PPBF – The Blue House

I’m continuing with the theme of houses, and homes, and families this week, as my guess is those are themes on all of our minds this holiday season. I think I’ve found the Perfect Picture Book to do so.

Title: The Blue House

Written & Illustrated By: Phoebe Wahl

Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House Children’s Books/2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: moving, home, single-parent household, urban renewal, overcoming loss

Opening:

Leo lived with his dad in an old blue house next to a tall fir tree.

Brief Synopsis: When Leo and his father are evicted from their beloved rental home, they are sad, but eventually find home in their new house.

Links to Resources:

  • What do you most like about your house? Draw a picture showing your favorite room or feature;
  • If you could change one thing about your home or room, what would it be? Why?
  • Leo and his father bake pie together. Try making this kid-friendly apple pie.

Why I Like this Book:

With its colorful, detailed illustrations and poignant story, The Blue House is a wonderful new picture book about moving and recreating home in a new location.

It’s clear at the outset that Leo and his father love living in the old blue house, despite the peeling paint, “leaks and creaks”, and the old heater that cuts out in the middle of winter. But sadly, they’re renters, and their landlord sells the house out from under them to make way for a bigger, newer, multi-family structure in its stead. With older children, this situation presents a wonderful opportunity to discuss the issues of urban renewal, the need for more multi-family units in many urban centers, and the pros and cons of tear-downs.

I love how Wahl shows readers that many activities can serve different purposes. Leo and his father bake a pie to warm up the old house and to help make the new house feel like home. They dance to keep warm, they “danced and stomped and raged” to feel “a little less mad” about the upcoming move, and they “danced and stomped and sang” in the new house. And they draw on the walls for different purposes, too, which I won’t share here as I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone.

For those who are in the midst of a move, just moved, or, like me, move often, I think Wahl’s description of the old house as “echoey and drafty like a hollow shell” will resonate. So, too, will her description of the new house as “empty, too. It didn’t feel like home”, at least not yet.

With its themes of making a house into a home, the bond between a loving parent and child, and overcoming loss, I think The Blue House is a perfect picture book for all families to savor and share.

A Note about Craft:

I love the thinly-veiled references to well-known books and music that Wahl, an author-illustrator, includes in the book. From The Hobbin to Talking Hens and Corn in the USA, I think adults will love spotting cultural references in the illustrations and sharing them with their little ones.

The Blue House features a father and son living on their own and dealing with the loss of their beloved rental home. No reference is made to a second parent and why he or she is not there. In my mind, this adds another layer to this heartfelt story, making me wonder whether that third family member may have resided in the blue house with Leo and his father.

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

PPBF – Home is a Window

Have you ever wondered what makes a house a home? As someone who has moved more times than I can count, including several moves when our kids were young, the desire to create a home is never far from my mind. Especially as we head into a season filled with family holidays, feeling at home wherever you live is so important. Which is why I knew I had to read and review today’s Perfect Picture Book which addresses just that question.

Title: Home is a Window

Written By: Stephanie Parsley Ledyard

Illustrated By: Chris Sasaki

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books, Holiday House/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: home, family, community, moving, comfort

Opening:

Home is a window, a doorway, a rug, a basket for your shoes.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl reflects on what’s special about her urban home, and when she moves, discovers special aspects of her new home.

Links to Resources:

  • Describe with words or pictures what you like best about the house or apartment where you live;
  • If you could change one thing about your home, what would it be? Why?
  • Have you ever wanted to design features of your own home? Check out these kid-friendly DIY design ideas;
  • Check out the Educator’s Guide for more ideas.

Why I Like this Book:

As the first lines of Home is a Window make clear, home can mean many things, as long as they contribute to feelings of comfort and safety. In the first section of this picture book, we see the many things that make this living space a home from the perspective of a young girl and her family. They include such universal pleasures as comfortable furniture, tasks done together, neighbor’s lights shining warmly into your bedroom, and a “table with something good and the people gathered there.” As the text makes clear, “Home is what feels the same each day”.

But what happens when you have to leave the comfort and safety of a familiar living arrangement and move someplace new? By bringing our traditions and the things we love with us, we can recreate home in a new place, as Home is a Window shows.

I love that Sasaki features the family coming together in the new house to share a meal. They might sit on a “patched-up quilt” on the floor and eat take-out food, but it’s clear that this family is well on their way to establishing a home in their new house.

With its low word count and earth-toned images of a loving mixed-raced family and their home, I think Home is a Window is a wonderful book to share with your littles, whether you’re contemplating a move, adapting to a new living situation, or wanting to share what makes your house or apartment a home.  

A Note about Craft:

I love the imagery and symbolism of the title, that home is a window – a means to look in to see the lives lived within its walls, and to look out to view the family’s interactions with their old and new communities.

Note the use of background colors: they become increasingly darker as moving day looms, and then lighten as the family creates a home in their new house.

A House, written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books/2021) would be a good book to pair with Home is a Window, especially with younger children.

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

PPBF – The Pond

Transitioning to a new home or community is a recurrent theme of many of the picture books I review. But as frequent movers know, moving generally doesn’t occur in the absence of other difficult transitions, as today’s Perfect Picture Book shows.

Title: The Pond

Written By: Nicola Davies

Illustrated By: Cathy Fisher

Publisher/Date: Graffeg Limited/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: death, grief, moving, new beginnings, nature, healing

Opening:

Dad talked a lot about the pond. “There will be tadpoles,” he said, “and dragonflies.” Mum told him that our garden was too tiny and my brother said that ponds were gross and stinky.

Brief Synopsis: The narrator’s father dreamt of creating a pond in the back garden. But when he died, the pond was just a messy hole until it wasn’t.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out these fun pond-themed activities;
  • Do you enjoy a particular place or activity with a parent or grandparent? Draw a picture of what you enjoyed together.

Why I Like this Book:

When the young narrator’s father dies, he finds comfort in his father’s dream of building a pond in their back garden. At first, the pond is little more than “a muddy messy hole that filled our garden…that filled our hearts.” Neither the narrator’s mother nor his brother are interested in fulfilling the dream of a pond. When a duck lands in the muddy hole and the narrator adds water from a hose, more mess ensues, and the narrator runs to his room “and screamed at Dad for dying.”

Then, one day the following spring, someone, presumably Mum, lined the hole with plastic and shored up the edges. The narrator filled it with water, expecting no more by this point than “a hole with water in it.” But nature had other thoughts, “our pond had come to life.”

From the text and the gorgeously-dark illustrations, it’s clear that nature has provided the family hope in the midst of grief. I think this is a wonderful and soothing reminder to children who have lost loved ones to seek solace in nature and to continue pursuing their loved one’s dreams.

But there’s more to this poignant journey through grief. After finally finding solace in nature, the family move from the house, obviously unable to bring the pond with them. I’m sure you can guess their first activity in the new house, but I urge you to read The Pond to find out, and to share it with anyone grieving or moving.

A Note about Craft:

Davis could have ended the story when the pond came to life and provided solace to the grieving family. But she upped the tension with the addition of a move and the necessity of leaving the pond behind.

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

PPBF – Wishes

As many of us plan holiday travel to visit far-flung family and friends, today’s Perfect Picture Book is a stark reminder that people travel for many reasons and under varied circumstances.

Title: Wishes

Written By: MƯỢN THỊ VĂN

Illustrated By: Victo Ngai

Publisher/Date: Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: kindness, refugees, bravery, Vietnam, hope

Opening:

The night wished it was quieter.

The bag wished it was deeper.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl and her family journey from Vietnam in search of a better life.

Links to Resources:

  • If you had to leave your home in the middle of the night, what would you grab to bring with you?
  • Many children fleeing conflicts leave everything behind. Those affected by  natural disasters often lose many or all of their possessions. Discover ways you and your family can help those in need.
  • Learn about Vietnam, the country where this story begins.

Why I Like this Book:

With sparse, lyrical text and haunting illustrations, VĂN and Ngai tell the story of a young girl and her family who flee from their home in Vietnam in the middle of the night, travel to the coast, board an overcrowded boat, and journey to freedom in Hong Kong. Because of the brevity of the text (only 75 words, according to a note from the artist in an Afterword), much of the story is told via the illustrations.

Because the text recounts the wishes primarily of inanimate objects, this opens up a tremendous opportunity for adult readers to ask children what they see in the illustrations and why the objects might have wished as they did. For instance, in the scene accompanying the text, “The bag wished it was deeper”, readers see women placing parcels of food in a backpack while a young girl looks on. Might the women fear hunger on the journey?

Readers learn that “The dream wished it was longer” as a mother awakens sleeping children. Why did she awaken them and why leave in the middle of the night, readers ponder as the journey begins.

Particularly poignant, the “clock wished it was slower” as teary-eyed children hug a teary-eyed grandfather, and a dog seems to ask what’s going on.

Thankfully, the story ends with a wish full of hope. You’ll have to read Wishes to learn who made that wish and what they wanted.

Whether read at home or in a classroom setting, Wishes offers adults and children a chance to experience one family’s flight to freedom and better understand the choices made each step of the way.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, VĂN explains that Wishes is based on the experiences of her own family fleeing Vietnam in the early 1980s. By leaving so much room for the illustrator, I think she enables readers to experience the journey more fully and to add their own wishes to the story.

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

PPBF – Hardly Haunted

I think regular readers know that I’m rather obsessed with themes of moving and what makes a house a home. So when I saw a review of today’s Perfect Picture Book on Susanna Hill’s blog a few weeks ago, you know that I immediately requested it from my local library and switched around the review schedule to feature it today. Happy Halloween!

Title: Hardly Haunted

Written & Illustrated By: Jessie Sima

Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: loneliness, home, Halloween, haunted

Opening:

There was a house on a hill, and that house was worried.

Brief Synopsis: An old house fears she is empty because she is haunted.

Links to Resources:

  • Have you ever heard strange noises at night like creaking, rapping on a window, or drip-drip-drips? What do you think causes those noises? Draw a picture of a scary or a friendly monster that might be the cause;
  • Bake and decorate your own haunted cookie house for Halloween;
  • Check out these downloadable activities.

Why I Like this Book:

Told from the point-of-view of a lonely old house that fears that she is haunted, Hardly Haunted is filled with not-too-scary scenes and loads of onomatopoeia that will have kids asking you to read it one more time.

I love that the house thinks that if she’s on her “very best behavior”, people won’t notice “how spooky” she is. Although there are things she can’t change, like the cobwebs and dust, the house determines to keep very still to avoid the creaks, squeaks, and groans that could frighten others. In many ways this reminded me of things kids, and even adults, do to minimize “bad” behaviors or traits to find affirmation and friendship.

But when things beyond her control cause new sounds, the house notices that these sounds could be fun, and that she, like a rambunctious kid, “liked being noisy.” And by embracing her uniqueness, she realizes that maybe a family would like to live in a haunted home after all.

Sima’s purply-blue-gray palette with splashes of orangy-yellow are perfect for this story, and her depiction of the outside of the house made me feel like I was looking at a face. The inclusion of a cat on almost every page completes this delightful package.

A Note about Craft:

A story about a family moving into a house filled with all sorts of spooky sounds would be interesting. But a story told from the point-of-view of that house is much more interesting and enables Sima to include an additional theme about being true to yourself.

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!

Tricky Treat

Regular readers know that I rarely post my own writing on this blog, reserving it, instead, to showcase the work of others via weekly picture book reviews. But when the lovely and talented Susanna Hill hosts a writing challenge, and when that challenge involves a holiday (as her challenges generally do), I make an exception. Without further ado, may I present…

The 11th Annual Halloweensie Writing Contest!!!

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~ for children’s writers ~

THE CONTEST: write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (children here defined as 12 and under) (title not included in word count) using the words glow-in-the-darkgoosebumps, and goodies.

To find out more about this challenge, to read some fabulous entries, and, perchance, to post your own Halloweensie story, visit Susanna Hill’s blog. No tricks! Just treats! Happy Halloweensie!

TRICKY TREAT

(100 words)

Candy Floss. Taffy. Jaw Breakers. Halloween goodies galore!

Goosebumps erupted like molars as Terry Tooth Fairy pictured heaps of teeth tucked under pillows. “NOOOO!!!”

Terry’s Thanksgiving CANCELLED!

            Unless…

She hired help! But…

Sugar Plum Fairy – rehearsing.

Elves – testing toys.

Delivery services – booked for Cyber Monday.

            She could…

Divert sweet Halloween treats. But…

What if, like gummy worms, some slip-slid through piled-up ports?

            Perhaps a virus-caused cancellation. Unless…

The Result? Mere mask mandates.

“Doomed,” Terry fumed.

            Until…

Glow-in-the-dark toothbrushes on dental-floss garlands lured Trick-or-Treaters. Terry tossed bubblegum-flavored toothpaste towards costumed marauders, as visions of drumsticks danced through her head.

“Tricky treat!”

PPBF – My Two Border Towns

A few weeks ago, I shared Yuyi Morales’ latest picture book, Bright Star, about the Sonoran borderlands between Mexico and the United States. Today’s Perfect Picture Book showcases the similarities, and differences, of two communities in a more urban area of the borderlands.

Title: My Two Border Towns

Written By: David Bowles

Illustrated By: Erika Meza

Publisher/Date: Kokila, an imprint of Penguin Random House/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: US-Mexico border, immigration, family, community

Opening:

Every other Saturday, my dad wakes me up early. “Come on, m’ijo,” he says. “Vamos al Otro Lado.”

Brief Synopsis: The narrator and his father cross from the US into Mexico to run errands.

Links to Resources:

  • Do you ever run errands with a parent? Where do you usually go and what do you do or purchase there?
  • Have you ever traveled across a border? Describe in words or pictures how you felt crossing from one state or country to another, and what seemed the same or different;
  • Check out the Teacher’s Guide for more ideas.

Why I Like this Book:

In My Two Border Towns, Bowles showcases the fluidity of the US-Mexican border for families with ties to both sides of the border, while offering a glimpse into the difficulties faced by those who find themselves unable to cross that border.

As the story opens, readers meet the young narrator and his father who, every other Saturday, cross the border to run errands in a sister town. Brightly colored and detailed illustrations show the similarities and differences between the two towns. The text, in English with Spanish terms sprinkled through, further indicates that this is one metropolitan area, with a border in the middle. As the narrator remarks about the Mexican town, it’s “a twin of the one where I live, with Spanish spoken everywhere just the same, but English mostly missing till it pops up like grains of sugar on a chili pepper.”

Breakfast in a favorite restaurant is followed by a trip to visit relatives in their jewelry store, a pick-up soccer match with primos (cousins), and icy treats from a paletero. All of this, and more, will show young readers that life on one side of the border or the other may not differ much – in so many ways, people everywhere are the same.

But from the beginning, there are clues to another reality: With the right passports, the narrator and his father are able to cross the border whenever they desire. Others, including friends the narrator has met during his frequent crossings, are not as fortunate. For these friends, the narrator purchases candies, and he shares beloved comics. Sadly, the friend’s “hair is longer than when we first met, almost six months back”, and the friend’s family relies on the generosity of people like the narrator and his father for necessities like food and medicine.

With its showcasing of these two realities, I think My Two Border Towns is a wonderful mixture of celebrating the richness of cultures in border communities while introducing the complexities of the border crisis.

A Note about Craft:

As noted above, Spanish terms are sprinkled throughout the text, which, I think, is further evidence of the close relationship among residents of these border communities.

Starting with the cover with its mirror images of the narrator sitting in front of the main shopping streets of these towns, Meza’s illustrations highlight many similarities and differences of these twin cities, and, I think, brilliantly capture the conflicting emotions that many people with ties to both sides of the border must feel.

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

PPBF – A Song of Frutas

Today is the last day of Hispanic Heritage month. I think you’ll agree that today’s Perfect Picture Book selection is a wonderful way to celebrate!

Title: A Song of Frutas

Written By: Margarita Engle

Illustrated By: Sara Palacios

Publisher/Date: Athenium Books for Young Readers/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: intergenerational, multicultural, Cuba

Opening:

When we visit Abuelo, I help him sell frutas. We sing the names of each fruit as we walk, our footsteps like drumbeats, our hands like maracas, shaking bright food shapes while we chant with a rhythm:

Mango limón coco melon naranja tononja plátano piña.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl visits her grandfather in Cuba and helps him sell fruit.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Cuba, the setting of this story;
  • What’s your favorite fruit? Why? Find out more about your favorite fruit, learn how to say the name of that fruit in Spanish or another language, and/or sing a song about your favorite fruit;
  • In Cuba and many other Spanish-speaking regions, people traditionally eat 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and make one wish per month for the coming year. Do you have a tradition in your family to celebrate the new year? Describe in words or pictures things you wish for – either for yourself, your family and friends, or the world;
  • Check out the Curriculum Guide for many more activity ideas.

Why I Like this Book:

With its rhythmic prose and detailed, colorful illustrations, A Song of Frutas is a delightful glimpse into the life of a Cuban fruit vendor and his young Cuban-American granddaughter. For those who have never encountered an open-air market or vendors who stroll the streets with fresh foods and other treats, this is a reminder that food doesn’t need to arrive shrink wrapped on large grocery shelves or bundled into bags on your doorstep. It’s also a reminder of the importance and dignity of the people who provide our nourishment, and the happiness that results when others view these vendors as important members of our community.

Engle’s lyrical text sprinkles in Spanish words seamlessly, much like a family with roots in one culture might continue to use those words or phrases when they move to a new land where another language is spoken. With the English phrase or word often following the Spanish one, or with the Spanish words next to illustrations of the items they identify, both of which happens here, Engle provides a wonderful opportunity for younger children to learn some Spanish.

In the story, the unnamed young narrator is visiting her beloved Abuelo and helping him sell frutas. I love that she finds pleasure in working with him and meeting all of the other vendors and customers. Not surprisingly, her favorite is “la ducera, a woman with the voice of an angel, who croons so sweetly in praise of los caramelos”. The love of chocolate and candies just may be universal!

While much of the story takes place during the visit in Cuba, Engle also reminds readers that travel between Cuba and the United States has not always been possible due to political reasons. A New Year’s Eve “wish is always friendship between countries, so that we can visit mi abuelo more often” and that he, perhaps, can visit the United States, too.

Rather than ending on this more somber note, Engle shows the young narrator and her abuelo exchanging letters, singing “rhymes back and forth…all our hopeful poems flying like songbirds who glide and soar through wild sky” sending hugs to each other until their next meeting.

With its Author’s Note that explains the Spanglish used in the text, to a brief explanation of travel restrictions, and an exploration of the singing vendors of Cuba and Cuban New Year’s eve traditions, A Song of Frutas is a wonderful resource for libraries and classrooms. It’s also a joyful read for families, especially for those that blend multiple cultures.

A Note about Craft:

As is evident from the opening lines, Engle’s use of lyrical language enables the text to sing, much like the narrator and her abluelo sing the fruit names.

A Song of Frutas is a work of fiction, but it’s clear that Engle, who is a Cuban American, clearly understands Cuban society and culture and draws on memories of her visits there to add rich details to this story.

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

PPBF – Child of the Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua

Monday is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a day when we celebrate the first inhabitants of these lands. I can’t think of a more Perfect Picture Book to read this weekend.

Title: Child of the Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua

Written By: Gloria Amescua

Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2021

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes/Topics: indigenous peoples, Nahua, Mexico, art, biography

Opening:

A girl stared at the stars sprinkling the hammock of sky. Like many other nights she listened to the whisperings of the ancient Aztecs in the wind. She heard their xochicuicatl, their flower-song. She listened as the elders repeated tales their grandfathers had told. Tales their grandfathers’ grandfathers had told: how sacred streams and mountains protect them, how the Nahua lost their land to Cortés, the conqueror, and to the Spaniards who followed him.

She was Luz Jiménez, child of the flower-song people, the powerful Aztecs, who called themselves Nahua—who lost their land, but who did not disappear.

Brief Synopsis: A biography of Luz Jiménez, a Nahua girl in Mexico, who became a model for several important artists and a teacher, and who thereby helped preserve her people’s culture.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about the Aztecs, from whom the Nahua people descend;
  • Luz Jiménez served as a model for many artists, including Diego Rivera, a Mexican artist known especially for his murals. Try recreating a mural by Diego Rivera;
  • Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day;
  • Check out the rich back matter, with its Author’s Note, Artist’s Note, Timeline, Glossary, Notes and Bibliography.

Why I Like this Book:

In this rich biography, readers learn the story of Luz Jiménez, a little-known indigenous woman who became the face of the Nahua people by serving as a model for many artists. She also realized her dream of becoming a teacher, by sharing the stories of her youth, native crafts, and the Nahuatl language with anthropologists and university students. I love that readers learn so much about traditional Nahua life and culture in this book. From the legends Luz grew up listening to, to the skills she learned as a girl, including grinding corn, twisting yarn, and weaving, readers experience Luz’s life in the early twentieth century.

Readers also experience this culture through Tonatiuh’s detailed and signature-style artwork that features side-profile humans and glimpses of Nahua legends in the landscape. He also shared in the Artist’s Note that he found inspiration in the “works of art for which Luz Jiménez modeled”.

We also learn, though, that the Mexican government required Nahua children to learn Spanish in school, as “the descendants of the Spanish who ruled the country” sought “to turn the native children into modern ones”. I found this tragically similar to the stories about residential schools for indigenous children in Canada and the United States.

In addition to learning so much about the Nahua peoples and their history in Mexico, readers also discover how young Luz had a dream, a dream to attend school and become a teacher. Although the school she attended was not one that included lessons about her native culture, and although she never taught children in her beloved home village, she did become a teacher – a guide to her culture and a university instructor sharing the Nahuatl language. I love how this shows young readers to hang on to their dreams, and to adapt them to life’s circumstances when necessary.

I also love how Luz broke with tradition, becoming a model for artists, to help preserve her native culture and traditions. In the Author’s Note, Amescua shares that Luz “never told her mother about her modeling work” as it “wasn’t something that Nahua women typically did.” Only by breaking norms did she preserve them – what an important action to discuss with kids.

I believe that Child of the Flower-Song People is a wonderful resource for classroom discussions. Note that it includes a reference to the death of Luz’s father at the hands of government soldiers, it has a fairly large word count, and it includes more historical details than many picture books. It clearly is targeted to the upper end of the picture book market.

A Note about Craft:

In the Author’s Note, Amescua shares that she first learned of Luz’s story in a pamphlet announcing a symposium about her at the University of Texas. Although Amescua missed attending that symposium, the story stayed with her, and years later, she researched and wrote this picture book biography.

“Flower-song”, part of the title and an image that runs through the book, derives from the Nahuatl word for poetry, xochicuicatl, “the flower and the song”. In the Author’s Note, Amescua shares that she uses “the term ‘flower-song’ to represent the Nahua spirit in Luz and the Nahua people.”

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

PPBF – Bright Star

A favorite author/illustrator released an eagerly-awaited, new picture book earlier this month. With its focus on the borderlands, an area much in the news recently, I think this is a Perfect Picture Book. I hope you agree!

Title: Bright Star

Written & Illustrated By: Yuyi Morales

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Holiday House/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: borderlands, wildlife, family, barriers, connections, empowerment

Opening:

Child, you are awake!

Breathe in, then breathe out, hermosa creatura.

You are ALIVE!

You are a bright star inside our hearts.

Brief Synopsis: A fawn born in the borderlands desert takes its first exploratory steps, and, faced with a barrier, learns to make its voice heard.

Links to Resources:

  • When we think of borders and/or barriers between countries or regions, we generally think about the people who are prevented from crossing. Why do you think Morales focuses on a fawn that confronts a border wall?
  • Learn about the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert;
  • View a video in which Morales discusses the making of Bright Star;
  • Check out the Educators Guide for discussion questions and more, and the Event Kit for activity ideas.

Why I Like this Book:

With gorgeous mixed-media artwork and limited text using both English and Spanish, Morales transports readers to the Sonoran desert borderlands. There, readers witness the birth of a curious white-tailed fawn. We experience the sense of wonder it feels exploring this seemingly austere, desert landscape that is filled with cacti, other desert plants, and many native animals, birds, and insects.

When the fawn encounters a huge wall that precludes further progress on its journey to find water, it lets the world know how it feels by shouting out, “NO!” Thankfully, the earth protects the young fawn and the other creatures with a soothing rain shower, enabling it to “imagine a new story” of “the most beautiful world.” This world is filled with young children of a variety of soft brown hues, wearing colorful clothing that references the desert creatures.

An omniscient voice, like a caring mother, prods the fawn to explore, to overcome fear, and to listen to the surrounding silence. I love the gentle tone of the text and the reassurance this narrator imparts to the story.

In an afterword, Morales explains why she made the book. First in the list, “I made this book because you and I are connected”. These connections are very apparent throughout the text and most especially in the illustrations. The details, including the use of woven and embroidered cloth and a photograph of the arm of a young child at the border “used for the color and texture of the children’s skin” in the book, show the care, and love, Morales is sharing with the children at the borderlands and with us, the readers.

With its detailed illustrations, low word count, and message of community and caring for each other, Bright Star is a wonderful picture book to share with younger children. Because it raises so many questions about how we treat others, including the natural world, at the borderlands, I think this is also a wonderful choice for classroom and home discussion with older children.

A Note about Craft:

In another of the statements about why she created Bright Star, Morales stated that she “made this book knowing that children everywhere, but especially migrant children at the borderlands, have experienced things that they should never have to endure.” But rather than concentrating solely on these atrocities, which would be a difficult topic for young children to read about, Morales introduces readers to the beauty of the borderlands, the diverse flora and fauna, and the beautiful faces of young children. And while the wall that divides the borderlands plays a prominent role in the story, the young fawn uses its voice to shout “NO!” and then listens to the wisdom of the soothing silence. In the end, Morales leaves readers hopeful that communities will use their voices to reunite the peoples and natural world of the borderland.

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!