Monthly Archives: December 2016

PPBF – The Friend Ship

The sun and the moon aligned recently, and I enjoyed the distinct pleasure of being in lower Manhattan and able to attend the book launch of today’s Perfect Picture Book. And as we’re still in the holiday season, and there are at least two holiday connections, I just had to share it with you today:

9781484707265_p0_v3_s192x300Title: The Friend Ship

Written By: Kat Yeh

Illustrated By: Chuck Groenink

Publisher/date: Disney Hyperion (Disney Book Group)/December 2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes/Topics: friendship; journey; hedgehogs; loneliness

Opening:

Hedgehog was curled up in a prickly little ball in the lonely little nook of a lonely little tree when she heard someone say her name.

“Poor Hedgehog seems so lonely!”

“I know, but it will get better. Friendship is out there – all she has to do is look.”

Brief Synopsis: A lonely hedgehog sets sail to find the friend ship. She meets animals on her journey who join in her search, until they all discover what friendship really is.

Links to Resources:

  • Plan a journey: What would you bring along? Who would you invite to share your journey?
  • Friendship or Friend Ship? Homemade or Home Made? Sometimes when two words are put together they acquire a meaning distinct from the two words used separately. Can you think of others?

Why I Like this Book: This is a simple tale of misunderstanding. Hedgehog thinks that friendship is a thing – a ship full of friends. So like anyone seeking something, she sets out to find it. She sets sail and along the way meets others who also seek friends. In classic style, Hedgehog finds what she’s seeking – friends, even though she never realizes she’s mistaken about the meaning of friendship.

Warm, sunny illustrations complement this sweet story – and Groenink even added a few surprises to add to the fun.

A Note about Craft:

Friendship is an evergreen topic (holiday connection #1), but how do you make it fresh? In Kat’s case, she cleverly looked at the word, broke it apart, added a misunderstanding, and voila! The MC is off on a quest to find the Friend Ship. Brilliant!

I also think her choice of MC is ingenious. Hedgehogs are prickly, but not as prickly as porcupines. They can curl up into a ball, like a shy or lonely child. What a perfect choice to lead a journey to find friends. And what’s the holiday connection, you ask? When our son was young and we were living in England, he desperately wanted a hedgehog. While we never agreed to his request, we did get him a hedgehog ornament to hang on the Christmas tree. To this day, I cannot see a hedgehog without thinking of the holidays!

If you enjoyed The Friend Ship, you may also enjoy Salina Yoon’s Be a Friend (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2016).

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 – Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem

Happy holidays – whichever one(s) you celebrate! I can think of no better words and sentiment to usher in Christmas than today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9780375943270_p0_v1_s662x600Title: Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem

Written By: Maya Angelou

Illustrated By: Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher

Publisher/date: Schwartz & Wade Books (Random House Children’s Books)/2008 (poem originally written in 2005)

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes/Topics: Poetry, Christmas, Peace

Opening:

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes

And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.

Floodwaters await in our avenues.

 

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche

Over unprotected villages.

The sky slips low and gray and threatening.

Brief Synopsis: Read by Ms. Angelou at the lighting of the national Christmas tree in 2005, this poem is a celebration of the “Glad Season” and a prayer for peace for peoples of all faiths.

Links to Resources:

  • Candles figure prominently in the celebration of Christmas, as they do in the illustrations of this poem. Light candles and share your hopes and dreams for the holiday season and the world.
  • Learn about other holidays celebrated around the world during December.

Why I Like this Book:

It’s a poem by Maya Angelou – need I write more? And while it’s a Christmas poem, the real theme is Peace – something desired by “Believers and Nonbelievers”, peoples of all faiths, as Ms. Angelou states. And what is this “Peace” of which she writes?

Louder than the explosion of bombs…

            Not just the absence of war. But true Peace.

            A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies

            Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

Illustrated in a folksy style that includes both animals and people in snowy landscapes moving to congregate for a community gathering, Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem is a wonderful poem to read aloud as a family and reflect on how we can promote peace in our family, our community, our world and with nature. Or better yet, listen to the accompanying CD of Maya Angelou reading the poem while savoring Johnson & Fancher’s illustrations.

A Note about Craft:

This picture book was a stand-alone poem before being illustrated. As the creator of a stand-alone poem, Ms. Angelou was tasked with creating visual images for her listeners. And yet the poem begins with a sound, “Thunder rumbles.” This is a wonderful reminder to consider all of our readers’ & listeners’ senses, and not just sight. Perhaps, too, Ms. Angela is specifically calling us to listen carefully to what follows. By including sounds and senses other than sight in our first lines, perhaps we, too, can prime our readers to consider the entire experience evoked by our words and 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!

PPBF – Gingerbread Christmas

If you asked anyone in my household the name of an author/illustrator who publishes Christmas stories, I’ve no doubt that any of them would immediately answer, “Jan Brett.” We had a small copy of her illustrated Twelve Days of Christmas (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1986) when my children were young. It was a holiday tradition to read the book each year, and I vividly recall the kids pointing out favorite details in the elaborate sidebars. Since then, we’ve read, and savored, so many of her other holiday classics. When I discovered her latest holiday story at the library, I knew I had to feature it as a Perfect Picture Book:

9780399170713_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Gingerbread Christmas

Written & Illustrated By: Jan Brett

Publisher/date: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Young Readers Group)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes/Topics: Christmas, gingerbread, music, festivals

Opening: “Everyone in the village is talking about the Christmas Festival,” Matti told the Gingerbread Baby. “I can sing in my Gingerbread Band!” the Gingerbread Baby sang out.”

Brief Synopsis: Matti creates a Gingerbread Band to accompany the Gingerbread Baby. But when a hungry child decides that the music is not just sweet but would be tasty, too, both Matti and the Baby must use their wits to save the Band and the Baby.

Links to Resources:

  • Bake and decorate gingerbread. Find Jan Brett’s recipe here.
  • Make a gingerbread house. Jan Brett has an interactive Gingerbaby House design that can be decorated and printed on her website.
  • You also can color a Gingerbaby page.
  • Sing favorite holiday songs.

Why I Like this Book: This is a feel-good story for the holidays. I love Matti’s resourcefulness, and I especially love the sense of community as villagers and wild animals dance to the Band’s tunes. When one greedy youngster decides to eat the band, readers will learn how quickly greediness can spoil a treat that was being enjoyed by all.

I love, too, Jan’s folksy illustrations, especially the side frames, that are as integral to this new Christmas tale as they are to Jan Brett’s many other books.

A Note about Craft:

What better combination than sweet gingerbread and sweet music! The band plays a march as, you guessed it, they march to the bandstand. They next play a “snappy” tune – as snappy as the gingerbread my mother baked. Their playing is described as “sweet” – a perfect adverb to describe music fit for the holidays. I love how these descriptors could as easily be descriptions of cookies on a platter as music played on a stage.

The turning point arrives when one greedy, or perhaps just observant and hungry, young girl calls a cookie a cookie and declares that she wants one. Immediately, “everyone” wants a “piece of gingerbread for myself.” Adults will recognize how one person’s vocalization is enough to put an idea into the heads of “everyone.” This could lead to some interesting discussions about thinking for oneself; being a leader rather than a follower; and even, perhaps, sticking up for the poor gingerbread instruments that had been trying so hard to entertain the crowd.

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!

The Twelve Days of Happy Holidays

Drumroll please:

Come they told me
Pa rum pum pum pum

New holiday stories to read
Pa rum pum pum pum

Our finest stories we write
Pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the judges
   

Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum…

The 6th Annual Holiday Contest!!!!!

Thanks to Susanna Hill, we have the chance to enter a contest AND read all of the other entries posted at the link. Now that’s what I call a holiday treat! 

The Contest:  Write a children’s holiday story (children here defined as approximately age 12 and under) using the basic format/concept of The Twelve Days Of Christmas!  Your story may be poetry or prose, silly or serious or sweet, religious or not, based on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate, but is not to exceed 300 words.

So many possibilities! So many winter holidays! How could I choose just one? So I didn’t! Thankfully, a daughter has studied world religions and worked at the Pluralism Project, whose mission is “to help Americans engage with the realities of religious diversity through research, outreach, and the active dissemination of resources.”

I then did some further research, including the pages of the United Religions Initiative for Kids. Please note that in a few cases, I’ve highlighted holidays that are celebrated at other times of the year, either to include a particular religion or to highlight a religion’s primary or better-known holiday. Without further ado, I present:

Twelve Days of Happy Holidays

On the first day of Christmas,

My Father shared with me:

A Savior’s bless’d nativity.

🌟

On the second day of Pancha Ganapati,

Lord Ganesha gave to me:

Two spicy Vadai,

And a Savior’s bless’d nativity.

🐘🐘

On the third day of Eid,

An Imam shared with me:

Three juicy dates,

Two spicy Vadai,

And a Savior’s bless’d nativity.

☪️☪️☪️

On the fourth day of Vesak,

A Buddhist monk revealed to me:

Four noble truths,

~~~

And a Savior’s bless’d nativity.

🎆🎆🎆🎆

On the fifth day of Soyaluna,

The People of the Pueblo showed to me:

Five Turquoise Rings;

~~~

And a Savior’s bless’d nativity.

🌄🌄🌄🌄🌄

On the sixth day of Diwali,

The Swami showed to me:

Six candles flickering,

Five Turquoise Rings;

~~~

And a Savior’s bless’d nativity.

🕯🕯🕯🕯🕯🕯

On the seventh day of Kwanzaa,

My parents gave to me:

Seven heartfelt Zawadi,

~~~

And a Savior’s bless’d nativity.

🎁🎁🎁🎁🎁🎁🎁

On the eighth day of Hanukkah,

The Rabbi shared with me:

Eight oil lamps glowing,

~~~

And a Savior’s bless’d nativity.

🕎

On the ninth day of the lunar new year,

My Teacher read to me:

Nine Confucian texts,

~~~

And a Savior’s bless’d nativity.

📖📖📖📖📖📖📖📖📖

On the tenth day of Maghi,

My Guru sang to me:

Ten sacred Kirtans,

~~~

And a Savior’s bless’d nativity.

🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶

On the eleventh day of the Winter Solstice,

A Wiccan presented to me:

Eleven Yule logs blazing,

Ten sacred Kirtans,

Nine Confucian texts,

Eight oil lamps glowing,

Seven heartfelt Zawadi,

Six candles flickering,

Five Turquoise Rings;

Four noble truths,

Three juicy dates,

Two spicy Vadai,

And a Savior’s bless’d nativity.

🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥

On the twelfth day of the bleak midwinter,

Our Creators asked of me:

Pray for peace and religious harmony.

☮️

🌟🐘☪️🎆🌄🕯🎁🕎📖🎶🔥

Learn more about the faiths represented and the holidays featured:

 

.

 

PPBF – The Christmas Boot

It’s that time of year again! Yep, time to visit that local bookstore and pretend to search for a gift for “that special someone” while really checking out the new holiday picture books. For the next few weeks, I’ll be featuring holiday titles, because they are, truly, Perfect Picture Books:

9780803741348_p0_v2_s192x300Title: The Christmas Boot

Written By: Lisa Wheeler

Illustrated By: Jerry Pinkney

Publisher/date: Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Group)/2016 (an earlier version of this book was published by Mitten Press/2006)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Christmas, Santa Claus, poverty, wishes, giving and receiving, loneliness, the elderly

Opening: “Deep in the forest on Christmas morning, Hannah Greyweather gathered bundles of kindling wood. For her, this day was no different from any other. As she went about her chores, she chatted to the forest, she talked to the mountains, but mostly she spoke to herself.”

Brief Synopsis: When a lonely, elderly woman finds a boot in the forest, she wishes for its mate and other things to ease her difficult life. But when the rightful owner of the boot appears, Hannah gratefully gives up her treasures and asks for only one thing that she truly desires.

Links to Resources:

The holidays are a season of joy. For the poor or lonely, though, they are difficult times, especially when accompanied by cold and snowy weather.

  • Make a holiday card or send a letter to an elderly or homebound person.
  • Bake and decorate boot and mitten-shaped cookies and share them.
  • Donate warm clothing or gently-used toys or books to those in need.

Think about what’s at the top of your Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa list. Why do you want it? Think about what’s really important to you and your family.

Why I Like this Book:

Tis the season of giving and receiving. The Christmas Boot asks the important question, what do you “truly desire”, ie, what is most important.  Hannah answers that what she truly wants is someone to talk to – not the large, fancy house, “fabulous foods” and “fluffy feather bed” that had appeared when she wished for them. Somehow, these “didn’t seem fully right”; they “didn’t seem to ‘fit’”. I love how Hannah rejects material comforts that aren’t true necessities and seeks, instead, companionship.

Mr. Pinkney’s gorgeous, homey, old-fashioned illustrations, the folktale feeling of the illustrations and text, and the inclusion of holiday magic make this a book that will become a holiday classic. The message of asking what’s most important and the focus on a poor, lonely, elderly woman make this a book that deserves to become a classic.

A Note about Craft:

The Christmas Boot is a modern folktale. But Ms. Wheeler doesn’t start this tale in classic “once upon a time” fashion. Instead, her opening paragraph jumps right in to Hannah Greyweather’s gritty life. It sets the scene and prepares us for what is to come: we immediately learn the who, what, where of the story and the central problem to be solved: the main character is lonely.

And who is the main character? Unlike many picture books, the main character here is an elderly woman. Hannah easily could have been a young “matchstick girl” or shepherd. Featuring an elderly, lonely woman brings another dimension to the story, focusing on the oft-forgotten elderly for whom a holiday may be a day “no different from any other.”

Finally, I love that Ms. Wheeler has chosen a character name that brings to mind other traditions: Hannah is a popular Jewish name, and Greyweather could easily be an American Indian name.

The Christmas Boot received starred reviews in Kirkus Reviews and Publisher’s Weekly. View the book trailer here. And for an interview with Ms. Wheeler, including the story behind this story and its republication, see Picture Book Builders.

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 Cow Who Climbed a Tree

Regular readers know that my tastes often run towards more serious subjects told in more realistic or allegorical ways. But sometimes I read an outrageously silly book that I can’t get out of my mind. And when the main character is a Cow on a day when I’m off to visit my daughter who simply adored cows as a child, how could I not feature this Perfect Picture Book:

9780807512982_p0_v2_s192x300Title: The Cow Who Climbed a Tree

Written & Illustrated By: Gemma Merino

Publisher/date: Albert Whitman & Company/2016 (UK: Macmillan Children’s Books/2015)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Cows, dreams, creative thinking, taking chances, being true to oneself

Opening: “Tina was a very curious cow. She had a thirst for discovery.”

Brief Synopsis: Tina the cow is an explorer, dreamer and science-lover, unlike her sisters who are happy to eat grass and live like cows. They don’t believe that Tina can climb a tree and has met a dragon until they learn otherwise.

Links to Resources:

  • Create a cow tree-climbing game by completing this sentence: If a cow can climb a tree, then I can…; share what you can do, by charade gestures, drawing or otherwise showing your dream.
  • Discuss what attributes enable some animals to climb trees; what keeps others from climbing them? What can cows do that other animals can’t do?
  • Discuss other impossible things and inventions, including famous scientists and inventors and famous female inventors.

Why I Like this Book: This is a silly book – everyone knows that cows can’t climb trees, right? Just like we know that cars can’t map routes, that people can’t walk on the moon or float in space for months, and that grandparents can’t read bedtime stories to kids on the other side of the world. Right?

Cows climbing trees may seem silly now, but who knows, someday it may happen. And even if not, I love the spunk Tina exhibits and her dreaming, risk taking, and plucky determination to push boundaries to achieve the impossible. I also love that this female-centric, dare-to-dream story is such a great conversation starter about following dreams and reaching for the impossible. And all packaged in a dream-like landscape of soft, watercolor trees and forest.

A Note about Craft:

We talk about kid-appeal and kid-centric writing quite a bit. I think Ms. Merino nailed it here: who but a kid would think up a story about a cow climbing a tree. Like our own kids who may have or had imaginary friends or a fear of a “bogey man”, this premise is entirely plausible…to a kid or someone with a kid’s perspective. Ms. Merino presents it in a very matter-of-fact way. By changing just a few words of the opening, it would read like a biography (e.g., Marie Curie was a very curious girl. She had a thirst for discovery.). The dreamy illustrations that accompany the matter-of-fact story elevate the story to one that will make kids and adults alike wonder whether this may be a dream of the future after all.

Gemma Merino won the 2016 London Evening Standard’s Oscars Book Prize for The Cow Who Climbed a Tree.

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!