Monthly Archives: November 2016

PPBF – The Apple-Pip Princess

Today, as many of us recover from turkey hang-overs (at least those in the US), and others rush around to score Black Friday deals, I chose a story that celebrates the bounty and community that are at the heart of Thanksgiving. While it’s not a new book, I think its appeal endures and make it a Perfect Picture Book:

9780763637477_p0_v1_s192x300Title: The Apple-Pip Princess

Written & Illustrated By: Jane Ray

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press/2008 (UK edition: Orchard Books/2007)

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: kindness, sharing, nature, community, princess, apple seeds

Opening: “Let me tell you a story about something that happened a long time ago in a land far from here – a land ruled by an old king who had three daughters.”

Brief Synopsis: An elderly king ruling over a bleak, barren kingdom sets each of his three daughters a task: to build in seven days something that will make her mark, that will make the king proud. Whichever of his daughters builds that thing will inherit his crown.

Links to Resources:

  • Plant an apple-pip (seed) and watch it grow;
  • Make baked apples or apple pie;
  • Plan a picnic (indoors or out): what will you eat? Who will you invite to share your picnic?
  • For older children, discuss the king’s system of choosing his successor. How else could he have done so? Discuss the attributes of a good ruler (or president!).

Why I Like this Book:

The Apple-Pip Princess is a modern fairy tale. Need I say more? Like the best fairy tales, it is an allegory for issues in our own 21st century world: caring for the environment; the hollowness of material possessions; the power of one person to better the world; the power of community. Told by a narrator speaking directly to “you” in lyrical language that flows like the best fairy tales do and accompanied by illustrations fit for a royal tale, including several collages incorporating digital art in a unique manner, The Apple-Pip Princess is a wonderful way to open discussions about our need to care for our world, the effect our actions have on our world and fellow beings, the importance of community, and why being the tallest or the most beautiful really doesn’t matter.

A Note about Craft:

Ms. Ray offers the usual array of fairy tale elements plus a few twists:

  • An omniscient narrator who tells the tale and specifically brings “you” into the story, addressing the reader at the beginning, when the focus shifts to Serenity, the princess with the apple seed, or pip, and how she will complete the king’s task, and at the end;
  • A dead queen, although no evil stepmother nor a fairy godmother;
  • Three sisters with, you guessed it, three different ideas about how to complete the task;
  • They are given seven days and nights to complete the tasks – a nod to Biblical creation, although without the day of rest;
  • An ample dash of magic, in fact, seven dashes, but the magic works only after Serenity unleashes it;
  • The characters are dark skinned, although wearing European-style clothing from an earlier era and living in houses that would be at home in Europe or even parts of rural or small-town America.

Incorporating these twists into the  classic formula, I think, makes The Apple-Pip Princess a fairy tale that will endure.

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 – The Journey

Over the river and through the woods…

‘Tis the season for journeys – whether fighting cross-town traffic to bag bargains, purchase perfect presents, or track down tasty treats, or joining the millions of Americans journeying by plane, train or automobile to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends. It’s also, sadly, a season when migrants, those fleeing violence and/or lack of employment, continue to risk their lives and undertake perilous journeys in hopes of a better life.

This is such a difficult subject for young children and even adults, but I believe we must try to understand it, to picture ourselves in the story, to discuss it with children, which is why I’ve chosen today’s Perfect Picture Book.

9781909263994_p0_v1_s192x300Title: The Journey

Written & Illustrated By: Francesca Sanna

Publisher/date: Flying Eye Book (Nobrow Ltd)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-7 and older

Themes/Topics: refugees, migrants, journey, birds

Opening: “I live with my family in a city close to the sea. Every summer we used to spend many weekends at the beach. But we never go there anymore, because last year, our lives changed forever…”

Brief Synopsis: An unnamed narrator and her family flee from a warn-torn region.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about the refugee experience with materials from Amnesty International and UNHCR;
  • Choose three favorite toys or books that you’d bring on a journey;
  • Discuss journeys you and your family have undertaken;
  • Learn about animal migration.

Why I Like this Book:

The refugee crisis is such a difficult subject, but one that is, sadly, so timely. With a fairy-tale, storybook quality, particularly in the graphic, fantastical illustrations, this “collage” of refugee stories will, hopefully, enable adults to discuss the refugee experience with children and build empathy for those who have made journeys like the one described in The Journey. Spoiler alert: It also ends on a note of hope, of a new story in a new land for the child narrator and her family.

A Note about Craft:

In this debut picture book by author/illustrator Francesca Sanna, she has chosen to not name the Main Character, the place from which the family flees, or the place to which they journey, thus providing an Everyman-type of story. She also weaves references to books, stories, and storytelling throughout the text and illustrations, bolstering a theme that the journey described is just one of many journeys being undertaken. In an Author’s Note, Ms. Sanna shares that the story is a collage of stories learned by interviewing refugees.

Ms. Sanna tells much of the story in illustrations only. Her use of light and darkness and her inclusion of birds and sea creatures that undertake long journeys, as well as scary forest creatures during the border-crossing scenes, act as metaphors of the journeying family and provide a way to help adults discuss the story with children. By ending the story with a reference to, and an illustration of, migrating birds, Ms. Sanna leaves us with an image of safe nests and a sense of hope.

The Journey received starred reviews in Kirkus ReviewsPublishers Weekly, and the School Library Journal. The New York Times Book Review also highlighted The Journey in an article about explaining the refugee crisis to children. To that list, I’d also add Two White Rabbits, which also uses animals as a metaphor for the migrating narrator.

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 – Grumpy Pants

Today is Veteran’s Day in the US and Sunday is Remembrance Sunday in the UK and Commonwealth countries – both occasions to honor military veterans, to remember those who died serving their countries, and to reflect on peace and conflict. Rather than choose a book that highlights military service, war or peace, I’ve chosen a book that, I believe, will help kids express and overcome the negative feelings which, if left unchecked, spiral into negative action against themselves or others. Onto today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9780807530757_p0_v1_s118x184Title: Grumpy Pants

Written & Illustrated By: Claire Messer

Publisher/date: Albert Whitman & Company/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Grumpiness, coping, self-soothing, penguins, moods

Opening: “Penguin was in a bad mood. A very bad mood.”

Brief Synopsis: Penguin is in a bad mood, and he tries different solutions to overcome his negative feelings.

Links to Resources:

  • Think about what you do when you feel grumpy, sad, angry or anxious;
  • Draw faces that express feelings of grumpiness, sadness, angriness, nervousness;
  • Try coping skills, like a stress ball, blowing bubbles, etc.

Why I Like this Book: With few words combined with hand-printed illustrations, Grumpy Pants shows kids, and maybe a few adults, ways to calm down and feel better when they’re feeling grumpy. I think the simplicity of the illustrations will focus even the fussiest kid’s eyes on Penguin and the steps he takes to feel better. The words and simple illustrations are a perfect blueprint to feeling better or could act as a discussion prompt for ways children might help themselves feel better.

A Note about Craft: Like Jane Yolen and What to Do With a Box, author-illustrator Claire Messer does not name the Main Character: he simply is “penguin.” Because he has no name, I think kids will be able to better identify with him.

I mentioned above that I like this book because it acts as a blueprint. But blueprints are only helpful if they can be read. So what techniques does Ms. Messer use to enable young children to read her blueprint to beat the grumpies? First, she uses few words and very simple language and sentence structure. She even breaks a few rules, including in the first sentence (“Penguin was in a bad mood.”), telling, not showing and using a form of “to be.” She also repeats the term “grumpy” quite often, in a good way, leaving no doubt as to Penguin’s true feelings. Penguin addresses his readers midway through the book after a scene that’s sure to bring chuckles or at least a smile, “I’m still grumpy, you know”, thereby luring the readers further into the story. Finally, to accompany the sparse, very direct text, Ms. Messer utilizes simple linoleum prints, with a limited but bright color palette, set against a white background – Penguin could be anywhere, perhaps right in your home.

Grumpy Pants is Claire Messer’s debut picture book. It received starred reviews from Kirkus,  Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal, and was included in a review about moody picture books in the New York Times Book Review.

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 -What to Do With a Box

It’s November, time to:

  • Elect our next president and fill other state and federal offices;
  • Turn back the clocks;
  • Head indoors as outside temperatures fall;
  • Give thanks and share our blessings with others.

So why have I chosen to feature a picture book about a BOX?

  • Countless school & community groups are hosting food drives now –  filling cardboard boxes with meals for less-fortunate neighbors;
  • Boxes are a great indoor escape from cold, rainy fall weather, especially as the sun retreats earlier each afternoon; and
  • If you live in a contested state, or listen to, read or watch any news sources, you may by now just want to curl up in a box – or perhaps you may want to do so next Wednesday.

Without further ado, off to unpack today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9781568462899_p0_v2_s118x184Title: What to Do With a Box

Written By: Jane Yolen

Illustrated By: Chris Sheban

Publisher/date: Creative Editions/2016

Suitable for Ages: 6-8 (or younger)

Themes/Topics: rhyming picture book, cardboard boxes, imagination, creativity, adventure, recycling

Opening: “A box! A box is a strange device. You can open it once. You can open it twice.”

Brief Synopsis: A “how to” play with an empty cardboard box

Links to Resources:

  • Use your imagination to repurpose a cardboard box as a vehicle, costume or other  item
  • Think of other things you can recycle into toys or other items.

Why I Like this Book:

In fewer than 200 words, Jane Yolen opens the box on creativity, inviting children to imagine, explore, set off on adventures. The only characters in the book are two unnamed children, a boy and a girl, with a dog, and the suggestion is that “you” can participate in adventures, journeys and imaginative play with a box, too.

Chris Sheban’s soft illustrations mimic the colors of a cardboard box and complement Ms. Yolen’s text well. As one reviewer noted, the pair combine “soft words and soothing visuals”, providing “inspiration without instruction.”

A Note about Craft:

I immediately was struck by two things when I read What to Do With a Box: the quiet, lyrical language and the lack of character names. Concerning the latter, I think by leaving the characters nameless, Ms. Yolen makes it easier for young listeners to envision themselves in the story – something she encourages further by inviting “you” to join in on the action. This reminded me of the directives in A Child of Books, Oliver Jeffers/Sam Winston (Candlewick Press, 2016), in which the narrator, a nameless “child of books,” will journey with “you” to discover the joys of literature.

And while What to Do With a Box is an action story, all of the actions require thought and contemplation. This isn’t hurried, slapstick action. Rather, the children and you think about what to do with the box and, harnessing creativity, repurpose it in many imaginative ways.

Finally, no review of this book would be complete without a note about word choice. Ms. Yolen seemingly chooses her words not just to keep the rhythm and rhyme, but to draw the reader in, to paint a picture as one child “crayon[s] an egret” and the other sails not just anywhere, but “to Paris and back”. Such beautiful images!

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!