Monthly Archives: May 2016


As lilacs replace daffodils and tulips, and as bare tree branches don vivid cloaks of green, the birds flock to our feeder and serenade us from the evergreens near the bedroom window. imageOne cheeky fellow even tap-tap-taps on our window and adorns a balcony railing. With these scenes in mind, I couldn’t resist today’s perfect picture book:


9780763678128_p0_v1_s192x300Title: I AM HENRY FINCH

Written By: Alexis Deacon

Illustrated By: Viviane Schwarz

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press, 2015 (British edition: Walker Books)

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: Finches, thinking for yourself, individuality, greatness, social movements

Opening: “The finches lived in a great flock. They made such a racket all day long, they really could not hear themselves think.”

Brief Synopsis: Henry Finch awakens in the silence of the night, has a thought that he can be great, and, despite a major setback, transforms his thoughts into action.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

This perfect picture book resonates on so many levels: it’s the story of an introverted entrepreneur who breaks out of the sameness of the flock and starts a social movement.

Henry thinks his first thought only during the stillness of the night, when he is free of the cacophony of the flock. Like a true introvert, he needs silence to hear his own inner voice. He then brings this thought into action – an action that he hopes will bring greatness, but that in reality does so much more: it solves a problem and causes others to change.

As change occurs (I won’t spoil it and say what or how), I can’t help but paraphrase a popular song of my youth, if one person does something out of the ordinary, he’s sick; by three, it’s an organization; by fifty, it’s a movement.

The simplicity of the adorable thumbprint red finches and the startling white on black “interior” spreads as Henry contemplates the circle of life, add so much to this picture book and provide a vivid lesson on the necessity of pictures to help tell a story.

It’s no wonder that I AM HENRY FINCH has garnered so many awards: a starred Kirkus review; USBBY/CBC Outstanding International Book; and most recently, the Little Rebels’ Children’s Book Award 2016, run by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers in Britain. I heartily recommend what some reviewers have dubbed a “philosophical” picture book to readers and listeners of any age.

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!




PPBF – Rain Fish

When I saw today’s Perfect Picture Book, I thought back to the many other wonderful books by Lois Ehlert that were family favorites when the now-adult children were young. That memory led to other memories. In particular, I found myself thinking about a holiday when I was the sole adult for part of the vacation. I had “volunteered” to travel ahead with the four and six year-old daughters to central Europe, where my husband met us (in case you’re wondering about my sanity, we visited, and stayed with, family friends much of the time). I recall spending several days in some of the greatest cities of Europe searching for playgrounds, cooling fingers and toes in fountains and doing anything but the typical “tourist” things, such as gazing up at unique architecture and visiting museums. Instead, we looked down, spent most of the time outdoors, and discovered treasures that I’m sure all but the most observant adults missed. They remain treasures to this day.

9781481461528_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Rain Fish

Written & Illustrated By: Lois Ehlert

Publisher/date: Beach Lane Books, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes/Topics: creating art, found art, rainy days, recycling, fish

Opening: “When blue sky turns gray and it rains all day, that’s when rain fish come out and play.”

Brief Synopsis: Rain fish come out to play on rainy days.

Links to Resources:

  • Take a “themed” nature walk and talk about the items of a particular shape, color or texture you see
  • While on a walk or even in the house, try to find objects that look like something else, like rabbit clouds, or a face hidden in the bark of a tree, etc.
  • Create collage art – assemblages of different materials; for some ideas see The Artful Parent.

Why I Like this Book: In our too busy world, we often miss what’s hiding right under our noses. We fail to notice the good, like Lois Ehlert’s colourful fish that accompany the bad, in this case a rainy day. And not only is it a rainy day, but the fish, crafted from found items that most adults would term “garbage”, swim in the gutters. This is a “stop and smell the roses” book if ever there was one and a terrific reminder that one person’s garbage can be recycled into another person’s art – if only we can observe like the child that lives in each of us. Like Lois Ehlert’s many other wonderful picture books, this will be a book that children and adults will enjoy exploring again and again.

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!

PPBF: Grandad’s Island

The colourful cover of this perfect picture book drew me in, the title intrigued me, and the story mesmerized me. I discovered Grandad’s Island on the NEW shelf at my local library, but it is a book that I will purchase for my home library very soon.

9780763690052_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Grandad’s Island

Written & Illustrated By: Benji Davies

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Loss, death, grandparent, travel, tropical islands

Opening: “At the bottom of Syd’s backyard, through the gate and past the tree, was Grandad’s house. There was a key under a flowerpot, and Syd could let himself in anytime he liked.”

Brief Synopsis: A boy and his grandfather journey by ship to a tropical island, which we explore together and which Grandad comes to call “home.”

Links to Resources:

  • If possible, go for a boat ride – what do you see? How does it feel to float on the river, lake or ocean?
  • Prepare for a real or pretend journey: look at a map – where will you go? What will you bring to wear, eat or use while you are there?
  • Write a letter or draw a picture to let a loved one know you are ok and that you love her or him.

Why I Like this Book: Benji Davies lives in London, one of my old haunts, and this book was published there first (Simon & Schuster, 2015). When I opened the book to find a child in red jumper (ie, pullover) and gray shorts scampering through a walled garden surrounded by row houses, I felt like I’d journeyed back to my old north London neighbourhood. Given that England is home to a nanny who floats from the sky with an umbrella, a boy who never grows old, and a boy who passes through a brick wall with his school mates to a train (among many other endearing characters), a ship on the roof seems only natural as does the journey in that ship to a tropical island.

Primarily an illustrator, including of Tara Lazar’s I Thought This was a Bear Book (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2015), Mr. Davies creates an island paradise that anyone would want to visit and live in. He provides many visual clues showing that Grandad, whose choice it is to visit the island with his grandson, is happier and healthier once they arrive. Spoiler alert: grandson and Grandad part ways, but the knowledge that Grandad is in a better place and the ties they continue to share provide hope.

This is a wonderful and comforting book for anyone separated from a loved one, due to moving or death, or concerned about the happiness of an elderly relative or friend. For me it was made more poignant by the knowledge that Grandad is based on Mr. Davies’ own grandfather, with whom he corresponded via letters.


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!

PPBF: Looking for Bongo

I discovered today’s perfect picture book on the “New” shelf at the local library yesterday. The cover drew me in; I brought it home, read it right away, and decided that the sprinkling of Spanish words is perfect for the day after Cinco de Mayo, this is a wonderful example of a diverse book, and it shows an elderly person in a positive light (see Lee & Low Books’ the open book for a fascinating discussion of ageism in children’s literature).

9780823435654_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Looking for Bongo

Written & Illustrated By: Eric Velasquez

Publisher/date: Holiday House, February 2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-6

Themes/Topics: Loss, intergenerational family, reunion, persistence, multiculturalism

Opening: “Where is Bongo? I need Bongo to watch TV with me.”

Brief Synopsis: When a young Afro-Latino boy’s favourite stuffed animal goes missing, he asks family members for help and searches for it; when he finds the animal, he takes the further step of trying to discover how it went missing.

Links to Resources:

  • Color a Bongo
  • The grandmother, called Wela, plays a significant role in this story (per the Endnote, Wela is derived from the Spanish word for grandmother, “abuela”). Discuss the different names children call their grandparents and the roles they play in their lives and/or homes. Check out for a listing of names used for grandparents throughout the world.
  • Velasquez provides clues to the boy and his family through illustrations. Draw a picture of yourself, a family member or your home and include clues to describe yourself, that person or place.

Why I Like this Book: This is a simple story of a favourite toy gone missing and what the owner does to find and protect if from further loss. I love, though, how the boy persists in his quest, even asking the family pets where Bongo has disappeared. I also love how the boy journeys from family member to family member of this intergenerational family and throughout the apartment. In detailed illustrations, the apartment comes alive and we get to know the family through their possessions that show them to be readers, lovers of music and lovers of fashion. A few Spanish phrases are included, just as one would expect to hear in a multi-lingual family. And in an endnote we learn that there’s a real animal called a Bongo – who knew!

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!