Monthly Archives: January 2017

PPBF – The Three Lucys

I first learned of today’s Perfect Picture Book when I read a Lee & Low Books blog post last summer about tackling heavy themes in children’s stories. As this is a debut picture book by Lebanese-American author, editor and poet Hayan Charara and as it features an international setting and main character, I think it’s a Perfect Picture Book to help us celebrate the fourth annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day.

9781600609985_p0_v2_s192x300Title: The Three Lucys

Written By: Hayan Charara

Illustrated By: Sara Kahn

Publisher/date: Lee & Low Books/2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-9 or older

Themes/Topics: war, loss, cats, Lebanon, diversity

Opening:

On the hill behind our house in Lebanon, there is an olive tree. I like to sit in the shade of the tree with the three Lucys: Lucy the Fat, Lucy the Skinny, and Lucy Lucy.

Brief Synopsis: When war breaks out in Lebanon, a young Luli and his parents must remain at the home of relatives, even as Luli worries about the pet cats that are waiting at home. Upon Luli’s return home, at least two of the cats are found to be safe.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Lebanon;
  • Make & eat traditional Lebanese cookies;
  • Discussing war, hateful speech or actions, and tragedies with children is never easy; a few sites I found that may help include a Unicef site, Race to Peace, a site that includes links to many peace-promoting organizations, and a Parent Resource on the Fred Rogers Organization site.

Why I Like this Book:

The Three Lucys begins and ends with a description of domestic life and pet ownership that I think will captivate any child. I loved the glimpse into Luli’s life and the reminder that even in regions which many of us consider “war torn,” there is beauty. Luli “learned to catch fish” in the sea to the west; Beirut is “full of taxicabs, buses, and honking cars…falafel sandwiches and freshly squeezed fruit drinks.” And like kids anywhere, Luli loves his pet cats and takes good care of them.

When fighting erupts, Charara shows readers the war through Luli’s perspective. We learn that the school is badly damaged, but that a tree in the schoolyard remains. We also learn that Luli’s heart “feels as heavy as an apple falling from a tree,” an image that shows Luli’s grief so vividly.

The images of Sara Kahn, a cat-loving Iranian-American, capture the bond between Luli and the Lucys, the terror felt by the family as bombs fill the sky, and the destruction left in their wake.

A Note about Craft:

Presumably because of the difficult subject matter, the older target audience and the relative unfamiliarity of many American readers with this region and subject matter, at 1854 words, the word count of The Three Lucys is notably longer than the average picture book. I think books of this nature generally are longer, as more background is necessary to place the events and emotional journey into context.

War and loss are never easy subjects, especially in picture books. To soften the blow, while maintaining the messaging, I think Mr. Charara’s choice of loss is insightful. As a pet owner & lover, I understand that the loss of a pet is never easy, but unlike a person, the cat could have wandered or been frightened away – Lucy disappears but Charara never states that she dies. This leaves open the possibility that Lucy could be living happily elsewhere, which generally couldn’t be true if Lucy were a person. I think this glimmer of hope is important. Additionally, including three Lucys with two survivors enables Charara to circle back to the beginning, even as Luli remembers Lucy and grieves for her.

Finally, The Three Lucys is written in the first person, bringing immediacy to the story but also letting Luli show us that he is surviving, even as he grieves for Lucy.

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 Riddlemaster

I first saw and read today’s Perfect Picture Book at my local library over a month ago. I confess to finding it puzzling at first (pardon the pun!), but found myself returning to it again and again. I decided to feature it today, Inauguration Day in the US, as changes in administration are often puzzling. Without further ado (or political commentary), I present today’s Perfect Picture Book:

new-cover_-riddlemaster-508x600Title: The Riddlemaster

Written By: Kevin Crossley-Holland

Illustrated By: Stéphane Jorisch

Publisher/date: Tradewind Books/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes/Topics: reading, riddles, journey, island

Opening:

Anouk and Ben and Cara stood on the scribbly tideline and watched waves breaking into blues.

“Blue of blue,” said Anouk.

“Every blue there is,” Ben said.

“Even the ones without names,” added Anouk.

Side by side they stood and stared across the bouncy sea at the little island.

Brief Synopsis: Three children spy a golden island across the sea. An older man offers them passage on a boat filled with animals, but only if they correctly answer seven riddles.

Links to Resources:

  • Solve riddles
  • Plan a journey on a boat filled with your favorite storybook animals. Who would you invite? Why?

Why I Like this Book:

Reading The Riddlemaster is like reading a long-lost fairytale, complete with a mysterious man who offers to help three young heroes embark on a journey of discovery. As in the classic fairytales, nothing is free: the children must complete a task, in this case correctly answering seven riddles, to obtain the treasure at their destination. That the treasure involves books and reading is a particularly satisfying outcome. The author, Kevin Crossley-Holland, is a well-known author and chronicler of myths and legends, mostly written for middle grade readers and up. Jorisch’s illustrations amplify the sense of being in a far-off land, and he includes multiethnic/multi-racial children. Kids will particularly enjoy trying to identify the animal “characters” who journey on the boat.

A Note about Craft:

The first things that struck me about The Riddlemaster were its title and the cover – with the Master himself in the fore and the three children clearly looking at him. This seemingly breaks a picture book rule, that the children should be the main characters. But, despite the emphasis initially being on the Master, I think the children move the story forward: by desiring to visit the island, by agreeing to the offer, and, most importantly, by answering the riddles. Despite the title, The Riddlemaster is, indeed, a heroes’ journey.

After several readings, I’d also argue that The Riddlemaster is a wonderful example of adding in enough creepiness (I’m not sure I’d join the Master in his boat!) but not too much (the animals lick lips and bare teeth, but they never harm the children nor is it ever stated explicitly that they would do so). That Jorisch illustrates in a Tim Burtonesque style adds to the creepy/not-too-scary feel of this unique picture book.

The Riddlemaster received starred reviews in School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews.

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 – Little Penguins

As snow has fallen across most of the northeastern US these past few weeks, I recall fondly the wonder and excitement of my children as the first flakes blanketed the grass, bare tree branches, sidewalks and streets. They begged to go play, and we spent many hours romping, sledding and sometimes even shoveling. Today’s Perfect Picture Book evokes this time of happy play for me. Enjoy the snow!

9780553507713_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Little Penguins

Written By: Cynthia Rylant

Illustrated By: Christian Robinson

Publisher/date: Schwartz & Wade Books (Random House Children’s Books)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: penguins, winter, snow, colors, matching

Opening: “Snowflakes? Many snowflakes. Winter is coming!”

Brief Synopsis: A family of penguins bundles up to enjoy playing in freshly-fallen snow.

Links to Resources:

  • Coordinate the colors of your outfit
  • Make post-snow play treats including homemade hot cocoa and warm cookies.

Why I Like this Book: This is a simple story of snowy day fun in the vein of Jack Ezra Keat’s The Snowy Day (Viking, 1963). Kids will enjoy following along as five young penguins dress in color-coordinated socks, boots, mittens and scarves and head outside to experience the deep, deeper, very deep snow. Robinson’s mix of collage and block printing puts the emphasis just where it should be – on the adorable penguins. I especially loved an all-white scene with four of the penguins and their footprints accompanied with the important question, “Where’s Mama?”.

A Note about Craft:

Little Penguins is a wonderful mentor text to explore how to leave space for the illustrator. In under 70 words, and with no attributed dialogue, Rylant invites readers to enjoy the first snowfall of winter. While her words tell a story, it is far from complete without the many layers which Robinson adds. Rylant mentions only one color, red, and mentions merely that the mittens and scarves match. Robinson adds the rest of the color story, and he even may have chosen the number of penguins to feature. He also adds a side-story about one penguin staying with Mama while the others are outside playing. Such a small detail opens a wealth of discussion possibilities: why did one penguin not follow his or her siblings? Have you ever stayed behind while others played?

To read more stories about Penguins, see Grumpy Pants (Claire Messer, Albert Whitman & Company, 2016), reviewed here last November and more recently by Picture Book Builders, which also highlighted Penguin Problems (Jory John/Lane Smith, Random House, 2016).  Nerdy Book Club also reviewed Penguin Problems.

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 – Gary

Happy New Year! And welcome to another year of Perfect Picture Book Friday – my second year as a participating blogger.

Thanks to an anti-resolution revolution post from Julie Hedlund, I spent the waning hours of 2016 focused not just on goals for 2017, but on all that I accomplished in 2016. I realized that I not only read over 400 picture books last year, but reviewed over 50 of them.

As regular readers know, I have a penchant for reviewing books by English author/illustrators, those featuring difficult topics and/or highlighting diverse characters, and books that generally are considered quiet. Today’s Perfect Picture Book hits all three categories (although the author/illustrator now resides in Australia). Enjoy! And cheers to a new year of reading, writing and reviewing picture books! Thanks for following along!

9780763689544_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Gary

Written & Illustrated By: Leila Rudge

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press/2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: adventure, travel, dreams, overcoming fear, overcoming physical limitations, perseverance, being different

Opening:

Most of the time, Gary was just like the other racing pigeons.

He ate the same seeds. Slept in the same loft. And dreamed of adventure.

Brief Synopsis: When a racing pigeon who can’t fly suddenly finds himself lost in the city, he relies on other skills to find a way back home.

Links to Resources:

  • Create a map of your room, house, or route to/from school, friend’s or relative’s house, or even a picture book;
  • Many forms of transportation are shown in Gary. Find and list these ways to travel. How many have you used?
  • Create a scrapbook of mementos from a favorite journey, memorializing a favorite event, or about a hobby or sport you love.
  • Find out more about racing pigeons (who knew there’s a Royal Pigeon Racing Association in the UK?).

Why I Like this Book:

Simple title, simple story, simple message: it’s ok to be different. Keep dreaming, as you will find a way to realize your dreams. What better message than that as we start the new year?

The text is straightforward and the illustrations, a mixture of colored pencil, paint and collage, capture Gary’s love of scrapbooking journeys and showcase many aspects of the journey he ultimately enjoys.

A Note about Craft:

When I think about what makes a first line great, I think Ms. Rudge has hit the mark with the first line of Gary. “Most of the time” – so sometimes something is different; “Gary was just like the other racing pigeons.” How is he just like them? How is he different? And what, exactly, are racing pigeons? I want to know more!

Interestingly, the text doesn’t start until page two (with some awesome illustrations on the endpapers, too). We learn then that Gary is sometimes different from the other racing pigeons and that he, and they, dream of “adventure”. It isn’t until page three that we learn that Gary stays at home on race days, and we wait another page to learn why. Combined with illustrations showing Gary busily compiling a travel scrapbook, Rudge’s text spurred me to read on. What a great lesson in perfect openings!

As noted above, Gary is a story of being different and overcoming limitations to realize dreams.  Rather than choosing a human child as main character, perhaps sidelined on a playing field, foot in cast or sitting in a wheelchair, Rudge chooses a species with a sport about which most of us know nothing. I can envision this giving rise to some interesting conversations about differences, dreams, and overcoming limitations. Brilliant!

Finally, Rudge ends Gary by circling back to repeat the first lines, with a twist. Classic picture book ending!

Find out more about Leila Rudge. Read the starred Kirkus Review here.

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!