Perfect Pairing – features Grandparents & Memory Loss

As the holidays loom and family gatherings feature in many children’s lives, I thought it would be helpful to feature two picture books that might help if those gatherings include older relatives suffering from memory loss.

Grandma Forgets

Author: Paul Russell

Illustrator: Nicky Johnston

Publisher/Date: EK Books, an imprint of Exisle Publishing/2017

Ages: 4-8

Themes: intergenerational, memory, family, dementia

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When your grandmother can’t remember your name it should be sad, but maybe it is just an opportunity to tell her more often how much you love her. Grandma Forgets is the heart-warming story of a family bound by love as they cope with their grandma’s dementia. Over the years, the little girl has built up a treasure trove of memories of time spent with Grandma: sausages for Sunday lunch, driving in her sky-blue car to the beach, climbing her apple trees while she baked a delicious apple pie, and her comforting hugs during wild storms. But now, Grandma can’t remember those memories. She makes up new rules for old games and often hides Dad’s keys. Sometimes Dad is sad because he has to hold onto the memories for both him and his mother now, but fortunately his daughter is only too happy to help him make new memories to share. This is a warm, hopeful story about a family who sometimes needs to remind their grandmother a little more often than they used to about how much they care. She might have trouble remembering any of their names but she will always know how much she is loved.

Read a review in The Guardian.

 

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 the grandparents are suffering from memory impairment. In Grandma Forgets, the narrator remembers good times with her grandmother and shares that even if Grandma can’t remember her or her family, they have “so many memories of her” and they can always remind Grandma that she is loved. In The Remember Balloons, the balloons symbolize the memories that bind James and his beloved grandfather. Both books feature loving families and deal with the difficult topic of memory loss in older relatives in helpful, positive ways.

PPBF – Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

I confess that the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book was not familiar to me. Nor did I know about the performance noted in the title. So I’m so happy that Margarita Engle discovered young Teresa and shared this heart-warming story.

Title: Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

Written By: Margarita Engle

Illustrated By: Rafael López

Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: music, refugee, immigrant, courage, biography

Opening:

When Teresa was a little girl in Venezuela, Mamá sang lullabies while Papá showed Teresita how to let her happy hands dance across all the beautiful dark and light keys of a piano.

Brief Synopsis: The story of how a young pianist, the “Piano Girl” Teresa Carreño, performed for President Lincoln and his family at the White House during the dark days of the Civil War, as the family was grieving the death of their son.

Links to Resources:

  • Teresa was born in Venezuela. Find out more about this South American country;
  • Teresa performed a song about a Mockingbird. Learn more about this bird;
  • Listen to the Mockingbird was a popular song in America in the mid-19th century. Listen to a recording of it;
  • Learn more about Teresa in the Historical Note and see the Curriculum Guide for further insights;
  • Teresa played the piano to cheer up President Lincoln and his family. What can you do to cheer up a friend, family member, or neighbor?

Why I Like this Book:

In Dancing Hands, Engle introduces readers to a famous 19th century pianist, Teresa Carreño. Readers learn that Teresa loved playing the piano as a young child in Venezuela, but that sometimes she “had to struggle” to play the “stubborn music”. Despite these struggles, Teresa persisted and became an accomplished pianist at a young age.

When Teresa was eight years old, her family fled conflict and sailed to New York City, where Teresa “felt lost”, lonely, and sad, especially as no one spoke Spanish and the US was embroiled in the Civil War. But when Teresa acquired a piano in New York, her life and playing skills improved. Soon, she was performing in concerts, culminating with a performance at the White House before President Lincoln and his family, shortly after the death of his son and during the bleak days of the Civil War.

I think any child who has felt shy speaking before strangers, nervous before a music recital or worried about a big game will relate to Teresa’s predicament. That a child could brighten a President’s life and bring comfort to him and his family is an important lesson for children and adults that young people, including those who are recent arrivals to a country, can make the world better by sharing their talents.

I also think Dancing Hands reminds readers that music has the power to soothe people in times of trouble, acting as a balm for creators, performers and listeners.

López’s mixed media illustrations reflect Teresa’s moods throughout the story, with bright, tropical colors prevalent when she was happy and darker blues and grays dominating scenes of worry and concern.

A Note about Craft:

Dancing Hands is a biography of a pianist who had a long international career as a professional pianist and singer. But Engle has focused solely on the start of that career, when Teresa was still a child, culminating with this one special performance for President Lincoln. I think by limiting the timespan and focus in this way, Engle has created a picture book that will appeal even to younger children and to which children will more readily relate. Also, by honing in on this one important performance early in her stay in the United States, Engle widens the subject of the book from just the story of a gifted pianist to include her journey as a refugee and immigrant who shared her talents and enriched her new home.

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 Architects

I love it when I can pair a female trailblazer with a male icon in the same field. Don’t you agree?

Prairie Boy: Frank Lloyd Wright Turns the Heartland into a Home

Author: Barb Rosenstock

Illustrator: Christopher Silas Neal

Publisher/Date: Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights/2019

Ages: 7-10

Themes: organic architecture, STEAM, biography

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Frank Lloyd Wright, a young boy from the prairie, becomes America’s first world-famous architect in this engaging and inspirational nonfiction picture book introducing organic architecture–a style he created based on the relationship between buildings and the natural world–and transformed the American home.

Frank Lloyd Wright loved the Wisconsin prairie where he was born, with its wide-open sky and waves of tall grass. As his family moved across the United States, young Frank found his own home in shapes: rectangles, triangles, half-moons, and circles. When he returned to his beloved prairie, Frank pursued a career in architecture. But he didn’t think the Victorian-era homes found there fit the prairie landscape. Using his knowledge and love of shapes, Frank created houses more organic to the land. He redesigned the American home inside and out, developing a truly unique architecture style that celebrated the country’s landscape and lifestyle. Author Barb Rosenstock and artist Christopher Silas Neal explore the early life and creative genius of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, highlighting his passion, imagination, and ingenuity.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

 

The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid

Author & Illustrator: Jeanette Winter

Publisher/Date: Beach Lane Books/2017

Ages: 5-10

Themes: STEAM, biography, architecture

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Get to know Zaha Hadid in this nonfiction picture book about the famed architect’s life and her triumph over adversity from celebrated author-illustrator Jeanette Winter.

Zaha Hadid grew up in Baghdad, Iraq, and dreamed of designing her own cities. After studying architecture in London, she opened her own studio and started designing buildings. But as a Muslim woman, Hadid faced many obstacles. Determined to succeed, she worked hard for many years, and achieved her goals—and now you can see the buildings Hadid has designed all over the world.

Read my review.

I paired these books because they are picture book biographies of world-famous architects, both of whom changed the practice of architecture. In Wright’s case, he originated the idea of a prairie home that was part of and complemented its natural surroundings. Hadid was not only the first female architect to head her own firm, but her designs were rooted in her Muslim and Middle Eastern heritage. Interestingly, Wright’s Guggenheim Museum and Hadid’s residential building along New York City’s High Line combine curved facades which complement their surroundings well.

 

 

PPBF – Bijan & Manije: A Story from the Book of Kings

As the chill winds blow, I love reading stories from long ago that transport me to another time and place. I hope you agree that today’s Perfect Picture Book does just that.

Title: Bijan & Manije: A Story from the Book of Kings

Written By: Ali Seidabadi

Edited By: Nicolette Jones

Illustrated By: Marjan Vafaian

Publisher/Date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4 and up

Themes/Topics: fairy tale, #ReadYourWorld, Persia, courage, hero

Opening:

Once upon a time the people of Iran and the people of neighbouring Turan were enemies. Turan was ruled by a tyrant, King Afrasaib, who made his subjects tremble and threatened the country next door. Iran was a land of colour and perfume and beauty, ruled over by good King Khosrow.

Brief Synopsis:

A tale from Persia featuring a boar-hunting young knight, a princess from an opposing kingdom, and their love that overcomes all obstacles.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about the Shahnameh, a poem that gathered the “historical stories and myths of Persia” in the 10th century;
  • Write your own story that begins “once upon a time”;
  • Watch the book trailer.

Why I Like this Book:

Bijan & Manije features many elements found in classic fairy tales: monstrous creatures that terrorize helpless people; a brave, young knight; a quest to subdue the creatures; a cowardly general; a lonely princess; a tyrannical king; and a love that conquers all. But the setting, in ancient Iran and Turan, and the colorful illustrations lend an exotic air to the story, and they transported this reader into a fantastic world. I especially appreciated the loyalty of Princess Manije, who kept watch over the imprisoned Bijan, and her strength and courage as she helped Bijan escape and fled with him from her tyrannical father. No helpless female here!

I also enjoyed thinking about who the true hero of this tale is and what it means to be a hero. Is it Bijan, who subdues the monstrous boars? Or Manije, who defies her father and stays true to Bijan? Or is it the cowardly General Gorgin, who confesses that he led Bijan to the enemy lands? Or, perhaps, it’s the clever and courageous Rostam, who tracks down Bijan and helps the lovers escape? Maybe all of these are heroes who, by working together, help ensure the happy ending. I leave it for you to decide!

I think all children will enjoy this heroic love story, but children with a Persian heritage will truly love reading this tale set in the lands where their families lived and adapted from an ancient text.

With their jewel tones, Vafaian’s colorful and intricate illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to Seidabadi’s text.

A Note about Craft:

Bijan & Manije is a retelling of an older story into modern language, and then it’s been translated into English. Although the endnotes don’t reveal how or how much Seidabadi changed the story, I think updating an older story for modern readers is a wonderful way to preserve stories from the past and share a cultural heritage with children.

Read an interview with Seidabadi here and visit his Facebook page. Seidabadi is also the author of A Rainbow in my Pocket and collaborated with Iranian illustrator Vafaeian on The Parrot and the Merchant. Vafaeian is also the illustrator of Cinderella of the Nile.

Discover more books published by Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd , an independent publishing company in the UK “committed to producing beautiful, original books for children”, founded on the “belief that stories act as bridges – providing pathways to new experiences whilst connecting us to here and there”.

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 Environmental Picture Books

A friend has undertaken the no-plastic challenge this month, and she has featured some terrific new picture books about the environment on her blog. I couldn’t help pairing two of them here to help get the word out that someone is never too young to reduce waste.

 

Join the No-Plastic Challenge! A First Book of Reducing Waste 

Author & Illustrator: Scot Ritchie

Publisher/Date: Kids Can Press/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: no-plastic challenge, waste, pollution, ocean, environmental action

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

For his birthday celebration, Nick has challenged his friends – Yulee, Sally, Pedro and Martin – to spend the day without using any single-use plastic. This means they use their own cloth bags for shopping, they say no thanks to plastic straws and, instead of balloons, they decorate with kites and streamers made of natural materials. The children discover that not using plastic is not that hard. They also learn about what plastic is made of, how much of it surrounds us and how it’s polluting our oceans and affecting the food chain. Most importantly, the five friends learn ways to use less – including just saying NO! The book concludes with fun ideas for readers to do a No-Plastic Challenge of their own!

This friendly introduction to a timely and urgent topic is part of Scot Ritchie’s popular Exploring Our Community series. It will raise awareness of just how much plastic we use every day, and why that matters. Rather than focusing on the negative, however, the book takes a positive, proactive approach to the subject, empowering children with ideas for what they can do about it. As with all the books in the series, this one features friendly, appealing illustrations and the same diverse cast of characters. It has strong curriculum ties in science, including environmental awareness, sustainability and stewardship. It also offers terrific character education lessons in responsibility, citizenship and initiative.

Read a review at Miss Marple’s Musings.

What a Waste: Trash, Recycling, and Protecting our Planet

Author & Illustrator: Jess French

Publisher/Date: DK Publishing (Penguin Random House)/2019

Ages: 6-11

Themes: recycling, trash, pollution, environmental action, oceans

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Everything you need to know about what we’re doing to our environment, good and bad, from pollution and litter to renewable energy and plastic recycling.

This environmental book will teach young ecologists about how our actions affect planet Earth. Discover shocking facts about the waste we produce and where it goes. Did you know that every single plastic toothbrush ever made still exists? Or that there’s a floating mass of garbage twice the size of Texas drifting around the Pacific Ocean?

It’s not all bad news though. As well as explaining where we’re going wrong, What a Waste shows what we’re doing right! Discover plans already in motion to save our seas, how countries are implementing schemes that are having a positive impact, and how your waste can be turned into something useful. Every small change helps our planet!

Read a review at Miss Marple’s Musings.

I paired these books because both encourage young children to be concerned about, and to take action to help, the environment. Combining fictional characters and a birthday party at the beach with information about plastic waste and the oceans, Join the No-Plastic Challenge! is particularly well-suited to very young children, as more in-depth information is set apart from the story line, and there are many places in the illustrations that could give rise to discussion (I particularly liked a spread pointing out the many plastics found in a home). At 72 pages and with a glossary, “find out more” section, and index, What a Waste is better suited to a somewhat older audience, I think, and would be a tremendous resource in a classroom or for a school library. Both books, I think, will foster discussion about pollution and encourage even young children to use fewer single-use plastics.

Halloweensie Contest Entry – Mirror, Mirror

Unless you’ve been hiding under an apple barrel, I think you know what time of year it is. That’s right: leaves are falling, creatures are crawling, so it must be Halloweensie week!

OOOOOOHHHHH!

THE 9TH ANNUAL HALLOWEENSIE CONTEST!!!

~ FOR CHILDREN’S WRITERS ~ 

            Writers near and far are sharpening their pencils and exercising their typing fingers and minds to create, in the words of the extraordinary contest creator, Susanna Hill, “a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (children here defined as 12 and under) (title not included in the 100 words), using the words potion, cobweb, and trick.  Your story can be scary, funny, sweet, or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words and is 100 words (you can go under, but not over!).”

Please stop by Susanna’s blog to read more awesome entries!

Without further ado, my 96-word entry, the idea for which, true confession, occurred to me when I saw an advertisement for a magic, internet-connected mirror (now that is one scary mirror, in my humble opinion):

Mirror, Mirror

 

“Mirror, mirror on the wall! Make me ghastly and gruesome for the Hallow’s Eve Ball.”

“Try this potent lotion, your shadow will glow green. Then sip this toad’s blood potion to grow warts never seen.”

“If you add a cobweb necklace and braid eels through your hair, you can be the death of the party — a real howling scare.”

“Mirror, mirror on the wall! If this isn’t a trick, I’ll be the ghost of the Ball.”

“A trick not a treat? That would be such a foul feat! But you’re a ghost, so we’ll see…

                           MAYBE!”

 

 

 

PPBF – Boat of Dreams

Today’s perfect picture book has been on my “to review” shelf for a while now, awaiting the right time to review it. It’s not about refugees, those affected by immigration bans, or even by an author from a region affected by war. But its haunting illustrations, focus on journeys, and ambiguous storyline make it a perfect read as leaves begin to fall in the northern hemisphere, nights grow longer, and imaginations run wild.

Title: Boat of Dreams

Written & Illustrated By: Rogério Coelho

Publisher/Date: Tilbury House Publishers/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4 and up

Themes/Topics: wordless, aging, dreams, journeys, imagination, fantasy, loneliness

Opening: (from jacket flap)

How does an old man with an umbrella come to live on a desert island, his only companion a seagull? Ho do a boy and his cat come to live in an apparently deserted city? Are the man and the boy separated only by distance, or also by time? Are they the same person – the boy dwelling in the man’s memory? Between them, in a stoppered bottle, floats a piece of paper on which the man draws a flying boat and the boy imagines himself aboard.

Brief Synopsis: A fantastical, wordless picture book in which an older gentleman draws a ship and sends it to a young boy who adds himself to the picture, and then visits the man.

Links to Resources:

  • Design your own ship;
  • Plan a visit to an older relative or friend. How will you journey there? What will you do once you arrive?
  • Draw a picture for an older relative or friend of something you’d like to do with her or him;
  • Start a “chain” picture, with each person in the chain adding something to the original artwork until, at the end, you have a masterpiece created by two or more persons.

Why I Like this Book:

With its haunting, sepia-toned, intricate images and ambiguous storyline, Boat of Dreams is a wordless picture book that has stayed in my mind long after each reading.

As the story begins, an elderly man on a seemingly deserted island finds an empty piece of paper in a bottle. He draws a detailed flying boat and launches his creation into the sea by setting it afloat in the bottle. When an unnamed young boy living somewhere in an unnamed city finds the picture on his doorstep, he adds himself and his sidekick cat to the image. Either dreaming while asleep or actually journeying in this fantastical tale, the boy and his cat visit the gentleman, hand him the completed drawing, and then depart, leaving the picture behind, fastened to the wall above the man’s bed.

Coehlo never reveals who the two characters are or whether they’re one person at different stages of life. We never know where the story occurs, or if the journey actually happens. But the reader does know that two seemingly lonely people come together to create a piece of art that reflects both of them.

I personally would like to believe that the boy and the older man are grandson and grandfather, separated by distance but drawn together by a love of each other and creativity. I view the story as a way to show how togetherness is possible, despite distance or possibly even political barriers.

What’s wonderful about Boat of Dreams is that it’s open to interpretation, so children reading it may come to a different meaning that speaks to them.

A Note about Craft:

Whether the title refers to an imaginary journey undertaken while asleep, whether the aspirations of the young boy culminate in the life of the older man, or whether the older man is reflecting on the hopes he felt as a boy, I think the title, Boat of Dreams, is an apt one. I also think Coehlo’s use of color to indicate moods, from sepia to shades of blue, serves as a tool to further his storytelling and alert the reader to important happenings in the story.

Visit Coelho’s website to view more of this Brazilian illustrator’s 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!