa to react with sorrow and anger. My guess is that many adults will share that expectation. But instead, this mishap leads to greater understanding between Grandpa and the boy of the similarities that unite them. I love that many of these occur in nature.

Yum’s colorful colored pencil illustrations complement and further the text. I particularly enjoyed a two-page spread featuring Grandpa and the boy, in matching hats at the beach, accompanied by the perceptive text, “We watch the waves come and go. They look just like the waves on the other side of the ocean.” How true! And certainly something we all should remember, whether we’re thinking about barriers separating family members or even separating strangers.  

A Note about Craft:

On the jacket flap, readers learn that Yum was born and raised in South Korea, but now resides in New York. Like the mother in this story, she spends part of each summer in South Korea with her own children so that they can spend time with their grandparents. Clearly she has mined these experiences to craft this story.

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!

PPBF – 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag

I’m happy to be sharing a recently published picture book that I had the good fortune to win from the wonderful crew at Kidlit 411 earlier this summer.* I knew when it arrived in the mail that I wanted to save my review of it until now, as we reflect on the events of September 11th, on its 20th anniversary.

Title: 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag

Written By: Amanda Davis

Illustrated By: Sally Wern Comport

Publisher/Date: WorthKids, an imprint of Hachette Book Group/2021

Suitable for Ages: 5-8+

Themes/Topics: 9/11, American flag, hope, community, healing, non-fiction

Opening:

On September 11, 2001, New York City was attacked. Two planes were flown into the World Trade Center. The Twin Towers collapsed, and thousands of people lost their lives.

It was a tragic day in America’s history.

Brief Synopsis:

The story of an American flag that flew at Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11, that became tattered and torn, and that was repaired by people coming together in a journey through all 50 states.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Back Matter, including a link to the national 911 flag website;
  • For the 20th anniversary of 9/11, 30,000 Stitches embarked on a tour of many of the places where the 9/11 Flag was stitched. Click on reflections from some of the many people who helped repair the Flag in this Voices from the Flag Tour;
  • Learn more about the American Flag.

Why I Like this Book:

It’s not easy writing a feel-good, hope-filled story about a tragedy, but this is exactly what Amanda Davis has done in 30,000 Stitches.

Although the story begins on that fateful day 20 years ago, readers’ attention quickly is drawn to the flag that construction workers hung over Ground Zero in the aftermath of the bombing. From there, readers learn that the flag became “Torn. Tattered. Tired.” It was stored away, where it languished until a tornado destroyed a town in Kansas several years later.

A team from New York volunteered to help rebuild that town, and town residents asked that they bring along something from the World Trade Center for a new memorial park. But instead of placing the ragged flag in the park, the residents repaired the 9/11 Flag.

As Davis notes, “a grand idea was born.” The Flag would journey to all 50 states, where in ceremonies, new stitches and new pieces of fabric would join together to fully restore the flag. From World War II veterans in Hawaii, to members of Martin Luther King Jr.’s family in Georgia, and many places in between, the flag and a team of volunteers crisscrossed the nation as the fabric of America united to commemorate the victims of 9/11 and showcase the strength, hope, and unity of our nation.

I love how Davis weaves sewing terms throughout the text. And in her collaged illustrations, Comport includes stitches that bring to mind the 30,000 stitches that Americans in each of the 50 states used to restore the Flag. One two-page spread tracks the journey across a multi-colored map of the US, with the journey indicated by stitches and the locations of the restoration ceremonies indicated by Xs. A single sentence accompanies the map: “The flag wove its way across America—crisscrossing borders, cross-stitching lives.” I love the image those words convey.

I think children and their adults reading 30,000 Stitches will gain not only a greater understanding of the postscript to the 9/11 tragedy, but a better appreciation of the importance of national symbols, like our Flag, and of communities rallying to overcome tragedy.

A Note about Craft:

As Davis relates in an Author’s Note, she first learned about the 9/11 Flag and its journey to rebirth while searching for an art project for her high school students to commemorate “the lives lost on that tragic day” and that “also focused on the strength and unity that America displayed” afterwards. She discovered the National 9/11 Flag, and its story wouldn’t leave her. In addition to basing an art lesson on it, she crafted this story, weaving in many sewing terms and a refrain-like tag line, “The fabric of America…” In the end, readers learn, “The fabric of America endures.”

*I received a copy of 30,000 Stitches in a contest, with no expectation, nor requirement, of reviewing it. The opinions expressed are purely my own, and they are not predicated on receiving a copy of the book.

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!

PPBF – This Very Tree

I think most adults can tell you where they were twenty years ago on 11 September 2001. I was living in upstate New York at the time, but my first career, in the mid and late 1980s, was on Wall Street in lower Manhattan. My husband and I commuted by train from suburban New Jersey, arriving each morning to the bowels of the Trade Center, riding a long escalator to ground level, and then walking to our offices.

On 9/11, I thought back to our neighbors and friends who commuted with us, some of whom brought babies and toddlers to a wonderful day care center in the area. Many of our former colleagues still worked in the area (thankfully, no one we knew was in the Towers that day, although some witnessed the tragedy first hand). So when I saw this new picture book, I knew I had to read and review it.

Title: This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth

Written & Illustrated By: Sean Rubin

Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: 9/11, World Trade Center, New York City, Survivor Tree, resilience, tragedy

Opening:

In New York City there once stood two towers. For a time, they were the tallest buildings in the world. Below the towers was a busy plaza.

That’s where I was planted.

Brief Synopsis: A pear tree that had lived on the plaza between the twin towers of the World Trade Center describes 9/11 and lives to experience the rebirth that followed.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about the history of the World Trade Center, 9/11, and the Survivor Tree in the back matter;
  • Read E.B. White’s lines quoted from Here is New York (1949) about This Very Tree that must be saved (appears as a foreword). Why do you think E.B. White thought a particular willow tree was worthy of saving? Why do you think the pear tree from the World Trade Center plaza was worth saving?
  • Do you have a favorite tree or other plant? What is it about that plant that you like? Draw a picture of that tree or plant.

Why I Like this Book:

Told from the point-of-view of a Callery pear tree, This Very Tree recounts the story of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City and the rebirth of the surrounding area afterwards. Because of the large loss of life, the horror of the circumstances, and the feelings of vulnerability and distrust that followed, the 9/11 attacks are perhaps the most difficult of topics for a picture book. But by focusing on a tree, a tree that survived the attacks, thrived afterwards, and returned to the very plaza to offer solace and hope, I think Rubin has rendered this tragedy accessible to kids.

I love how Rubin includes so many natural features in the illustrations. Birds flit in and out of many spreads, including a dove that nested in the tree’s branches that first spring after the attacks. I also love how Rubin juxtaposes the regrowth of the tree with the building of the Freedom Tower. And when the tree returns to the newly rebuilt plaza, it isn’t the only tree gracing the concrete plaza. Rather, it’s surrounded by a forest of other trees, there to help this tree feel stronger and less afraid.

By sharing the tree’s thoughts and fears, Rubin casts the tree in the role of a trauma survivor. It voices the emotions that all of us feel when we think about 9/11, which, I think, will help adults who experienced this tragedy discuss it with children. That the story ends with the reminder that the tree’s blossoms signal spring’s arrival enables us to feel hopeful, that a tragedy like this never occurs again.

A Note about Craft:

As someone who reviews many picture books dealing with difficult topics, I’m always interested to figure out how authors and illustrators depict tragic events without terrifying children or leaving them feeling hopeless. By focusing on a tree that survived the destruction of the towers and still graces the plaza at the new 9/11 Memorial, I think Rubin manages to turn this story of a tragedy to one focused on rebirth and hope.

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!

PPBF – Be A Tree!

The end of summer is nearing, at least in my neck of the woods. Although the temperatures remain high, the sunflowers are past their prime. School buses search out new routes, and my inbox is filled with “Back to School” promotions. Before we turn the corner to fall, I think it’s the perfect time to be out exploring the natural world, or reading about it, don’t you?

Title: Be A Tree!

Written By: Maria Gianferrari

Illustrated By: Felicita Sala

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 and up

Themes/Topics: trees, community, strength, free verse poetry, environment, cooperation

Opening:

Be a tree!

Stand tall.

Stretch your branches to the sun.

Brief Synopsis: A comparison of trees and people, showing our strengths and need for community.

Links to Resources:

  • If you were a tree, what type would you like to be? Draw a picture of your favorite type of tree;
  • Take a walk and check out the different species of trees that grow in your community;
  • Check out the Back Matter that includes an author’s note, five ways you can help save trees, how you can help in your community, anatomy of a tree, and further resources.

Why I Like this Book:

Using lyrical language, Gianferrari explores the similarities between people and trees. Like trees, we have an outer layer. Our spines are a trunk, giving us shape. At our tops, we have crowns of leaves or hair.

Like people, readers learn, trees communicate and help each other “share food, store water, divide resources, alert each other to danger.” Trees create, as it were, a “wood wide web of information”.

Gianferrari shows that both people and trees are stronger when they live in communities. A fold out spread shows diverse groups of people and various animals enjoying the shade of many different types of trees. A final spread featuring people of different races, ethnicities, ages, and abilities drives home the point that when we live in harmony with one another, as trees do, we are stronger, like a forest.

I really love how Gianferrari’s sparse language encourages kids, and their adults, to draw similarities between ourselves and such an important part of our natural surroundings. I also love the overarching message that we’re all better off when we take care of each other.

Sala’s watercolor, goache, and colored pencil illustrations include sweeping vistas of many types of trees and forests, and anatomical close-ups.

Be A Tree! is an engaging read-aloud and fact-filled book for school and home libraries.

A Note about Craft:

In Be A Tree! Gianferrari uses strong verbs to exhort readers, whom she addresses directly, to picture themselves as trees, to act as trees, and to live in a community that includes humans and nature. I love the analogies between tree and human anatomy. I also love the metaphor of people being part of a forest, a community that is better together.

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!

PPBF – A Bowl Full of Peace: a True Story

The anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were both this past week, so I think it’s a perfect time to share a fairly new picture book about one young survivor’s experience in Nagasaki.

Title: A Bowl Full of Peace: A True Story

Written By: Caren Stelson

Illustrated By: Akira Kusaka

Publisher/Date: Carolrhoda Books, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group/2020

Suitable for Ages: 6 and up

Themes/Topics: Japan, biography, atomic bomb, Nagasaki, family treasures

Opening:

No one knows how old Grandmother’s bowl is.

No one remembers who made it.

No one can count how many times the bowl has passed from mother to daughter.

But everyone knows Grandmother’s bowl is precious.

Brief Synopsis: In the rubble of their bombed home in Nagasaki, Japan, a family finds one precious bowl that has been passed down through generations and that now gives them hope for the future.

Links to Resources:

  • Stelson has recounted Sachiko’s story in a book for older children. See the Discussion and Activity Guide;
  • Ask an older adult to tell you about a cherished possession that has been passed down through the family. Why do you think this possession is important to that adult? Why is it important to you?
  • An Author’s Note, an Illustrator’s Note, and Recommended Books provide further information about Sachiko, her family, and the bowl at the heart of this story.

Why I Like this Book:

War is never an easy topic in picture books. And when it’s a true story, with several family members and friends who don’t survive a nuclear attack, I think it’s even more difficult. Yet, after reading A Bowl Full of Peace, I was filled not with sorrow, but with hope, hope because survivors like Sachiko lived to tell their stories and hope that nuclear weapons will never be used again.

Told from the perspective of Sachiko, six-years old at the time of the bombing, readers learn of the loss of life and devastation caused when an American plane dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki, Japan, in the final days of World War II. But amid the rubble, Sachiko’s father finds Grandmother’s bowl, the bowl that was at the center of their meals before the war, before Sachiko’s brothers and friends died.

On the anniversary of the bombing, Sachiko’s mother starts a tradition of filling the precious bowl with ice, reminding the family to “[r]emember how a chip of ice eased our thirst? As the ice melts, let us remember all who suffered and all who died.” Together, the family prays that “such a terrible war” never occurs again.

I love this tradition of remembering lost loved ones using the bowl that survived filled with ice that eased pain and thirst. I love, too, that by story’s end, readers learn that 50 years after the war, Sachiko continues the tradition and decides that she “can no longer be silent”, that she must share her story with the world.

Although this is a difficult topic, I think it’s important for adults to expose children to stories such as Sachiko’s so that, as Sachiko hopes, something similar never happens to anyone again.

Kusaka’s illustrations vary from dark and gray-filled scenes of war to tender family scenes.

A Note about Craft:

As I mentioned above, explaining war, especially nuclear war, in a way that resonates with younger children and doesn’t totally scare them is never easy. But by adding a focal point that kids can relate to, like a bowl used daily for family meals, and by focusing on how that object survives the bombing, I think Stelson has made this topic more accessible for kids.

The title of the book helps to focus readers on a future filled with peace, even as we remember those who tragically lost their lives. I love that the author is American, but the illustrator is Japanese.

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!

PPBF – The Doll

Who doesn’t enjoy receiving a gift upon arrival after a long journey? I think everyone appreciates that kindness, including the characters in today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: The Doll

Written By: Nhung N. Tran-Davies

Illustrated By: Ravy Puth

Publisher/Date: Second Story Press/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: refugees, kindness, paying it forward

Opening:

Long ago, in a nearby land, there was a young girl whose eyes were deep-ocean blue, whose dimples twinkled like bright mischievous stars.

She was waiting.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl is welcomed to a new land with the gift of a doll, and then, as an adult, she welcomes another young refugee with that same doll.

Links to Resources:

  • Have you ever received a special gift? How did you feel? Draw a picture of that gift or write a thank you note to the giver;
  • The author arrived as a refugee from Vietnam. Learn more about that country;
  • The new arrival fled conflict in Syria. Discover more about Syria (information is all pre-war).

Why I Like this Book:

Based on the author’s own experiences as a Boat Person arriving in Canada from Vietnam, The Doll showcases two acts of kindness separated by decades.

When a young stranger gives a doll to a newly-arrived refugee, the girl feels welcome in her new home. Years later, after reaching adulthood and becoming a doctor, that refugee learns about the conflict in Syria and the suffering of the people there. She remembers how she felt fleeing Vietnam and arriving, with almost nothing, to Canada. She also remembers the kindness of a young Canadian who welcomed her with that special gift, and pays that gift forward, by regifting the doll.

I love how one gift changed the outlook and life of the unnamed main character, as she settled into her adopted country and grew up to become a doctor. I also love how such a kid-friendly object, the doll, symbolizes the kindness shown the main character and that she passes that gift along to a new refugee years later.

I think The Doll is a wonderful new picture book to share with children to show them the enduring power of one act of kindness.

A Note about Craft:

As noted above, The Doll is based on a true story, on events that the author experienced personally. Because she remembered her flight from Vietnam and the welcoming gift that greeted her upon arrival in Canada, I think Tran-Davies is able to demonstrate empathy in a particularly kid-friendly way.

Interestingly, Tran-Davies begins her story not from the perspective of the main character who receives the doll, but on the giver. She then recounts the main character’s gift to the new refugee decades later using parallel structure and even similar words. Also interestingly, the story takes place over decades, something that Tran-Davies manages by, I think, focusing on the two similar gifting scenes.

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!

PPBF – Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued

Regular readers know that I’ve read, and reviewed, several picture books by the author/illustrator of today’s Perfect Picture Book. So when I saw he had released a new picture book about such a difficult, but important, topic, you know I had to find and review it!

Title: Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued

Written & Illustrated By: Peter Sís

Publisher/Date: Norton Young Readers/2021

Suitable for Ages: 6-8

Themes/Topics: non-fiction, Holocaust, heroes, refugees

Opening:

Nicky was born in 1909, into a century full of promise.

Brief Synopsis: The story of a young Englishman and the 669 Jewish children he helped transport to England from Prague during World War II.

Links to Resources:

  • Read the Author’s Note about Nicholas Winton, how Sís learned of the “Winton Train” and about Vera Diamantova, one of the rescued children;
  • Learn about the Czech Republic, part of the former Czechoslovakia, where much of this story takes place;
  • Have you ever journeyed by train? Where did you travel & what did you see? Draw a picture of something you saw on your journey.

Why I Like this Book:

In lyrical language and with gorgeously detailed illustrations, Sís recounts the stories of two people whose lives intersected during World War II. Nicky, readers learn, grew up in England, and as a young man journeyed to Prague to meet a friend on vacation. While there, he realized the plight of young Jewish children, and used grit, determination, and even some of his own funds, to arrange trains to England and find foster families there. Vera, one of those children, “wrote in her diary every day” about her experiences in England.

In all, Nicky managed to fill 8 trains with 669 children and quietly ferry them from Prague, by then controlled by the Nazis, to London in 1939. A two-page spread filled with an illustration of 8 trains is powerful testimony to the many lives he helped save.

A modest hero who, in his own words, “did not face any danger,” and “only saw what needed to be done”, Nicky packed away the records of these children and never told anyone, not even his family, about these actions during the war. As the story ends, readers learn that this quiet hero and the now-grown children were reunited many years after the war.

Not only is Nicky and Vera a true story, but it’s one that introduces children to a type of hero different than the rampaging Super Heroes of comics and movies. Readers learn that heroes, like Nicky, can be quiet and unassuming, who see a wrong and use their time and talents for the greater good, to help as many people as possible.

An internationally renowned artist and illustrator, Sís fills the pages with detailed images of his native Czechoslovakia, the journey to England, and the reunion with several of the children in England.

A Note about Craft:

How do you craft a picture book for young children about an extremely difficult topic, the Holocaust, featuring an adult protagonist? Sís accomplishes this feat by introducing the quiet hero in infancy, spending a few spreads recounting his childhood, and then once he reaches adulthood, Sís introduces one of the young beneficiaries of Nicky’s heroism and tells her story. By focusing on both the hero and one of those saved, I think Sís makes it easier for children to empathize with those who Nicky saved and better understand the importance of this quiet hero’s actions. Note, too, that Sís refers to Nicholas Winton not by his last name, but by a child-friendly nickname, which, I think, makes him seem more childlike to readers. At 64 pages, Nicky and Vera is longer than the typical picture book, but I can’t imagine telling this story in fewer spreads.

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!

PPBF – The Suitcase

For many of us, summer is a time to travel. Whether you travel by car, train, or plane, or even if armchair travel is the only trip in your immediate future, no journey is complete unless you carry something along, like the object featured in today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: The Suitcase

Written & Illustrated By: Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Publisher/Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/2020 (originally published in Great Britain, Nosy Crow/2019)

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes/Topics: migration, differences, memories, kindness, empathy

Opening:

A strange animal arrived one day, looking dusty, tired, sad, and frightened.

He was pulling a big suitcase.

Brief Synopsis:

When a strange-looking newcomer arrives dragging a large suitcase, the animals wonder why he’s appeared and what he’s carrying in the suitcase.

Links to Resources:

  • Find a spare suitcase or an empty box and fill it with treasures. What did you pack? Why?
  • When you meet a new kid at school or in your neighborhood, how do you help them to feel welcome?
  • Host a tea party for your friends. Better yet, invite a few newcomers to join the party.

Why I Like this Book:

As the story begins, a strange creature arrives carrying a large suitcase. Three friends, a bird, a rabbit, and a fox, question the creature about the contents of the suitcase, which, readers learn, includes a teacup, a table and chair, and even the stranger’s home and surrounding area. Not trusting that all of that could fit in the suitcase, the doubting friends decide to break it open when the creature falls asleep and discover what’s really inside.

I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that there’s a reason that I included a tea party activity, and that the wordless spread that follows the creature’s awakening may bring tears to your eyes (it did for me).

Naylor-Ballesteros’ pen, ink, pencil, and watercolor illustrations are simple renderings of the characters and appear primarily against white backgrounds. The reader doesn’t really know where the action occurs, just that the strange-looking newcomer has arrived and that his teal coloring and cucumber shape are in sharp contrast to the yellow- and red-hued animals. To avoid dialogue tags and speech bubbles, each creature’s dialogue matches its hue.

Perhaps because of the pared-down illustrations or the simple, limited text, The Suitcase read like a fable to me. Despite the age range noted, I can easily envision children in elementary school role playing this story and discussing how they would feel if a newcomer arrived; whether they would want to examine a stranger’s belongings if given the opportunity; whether they would stop a friend or relative from doing so; and what they thought of the stranger’s reaction to the animals’ behavior.

While the newcomer in The Suitcase appears to be a refugee or migrant, it’s not entirely clear from the story, and it avoids including the difficult backstory that often appears in stories about migrants and refugees. And because of this fuzziness, this story easily could be about any newcomer that looks or acts differently – anything, really, that might cause the original inhabitants to feel distrustful.

The Suitcase is a picture book that I’ve enjoyed reading multiple times, and that I highly recommend for home and classroom libraries.

A Note about Craft:

Rather than populating this story with humans, Naylor-Ballesteros creates an anthropomorphic world with a newcomer differentiated by color and shape. I think choosing animals rather than humans to tell this story adds a fable-like aspect to it. It also gives it more universal appeal, as it avoids rooting the story in a particular place or time.

Note that the title places the emphasis on the newcomer’s belongings and highlights the connections between our possessions and ourselves.

Naylor-Ballesteros utilizes a double-spread dream sequence mid-story to share the newcomer’s backstory. This flashback, while unusual in a picture book, effectively conveys to readers that the newcomer has fled his former home, creates empathy in readers, and provides the perfect set-up to the story’s climax that appears after one of the better page turns I’ve experienced in a picture book recently.

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!

PPBF – My Day with the Panye

The setting of today’s Perfect Picture Book has sadly been in the news quite a bit lately. But I think this picture book will brighten your day and show the strength and resilience of the Haitian people.

Title: My Day with the Panye

Written By: Tami Charles

Illustrated By: Sara Palacios

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Haiti, multicultural, childhood milestones, market, Caribbean

Opening:

In the hills of Port-au-Prince, Manman’s voice, sweet like mango, sings to the sky.

“Fallon,” she calls. “Would you like to go to market with me?”

“Yes!” I say.

My little sister, Naima, cries, “Me too!”

“Another time, pitit. Your day will come, but today it’s Fallon’s turn.”

Brief Synopsis: Young Fallon yearns to carry the market basket, the panye, on her head as her mother and the other women in the family do.

Links to Resources:

  • Try carrying an empty basket or a book on your head. Is it easier to carry the basket when it’s empty or full? Is it easier or more difficult to carry it as you walk along a flat sidewalk? A grassy hill? A rocky path?
  • Learn about Haiti;
  • What activity or task that older siblings or your parents do that you look forward to accomplishing when you get older? Draw a picture of you performing this task or activity;
  • Visit a local farmer’s market and try these fun activities while there;
  • Find more activities in the Teachers Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

Sprinkled with Haitian vocabulary and featuring colorful illustrations, My Day with the Panye features a young girl, Fallon, who tries to emulate her Manman and carry the panye to the market. Like a child’s first bike ride or first day of school, this is a story about a childhood milestone. But this milestone may not be familiar to most children. Carrying a basket on one’s head probably doesn’t even appeal to many children, or even adults. But Charles’ depiction of this task, its importance, its dignity, and the joy and love it shows for the entire family, will quickly dispel any negative thoughts about it.

From the moment I saw the rhyming title and the vibrant cover, I knew this would be a picture book filled with joy. I loved the many similes, such as “laughter louder than a rooster’s crow”, “walking like they have gold in their shoes”, and “heart sinks like a shooting star.” And who can resist grinning at the image of Manman’s smile that is “banana-wide”? Charles’ descriptive language is so much fun to read and reread.

I also love the emphasis on tradition that is evident in the story. A repeated phrase, “little by little the bird builds its nest. Not everything is learned fast”, is, the readers learn, one that has been passed down from Manman’s mother. I also think it’s a very child-friendly saying, as, I think, many children are familiar with the steps a bird must undertake to build a nest for its family.

My Day with the Panye will be a welcome addition to home and school bookshelves.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Charles informs readers that this picture book is set in Haiti, her husband’s homeland, and explores a Haitian tradition of women carrying a market basket on their heads. As Charles notes, this tradition dates back to “ancient times” and is evident in many other parts of the world. But because of her familiarity with Haiti, Charles sets this story on this beautiful island where “pride, love, and joy still shine through” despite the many difficulties that have beset Haiti and its people.

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!

PPBF – The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story

I’m sticking with the theme of boats, as I think summer is the perfect time to read about them. I hope you agree!

Title: The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story

Written & Illustrated By: Thao Lam

Publisher/Date: Owlkids Books/2020

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes/Topics: refugees, journey, Vietnam, ants, wordless, kindness

Opening: n/a

Brief Synopsis: A wordless picture book recounting an escape from Vietnam.

Links to Resources:

  • Tell a story about your family or an adventure you’ve had using only pictures;
  • Learn about the Southeast Asian country of Vietnam;
  • Watch Lam’s YouTube video about the making of The Paper Boat and check out the Author’s Note;
  • Make your own paper boat.

Why I Like this Book:

In this wordless picture book, Lam recounts a story handed down by her mother depicting the family’s journey from Vietnam. In the first frames of the story, ants crawl among family treasures and attack food set out on a table. A young girl sees the ants drowning in soup, and she rescues them.

As symbols of war proliferate outside the family’s home, the girl and her parents flee first to the safety of tall grasses, and then, following a trail of ants, to a boat. Before departing in that boat, the girl and her mother construct a paper boat to save the ants who helped them find the sea.

Leaving one’s homeland to seek safety is difficult for children to understand. And depicting the horrors of a sea journey isn’t easy in a picture book. But by focusing on the kindnesses shown by the young girl and by the grateful ants, Lam makes the topic more kid-friendly. In addition, rather than portraying the humans’ journey in the crowded refugee boat, Lam instead focused on the ants’ journey in the paper boat, before returning, at the end of the story, to a reunion of the ants with the young girl and her family in their new home, safe from the soldiers of their homeland.

I especially love the last spread, that shows the family that fled Vietnam in one apartment surrounded by other apartments filled with many multicultural families.

Lam’s colorful cut-paper collages include so many rich details. The Paper Boat will be a wonderful addition to school and home libraries that is sure to prompt many discussions about why families flee their homelands, how they journeyed to their new homes, and what awaits them there.

A Note about Craft:

I don’t often review wordless picture books as I find that I often need text to follow the storyline. But Lam’s visual narrative, arranged in graphic-novel style with several vignettes to a page, reads like a film, unfolding seamlessly. And I think this particular story works better as a wordless one given the many questions the subject matter undoubtedly will raise in young readers.

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!