Monthly Archives: July 2016

PPBF: A Piece of Home

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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).

PPBF -Have you seen Elephant?

I spent many enjoyable hours reading picture books by English authors and author/illustrators with my young family when we lived outside London many years ago. When I have the good fortune to find an English picture book on this side of the Pond, I’m eager to share it. Sometimes it’s the setting, sometimes the English humour, and sometimes it’s a word or scene that transports me back.

Today’s Perfect Picture Book reminded me of the humour evident in such British classics as Monty Python or Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean series – but targeted to the playground set. And for those in the mood for some hysterical English-American word comparisons, check out a wonderfully witty post at Picture Book Den.


9781776570089_p0_v1_s192x300-1Title
: Have you seen Elephant?

Written & Illustrated By: David Barrow

Publisher/date: Gecko Press, NZ/2015

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes/Topics: hide and seek, elephants, playtime, family, all-dialogue, humorous

Opening: “Would you like to play hide and seek?” “OK. You hide.” “I must warn you though. I’m VERY good.”

Brief Synopsis: An elephant who is very good at hiding challenges his human friend to find him in a game of hide and seek.

Links to Resources:

  • Play hide and seek with a friend or family member
  • Hide something and challenge a friend, family member or even a pet to find it
  • Elephant is good at hiding. Is there something you are very good at that would surprise others? Show these friends or family members what you are good at & ask them to show you what they can do well.

Why I Like this Book:

Have you seen Elephant? is an engagingly simple picture book with a humorous plot. Young hide-and-seek fans will delight in finding the elephant that the unnamed boy and his parents don’t see (or perhaps choose not to see – a possibility raised by Barrow in a 2015 interview on the Playing by the Book blog). Their parents will enjoy the message that someone can be good at something even if he/she doesn’t fit a stereotype of someone who would succeed at that task.

A Note about Craft:

Have you seen Elephant? is a story with a very low word count, told all in dialogue, with 13 of its 28 pages comprised solely of engaging water colour illustrations. While the story could, perhaps, have been told wordlessly, the sparse dialogue adds tension and humor as the unnamed boy asks first his father, then his mother if they’ve seen Elephant. The observant dog is the perfect foil to the clueless family. And the twist at the end leaves this reader hoping that a sequel will be forthcoming.

This is a perfect example of a mentor text for all-dialogue, low word count, humorous picture books.

David Barrow was the winner of the Sebastian Walker Prize from Cambridge School of Art for most promising children’s illustrator in 2015. This is his debut picture book, and it’s short-listed for the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize 2016 and long-listed for the Klaus Flugge Prize 2016.

 

PPBF – Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

As we head into the most-American of holiday weekends and what, for many, is the true start of the summer season, I thought a picture book about a very-American genre of music set where family and friends gather on steamy summer days would be perfect. I hope you agree!

0763669547.medTitle: Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

Written By: Roxane Orgill

Illustrated By: Francis Vallejo

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes/Topics: Non-fiction, Jazz, Harlem, 1950s America, photography, poetry

Opening: from the introduction, “In 1958, Art Kane had a crazy idea. Gather as many jazz musicians as possible in one place for a big black-and-white photograph, like a kind of graduation picture.”

Brief Synopsis: A book of poems that tell the story of Harlem 1958, a photograph of the largest gathering of jazz musicians on the steps of a Harlem, NYC brownstone.

0763669547.int.3Links to Resources:

  • Find a photograph of family, friends, or any other group. Try to tell a story about that picture: why is everyone there? What are they wearing and why? What else is in the picture and what does it tell you about the people or the photographer?
  • Listen to Jazz music.

Why I Like this Book:

A picture book that starts with an image – nothing unique about that. But what’s unique about Jazz Day is precisely that image, an actual photograph of 57 of the greatest jazz musicians in 1950s NYC (Harlem 1958), and how the author of this picture book determined to tell its story.

Rather than write what may well have been a plodding, dry account of this historic photograph that appeared first in Esquire magazine, Ms. Orgill tells the story in poems – short, jazz-infused vignettes of the events leading up to and through the morning. By choosing poetry as her medium, Ms. Orgill is able to highlight the special aspects of the story embedded in the photograph and share some of the backstory, about Harlem 1958 and the lives and careers of the musicians pictured and Art Kane, the man who dreamt up and organized it all.

Speaking of backstory, this much longer-than-average picture book (55 pages, plus endpapers) contains an Author’s Note, biographies of several people photographed, a note about Harlem 1958’s legacy, source notes, a bibliography and perhaps best of all, a two-page spread of the actual photo. No wonder Jazz Day is Boston Globe-Horn Book’s choice for Picture Book of the Year.

The illustrations of debut picture-book illustrator Francis Vallejo vibrantly capture the excitement of the morning and the spirit of these great musicians, and they add greatly to the appeal of this book.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Ms. Orgill shares that she started with the photograph, Harlem 1958, an image of which she’d been aware for as long as she’s been listening to jazz. She “wanted to tell the story of how the photo got made and some of the people who happened to be in it. What I didn’t expect was that I’d begin writing poems. I write prose, not poetry. But this story demanded a sense of freedom, and intensity, and a conciseness that prose could not provide.” (p 44)

What medium best captures the story you’re trying to tell? If a story isn’t working, perhaps try another viewpoint, or even think out of the box, as Ms. Orgill did, and try a totally different approach.