PPBF – Sail Away

Earlier this week, I learned of efforts to preserve Langston Hughes’ Harlem brownstone. The group spearheading the efforts, I, Too Arts Collective, @ITooArts, is a “nonprofit organization committed to nurturing voices from underrepresented communities in the creative arts”. According to its statement of purpose on generosity.com, the group’s “first major project is to provide a space for emerging and established artists in Harlem to create, connect, and showcase work”. Its “goal is to lease and renovate the brownstone where Langston Hughes lived in Harlem as a way to not only preserve his legacy but to build on it and impact young poets and artists.” You can find out more and donate at generosity.com.

When I came across the featured collection of poetry by Langston Hughes, newly illustrated by Ashley Bryan, I knew this was the Perfect Picture Book to showcase I, Too Arts Collective’s campaign and celebrate summer on the water.

9781481430852_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Sail Away

Written By: Langston Hughes

Illustrated By: Ashley Bryan

Publisher/date: Atheneum Books for Young Children/2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (and beyond)

Themes/Topics: poetry, sea, sailing, travel, adventure, non-fiction

Opening:

Catch

Big Boy came

Carrying a mermaid

On his shoulders

And the mermaid

Had her tail

Curved

Beneath his arm.

Being a fisher boy,

He’d found a fish

To carry-

Half fish,

Half girl

To marry.

Brief Synopsis: This is a collection of 15 poems about water and the sea penned by Langston Hughes and newly illustrated by Ashley Bryan.

Links to Resources:

  • Use paper collage techniques to draw a picture;
  • Visit the sea, a river, lake or pond and describe what you see. What was it like?

Why I Like this Book:

As other reviewers have noted, Langston Hughes (1902-1967), a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, is most remembered for his writings about racial and national identity. This collection of poetry, while containing one that is specific to the African-American experience (see, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, the last poem in the collection), shows another side of Hughes. It is a celebration of seafaring, mermaids, rivers, fish, bridges – really all things nautical. These poems on the whole are joyful, especially as the very talented artist Ashley Bryan has illustrated them using bright paper collages. At times they are whimsical, almost childlike, as in the poem entitled simply “F”, about a fish “with a greedy eye/Who darted toward/A big green fly.” But the fly was simply “bait on a hook!/So the fisherman took/The fish home to cook.”

A Note about Craft:

The genesis of this book was not Langston Hughes, who died long before publication. Rather, the illustrator, Ashley Bryan, is the protagonist here. As stated on the front flap, Mr. Bryan is “one of Langston Hughes’s greatest admirers.” His illustrations truly bring this poetry to life.

9781481430852_p3_v4_s192x300In an illustrator’s note, Mr. Bryan states that the “scissors shown on the endpapers are the scissors that my mother used in sewing and embroidery and that I, in turn, used in cutting the colored papers for all the collage compositions in this book.” An author in his own right, Mr. Bryan created this artwork at the ripe young age of 91, meaning the scissors most likely date to the late 19th or early 20th century. Truly an inspiration for young and old!

If You Liked this Book:

Check out Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph, reviewed here.

One of Ashley Bryan’s many other books for children, found here.

PPBF – The Wonder

As any parent, grandparent or caregiver can attest, early childhood is a time of questioning: “Why…”, “Where…” “When…” Sometimes it seems as if the questioning is never-ending. At such times, we will do the child, and ourselves, a favor by stepping back, taking a deep breath, closing our eyes, and wondering – just like the young child in today’s Perfect Picture Book.

9780763679576_p0_v1_s118x184Title: The Wonder

Written & Illustrated By: Faye Hanson

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press/2015 (originally published in the UK, Templar Books/2014)

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: Imagination, creativity, art, dreams

Opening: “This is a boy whose head is filled with wonder. On the way to the bus stop, he wonders where the birds are flying to.”

Brief Synopsis: A young boy imagines many different sights on his journey to school and during the school day, only to be rebuffed by most of the adults he encounters.

Links to Resources:

  • Use your imagination to draw or color on a blank sheet of paper
  • Tell a story about a picture in a museum or an old photograph you find at home

Why I Like this Book:

The Wonder captures the questioning of a young child and reminds adult readers that it’s ok to stop and smell the roses, to daydream, to wonder. And it’s a reminder to young listeners that it’s ok to share your dreams and to persevere in dreaming.

While it could be easy to focus on the negative reactions of the classroom and science teachers in the story, I’d prefer to focus on the positive influence of the art teacher who has left a “blank sheet of paper” waiting for the children, who encourages the boy to “use your imagination,” and who praises his work when the boy hesitantly shares it. As is visible on the blackboard of this school art room, “‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.’ Picasso” In this debut picture book, author/illustrator Faye Hanson, who hails from northern England, shows that she has solved Picasso’s dilemma.

A Note about Craft:

The Wonder is a perfect example of the essence of a picture book: the story exists as much in the illustrations as the text, perhaps even more so. From the sepia tones of the real world to the fanciful, colorful images in the child’s head, including the five double-spread illustrations midway through the book (which reminded this reader of certain album cover artwork from the late ‘60s, early ‘70s psychedelic era), the illustrations show the wonder in the unnamed protagonist’s head as he journeys through his day. 

Interestingly, the book deviates from the usual 32 page norm, and is, instead, 40 pages in length. Ms. Hanson has put these extra pages to good use with double spreads incorporating the nay-saying adults the child meets into the imaginary worlds where he believes they belong. Children and adults will find much to savor in these spreads. And for those who have read Megan Dowd Lambert’s Reading Picture Books with Children, the use of boxes to frame some of the encounters and full-bleed double page spreads for the scenes of wonder are well worth pointing out during a read-aloud session.

Note: Faye Hanson’s new picture book, Midnight at the Zoo, debuted recently. I can’t wait to read it and explore the illustrations!

PPBF – Waiting for High Tide

A few short weeks ago, my husband and I enjoyed a mini-getaway to the Connecticut shore, our first visit to that part of the state. Strolling along the beach, we watched young families with toddlers, beach chairs, shovels and buckets, tiny crabs and shore birds stake out their claims to favourite sandy spots.

Today, with a heat advisory in effect in the New York metropolitan region for the entire weekend, I think back longingly to that getaway. Thankfully, there are books like the Perfect Picture Book I’m highlighting today to remind me of a beach day, even if I’m nowhere near the shore.

9781419716560_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Waiting for High Tide

Written & Illustrated By: Nikki McClure

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-7 & older

Themes/Topics: seashore, beachcombing, raft-building, tides, waiting

Opening: “WAITING FOR HIGH TIDE. I close my eyes and open them. Close and open. Still low tide. I squint and wait.”

Brief Synopsis: A boy describes a family day at the shore, building a raft together, waiting for high tide to launch it, and observing the life of the beach.

Links to Resources:

  • Stroll along the shore and describe what you see;
  • Collect beach treasures (but please don’t disturb living animals and plants!);
  • Build a raft

Why I Like this Book:

Waiting for High Tide is like a journey to another place and era. It captures a moment in time for a multigenerational family that works together on a very hands-on, fairly low-tech project, all while savouring their time together at the shore. With every page turn, I expect Huck Finn or Thor Heyerdahl to appear, or perhaps a pirate, something clearly on the mind of the young narrator who dons glasses with one eye covered by a “patch” of barnacles. Like the seaside creatures that surround them, the family work, eat, play and revel in the return of high tide.

A Note about Craft:

Waiting for High Tide is a book that reminds me very much of those available during my childhood (trust me, a long time ago) with its limited color palette of black cut-paper illustrations with blue for the water and a few pops of pink. Its non-glossy cover could have popped straight from the early 1960s, or, as Kirkus Reviews noted in a starred review, “the artwork evokes the feel of classic 1940s and ‘50s picture books”.

Told in first person by the child narrator, the text is more stream of consciousness than what one normally finds in a picture book, especially the 500-words-or-less picture books that currently are the norm, and it’s much, much longer, too. At one point, the narrator even lists what he finds:

I FIND

One fine long pole

Four clamshells

Miscellaneous crab parts…

That a major house published Waiting for High Tide and that it garnered starred reviews gives hope to those who write longer texts and those wishing to read longer texts with their children. For an interesting discussion about picture book word count, see an article posted earlier this week on Picture Book Den by Natascha Biebow, author, editor and mentor.

 

PPBF – Friends

Since I’m still helping my kids move house, I thought I’d stay on the subject of moving. The perfect picture book for today focuses on what happens after the move, or more specifically, on how one finds friends.

9780807525500_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Friends

Written & Illustrated By: Aiko Ikegami

Publisher/date: Albert Whitman & Company/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Moving, making new friends, differences

Opening: “One day…a new student came. She was different. And alone.”

Brief Synopsis: A student who arrives at a new school is different and eats alone until, one by one, friends join her.

Links to Resources:

  • Have a picnic and invite your friends, including animal friends
  • Compare pictures of yourself and a friend, a sibling, or a child from another place. How are you different? How are you the same?

Why I Like this Book:

With its sparse language and gorgeous watercolour illustrations, Friends spreads the simple message that even as we are different, shared experiences, like food eaten together or games played, unite us.

A Note about Craft:

Friends is a perfect example of how “less is more.” The text consists of 60 words – only 60 words, including a few phrases that are repeated. No one is named, nor do we even know the origin of the new student who arrives. In short sentences that are more phrases than sentences, and using simple words (came, play, stay, eat), the author/illustrator helps us feel the newcomer’s sadness, her feeling of difference and longing for a friend with whom she can eat and play. As writers, we constantly are admonished to leave room for the illustrator. Friends is a perfect mentor text of how to do so from the very talented illustrator/author Aiko Ikegami. This is Ms. Ikegami’s first English-language picture book.

When reading Friends, I also was reminded of a comment by PiBoIdMo-founder Tara Lazar  that she didn’t know what species Norman in Normal Norman was when she wrote the story. Likewise, the friends here could be anything – and are!

PPBF: A Piece of Home

image

New skill –  driven from NJ to lower Manhattan & Brooklyn, summer 2016

Strange but true fact about me: I love to move. Really! I’m the “go to” parent when my kids move (all three are doing so this summer), and I’ve even contemplated starting a moving consultancy to help seniors downsize. So when I see a book about moving, I can’t resist. Once you see this week’s Perfect Picture Book, you won’t be able to either – whether you enjoy moving or not.

9780763669713_p0_v1_s192x300Title: A Piece of Home

Written By: Jeri Watts

Illustrated By: Hyewon Yum

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press, June 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: immigration, moving, Korea, extended family, home, gardening

Opening: “In Korea, my grandmother was a wise and wonderful teacher. When students bowed, she held her shoulders erect, but her eyes sparkled.”

Brief Synopsis: A young boy and his family relocate from urban Korea to West Virginia and he struggles to adapt to life in their new home.

Links to Resources:

  • What reminds you of home? Draw a picture or write a story about it and share it with a friend, classmate or family member
  • Welcome a new student to your school or a new family to your neighbourhood
  • Ask an elderly relative or neighbour about their favourite plants; plant one in your home garden

Why I Like this Book:

A Piece of Home is a lovely intergenerational story of adapting and settling in to a new home in a new country. The main character and narrator, Hee Jun, worries not just about the challenges he faces, but about how his grandmother, who lives and moves with the family, giving up her career to do so, will thrive. While moving and adapting to a new home are the subject of several picture books (see below), A Piece of Home is unique insofar as both the narrator and his grandmother in this intergenerational family must adapt. I also love that a plant, the Rose of Sharon, plays an important role in the resolution of the story.

Ms. Yum’s soft watercolour illustrations and especially the expressive faces of Hee Jun, his family and classmates perfectly complement Watts’ text.19bookshelf-4-master1050-1
A Note about Craft:

Jeri Watts includes some awesome juxtapositions in this tale, including using the terms ordinary, extraordinary & different to great effect. I especially liked her observation that grandmother “could find the extraordinary held within the ordinary”, like the bright red centers in the Rose of Sharon flowers. And Hee Jun observes that in Korea, he was “ordinary,” not different, as he is upon arrival in the US.

The action in A Piece of Home occurs both in Korea and in the US. To separate the two, Ms. Watts relates the Korean scenes in past tense, but then switches to present tense in the US. To tie them together, she subtly points out similarities, most notably in the gardens.

Other Recent Books about Moving:

In a review in the New York Times Book Review, Maria Russo reviewed A Piece of Home and several other 2016 releases about moving, including

9781626720404_p0_v1_s118x184Before I Leave, Jessixa Bagley (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook), about a hedgehog who moves from his anteater friend

9781580896122_p0_v2_s118x184I’m New Here, Anne Sibley O’Brien (Charlesbridge, 2015) follows three recent immigrants who struggle to adapt and fit in at their new school in the US. Ms. Sibley has created a website, imyourneighborbooks.org, that showcases “children’s books and reading projects building bridges between ‘new arrivals’ and ‘long-term communities.’”

9780763678340_p0_v1_s118x184The Seeds of Friendship, Michael Foreman (Candlewick Press, 2015), is about a boy who immigrates to England and finds solace, and friendship, by planting gardens

9780544432284_p0_v4_s192x300My Two Blankets, Irena Kobald & Freya Blackwood (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), uses an old and new blanket as metaphors for language and the acquisition of a new language in a new home.

PPBF – The Storyteller

I happened upon The Storyteller on its book birthday, while seeking another picture book at a local bookstore. The bright blue cover with golden illustrations immediately grabbed my attention, as did its title. As those who read my posts know, I’m a sucker for folktales, especially new, original ones. With its well-crafted story and stunning illustrations, this one is an especially wonderful example of the genre, making it a Perfect Picture Book.

9781481435185_p0_v1_s192x300Title: The Storyteller

Written & Illustrated By: Evan Turk

Publisher/date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 and older

Themes/Topics: folktale, storytelling, Morocco, water, the power of words

Opening: “Long, long ago, like a pearl around a grain of sand, the fertile Kingdom of Morocco formed near the edge of the great, dry Sahara. It had fountains of cool, delicious water to quench the dangerous thirst of the desert, and storytellers to bring the people together.”

Brief Synopsis: A young boy seeks water in a drought-stricken Moroccan village. An elderly storyteller tells him a tale, quenches his thirst and empowers him to exert the power of his stories, too.

Links to Resources:

  • Ask a relative to tell a story about his or her childhood, the family, or your hometown
  • Try telling a story to your family, friends, or even a pet
  • Try different watercolor techniques and projects
  • Read a story about a place you’ve visited, or would like to visit

Why I Like this Book:

Both the words and the artwork of The Storyteller are intricate and invite multiple readings. Stories appear within stories, woven together through multi-layered artwork. The message of this folktale – that the power of traditional stories and the oral tradition of passing them on is, like water, necessary to sustain the individual spirit and the community – is an important reminder to preserve traditions and local culture in this internet-saturated era.

Turk’s semi-abstract, mixed-media illustrations featuring browns, for the encroaching desert, and blues, for the life-giving water, both enhance and further the tale. I especially appreciate that he learned an indigo/tea painting technique in Morocco and utilizes it to great effect. 9781481435185_p3_v4_s192x300

A Note about Craft:

When I read in a Publisher’s Weekly interview Turk’s explanation of the origins of The Storyteller, I was reminded of advice new authors and author/illustrators often hear: write what you know; write what you’re passionate about; and ideas can be anywhere.

As for idea generation, Turk’s initial exposure to the arts of Morocco occurred at the Morocco country area at Epcot Center in Walt Disney World. Following this introduction, he travelled to Morocco, where he learned about the storyteller tradition and delved further into the artistic techniques he utilizes in The Storyteller.

Had Turk, a Colorado native and current New Yorker, stuck to what he knew, this story could not have been written and illustrated, at least not by him. Instead, he followed the passion stirred by his first exposure to Moroccan arts. The result is an original folktale that is sure to stand the test of time. Incidentally, it far exceeds the low word-count prevalent in so many current picture books. At 48 pages, The Storyteller exceeds the typical 32-page norm as well. Thankfully, both Turk and Atheneum bucked the trends.

The Storyteller is Evan Turk’s debut picture book as author/illustrator. Based on the many starred reviews, this will not be the last we read and see from this 2015 Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor recipient.

PPBF: My Old Pal, Oscar

It’s been a tough year in our house for older pets. First, we lost our most senior dog, Daisy, one year ago, one month shy of her 15th birthday. Although her daughter, Jazmine, was much younger, she faded swiftly and passed away a month ago, just after her 12th birthday. Despite realizing that in both cases, they are more comfortable and happy now, and despite the presence of a dear young pup in our home, we still feel their loss, especially the one who works from home, walks dogs most days, and is feeder-in-chief – aka, me!image

Jazmine, Chili and Daisy, summer 2015

When I found the book highlighted below, I knew it was perfect to help ease the pain. I’ve also included a few other titles that I found helpful. If you know of others, please add them in the comments.

9781419719011_p0_v1_s192x300Title: My Old Pal, Oscar

Written By: Amy Hest

Illustrated By: Amy Bates

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-7

Themes/Topics: dogs, loss, overcoming grief, bibliotherapy

Opening: “Hello, you. Who are you?

No tags? No name?

You sure are little. Except for those feet.

Those four big feet making footprints in the sand.”

Brief Synopsis: A young child grieving for his deceased dog meets a stray puppy who follows him on the beach.

Links to Resources:

  • Take a walk on a beach (or some other favourite place – like a park);
  • Collect things (that are free and won’t be harmed, of course!) while you walk;
  • Do you have a favourite pet or person? Draw a picture of your favourite pet/person and place it by your bedside.

Why I Like this Book:

With simple text and stunning watercolour illustrations, Amy Hest and Amy Bates tell the story of a young child grieving a deceased pet and finding new love. My Old Pal, Oscar is sure to soothe anyone, of any age, who is grieving a loss, whether from moving away, death, or any other reason. And while it’s clear that the young child’s grief subsides as the story progresses, it’s also clear that the “old pal” is far from forgotten – an important reminder for all of us.

A Note about Craft:

My Old Pal, Oscar has a very low word count and is told entirely in dialogue, or more precisely monologue, by the young child missing Oscar. While all the words are said by the child, the stray pup answers via his looks and actions – making this a great example of letting the illustrations tell part of the story.

If You Liked this Book:

If you’re missing a pet or otherwise coping with loss, I also recommend:

9780763649272_p0_v1_s118x184Sammy in the Sky, Barbara Walsh with paintings by Jamie Wyeth (Candlewick Press, 2011)

9781423103004_p0_v3_s192x300city dog, country frog, Mo Willems, illustrated by Jon J Muth (Hyperion Books for Children, 2010).