PPBF – Malaika’s Costume

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is another one of my Canadian finds, and its story occurs in the Caribbean – truly a pan-American picture book!

7873637_origTitle: Malaika’s Costume

Written By: Nadia L. Hohn

Illustrated By: Irene Luxbacher

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: carnival; absent parent; #ReadYourWorld; #WNDB

Opening:

I close my eyes and dance. I am a beautiful peacock. Each feather shimmers – green, gold, turquoise and brown.

Grandma say, “Girl, I think you is definitely my granddaughter for true.”

Brief Synopsis:

When the money for Malaika’s carnival costume doesn’t arrive from Mummy, Malaika and her grandmother must find another way to create a costume in time for the Carnival parade.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Malaika’s Costume is a marvelous window into Caribbean life and the colorful carnival celebrations that occur on many islands. The story is tinged, though, with the reality of the hardships endured by children left with relatives when a parent migrates abroad to work.

Through Malaika’s eyes, we experience the anticipation of an upcoming Carnival parade in which the children don fancy costumes to dance through the streets. Malaika dreams of strutting like a peacock. But Malaika’s mother is working at a “good job” in Canada, a far-away country that is “cold like an icebox” with snow that looks “like coconut sky juice”. When the money Mummy has promised to send doesn’t arrive, Malaika and her grandmother must improvise, as it seems they, and Mummy, must do on a daily basis. Malaika’s solution demonstrates the resourcefulness she has developed since her mother left for Canada.

I think Malaika’s Costume will appeal to families and teachers wanting to learn about island life and cultural events as well as to those wanting to shed light on the difficulties facing migrants and the children they leave on island.

Luxbacher’s colorful collaged artwork brings Hohn’s empathetic story to life. They helped me feel like I’d enjoyed a virtual visit to the sunny Caribbean. Hand-drawn black-and-white drawings sprinkled throughout the pages are an extra bonus for younger children to find.

9781554987542_2_1024x1024

Reprinted from Groundwood Books

A Note about Craft:

As is evident from the Opening above, Hohn tells Malaika’s story using first-person point of view. Utilizing this point of view brings immediacy to the story, and it enables not only Malaika, but also the reader, to wonder about her mother and the solitary life she leads in Canada.

Also evident in the Opening is that Hohn uses the Caribbean patois  of the unnamed island that is Malaika’s home. This language adds to the authenticity of Malaika’s voice and could be an interesting discussion topic for teachers using Malaika’s Costume in the classroom.

Visit Hohn’s website here.

Groundwood Books “is an independent Canadian children’s publisher based in Toronto” that is “particularly committed to publishing books for and about children whose experiences of the world are under-represented elsewhere.”

For a list of more children’s books that involve Carnival celebrations, see a recent blog post on Anansesem, a site about Caribbean children’s books.

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

PPBF – The Land Beyond the Wall: An Immigration Story

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is a self-import from Toronto, Canada. I visited there last weekend with my husband to celebrate a colleague’s birthday. Knowing that the independent Canadian children’s publishers often tackle difficult subjects, I couldn’t help but drag my husband to a bookstore – Another Story, where I found sections of the children’s area devoted to topics such as multicultural books, bullying, feelings and many others (the themes of “social justice, equity, and diversity” are highlighted on their website). I heartily recommend spending a few hours there! Interestingly, I also happened to read in a New York Times article a few days ago that a milestone has been reached: the time period since the Berlin Wall fell now exceeds the time period that it stood. As a wall features in today’s Perfect Picture Book, I couldn’t think of a better time to review it!

homegraphic02Title: The Land Beyond the Wall: An Immigration Story

Written & Illustrated By: Veronika Martenova Charles

Publisher/date: Nimbus Publishing/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigration; art; allegory; following dreams; walls

Opening:

Once, the world was divided by a BIG wall. On one side the sun rarely shone. Fields lay bare, towns and villages were grey, and shops were empty. People spoke in whispers because they were afraid of each other. They could not even trust their friends.

NOBODY WAS ALLOWED OUTSIDE THE WALL.

This was where Emma lived.

Brief Synopsis:

After her parents disappear and she is forced to live with an aunt who thinks that art isn’t useful, a young girl escapes her dreary life to resettle as an immigrant in a new land of happiness and colour.

Links to Resources:

  • In an Afterword, Charles recounts her own story of defection from the Eastern Bloc;
  • Learn about the “Iron Curtain” that separated the Communist Eastern Bloc from the free world;
  • Use your brightest crayons or colored pencils to draw a room or area outdoors; then draw the same space without color and without the things that make that room or area colorful. Which do you like better? Why?

Why I Like this Book:

The Land Beyond the Wall has a fairy-tale aspect to it from its beginning, “Once,” to the end. As in fairy tales, Emma has a friend, an old doll that had been her mother’s doll, who comforts and counsels her. Emma journeys on a boat that magically appears and then sails for days across stormy seas to a “land where dreams come true.” But before those dreams come true, she loses something, her voice. Only with perseverance can she find her voice again.

I like Martenova Charles’ analogy of physically losing one’s voice to the experience of immigrants who don’t speak or understand a language in the new land. I think this is a wonderful way to explain to children what it’s like to live in another country, whether by choice or, in the case of refugees, necessity. I also like that Martenova Charles ties the pursuit of art and beauty to freedom.

Martenova Charles’ soft, pastel illustrations help define the two lands, the dreary, more gray and brown area of the land where Emma was born, portrayed with charcoal, and the colorful area beyond the wall. To see an interior spread, look here.

A Note about Craft:

The Land Beyond the Wall is a semi-autobiographical story. Martenova Charles immigrated to Canada in 1970 and spent her first days in the country in a group setting in Nova Scotia, much like the “maze of corridors and halls” she describes in The Land Beyond the Wall. Martenova Charles was a young adult at the time, however, unlike the much younger Emma. I think by decreasing Emma’s age and adding the fairy tale elements, Martenova Charles renders the story much more kid-relatable. For authors who want to write a personal story, I think it’s helpful to remember that it’s the essence of the story, and not the actual details, that’s most important to retain.

I love the opening lines, in which the Wall itself is portrayed almost as a character – the one dividing the two worlds. By opening the story in this way, I think Martenova Charles is able to keep the focus on the difference between the two societies, rather than on the reason they are different, which would be a very difficult subject to try to explain to young children.

Find out more about Veronika Martenova Charles.

Nimbus Publishing “is the largest English-language publisher east of Toronto. Nimbus produces more than thirty new titles a year on a range of subjects relevant to the Atlantic Provinces” of Canada, including children’s picture books.

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

Another Holiday – a Valentiny Contest Submission

To help celebrate the season, and snap us out of our mid-winter doldrums, the wonderful and talented Susanna Hill has conceived of, and orchestrates, the best-ever Valentine’s Day treat for kidlit writers and readers: the Valentiny Writing Contest.

With Hopeful Heart! 

The 3rd Annual Valentiny Writing Contest!!!

valentiny-writing-contest-2018

Quoting Susanna:

The Contest:  since writing for children is all about “big emotion for little people” (I forget who said that, but someone did so I put it in quotes!) and Valentine’s Day is all about emotion, write a Valentines story appropriate for children (children here defined as ages 12 and under) maximum 214 words in which someone is hopeful!  Your someone can hope for something good or something bad.  Your story can be poetry or prose, sweet, funny, surprising or anything in between, but it will only count for the contest if it includes someone hopeful (can be the main character but doesn’t have to be) and is 214 words (get it? 2/14 for Valentine’s Day). You can go under the word count but not over! (Title is not included in the word count.)

Check out the many fabulous entries at Susanna’s site. And I hope you enjoy my heartfelt entry, coming in at 213 words (and posted on 2/13!), 

ANOTHER HOLIDAY

“Another holiday? There’s too many holidays in this school,” Aaliyah grumbled.

She remembered the Thanksgiving feast. All of the food disappeared, except Mama’s Baba Ghanoush. She cringed as she recalled the winter concert, and the finger-pointing at Bibi’s abaya.

“What’s wrong?” asked Mama. She read the note Aaliyah held, slowly. Twice.

“It’s cards. For your classmates. You can make them. Here’s paper and your brother’s pens. They’ll be beautiful.”

Mama was right. The Valentines were beautiful, especially the one for Teacher. Aaliyah grinned.

She skipped into school on Valentine’s Day. But then she saw the chocolates on Teacher’s desk and her classmates’ store-bought Valentines. Tears trickled down Aaliyah’s cheeks. The homemade Valentines didn’t look as beautiful now.

She tried to hide the Valentines in her backpack, but Teacher said, “Please drop them in your classmates’ bags.”

“The bags look full,” Aaliyah mumbled.

“There’s space.”

“My tummy hurts,” Aaliyah complained.

“You can visit the nurse’s office, after you hand out the Valentines.”

With trembling hands, Aaliyah held out the last Valentine, for Teacher.

“What a gorgeous Valentine!” Teacher exclaimed. “Did you make it? Will you share your talent, please, and teach us how to draw these swirling letters?”

Aaliyah grinned, wiped her tears and hoped that the next holiday would be like Valentine’s Day.

♥♥♥

PPBF – Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad

As the cold temperatures and stormy weather continue across the northeastern US, many kids, I’m sure, are busy with indoor activities, including arts and crafts. I believe the joy of creation is universal, even, as in today’s Perfect Picture Book, in times and regions of war.

covers011Title: Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad

Written & Illustrated By: James Rumford

Publisher/date: Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press/2008

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (or older)

Themes/Topics: calligraphy; war; coping mechanisms

Opening:

My name is Ali. I live in Baghdad.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy in Baghdad loves the art of calligraphy and finds solace in the art as war rages across his city.

Links to Resources:

  • Try calligraphy and learn more about this ancient art, including from the Author’s Note;
  • Learn about Iraq, the setting of today’s story;
  • Ali loves to write and when he’s scared, he does it to calm himself. What do you do when you are scared or upset?

Why I Like this Book:

Silent Music provides a window into the arts and everyday life in Baghdad in the early twenty-first century, when much of the country was a war zone. I think older kids, especially, will relate to the main character, Ali, who likes and does the things that so many children enjoy: sports, friends, “parent-rattling music” and dancing. I think they’ll also appreciate the many analogies that Rumford utilizes to explain the art of calligraphy: the ink “dancing to the silent music in my head”; a sentence like a “soccer player in slow motion”; “masts” that become “tangled knots of ink”. And, as in real life, peace is difficult to write. While Ali’s pen “glides down” the letters that form the word for war, he must practice writing peace until, he hopes, the word “flows freely from my pen”.

Rumford is an illustrator/author who has learned the art of calligraphy. The gorgeous artwork in Silent Music is a combination of computer-enhanced pencil and charcoal drawings collaged together and combined with calligraphy, examples of which appear on almost every page. Rumford explains on his website how he generated the illustrations using Photoshop.

Silent-Music-Yasmin

Reprinted from Rumford’s website

I’d not recommend Silent Music for younger children. It is, however, as Rumford intended, a reminder for school-aged kids that art exists, and is a form of solace, even in war-torn regions or regions affected by natural or other human-made disasters.

A Note about Craft:

In his acceptance speech for the Jane Addams Award for Silent Music that is reprinted on his website, Rumford explains how, in 2003, in the midst of the devastation of the Iraq War, he wanted to “write something positive about its culture.” At first, he explains, he desired to write about a 13th century calligrapher who lived and worked in Baghdad as the Mongols invaded. But as he struggled to craft the story, he realized that the story should be set in modern-day Iraq, with a contemporary main character. He also realized, however, how controversial the subject was and wondered whether the story would be published.

As we know now, not only was Silent Music published five years after Rumford conceived the story, but it also was an award winner. For authors and illustrators wanting to tackle difficult subjects in picture books, I think Rumford’s persistence, and Neal Porter’s willingness to publish a picture book set in a war zone, should inspire us to persevere, too.

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

PPBF – King for a Day

It’s Spring…somewhere! As we cross our fingers in the frosty northern regions of the US that a certain groundhog will not see his (or her) shadow today, I can’t help thinking about places where spring already has arrived and the celebrations that herald that arrival. Today’s Perfect Picture Book features a celebration of spring’s arrival from Pakistan:

main_largeTitle: King for a Day

Written By:  Rukhsana Khan

Illustrated By: Christiane Krömer

Publisher/date: Lee & Low Books/2014

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes/Topics: spring festivals; kites; Pakistan; physical challenges; #ReadYourWorld

Opening:

Basant is the most exciting day of the year! With feasts and music and parties, people celebrate the arrival of spring. And many will make their way to the rooftops of Lahore to test their skills in kite-flying battles.

Brief Synopsis: A young Pakistani boy battles with his kite to snag other kites and become the winner, the king, of the spring festival, Basant.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Pakistan;
  • Celebrate Basant, a festival to mark the arrival of spring, and learn how it is celebrated in Pakistan;
  • Make and fly a kite;
  • Check out more ideas in the Teacher’s Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

King for a Day is a wonderfully diverse book, featuring not just a colorful spring festival about which most of us know little, a glimpse into a city, Lahore, Pakistan, which most of us will never visit, but also a wheelchair-bound main character. With his one kite and plucky spirit, kids will root for Malik as his kite, Falcon, like a great bird of prey, circles and slices the string of the neighboring bully’s kite, Goliath. I think kids will also feel satisfied at the ending when Malik shares a special something with a young girl who is crying.

Krömer’s vivid, collaged illustrations bring Lahore and the story to life. I especially enjoyed the many kites depicted in the middle of the story – so vibrant and reminiscent of a perfect spring day.

_2005789_orig

Reprinted from Krömer’s website

A Note about Craft:

King for a Day is an interesting glimpse into a Pakistani city and festival, that features a boy in a wheelchair. Featuring a physically-challenged main character adds a rich layer to an already culturally diverse story. Interestingly, Malik’s physical condition is not mentioned in the text; rather, we know he’s in a wheelchair only because of the illustrations. In this way, Krömer broadens the appeal of the book and expands the potential audience.

Khan is an #OwnVoices author, but Krömer admits in a fascinating interview with Khan, that she knew nothing about Lahore before starting the project, and the first images she saw were of violence and a male-dominated festival. Anyone who sees King for a Day will be astonished by this revelation. So how did Krömer come to understand the setting and story? In the interview and a behind-the-art look at her process on Lee & Low’s site, she recounts how she viewed a Mughal art exhibit and incorporated the style of the Mughal architecture into her collages, how she visited Pakistani neighborhoods and came to understand the dominant colors to incorporate, and how she purchased Pakistani cloth in the garment district of Manhattan to use in the collages. In a word, I’d say she immersed herself virtually and as physically as possible without actually visiting Lahore. I think those of us who are non-#OwnVoices illustrators or authors can learn from Krömer’s dedication to detail and process as we incorporate characters, scenes, or cultural events about which we may not be all that familiar in our own writing.

Check out Khan’s website, which includes not only information about her own books, but a listing of books about Muslims.

View more illustrations from King for a Day at Krömer’s website.

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

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2018 – Katie Woo: We Love You!

Today I’m posting a special book review of a soon-to-be-released chapter book as part of the Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2018 celebration.  blogger button

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2018 (1/27/18) is in its 5th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.  Learn more about our sponsors, twitter party, and free items below. And please follow us on twitter, @MCChildsBookDay, and help us spread the word to #ReadYourWorld.

9781515822776Title: Katie Woo: We Love You!

Written By: Fran Manushkin

Illustrated By: Tammie Lyon

Publisher/date: Picture Window Books, a Capstone imprint/2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-7

Themes/Topics: friendship; team work; #ReadYourWorld

Opening:

Katie was talking to JoJo. She said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to be in a club?”

“For sure!” said JoJo. “It would be the best!”

Brief Synopsis:

Katie Woo, a young Japanese-American girl, starts a club, hosts a sleep-over, learns about volcanoes, and attends a father-daughter dance with her friends and family.

Links to Resources:

  • Make peanut butter and jelly sushi using the recipe found in the book;
  • Katie has a lucky kimono. View and color a kimono;
  • Learn about and make a volcano, like Katie and her friends do;
  • Katie and her father attend a daddy-daughter dance. Explore some kids’ dances and activities.

Why I Like this Book:

In four short, brightly-illustrated stories that are the perfect length for beginning readers, Katie Woo and her friends start a club, enjoy a spooky sleep-over, work together as a team to build a volcano, and attend a father-daughter dance. Katie Woo: We Love You! is the 10th book in this popular chapter-book series.

In “The Best Club,” Sophie, one of Katie’s classmates, starts a club that will be the “best”. But when no one measures up to Sophie’s definition of “best,” Katie and her friends rebuke Sophie for her mean attitude and exclusionary actions and form their own club, that they then allow Sophie to join. By showing readers how to confront and overcome discriminatory attitudes and actions, I think this story will help readers overcome these attitudes in their own classrooms. I also think this is a great discussion starter about what it means to be the “best” at something, thereby helping bolster kids’ self-esteem.

In “Katie’s Spooky Sleepover” a new friend, Janie, is scared by a spooky story and borrows Katie’s favorite lucky kimono to calm herself. I like that an object from Katie’s heritage is appreciated by her friend. This could also give rise to a discussion about different objects or cultural traditions that people use as comforts or as lucky omens.

Team building and a science lesson are the themes of “Katie Blows her Top,” as Katie learns to control her anger and her friends learn to take turns as they build a volcano together.

Finally, in “Daddy Can’t Dance,” Katie tries to teach her clumsy father to dance and shares a trick to keep her toes safe while they dance. Although I was surprised that it was a Daddy-Daughter dance instead of a parent-child dance, one of Katie’s friends attended with an uncle and another with a grandfather, thereby including kids who may not have a father at home.

A Note about Craft:

The Katie Woo books feature culturally-diverse characters that encounter situations and overcome problems that could affect any child. The characters seem oblivious to skin color and ethnicity. And by featuring a number of different cultures, Asian, Muslim, African-American, and Latino, Manushkin is able to focus on the similarities that unite us in everyday experiences, thereby offering a mirror for children from many backgrounds.

Find out more about Fran Manushkin and her other chapter and picture books.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Capstone Publishing’s mission is to help “children develop a love of reading and learning, no matter their ability level”. In addition to the Katie Woo chapter book series and many other titles, Capstone published the award-winning A Different Pond, that I reviewed in December. Capstone provided an advance copy of Katie Woo! We Love You! in exchange for a fair and honest review.

And, as promised above, see the list of MCBD 2018 sponsors and learn more about this amazing celebration of Multicultural Children’s Books!

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2018 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board.

2018 MCBD Medallion Sponsors

HONORARY: Children’s Book Council, Junior Library Guild

PLATINUM:Scholastic Book Clubs

GOLD:Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Loving Lion Books, Second Story Press, Star Bright Books, Worldwide Buddies

SILVER:Capstone Publishing, Author Charlotte Riggle, Child’s Play USA, KidLit TV, Pack-n-Go Girls, Plum Street Press

BRONZE: Barefoot Books, Carole P. Roman, Charlesbridge Publishing, Dr. Crystal BoweGokul! World, Green Kids Club, Gwen Jackson, Jacqueline Woodson, Juan J. Guerra, Language Lizard, Lee & Low Books, RhymeTime Storybooks, Sanya Whittaker Gragg, TimTimTom Books, WaterBrook & Multnomah, Wisdom Tales Press

2018 Author Sponsors

Honorary Author Sponsors: Author/Illustrator Aram Kim and Author/Illustrator Juana Medina

Author Janet Balletta, Author Susan BernardoAuthor Carmen Bernier-Grand, Author Tasheba Berry-McLaren and Space2Launch, Bollywood Groove Books, Author Anne BroylesAuthor Kathleen Burkinshaw, Author Eugenia Chu, Author Lesa Cline-Ransome, Author Medeia Cohan and Shade 7 Publishing, Desi Babies, Author Dani Dixon and Tumble Creek Press, Author Judy Dodge Cummings, Author D.G. Driver, Author Nicole Fenner and Sister Girl Publishing, Debbi Michiko Florence, Author Josh Funk, Author Maria Gianferrari, Author Daphnie Glenn, Globe Smart Kids, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Author Quentin Holmes, Author Esther Iverem, Jennifer Joseph: Alphabet Oddities, Author Kizzie Jones, Author Faith L Justice , Author P.J. LaRue and MysticPrincesses.com, Author Karen Leggett Abouraya, Author Sylvia Liu, Author Sherri Maret, Author Melissa Martin Ph.D., Author Lesli Mitchell, Pinky Mukhi and We Are One, Author Miranda Paul, Author Carlotta Penn, Real Dads Read, Greg Ransom, Author Sandra L. Richards, RealMVPKids Author Andrea Scott, Alva Sachs and Three Wishes Publishing, Shelly Bean the Sports QueenAuthor Sarah Stevenson, Author Gayle H. Swift Author Elsa Takaoka, Author Christine Taylor-Butler, Nicholette Thomas and  MFL Publishing  Author Andrea Y. Wang, Author Jane Whittingham  Author Natasha Yim

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Scholastic Book Clubs: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/27/18 at 9:00pm.

Join the conversation and win one of 12-5 book bundles and one Grand Prize Book Bundle (12 books) that will be given away at the party! http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/twitter-party-great-conversations-fun-prizes-chance-readyourworld-1-27-18/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teacher-classroom-empathy-kit/

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

This entry is being linked to the Multicultural Children’s Book Day list. Check out the other great #ReadYourWorld books and blogs featured there!

 

PPBF – The Little Black Fish

Susanna Hill asked on Facebook the other day what everyone was reading on a snowy winter’s day. I thought about what’s been on my nightstand, and what would be a good, longer story for parents and children to share. Today’s Perfect Picture Book came to mind, especially as we acknowledge the one-year anniversary of the current administration in the US, and think about what we tell kids about questioning authority, respecting others, and being receptive to those who are different from us.

9781910328194Title: The Little Black Fish

Written By: Samad Behrangi

Illustrated By: Farshid Mesghali

Translated By: Azita Rassi

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd./2016 (first published in Persian, Kanoun Parvaresh Fekri, Iran/1968)

Suitable for Ages: 7 and up

Themes/Topics: daring to be different; curiosity; exploration; death; #ReadYourWorld

Opening:

As the nights grew longer and the year turned towards winter once more, an old fish settled herself to tell a story. She was telling the story to her twelve thousand grandchildren fishes. It was an exciting story full of danger and some sadness, but it was a story that also carried wisdom. The old fish wanted her grandchildren to learn from Little Black Fish’s story without them having to go into the dangers and sadnesses of life themselves.

Brief Synopsis:

The Little Black Fish dreams of a world beyond the stream. He ventures forth to learn what lies downstream, and in so doing, he encounters many wonderful things, and overcomes, many, but not all, dangers.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover more about Iran, where the author lived and the illustrator still lives;
  • Learn about rivers and streams;
  • Explore a new place or see what’s beyond the next hill or up the next street. Draw a picture of something new that you discover.

Why I Like this Book:

Although the word count is high in this story within a story, the many layers of The Little Black Fish make it well worth reading. I think even very young kids will relate to the Little Black Fish and his desire to see the world and meet other, different creatures. Behrangi captured the boredom, questioning and curiosity of young children in this spunky fish, and perceptive children will view it as a mirror into their own behavior.

I also like that this fish states clearly what many dreamers, social activists, and others have only thought: “I don’t want to spend my life swimming up and down and around, and then grumbling that there isn’t anything more to life. Perhaps there is more to life, and perhaps the world is more than our stream!”

Mesghali’s graphic illustrations date to 1968, but seem fresh and contemporary. Young children will enjoy picking out the distinctive Little Black Fish as he is depicted on his journey.

In “About the Book”, the editors reveal that the Shah’s government in Iran banned The Little Black Fish in 1968 when it first was published as it “was written and read as an allegory for a nation in which it was dangerous to dare to be politically different.” Even today, the story of a fish who dares to be different, to mingle with creatures of different species (or we could substitute race/religion/nationality/class), question his elders and leave the protective stream (or we could substitute home/neighborhood/school/country) to see the world will resonate with children, and adults, of all ages, I think.

A Note about Craft:

I mentioned above that The Little Black Fish is a story within a story. This works well, as it allows for a happy ending, even though, spoiler alert, the black fish dies at the end of his story. Interestingly, one of the 12,000 grandchildren listening to the story kept thinking about the Little Black Fish, the stream and the wonderful creatures described. That little red fish was female – a good reminder that curiosity is not gender-restricted.

Death figures prominently in this story. Not only does the Little Black Fish die, but he accuses his mother of killing his friend, a snail, the Fish encounters a doe wounded by a hunter, a crab munches on a frog, and pelicans devour small fish. Although death and the circle of life are depicted in American picture books, I found Behrangi’s depictions to be less sugar-coated than that of most contemporary writers for young children. As author Matt de la Peña asked in a recent article in Time, however, is the role of the writer to expose children to difficult topics, “to tell the truth or preserve innocence?” I think by reading books like The Little Black Fish, we can learn how authors from different cultures and/or times handle this question and learn from these approaches.

Azita Rassi translated The Little Black Fish into English for this edition, which is very helpful for those of us who don’t read Persian. Translations such as this are essential for those hoping to #ReadYourWorld and learn about important works and traditions from other cultures.

Discover more books published by Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd, “an independent publishing company 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” and publishing a number of books by Iranian authors and illustrators.

According to his website, Meshghali continues to create art today in his Tehran studio. He has been awarded the first Graphic Prize, Sixth International Children Books’ Fair in Bologna, for The Little Black Fish
 in 1968, an Honorary Diploma, Bratislava Biannual, Czechoslovakia, for The Little Black Fish in 1971, and the “Hans Christian Anderson Award” for his contribution to children’s books illustration in 1974.

While not currently available in US book shops, The Little Black Fish is available through the Book Depository which ships for free to the US.

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