PPBF – Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing

Happy Flag Day! To celebrate, let’s wave our flags, raise our voices in song, and celebrate the immigrants who contribute so much to our country, like the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing

Written By: Nancy Churnin

Illustrated By: James Rey Sanchez

Publisher/Date: Creston Books/2018

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes/Topics: biography, composer, immigrant, patriotism, singing

Opening:

Irving stood on tiptoe to see over the rail. Behind him, too far to glimpse, was Russia where angry Cossacks had burned his family’s home to ashes. Ahead was America. What would they find there?

Brief Synopsis: A cradle-to-grave biography of Irving Berlin, a young Jewish immigrant who shared his love of his adopted homeland by composing a beloved anthem.

Links to Resources:

  • Listen to some of the over 1,500 songs that Irving Berlin composed. Do you have a favorite?
  • Listen to Kate Smith’s first performance of God Bless America;
  • Churnin features a Make America Sing page on her website, where she encourages readers to celebrate their heritage and that of classmates and friends;
  • Check out the Curriculum Guide found at Creston Books for more ideas.

Why I Like this Book:

Churnin has written a lyrical biography that introduces young readers to the composer who wrote a song that most, if not all, will recognize. But many, including adult readers,  may not know that Irving Berlin was a Jewish immigrant who as a young child fled Russia with his family to escape persecution, that he left home at 13 to support himself after his father’s death, and that he sold newspapers and was a singing waiter before composing the first of over 1,500 songs, including many popular Broadway shows. And though Berlin became rich and famous for his catchy tunes, Churnin informs readers that “he never took a penny for ‘God Bless America.’” All proceeds from that song he donated to the Girl and Boy Scouts. As Churnin notes, it was his way of sharing the “music in his heart’, his “thank you” to America, the country that opened its doors to him and other refugees in the late 19th century.

I think Churnin’s focus on Berlin’s difficult childhood will help young readers to empathize with Berlin. I think, too, that her focus on his persistence will resonate. Music lovers of all ages will enjoy learning about Berlin. Irving Berlin will make a welcome addition to classroom and home libraries.

Sanchez’ muted-tone illustrations add an early-to-mid 20th century feel to the text. I love the sense of crowding in the early, tenement scenes, and I especially love the pop of red that punctuates the drab backgrounds, generally on a long red scarf that mimics the flow of the Hudson River and the notes on a music staff.

A Note about Craft:

In a StoryStorm post this past January, Churnin advised writers interested in exploring historical topics to “make a date with history” and research important anniversaries when trying to determine who, or what, to write about. She followed her own advice, as Irving Berlin appeared on bookshelves in 2018, the 100th anniversary of God Bless America. Churnin’s latest picture book biography, Martin & Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank, was published in time for the 100th anniversary of the birthdays of these two important people. Who, or what, will you choose as your next non-fiction picture book topic?

In an interview on The Picture Book Buzz recently, Churnin mentioned that an “aha” moment for her occurred when a friend noted that Berlin incorporated a Jewish melody into God Bless America. This became Churnin’s “way into” the story. Identifying that “tidbit” that resonates and becomes a theme in a story is so important for any writer, but especially for someone trying to condense a long life into limited text, all while trying to make it interesting and accessible to young children. It also could be something that sets your book apart from others, just in case, as happened with the anniversary of God Bless America, you aren’t the only one writing and publishing a picture book about it.

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

Perfect Pairing – of Stone Lions on the Move

When I recently reviewed Renato and the Lion, I started thinking about other picture books featuring lions who came to life. Surprisingly, there are a few of them. Perhaps there’s some truth to these stories after all!

 

Renato and the Lion 

Author & Illustrator: Barbara DiLorenzo

Publisher/Date: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group/2017

Ages: 5-7

Themes: lion sculpture, war, art, national treasures, refugee, imagination, intergenerational story

Short Synopsis (from the publisher’s website):

The touching, magical story of a boy in a war-torn country and the stone lion that rescues him. 
Renato loves his home in Florence, Italy. He loves playing with his friends in the Piazza della Signoria. He loves walking home by the beautiful buildings and fountains with his father in the evenings. And he especially loves the stone lion who seems to smile at him from a pedestal in the piazza. The lion makes him feel safe.
But one day his father tells him that their family must leave. Their country is at war, and they will be safer in America. Renato can only think of his lion. Who will keep him safe?
With luminous watercolor paintings, Barbara DiLorenzo captures the beauty of Florence in this heartwarming and ultimately magical picture book.

Read my review.

The Stone Lion

Author: Margaret Wild

Illustrator: Ritva Voutila

Publisher/Date: Little Hare Books, an imprint of Hardie Grant Egmont/2014

Ages: 3-5

Themes: lion sculpture, homelessness, imagination, empathy

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Sometimes statues are granted a chance to become warm, breathing creatures. The stone lion has only one dream – to run, pounce and leap in the park across from where he sits. But one snowy night, when a baby is abandoned at his paws, he is compelled to think differently.

Read a review at Gathering Books.

I paired these books because both deal with difficult subjects and include a lion sculpture that comes alive. In Renato and the Lion, Renato’s beloved marble lion transports him through occupied Florence, Italy, during World War II, as Renato and his father try to protect treasured art from the Nazis and war. Told from the perspective of the lion, The Stone Lion recounts how a lion sculpture learns to feel and empathize with two homeless children and uses its one opportunity to come alive to save them. In both books, I think, the magic of sculptures coming alive softens the difficult subject matter and makes it more accessible to children.

Looking for similar reads?

See The Night Library by David Zeltser/Raul Colón (Random House/2019) and Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude by Josh Funk/Stevie Lewis (Henry Holt & Co./2018).

PPBF – A Gift from Abuela

I received a copy of this today’s featured picture book in a giveaway from Children’s Books Heal. Lucky me! Patricia featured it for Multicultural Children’s Book Day this past January – I hope you agree that this is a Perfect Picture Book to celebrate multiculturalism and the bonds that unite us.

Title: A Gift for Abuela

Written & Illustrated By: Cecilia Ruiz

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: intergenerational, multicultural, Mexico, economic hardship

Opening:

Abuela would never forget the day Niña was born. It was an unusual day in Mexico City. On this day, the sky was clear and the streets were still.

Brief Synopsis: A heartwarming story of the love shared between a young girl, Niña, and her grandmother, Abuela.

Links to Resources:

  • Niña and her Abuela enjoy eating sweet bread, pan dulce, together. Learn the history of this traditional Mexican treat, with roots in Spanish and French baking, and try making it;
  • What do you and your grandmother or grandfather enjoy doing together? Describe or draw a picture of you and a grandparent or other favorite relative or family friend;
  • Abuela and Niña cut beautiful papel picado banners together. Learn how to make these festive, tissue-paper banners.

Why I Like this Book:

A Gift for Abuela is a quiet, lyrical story of the bond between a grandmother and her granddaughter. I love how that connection grows from Niña’s birth as the pair share simple pleasures, “silly songs”, “spinning around” until dizzy, making “papel picado banners”, and sitting together in the park every Sunday, eating pan dulce and people watching. But even as their bond deepened, “life got harder in Mexico” due to economic troubles, Abuela worked more and was “always tired”, and time spent with school friends meant that Niña visited Abuela less often. Sadly, the pesos that Abuela had saved for a special gift for Niña became worthless, too.

Then one day, Niña visited and found the house looking “sad and dusty”. She determined to clean up and in doing so found the worthless bills that could no longer purchase a special present. I won’t spoil the ending, so you’ll have to read to discover the true gift that Abuela shared with her granddaughter.

Ruiz’ detailed pastel, block-printed illustrations are so expressive and clearly show the love between grandparent and grandchild that helps them overcome adversity.

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, the pesos Abuela was saving for a special gift for Niña became worthless. So why did Ruiz (or her editor) entitle this picture book A Gift from Abuela? Dealing as it does with reversals in life, I think they did so to encourage children to think about what really is important in life – is it the newest gadget or toy? Or is it, perhaps, the time we spend making happy memories with loved ones? I also think this additional theme of economic uncertainty will help children empathize with classmates or friends who experience poverty or even gain comfort if they experience it, too.

Inside the book jacket, readers learn that Ruiz is sharing “a deeply personal story”. The emotional ties evident in A Gift from Abuela show that she, too, has experienced a special gift from her own Mexican abuela.

Visit Ruiz’ website to see more of her work.

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

Perfect Pairing – of Multicultural Families

I love celebrations of family, especially when, as in these two picture books, the families embrace cultural traditions from across the world.

Gondra’s Treasure

Author: Linda Sue Park

Illustrator: Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Publisher/Date: Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: dragons, family, being yourself, multicultural

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Gondra, a little dragon with an Eastern dragon dad and a Western dragon mom, celebrates her uniqueness in this sparkling collaboration between Newbery medalist Linda Sue Park and rising star artist Jennifer Black Reinhardt.
Gondra has inherited traits from both her eastern (Asian) dragon dad and western (European) dragon mom and enjoys them all. She’s especially happy that she’s a combination of both. Cheerful banter and hilariously adorable dragon portrayals present a warm, appealing family portrait. The beautiful and fanciful illustrations are rich in whimsical details that invite repeated readings.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews and an interview by Reinhardt of Park at Picture Book Builders.

 

Maisie’s Scrapbook

Author: Samuel Narh

Illustrator: Jo Loring-Fisher

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: family, multicultural, being yourself

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

As the seasons turn, Maisie rides her bull in and out of Dada’s tall tales. Her Mama wears linen and plays the viola. Her Dada wears kente cloth and plays the marimba. They come from different places, but they hug her in the same way. And most of all, they love her just the same. A joyful celebration of a mixed-race family and the love that binds us all together.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because both feature multicultural families and children celebrating the attributes they inherit from both parents. In Gondra’s Treasure, young Gondra, a dragon, inherits her Western mother’s fire-breathing ability and her Eastern father’s mist-creating ability, to become, what her parents term, a unique treasure. I love how Park uses the differing myths about dragons prevalent in Asia and Europe to illustrate the beauty that results when these traditions come together. In Masie’s Scrapbook, young Maisie’s father regales her with tales from his native Africa, her mother serenades her with the viola, but both love her the same, as is evident in the scrapbook she keeps of a special year in this loving family. While one of these picture books features a family of mythical animals and the other features humans, I think the pair show the love and joy that results when parents share their cultures with their children.

PPBF – Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, from Farm to Family

I have a yummy, new picture book to feature today, that I think you’ll agree is a Perfect Picture Book in so many ways!

Title: Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, From Farm to Family

Written & Illustrated By: Elizabeth Zunon

Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury Children’s Books/May 2019

Suitable for Ages: 3-6

Themes/Topics: grandparents, chocolate, family history

Opening:

Chocolate is my most favorite thing ever. For my birthday, Daddy and I are making our family’s special celebration cake while Mommy goes to pick up another treat.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl learns about her grandfather, a cacao farmer in Africa, as she and her father prepare a special birthday cake and await a special treat.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover how cacao is grown and harvested;
  • Learn about the history of cacao and try these chocolate challenges, including coloring pages;
  • The narrator guesses several times throughout the story about what treat her mother is bringing home for her birthday. Describe or draw a picture of your favorite treat or treats – is it something to eat or drink? A special thing or a special activity?
  • Make some chocolaty treats.

Why I Like this Book:

Grandpa Cacao is a fascinating exploration of cacao bean farming in western Africa and a heart-warming tale of a granddaughter’s love for a grandfather she’s never met. I love how the unnamed narrator and her father mix and bake a special chocolate cake for her birthday, and, while doing so, Daddy shares details about Grandpa Cacao’s farm and their own family history. The anticipation builds as the narrator guesses again and again what “treat” her mother is picking up. What do you think it may be? I think many kids, and adults, will have fun guessing.

I particularly love Zunon’s stunning and colorful artwork – how she brings details of Africa into the house and shows the farm and Grandpa Cacao as the narrator imagines them.

For those who want to learn more of the story behind the story, there’s an Author’s Note, and “Chocolate Chunks” that explains the science, history, and production of chocolate. Zunon even shares the recipe for the Chocolate Celebration Cake so readers and their families can make and enjoy it, too.

A Note about Craft:

In an agent’s submission guidelines I recently read, she asked anyone submitting to include why s/he is the best person to write the submitted manuscript. While I think most kidlit creators and reviewers understand the concept of #OwnVoices, this directive, I believe, means something more: a personal connection to a particular story. How do you know if you, or if the person who has created a story, has that connection? I think the many details a creator can include and the emotion that oozes, like chocolate, from the text and/or illustrations are two indicators evident in Grandpa Cacao. What are some other features that you think show when someone is the right person to share a story?

Zunon is the illustrator of Baptiste & Miranda Paul’s I Am Farmer, among many other picture books. Visit her website to see more of her work. Grandpa Cacao is her debut as author and illustrator. Read a post she shared as a guest on the Nerdy Book Club blog about the genesis of Grandpa Cacao.

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 Ice Cream Adventures

I was walking in the city a few days ago and was pleasantly surprised to pass not one, not two, but three ice cream trucks. Listening to their jingly tunes compete with church bells, car horns and the other city sounds reminded me of long-ago summer evenings when I’d race down my suburban street, chasing the jingly-jangly music and a cool ice cream cone.

Saffron Ice Cream

Author & Illustrator: Rashin Kheiriyeh

Publisher/Date: Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc./June 2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: immigrant, moving home, summer, beach, ice cream, customs, friendship

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Rashin is excited about her first visit to the beach in her family’s new home. On the way there, she remembers what beach trips were like in Iran, the beautiful Caspian Sea, the Persian music, and most of all, the saffron ice cream she shared with her best friend, Azadeh. But there are wonderful things in this new place as well — a subway train, exciting music… and maybe even a new friend!

Read my review.

Scoop the Ice Cream Truck

Author & Illustrator: Patricia Keeler

Publisher/Date: Sky Pony Press/2018

Ages: 3-6

Themes: ice cream, being needed, friendship

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Scoop the Ice Cream Truck has seen a lot of summers selling his vanilla ice cream cones across the city. But he’s getting old, and the new trucks are getting fancier. Now they have waffle cones, jumbo sundaes, flash frozen ice cream, twenty-seven flavors and six special toppings. Feeling like he’s fallen behind, Scoop decides that it’s time for a redesign. But when his old frame can’t handle the new upgrades, can Scoop discover his own value and find the right spot to sell his vanilla cones?

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because of the focus on ice cream, and because they both are written by illustrator-authors. But, thinking about them together, I realize there’s a bigger connection, too. In Saffron Ice Cream, the main character, young Rashin, leaves her homeland and journeys to the United States where she discovers that ice cream trucks exist here, even if they don’t feature her favorite flavor, saffron, as do new friends. In Scoop, where the ice cream truck itself is the main character, the journey is less about distance than about time: Scoop feels left behind by a world that prefers super-sized treats of more flavors and types than I remember from my childhood (or even my kids’ childhoods). But even if “old fashioned”, Scoop has a role to fulfill and a young child to befriend. I hope you enjoy both books – with a scoop or two of your favorite ice cream!

Looking for similar reads?

See, The Ice Cream King, Steve Metzger/Julie Downing (Tiger Tales/2011).

PPBF – Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child: A Worldwide Jack and the Beanstalk Story

 

This past Tuesday, the United Nations marked World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development with a goal of bridging cultural gaps, bringing about greater understanding and tolerance. I thought, at first, to feature a book from a culture different than my own today. But from which other culture? I couldn’t decide. So when I saw today’s Perfect Picture Book highlighting aspects of many cultures from throughout the world, I was happy to discover that I didn’t need to choose just one.

Title: Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child: A Worldwide Jack and the Beanstalk Story

Written By: Paul Fleischman

Illustrated By: Julie Paschkis

Publisher/Date: Godwin Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan Publishing Group)/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: fairy tale retelling, underdogs, multiculturalism, fears, folk art

Opening:

It was scary, but I begged for that story. How the king adored his older children but could barely stand to look at his youngest son.

Brief Synopsis: Combining elements of tales from many different traditions, a fearless child confronts a fearsome foe.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Similar to an earlier picture book by this author and illustrator duo, Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal , Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child is a composite version of a popular hero tale told by incorporating details from many versions told throughout the world. Unlike in the previous book in which Fleischman examined the many iterations of the Cinderella story, Fleischman here melds together many different stories that feature a child who confronts a larger-than-life nemesis and ends up victorious. Referencing Jack and the Beanstalk in the subtitle, Fleischman also includes references to thumb-sized heroes, youngest siblings, and other brave children who, with brains and bravery, defeat such giants as ogres, witches and even the devil.

Not only do I think that children will find it interesting to note the variations in these hero tales, but Paschkis’ colorfully-detailed folk art illustrations provide further insight into the culture of each region depicted. I think anyone seeking a comparative multicultural picture book or anyone who enjoys fairy tales (is there anyone who doesn’t?) will enjoy reading, and rereading Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child.

A Note about Craft:

As in Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal, Fleischman has not changed any of the original stories from which he draws, but through his storytelling, he has highlighted what is the same and what’s different across various cultures. He has, in effect, opened a window into the various cultures and historical eras that produced these many hero stories, and, I believe, he has achieved a composite story that will prompt discussion about what’s the same and what’s different in the many cultures highlighted.

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!