Monthly Archives: January 2016

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation

I couldn’t think of a better Picture Book to celebrate multiculturalism than one written by a Haitian-born author, written about a Haitian-American family, that highlights a contemporary problem of huge importance. That it’s so beautifully written and illustrated makes this truly a perfect Picture Book!

9780525428091_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation
Written By: Edwidge Danticat

Illustrated By: Leslie Staub

Penguin Young Readers Group, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: Immigration; separation; storytelling; Haiti; advocacy

Opening: “When Mama first goes away, what I miss most is the sound of her voice.”

Brief Synopsis: When Mama is arrested and held in a women’s correctional facility because she lacks the correct immigration papers, young Saya misses her terribly. Mama records stories from her native Haiti for Saya while Papa writes letters to politicians and the media without success. Saya also writes a story that Papa sends to the local media, and that leads, ultimately, to the resolution of the problem.

Links to Resources: We all know that children love to share stories! Mama’s Nightingale is a perfect introduction to the power of our stories and could serve as a jumping off point for sharing stories in a group, such as where we or a relative come from, writing stories (for older children) and/or exploring the impact our stories may have by identifying, researching and writing to advocate for a desired outcome (definitely for older children!).

The imagery of Mama’s Nightingale can also be explored: Birds such as the Nightingale and the arts and culture of Haiti.

Finally, there are teacher and classroom resources available online to explore immigration: Scholastic’s Immigration Stories: Yesterday and Today focuses primarily on the Ellis Island experience, but includes oral histories, including child immigrants from more recent eras; TeachersFirst provides fiction lists by topic by age, including immigration–themed picture books.

Why I Like this Book: Mama’s Nightingale combines several themes: the parent-child bond; bird and rainbow imagery; separation; the power of words and stories. With few picture books available on the topic of contemporary immigration, it also is very timely. Of Haitian descent, Edwidge Danticat captures the Creole spirit, including interspersing Creole words into the English text. She understands the difficulty of separation, as she herself remained as a child in Haiti while her parents worked in the US. She also understands and celebrates the power of words and stories: the Haitian folktales that Mama records for Saya and that tie the two together as well as the words that Saya writes that lead to the book’s resolution. The gorgeous illustrations amplify the story and further celebrate the Haitian spirit.

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

 

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Greyfriars Bobby

As Snowmaggedon looms, at least for those of us in the path of Winter Storm Jonas, I think it’s time to “get out of Dodge.” I propose a journey – and what better destination than Scotland in honour of Robert Burns’ birthday next week (25 January). So grab your kilt and woollies, nab some shortbread and a cup of your favourite steaming beverage, and come along…

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Title: Greyfriars Bobby

Written & Illustrated By: Ruth Brown

Andersen Press, 1995

Suitable for Ages: 3-8

Themes/Topics: Animals; Dogs; Loyalty; Travel; Scotland; History

Opening: “I’m fed up with sightseeing,” moaned Tom. “It’s too hot and I’m thirsty.”

 
Brief Synopsis: Tom and Becky, two young tourists, discover the statue of a Skye Terrier next to Greyfriar’s Churchyard, Edinburgh, Scotland. A friendly gardener relates the tale of the loyal dog, Bobby, who guarded his master’s remains for 14 years, and of the townspeople who cared for him.

 
Links to Resources: Most of us aren’t in a position to visit Bobby’s statue anytime soon, but anyone who has ever travelled with children can relate to the impatience of young travellers and their fixation with the small details that adults often overlook. Whether we journey to a foreign land, a neighbouring city or state, a local landmark or even around our own home, we can create our own stories about the things we discover. I’ve also created travel “diaries” with my children – pictures they’ve drawn and then I collected and captioned. Learning more about Skye Terriers and life in 19th century Edinburgh will add to any child’s enjoyment of this tale. In addition, Disney (1961) and Piccadilly Pictures/Ursus Films (2005) released movies based on slightly different versions of this story. Both appear to be available in the US.

 
Why I Like this Book: Whether or not Greyfriars Bobby is a true tale (and the jury is out on this), the statue exists, and the story of Bobby’s loyalty, and the care the townspeople show him after his master’s death, add up to a heart-warming story. Generally, I would prefer a book told from the point of view of someone experiencing the events firsthand- perhaps a child in 19th century Edinburgh. In this case, though, the lens of modern children discovering the past adds a rich layer to the story. Like Bobby who befriends his master, Old Jock, and the café owner who feeds Bobby, a gardener who tends the cemetery befriends the modern travellers. He becomes storyteller, relating Bobby’s saga and providing a glimpse into 19th century Edinburgh. Author/illustrator Ruth Brown adds charming spreads at the beginning and end of this book with 19th century children in the same settings as Tom and Becky. And although this is an older book with quite a bit of text, Brown includes several wordless spreads that evoke Victorian Edinburgh.

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

Perfect Picture Book Friday: One Family

I learned of this book last fall, just as we were heading into that prime family time: the holidays. I looked in the library, couldn’t find it there (yet), but I luckily managed to find it at a favorite indie bookstore while (theoretically) shopping for holiday gifts. I’m so happy I did, as this is a book that will be at the front of our family bookshelves for generations to come.

9780374300036_p0_v1_s118x184Title: One Family

Written By: George Shannon

Illustrated By: Blanca Gómez

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-6

Themes/Topics: Family; Counting; Diversity; Inclusivity; Community

Opening: “One is one. One lamp. One clock. One book to share.”

Brief Synopsis: In this richly-illustrated counting book, one stretches to ten, as collective nouns contain increasing numbers of items and the family illustrated in each two-page spread increases in number until, finally, we return to one world, one earth, one family, in which we all are included.

Links to Resources: Find other collective nouns and look to see whether all items in each group are the same or different; draw a picture of your family; make a family tree (note: this could include pictures of family members and ancestors, or could creatively show each family member’s character).

Why I Like this Book: The sparse, poetic language and rich illustrations make this a beautiful book. The diversity of families and settings and inclusivity add to its appeal. And the illustrated portraits on the inside covers create a story unto themselves. This truly is “one book to share” with children and grandchildren.

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 Picture Book Friday – The Turnip

Happy New Year!

Five plus years into this writers’ journey, I realize it’s time to STOP. Take stock. And add some strategy to those drafts languishing on my ailing laptop, including the twelve I wrote in 2015. So, for 2016, I resolve:

*to share my work with fellow writers and spend more time on revisions, with the ultimate goal of submitting my work to at least six agents and/or publishers in 2016;

*to strategically partake of online courses that will help hone my craft and to attend a few key conferences (NJSCBWI, here I come!);

*to read, and read some more.

And speaking of reading, what better way to share that than by contributing to the ever-growing database of picture books at Susanna Hill’s site? And if the first book of 2016 involves a heaping helping of a healthy treat, so much the better!


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Title: The Turnip

Written and Illustrated By: Jan Brett

2015, Penguin Young Readers Group

Suitable for Ages: 3-5
 

Themes/Topics: food; animals; folk tales

Opening: “Badger Girl was weeding the vegetable patch when she saw something strange growing in the garden. It was the biggest turnip she had ever seen.”

Brief Synopsis: When Badger Girl is unable to pull a giant turnip from the ground, her family and animal friends take turns trying to pull. In a twisted ending, a rooster in search of a home finally manages to pull the turnip – but does he succeed on his own?

Links to Resources: Cook and eat turnips (a site called Eating Well has some easy-to-prepare & healthy ideas); grow turnips and/or other root vegetables in the garden; learn more about and color a Badger; design and color Russian folk art, like that framing each page.

Why I Like this Book: With its surprise ending, The Turnip shows that sometimes all is not as it seems. Only the observant reader will realize that the actions in the turnip-shaped side illustrations lead up to the real reason the rooster succeeds in pulling the turnip from the ground. The rich illustrations add much to the story and truly evoke the Russian setting of this old folk tale.

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