PPBF – A Map into the World

I saw today’s Perfect Picture Book on one of the many “best of” lists that have begun popping up these past few weeks. When I read the reviewer’s description and the synopsis, I just had to read, and review, it!

Title: A Map into the World

Written By: Kao Kalia Yang

Illustrated By: Seo Kim

Publisher/Date: Carolrhoda Books, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group/2019

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes/Topics: Hmong, seasons, maps, moving, death, intergenerational, new siblings, immigrant, #OwnVoices

Opening:

The first time we saw the swing and the slide and the garden of the green house with the big windows, my mother sat down in a chair in the backyard and said she did not want to get up. Tais Tais and I looked at the garden, and she pointed out tomatoes, green beans, and a watermelon round as my mother’s belly.

Brief Synopsis: When the narrator, Paj Ntaub, and her family move to a new house, she experiences the seasons and the phases of life, including birth and death.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

A Map into the World follows the narrator, Paj Ntaub, as she adjusts to life in a new home and the arrival of twin baby brothers. But even as life is beginning in Paj Ntaub’s house, an elderly neighbor passes away, leaving her husband of over 60 years alone. How does this sensitive young narrator deal with these three big changes? Frankly any one of them on its own would be difficult for any person, let alone a young child, to process.

But young Paj Ntaub is observant. She notes the changes in nature, and she takes comfort in the Hmong story cloth that graces her new home and tells the story of how her family had left its homeland in southeast Asia. Bringing these threads together, she draws a map to show her neighbor how he can navigate the loss of his lifelong partner and find joy in the world once again.

I love the sensitivity exhibited by young Paj Ntaub, and I love how immigrant culture provides a way for the elderly neighbor, a non-immigrant, to process his grief.

A Map into the World is a perfect read for anyone dealing with a life-changing occurrence and for anyone interested in learning more about Hmong culture.

With soft yellows and greens, Kim’s nature-filled illustrations created with “digital graphite, pastels, watercolor, and scanned handmade textures” render a soothing setting for the story and are a gentle reminder that life is filled with seasons of beginnings and endings.

A Note about Craft:

Per an end note, A Map into the World is based upon the author’s actual neighbors, Ruth and Bob, and the author’s own family. She also is an #OwnVoices writer, familiar with Hmong culture and, presumably, problem-solving. I love how she uses aspects of this culture to problem solve and uses the metaphor of a map as a means to adapt to difficult life changes. This is her first picture book.Visit Yang’s website to see more of her books.

Visit Kim’s website to view more of her illustrations.

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 – Thinks Small

With the rush of shoppers and tourists and selfie-sticks in midtown Manhattan this weekend, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed. Maybe you felt similarly, wherever you ventured.

 

Small in the City

Author & Illustrator: Sydney Smith

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Holiday House Publishing/2019

Ages: 6-10

Themes: size, city living, feeling lost, pet cat

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

It can be a little scary to be small in a big city, but this child has some good advice for a very special friend in need.

When you’re small in the city, people don’t see you, and loud sounds can scare you, and knowing what to do is sometimes hard. But this little kid knows what it’s like, and knows the neighborhood. That makes for some pretty good advice for an even smaller friend.

Like, alleys can be good shortcuts, but some are too dark.

Or, there are lots of good hiding places in the city, like under a mulberry bush or up a walnut tree.

And, if the city is too loud and scary, a small one can always just go back home, where it’s safe and quiet.

In his first author-illustrated picture book, Sydney Smith tells a contemplative, quiet story from the perspective of a child.

Read a review at Picture Book Builders.

 

Small World

Author: Ishta Mercurio

Illustrator: Jen Corace

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: size, shapes, growing up, perspective

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When Nanda is born, the whole of her world is the circle of her mother’s arms. But as she grows, the world grows too. It expands outward—from her family, to her friends, to the city, to the countryside. And as it expands, so does Nanda’s wonder in the underlying shapes and structures patterning it: cogs and wheels, fractals in snowflakes. Eventually, Nanda’s studies lead her to become an astronaut and see the small, round shape of Earth far away. A geometric meditation on wonder, Small World is a modern classic that expresses our big and small place in the vast universe.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews and an interview with Mercurio at Writing for Kids (While Raising Them).

I paired these books because both deal with the concept of being small, and they both include amazing illustrations. Smith’s low word-count debut, Small in the City, follows a young child as she navigates a snowy city, reflects on being small in that city, and searches for a special someone. In contrast, Small World, Mercurio’s picture book debut, is more concept book and shows how Nando’s world expands from the circle of her mother’s arms to encompass the entire world.

Looking for similar reads? See Kirkus Reviews list of Best Picture Books of 2019 about Small People in a Big World.

 

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Liberty Arrives! How America’s Grandest Statue Found her Home

For many of us celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends this week, we are grateful for the gifts of freedom and liberty. But how did one statue come to define liberty for an entire nation? Find out in this Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Liberty Arrives! How America’s Grandest Statue Found her Home

Written & Illustrated By: Robert Byrd

Publisher/Date: Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Random House/2019

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: history, statue of liberty

Opening:

The Statue of Liberty rises tall and regal in New York Harbor. A powerful symbol of freedom, she has greeted millions of immigrants seeking a new life in America. Her solemn presence three for more than 130 years has been a constant reminder of the principles and promises in the Constitution of the United States. But the statue, Lady Liberty herself, had a long and uncertain trip to where she stands.

Brief Synopsis: The story of the creation and donation of the Statue of Liberty and the difficulties encountered.

Links to Resources:

  • The Statue of Liberty is a National Monument. Visit the National Park Service website to learn more about things to do and see there;
  • Not able to visit? Check out the Statue of Liberty webcams and enjoy the harbor and skyline views;
  • Write your own newspaper article about Lady Liberty or some other important public statue or place.

Why I Like this Book:

Arranged in a series of newspaper-like, headlined articles with accompanying illustrations, Liberty Arrives! recounts the journey of Lady Liberty from an idea in France to its reality, many years later, in New York Harbor.

I love how Byrd identifies the obstacles overcome and builds tension throughout the story by breaking this story up into small portions. Although in the 21st century, we know where and when Lady Liberty arrived in the US, Byrd keeps readers interested in how the process unfolded by taking us back to day one and, essentially, walking us, step by step, through the creation and funding of this iconic symbol through a series of articles.

With more text than most picture books and with illuminating back matter (Measuring the Statue; Timeline; More on the Story of the Statue; Author’s Note; and Bibliography), Liberty Arrives! will be a wonderful addition to school and classroom libraries, as well as a fascinating read for those interested in history, art and engineering.

A Note about Craft:

As I noted above, we know the result of the quest to create Lady Liberty before we open this picture book. So how does Byrd create tension and keep our interest in the story?

I think by showing the process in a series of unfolding newspaper articles he keeps our attention, helps place the reader in the era, and, not inconsequentially, shows how the media of the day, ie, the newspapers, played a role in garnering public support for the project. And while the focus understandably is on the statue’s creator, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, recounting the story in this way enables Byrd to also introduce and explain the contributions of Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, best known for the structure that bears his name but also the brains behind Lady Liberty’s iron skeleton, Joseph Pulitzer, an immigrant and newspaper publisher whose media campaign was instrumental to garner public support and donations for the statue base, and Emma Lazurus, an American poet whose words grace the statue’s pedestal.

As Byrd notes towards the end of the text, the people’s support amounted to “America’s first ‘crowdfunding’ campaign”, a notion that, I believe, will resonate with young readers. Byrd further notes, “Just as the Internet connects us today, the World newspaper brought people together then to contribute to Lady Liberty’s cause.” In addition to recounting Lady Liberty’s journey, then, Byrd provides an example of media’s support for a public good.

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 – is Feeling Thankful

Whether you’re preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States, gathering in the harvest, or thinking about the calendar year drawing to a close, late November is a wonderful time to stop, reflect and give gratitude for blessings, big and small.

Thanku: Poems of Gratitude 

Authors: various

Editor: Miranda Paul

Illustrator: Marlena Myles

Publisher/Date: Millbrook Press, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group/2019

Ages: 6-10

Themes: poetry, gratitude, #WNDB

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This poetry anthology, edited by Miranda Paul, explores a wide range of ways to be grateful (from gratitude for a puppy to gratitude for family to gratitude for the sky) with poems by a diverse group of contributors, including Joseph Bruchac, Margarita Engle, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Naomi Shihab Nye, Charles Waters, and Jane Yolen.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews and see an interview with debut illustrator Myles at Kidlit 411.

 

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

Author: Traci Sorell

Illustrator: Frané Lessac

Publisher/date: Charlesbridge/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: gratitude, seasons, nature, Cherokee, #OwnVoices

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A look at modern Native American life as told by a citizen of the Cherokee Nation

The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is used by members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. Beginning in the fall with the new year and ending in summer, follow a full Cherokee year of celebrations and experiences.

Appended with a glossary and the complete Cherokee syllabary, originally created by Sequoyah.

Read a review at Miss Marple’s Musings.

I paired these books because both express feelings of gratitude in this season of giving thanks. And if you want to delve more into the subject matter of either of these books, Paul includes a glossary of the various poetry forms used in Thanku, and Sorell includes backmatter about Cherokee culture and its language in We Are Grateful.

Looking for similar reads? See Thank You, Omu!

PPBF – Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War

I recently saw a reference to the latest picture book by Duncan Tonatiuh. As we’ve just celebrated Remembrance Sunday, or Veterans Day here in the US, originally celebrated to mark the end of World War I, I thought it was the perfect time to review this Perfect Picture Book:

Title: Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2019

Suitable for Ages: 6-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: Latinx, military service, biography, #OwnVoices, World War I

Opening:

“Greaser!”

Luz (looz) ran toward the boy and tackled him to the ground. Luz had had enough. ¡Ya basta! Why did they call him names? Why were those kids mean to him just because his family had come from Mexico?

Brief Synopsis:

The story of de la Luz Sáenz, a Mexican-American teacher who served as a soldier in France in World War I, who returned home to Texas to work for Mexican-American rights, and who co-founded the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and its founding;
  • Has anyone ever called you a name or otherwise been mean to you? How did you feel? What did you do?
  • Luz kept a diary during World War I that shared what he experienced and felt. Try keeping a diary or journal to record your thoughts and reflections.

Why I Like this Book:

The latest picture book by award-winning illustrator/author Tonatiuh, Soldier for Equality, provides wonderful insight into the life and times of an American of Mexican descent in the early part of the 20th century. Although the narrative begins during Luz’s childhood, much of the book records his experiences as an adult and especially as a soldier during World War I.

Although I wasn’t surprised to learn that Latinos were discriminated against in Texas and in the military at that time, nor do I think that children reading this will be, I was saddened to read how this discrimination affected Mexican-Americans living in Texas and how these loyal men’s service was treated as less valuable than that of white men.

But Tonatiuh doesn’t leave readers feeling sad or angry. Rather, he shows how Luz channeled his frustrations into a passionate fight for equality by teaching Latinx children and adults to read, by joining with other veterans to fight for Latino veteran rights, and by joining with other like-minded individuals to form the League of United Latin American Citizens in 1929. LULAC, which still exists, is “the oldest and most widely respected Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States”, per the organization’s website.

As Tonatiuh notes in the Author’s Note, Luz is a “largely unsung hero whose fight for equality is still alive”. I think it’s wonderful that Tonatiuh has brought Luz’s story to a new generation of children, especially Latinx children, and I hope that reading this biography will inspire this generation to continue the fight for equal rights, liberty and justice.

Tonatiuh’s distinctive, earth-toned illustrations complement the text well, and, for me, rendered the combat scenes a little less disturbing (note, though, that these could scare a younger child).

Back matter includes the Author’s Note, a select timeline of the US and Luz’s involvement in World War I and of LULAC, a bibliography, an index, and a glossary of Spanish terms.

A Note about Craft:

In the Author’s Note, Tonatiuh reveals that he first learned about Luz from a history professor at the University of Texas in Austin who had translated Luz’s wartime diary. A diary or journal is a wonderful source to learn about historical eras and a person’s reflections about them, especially when it is paired with other sources. That Luz not only kept the diary but that he also was a participant in the fight for equality and justice renders him an especially important figure for children to learn about. Thankfully, Tonatiuh distilled these adult-focused sources into a story for children. And while this isn’t entirely a cradle to grave biography, Tonatiuh begins it with a scene from Luz’s childhood, showing how even a child can stand up for his or her rights. As Tonatiuh quotes Luz’s father saying, “don’t let anyone make you feel ashamed. You should always be proud of who you are, mijo.”

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 Fearless Female Flyers

Today is the 103rd anniversary of a daring flight by Ruth Law, a female pilot and the subject of one of today’s perfectly paired picture books. As so many Americans anticipate holiday flights next week, I thought it would be interesting to look back to the dawn of aviation, and the roles two courageous female pilots played in that history.

 

Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine

Author: Heather Lang

Illustrator: Raúl Colón

Publisher/Date: Calkins Creek, an imprint of Boyds Mills Press/2016

Ages: 5-8

Themes: flying, women, biography, courage

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

On November 19, 1916, at 8:25 a.m., Ruth Law took off on a flight that aviation experts thought was doomed. She set off to fly nonstop from Chicago to New York City. Sitting at the controls of her small bi-plane, exposed to the elements, Law battled fierce winds and numbing cold. When her engine ran out of fuel, she glided for two miles and landed at Hornell, New York. Even though she fell short of her goal, she had broken the existing cross-country distance record. And with her plane refueled, she got back in the air and headed for New York City where crowds waited to greet her. In this well-researched, action-packed picture book, Heather Lang and Raúl Colón recreate a thrilling moment in aviation history. Includes an afterword with archival photographs.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

The Flying Girl: How Aída de Acosta Learned to Soar

Author: Margarita Engle

Illustrator: Sara Palacios

Publisher/date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster)/March 2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: flying, first female pilot, biography, courage

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In this beautiful picture book filled with soaring words and buoyant illustrations, award-winners Margarita Engle and Sara Palacios tell the inspiring true story of Aída de Acosta, the first woman to fly a motorized aircraft.

On a lively street in the lovely city of Paris, a girl named Aída glanced up and was dazzled by the sight of an airship. Oh, how she wished she could soar through the sky like that! The inventor of the airship, Alberto, invited Aída to ride with him, but she didn’t want to be a passenger. She wanted to be the pilot.

Aída was just a teenager, and no woman or girl had ever flown before. She didn’t let that stop her, though. All she needed was courage and a chance to try.

Read my review.

I paired these books because they both feature ground-breaking female pilots at the dawn of aviation, who conquered their fears and society’s expectations to soar to new heights. Each book focuses on the flight and events leading up to it, and both contain helpful backmatter about each pilot and her role in aviation history.

PPBF – Encounter

Regular readers know I generally focus on stories about immigration or refugees and migrants, or on international folktales. But today’s Perfect PictureBook imagines a meeting of a European traveler and an indigenous person. As you read on, I hope you will understand why this story has captured my attention and why, I think, it sheds light on many of the themes I explore in the books I generally review. And as November is National Native American Heritage Month, this seems like the perfect time to feature this new Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Encounter

Written By: Brittany Luby

Illustrated By: Michaela Goade

Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Native Americans, exploration, differences, similarities, cultural interaction, #OwnVoices

Opening:

Sun rose to light all Creation. He woke Seagull and Mouse from their nests. He coaxed Mosquito from a long blade of grass. He chuckled as Crab retreated inside her shell. When the coastline buzzed with life, Sun woke the two-leggeds with a burst of light.

Brief Synopsis: When a European explorer and a native American meet, the two acknowledge their differences but also see their similarities.

Links to Resources:

  • With words or pictures show ways that you are the same or different from a sibling, friend, or school mate;
  • In an Historical Note, Luby reveals that Encounter is a work of fiction, but it is based on information found in the diaries of French explorer, Jacques Cartier. Learn more about Cartier and his exploration of Canada;
  • In an Author’s Reflection, Luby reveals that she is descended from native peoples but learned the history of Canada through the histories of settler-colonists. Why do you think it’s important to view history from the point of view of those who were in a place first? How do you think the story changes when the point of view is changed?
  • Read or listen to an NPR interview with Luby and Goade.

Why I Like this Book:

Encounter tells the story of an imagined meeting on one day between Sailor, a sailor on the first, or one of the first, European ships to enter North American waters in present day Canada, and Fisher, an indigenous fisherman. As the two men experience their differences, in looks, language, dress, mode of transportation, and diet, creatures from the natural world note their similarities. This juxtaposition and change in perspective, between what the two men see and think and the reality of their similarities, made me realize that, in fact, our similarities as people, regardless of skin tone, language, region, religion, background or any of the myriad features that make us unique, are greater than these differences. If, as the natural creatures do, we could step back from our differences and focus on these similarities, perhaps our encounters could lead to greater understanding and kindness in this world.

#OwnVoices illustrator Goade created the gorgeous artwork in watercolor, pen and ink, gouache, and digitally. View a book chat with Goade about her techniques and what she was trying to show.

A Note about Craft:

Looking above at the Opening, which includes all of the text from the first spread, you might wonder who are the main characters of this picture book. Luby mentions neither Fisher, who appears in the next spread, nor Sailor, who appears first in the third spread. Not only are these two protagonists not mentioned in the text of this initial spread, they don’t even appear in the illustrations. Instead, Luby and Goade introduce them one by one on the next spreads, and show both in small boats on the water in the fourth spread. I was surprised by this opening, but I think it makes sense if, as I think Luby wants the reader to do, you change perspective and view the encounter which ensues from the perspective of the noted creatures of the natural world. I’d even argue that Sun, whose rising and setting frames this one-day meeting, and the creatures, who opine about the similarities of the two “two-leggeds”, are, in a sense, characters in this story. By beginning with this people-less scene, I think Luby is inviting readers to step back and view our differences from the perspective of the natural world. Maybe we aren’t so different after all.

Interestingly, too, Luby chooses two adult males as the people who meet. But in the lack of familiarity with the other person’s culture, each man seems child-like. The inclusion of natural creatures who observe and speak is also very child-friendly, as, to me, this lends a fable-like aspect to this story.

Per the book jacket, Luby, of Anishinaabe descent, is a history professor at the University of Guelph, Canada. Goade, of Tlingit descent, is a designer and illustrator. Visit her website to view 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!