PPBF – My Grandma and Me

As regular readers know, I love intergenerational stories. And when I find one that showcases the bond between a grandparent and grandchild that also includes a cultural tradition different from my own, you know it’s bound to become a Perfect Picture Book!

 

Title: My Grandma and Me

Written By: Mina Javaherbin

Illustrated By: Lindsey Yankey

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: grandmothers, friendship, Iran, autobiographical, tradition, religion

Opening:

When I was growing up in Iran, my grandma lived with us. I followed her everywhere. When she swept, I swept. When she cooked, I cooked. When she prayed, I prayed like her, too.

Brief Synopsis:

In little snippets of her life in Iran, Mina explores the special bond between a granddaughter and grandmother, and the joys that occur in everyday activities.

Links to Resources:

  • What do you enjoy doing with a grandparent or other older family member or friend?
  • This story is based on the author’s childhood in Iran. Learn about Iran;
  • Invite a friend and his or her grandparent to spend time with you and your grandparent. Do you think your activities will be the same as that of the older women or men?
  • Check out the Activity Kit.

Why I Like this Book:

My Grandma and Me provides a window into home life several years ago in Iran, told from the perspective of the narrator, a child. Although many of the activities are particular to the narrator’s experiences with her grandmother, like praying at dawn with a prayer rug or purchasing fresh bread from a delivery boy on a bicycle, the love that is evident between grandparent and child is a universal experience to which children will relate.

I particularly liked the inclusion of Islamic religious practices and the scenes that highlighted the respect and affection for those of different faith traditions. Interestingly, as the narrator played with her friend, their grandmothers knitted blankets together and then “donated them to my grandma’s mosque and Annette’s grandma’s church.” I also love the narrator’s conclusion that even as an adult, she still wants to be just like her grandmother who was “kind, generous, and full of love.” What a wonderful role model she describes!

I think My Grandma and Me will be a terrific conversation starter as parents and children, or perhaps grandparents and grandchildren, read this book together and discover how their lives are similar to those in Iran in the not-too-distant past. I also think this book will appeal to anyone wishing to learn more about the day-to-day practice of Islam and religious tolerance.

The delicate and detailed illustrations in soft colors include lovely Persian details that remind the reader that although the love that shines through the text is universal, the narrator’s story and the relationship with her grandmother are uniquely their own.

A Note about Craft:

Javaherbin utilizes first-person point-of-view to tell this largely autobiographical story. As always, this viewpoint draws readers into the story enabling them to better imagine Mina’s activities with her grandmother and think about the things they do with their own grandparents.

A space motif runs through the story, including a scene with the narrator imagining a flight into space. The book culminates with a comparison between the “big universe full of many moons” and the many wonders in the world, and the all-encompassing love the narrator feels for her grandmother.

Learn more about Iranian-born, US-based Javaherbin. See more of Yankey’s illustrations on her website.

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 – Celebrates the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yesterday, we celebrated the birthday of the religious and civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In memory of his words and actions, I thought I’d share two picture books that feature the collaborative nature of the late, great Dr. King.

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.

As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom

Author: Richard Michelson

Illustrator: Raul Colón

Publisher/date: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books/2008

Ages: 7-10

Themes: Martin Luther King, Jr., freedom, Judaism, social activism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

MARTIN LUTHER KING, Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel. Their names stand for the quest for justice and equality.

Martin grew up in a loving family in the American South, at a time when this country was plagued by racial discrimination. He aimed to put a stop to it. He became a minister like his daddy, and he preached and marched for his cause.

Abraham grew up in a loving family many years earlier, in a Europe that did not welcome Jews. He found a new home in America, where he became a respected rabbi like his father, carrying a message of peace and acceptance.

Here is the story of two icons for social justice, how they formed a remarkable friendship and turned their personal experiences of discrimination into a message of love and equality for all.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because both highlight times when the late Dr. King collaborated with others. In A Place to Land, readers see Dr. King agonizing over his upcoming speech surrounded by loving friends and confidantes. In As Good as Anybody, the Polish-born, Jewish rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, joined the African-American, Protestant preacher on the 1965 Freedom March from Selma to Montgomery. In an afterword, readers learn that Rabbi Heschel spoke at Dr. King’s funeral three short years later. I think it’s important that young people understand that Dr. King strengthened and furthered his mission of equality and freedom for all through these collaborations, that by working together for what we believe we all can achieve more.

Looking for similar reads? See my Perfect Pairing from last fall, Perfect Pairing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Speeches and Martin & Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank (Nancy Churnin, 2019).

 

 

 

PPBF – Freedom Soup

It’s January, and the wintry winds are whistling outside my window. Although it’s a few weeks since we celebrated the start of the new year, I think today’s Perfect Picture Book, about a special New Year tradition, and a perfect winter food, is a perfect picture book for the holiday, or any day.

Title: Freedom Soup

Written By: Tami Charles

Illustrated By: Jacqueline Alcántara

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: intergenerational, cooking, traditions, Haiti

Opening:

Today is New Year’s Day. This year, I get to help make Freedom Soup. Ti Gran says I’ve got a heart made for cooking, and it’s time I learn how.

Brief Synopsis: Belle helps her grandmother cook Freedom Soup for the New Year’s celebration, a tradition from their Haitian culture.

Links to Resources:

  • Cook and enjoy Freedom Soup, using the recipe at the back of the book;
  • Freedom Soup is a special soup prepared in Haiti and by those of Haitian descent. Learn about Haiti;
  • Does your family enjoy preparing and eating a special food? Ask an older relative to explain why the recipe is special and to help prepare it with you.

Why I Like this Book:

Freedom Soup is a joyous celebration of family and cultural traditions. With its bright illustrations and vivid language, I loved experiencing Ti Gran and Belle working together to create Freedom Soup. As snow piles up, “cottony-thick” outside, the pair shimmy and shake to musical beats – even the steam dances in ribbons “up to the ceiling”, and the “pumpkiny-garlic smell swirls all around us.”

As the soup cooks, Ti Gran relates its origins, reminding Belle, and readers, of the importance of freedom and the history of Ti Gran’s native Haiti.

Alcántara’s illustrations transported me to the Caribbean, with Haitian artwork evident in several scenes, and fabrics adding additional pops of color.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Charles reveals that she learned about Freedom Soup from her husband’s late grandmother. I love how Charles has crafted a picture book based on a family member and grounded in Haitian history by imagining Ti Gran teaching a young child how to cook Freedom Soup and why.

By weaving music and dancing through the text, Charles roots the story in the culture of Haiti, and, I think, brings a celebratory feeling to a special activity shared by a grandmother and her granddaughter.

Visit Charles’ website to see more of her books. Visit Alcántara’s website to see more of her work. Alcántara is also the illustrator of The Field (Baptiste Paul, 2018).

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 Seeks Soup

It’s winter, here in North America, a season when I often cook soup for supper. But what do those without soup ingredients do? Perhaps, like creatures all over the world, they start with one simple ingredient.

Bone Button Borscht

Author: Aubrey Davis

Illustrator: Dušan Petričić

Publisher/Date: Kids Can Press/1995

Ages: 4-8

Themes: kindness, resourcefulness, Stone Soup, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

On a dark winter’s night, a poor beggar arrives in town and wanders from house to house seeking food and shelter. But the townspeople–who don’t think they have anything to give–prove to be as cold as weather. Even the caretaker in the synagogue turns him away. Undaunted, the beggar removes five bone buttons from his threadbare coat and announces that he can make a delicious soup–enough to feed the whole town–with just one more button.

Read a review in The New York Times.

 

Quill Soup

Author: Alan Durant

Illustrator: Dale Blankenaar

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: One Story Many Voices, animals, folk tale, generosity, hospitality

Short Synopsis (from Tiny Owl’s website):

Quill Soup is a witty tale about the benefits of sharing our resources, and opening our arms to strangers.

Noko, the porcupine, is very hungry. On arriving at a village, he asks the other animals for some food and shelter. But, despite their full bellies, all the animals say they have nothing to spare. Never mind: he’ll just have to make do and cook a pot of soup from the quills off his back – a soup so tasty even the king likes it. Once the villagers hear of his plan they offer just enough ingredients to make a soup worthy of them all…

This African version of Stone Soup celebrates generosity and kindness – and the message that we can all benefit if we share our resources. It’s part of our One Story, Many Voices series, which explores well-known tales told from different cultural perspectives.

Read my review.

I paired these books because they are both versions of the popular folktale, Stone Soup. Set in eastern Europe in winter, Bone Button Borscht features a beggar who needs one more bone button, a pot, and water to make soup in a village where none of the residents will feed him or bring him in from the cold and even the synagogue caretaker, the shamas, is wary of the stranger and unwilling to help, at first. Set somewhere in Africa, Quill Soup features a cast of animals who, like the villagers of Bone Button Borscht, are wary and unwilling to help a stranger, until he pulls a few quills from his own back to make soup fit for a king. I like how these stories differ in location and some particulars, but both further the message that kindness and sharing help everyone.

Looking for similar reads? Please share your favorite Stone Soup version in the comments.

 

PPBF – The Secret of the Tattered Shoes

Sometimes when events in my own life or on the world stage get me down, there’s nothing better than retreating into a fairy tale – a fantasy world filled with princesses, heroes, and magic. And when that tale is a collaboration between an award-winning British author and an award-winning Iranian illustrator, I know that I’m in for a treat (and a welcome respite from the divisions that threaten our world), and that you are, too.

Title: The Secret of the Tattered Shoes

Written By: Jackie Morris

Illustrated By: Ehsan Abdollahi

Publisher/Date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: fairy tales, #OneStoryManyVoices, magic, fantasy

Opening:

A soldier, weary from war, wandered the land. His heart was heavy, troubled by all he had seen and much that he had done, in the name of the king.

In a forest, rich with the green light of sunlight through emerald leaves, he met a woman. He was a hollow shadow of a man. She brimmed with light and life.

Brief Synopsis:

With the help of a wise and kind woman, a war-weary soldier accepts a king’s challenge to discover why the shoes of his 12 daughters are worn out each morning.

Links to Resources:

  • Do you have a favorite fairy tale or nursery rhyme? Try changing one thing in the story – a character or the setting, perhaps, and see how that changes the ending;
  • The Secret of the Tattered Shoes is based on a very old fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Read that story and discuss how the two differ. Why do you think Morris made the changes she did?
  • Watch the book trailer.

Why I Like this Book:

A war-weary soldier meets a woman in the woods. She tells him of a mystery in need of solving by a hero, and she presents him with advice and a gift to help in the quest. When the young man arrives at the castle, he meets a king who needs to know why his daughters’ shoes are worn thin each morning, even though the girls are locked in their chambers each night. The quest: to discover the secret. The stakes: succeed and the soldier is free to marry the princess of his choice and inherit the kingdom and its riches; fail and he forfeits his life.

Like the fairy tale on which it is based, The Secret of the Tattered Shoes combines mystery, magic and a quick-thinking hero. It’s a child’s story, so the adults know in advance that our soldier will survive and solve the mystery and that love will prevail. I won’t spoil the story by sharing how the hero prevails and how he reacts when he does.  Suffice it to say that anyone tired of damsels-in-distress stories will be pleased to read Morris’ version and to learn of the soldier’s choice at the end.

Not only does Morris’ text read like a fairy tale of old, but Abdollahi’s mesmerizing and richly-coloured collaged illustrations transported this reader to a faraway land where magic is possible, and kindness and love prevail.

A Note about Craft:

This is a fairy tale retelling and I heartily recommend that writers read the original and Morris’ version side by side. When I did so, I was surprised to see that in many places Morris tracked the original quite closely. But there were subtle changes, including starting with the forest scene rather than a recounting of the mystery and changing “old woman” in the woods to “a woman”, thus rendering her less witch-like, although clearly someone with magical powers. Even the surroundings seem life-giving and capable of restoring the weary soldier. Could it be that love prevails better in the refuge of the sylvan wilds than in a gilded court?

Learn more about the independent UK publisher, Tiny Owl Publishing, Morris and Abdollahi. See my reviews of three of Abdollahi’s books, When I Coloured in the World, A Bottle of Happiness, and Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me. The latter two are also international collaborations, building bridges between creators from different cultural traditions and showing readers how the world can be better when we work 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!

 

Perfect Pairing – of Thought-Provoking Picture Books

As we start a new month (and decade), I can’t help but think back to the picture books I’ve read that have stuck with me and caused me to reconsider my place in this world. The two I’ve paired below are two of the most thought-provoking ones I’ve read recently.

I Am Henry Finch

Author: Alexis Deacon

Illustrator: Viviane Schwarz

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, 2015 (British edition: Walker Books)

Ages: 5-8

Themes: Finches, thinking for yourself, individuality, greatness, social movement

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This is a book about Henry Finch who strives for greatness, gets it all a bit wrong, then makes it right again in a very surprising way – truly becoming great. Henry Finch is a total inspiration. This is an inspirational book. It is also very funny. I Am Henry Finch is a book for everyone – from the very young to the very old. It is for dreamers, philosophers, artists, the foolish and the enlightened. And anyone with a big bright idea. Vegetarians will love it too.

Read my review.

 

The Fate of Fausto: A Painted Fable

Author & Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers

Publisher/date: Philomel Books/2019

Ages: 5 and up

Themes: greed, justice, environmentalism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

There was once a man who believed he owned everything and set out to survey what was his.

“You are mine,” Fausto said to the flower, the sheep and the mountain, and they bowed before him. But they were not enough for Fausto, so he conquered a boat and set out to sea…

Working for the first time in traditional lithography, Oliver Jeffers, combines art with prose, hand set using traditional lead type, to create a modern-day fable.

Read a review by Jilanne Hoffmann.

I paired these books because they both are thought-provoking, philosophical picture books. While children will enjoy these books, adults will not only enjoy them, but I think they will continue to think about the issues raised long afterwards. In I Am Henry Finch, Henry reasons his way out of a problem and, in the process, changes the status quo and the mindsets of his fellow finches. In The Fate of Fausto, Fausto doesn’t think enough about the attributes of his environment, allowing aspects of that environment, themselves characters in the story, to better him. Justice triumphs in both cases, as well as some wonderful discussion opportunities.

Looking for similar reads? See Quill Soup, in which a quick-thinking porcupine spreads the message of sharing by giving of himself.

PPBF – The Moose of Ewenki

When I first learned of today’s Perfect Picture Book, I was fascinated by its far-away setting and the chance to learn more about a lifestyle and culture about which I knew very little.

Title: The Moose of Ewenki

Written By: Gerelchimeg Blackcrane

Illustrated By: Jiu Er

Translated By: Helen Mixter

Publisher/Date: Aldana Libros, an imprint of Greystone Kids/2019

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes/Topics: Moose, Inner Mongolia, friendship, disappearing lifestyles, human-animal bonds, being different, taking responsibility for actions

Opening:

The Reindeer Ewenki people live in the vast forest of the Greater Hinggan Mountains in northern China. They hunt and raise reindeer.

Brief Synopsis: When a reindeer herder and hunter accidentally shoots a mother moose, he adopts her orphaned baby, Xiao Han (Little Moose), and raises her.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Inner Mongolia, a semi-autonomous area of northwest China and the setting of this story;
  • Gree Shek, the main human character in this story, lives with dogs and reindeer in a camp in a forest. Do you have animals in your home? Have you ever had an unusual pet or befriended an unusual wild animal?
  • Learn about moose, the largest of the deer family;
  • View scenes from a reindeer camp in Mongolia, which may have been similar to Gree Shek’s camp.

Why I Like this Book:

The Moose of Ewenki is a story in translation from Inner Mongolia, in northwest China, based on a true story from the region. In the story, we meet an elderly hunter and herdsman, Gree Shek, who lives alone in a camp with the reindeer and hunting dogs. When Gree accidently shoots and kills a female moose with a fawn, Gree takes responsibility for the young moose, raising her in the camp among the reindeer.

This is a gentle story in which children can learn about a disappearing lifestyle and a culture vastly different from their own. The foods Gree eats and shares with Xiao Han, his living accommodations, and his clothing differ from that of a typical western family, and the text and illustrations offer numerous opportunities for discussion.

The important theme of taking responsibility for our actions runs through this story, even to the point of letting go of a friend when necessary.

Jui Er’s soft, earth-toned illustrations bring this world to life, from the wilderness scenes that show the vastness and isolation of the region to the camp and village scenes which highlight this indigenous way of life.

A Note about Craft:

Per the jacket flap, The Moose of Ewenki is based on a true tale of an older hunter buried in the rugged forests of Inner Mongolia, his faithful dog, who guarded the grave, and the lone moose that wandered the forests there. From this tale, Blackcrane and Jui Er have crafted a picture book that is a window into a disappearing lifestyle that celebrates the natural world and humans’ place among the animals, and our responsibility to it.

From the publishers, Blackcrane is a multi-award-winning author from Inner Mongolia, who raises and trains Mongolian shepherd dogs. Jiu Er is an award-winning fine artist from Beijing, China.

Aldana Libros, an imprint of Greystone Kids (part of Greystone Books), is a Canadian publisher that brings “outstanding books to the English-speaking market, by international authors and illustrators who want to communicate their own cultural realities.”

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!