Monthly Archives: February 2017

PPBF – Migrant

I discovered today’s Perfect Picture Book on a #BooksForBetter list of 20 Books about Refugee and Immigrant Experiences. Read others on the list, and join me for today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9780888999757_p0_v1_s118x184Title: Migrant

Written By: Maxine Trottier

Illustrated By: Isabelle Arsenault

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2011

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes/Topics: Mennonites, Canada, Mexico, farming, migrant

Opening:

            There are times when Anna feels like a bird. It is the birds, after all, that fly north in the spring and south every fall, chasing the sun, following the warmth.

            Her family is a flock of geese eating its way there and back again.

Brief Synopsis: Migrant is the story of Anna and her family, Mennonite farmers, who journey each summer to Canada to supplement their income by harvesting produce.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Mennonites (note: this is a resource targeted to adults, not children);
  • Explore animal migration; a great place to start is by reading Circle, reviewed here last year, and including several migration-related activities
  • Do you know where the fruits and vegetables you enjoy come from, who plants and harvests them? Learn about food and farming, including some fun activities and games.

Why I Like this Book:

Migrant sheds light on a phenomenon about which many people, including adults, know little about: agricultural migration. Although I was aware of the migration to places like upstate New York from Mexico and Central America, I had no idea that a community of Plattdeutsch (low German)-speaking Mennonites resides in Mexico nor that some, like the fictional Anna and her family, hold Canadian citizenship as well. With its many references to animals that migrate or that live in “borrowed” homes, Migrant helps even young children empathize with Anna, who must leave her home in Mexico to accompany her family to Canada where they harvest produce. Particularly poignant, Trottier describes the “ghosts of last year’s harvest” inhabiting the rental home, shopping for groceries at the “cheap store” where people often stare and Anna understands only a few of the words spoken. This is a wonderful introduction to the topic of migration and helping children, and their adults, understand that we rely on migrants like Anna and her family to harvest the foods we eat.

Arsenault integrates the homespun patterns from Mennonite clothing into the illustrations. Migrating geese wear the hats and kerchiefs worn by Mennonites, too, and the homespun artwork even reaches the fields – a patchwork of quilting squares.

An Author’s Note explains the history of the Mennonite communities of Mexico and Canada and describes farm migrant working conditions.

A Note about Craft:

Trottier utilizes many similes in Migrant, even setting the first scene as a comparison when “Anna feels like a bird” (emphasis added). Her family is a “flock of geese” and through the book, Anna feels, in turn, like a jack rabbit, that lives in abandoned burrows, a bee, a kitten sharing a bed with her sisters as her puppy-like brothers fight over a blanket “that barely covers them all”. Most notably, Anna dreams of being a tree “with roots sunk deeply into the earth”, staying in one place, unlike Anna and her family who “like a monarch, like a robin, like a feather in the wind” join the geese and migrate south in the fall. These similes, I believe, will help even the youngest listeners empathize with Anna and subliminally tie the plight of migrants to the natural world they inhabit.

Migrant is the Winner of the 2012 Notable Books for a Global Society Book Award 2012; Winner of the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator’s Award Honour Book 2012; Short-listed for the Governor General’s Award: Illustration 2011; Selected for the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2011; Selected for the ALA Notable Children’s Books List 2012; Selected for the 2012 USBBY Outstanding International Book 2012; Short-listed for the 6th Annual Read Boston Best Read Aloud Book Award. 2012; Short-listed for the Ruth and Syliva Schwartz Children’s Picture Book Award 2012

For another book about migrants, see Two White Rabbits, reviewed here last year. Since this review was posted, Groundwood Books has published an Educator’s Guide.

9780763679668_p0_v1_s192x3009781554987412_p0_v1_s192x300

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 – Welcome

As the days lengthen and snows begin to melt, and as we learn of yet another ice chunk breaking off from an ice shelf in Antarctica, a book about polar bears marooned on an iceberg seems to be a timely Perfect Picture Book:

9781499804447_p0_v10_s192x300Title: Welcome

Written & Illustrated By: Barroux

Publisher/date: Little Bee Books (Simon & Schuster)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-6 (4-8, per publisher)

Themes/Topics: refugees, sharing, global warming, polar bears, modern fable

Opening:

I am a polar bear.

That’s me with my feet in the water near my friends.

Life is quiet and peaceful on the ice,

But wait a minute—

            what’s that noise?

Brief Synopsis: When an iceberg breaks off and a group of polar bears drifts out to sea, the group searches for a new home but are turned away by the animals that already inhabit those islands.

Links to Resources:

  • Explore polar bear activities, including Polar Bear  Hot Cocoa and Cupcakes (great to share while reading together!);
  • Make and study your own iceberg;
  • Be a Climate Kid and learn about global warming

Why I Like this Book:

This is a simple fable about some not-so-simple problems: global warming and its effect on species like polar bears, and the refugee situation. Although one reviewer questioned the over-simplification of these issues (Refugees forced to find a new home—sadly, an always timely subject—deserve better storytelling than this. Kirkus Reviews), I’d argue that it’s exactly the over-simplification that will help adults discuss these difficult subjects with younger children. As pointed out in a  New York Times review, Welcome is also appropriate for children starting a new school or facing some other new situation.

An illustrator and cartoonist, Barroux‘s bright, bold illustrations bring the sparse text to life. His large, leafy plants reminded me of Matisse’s work, lending an exotic air to the story.

A Note about Craft:

Barroux utilizes a very conversational tone in his first-person account of the bears’ search for a new home. I think first person is a wonderful way to lure the reader to empathize with these bears.

Like all good stories, we start with the “normal,” in this case sitting with our feet in the water, enjoying the day with our friends, and then the change occurs – But wait a minute—what’s that noise? Turning the page, we learn that the noise is a giant CRACK, splayed across a two-page spread, as three of four bears float away on the iceberg. Separating the friend group also is an effective technique to highlight refugees’ plights, as something, in this case someone, is always left behind.

Finally, Barroux presents several reasons for not welcoming the Bears: their fur and height, being “too bear-ish”, being “too many”, and it’s “too much trouble” to even see that they’re asking to land. Each of these reasons presents a discussion opportunity about issues of difference, attitude and what’s the right thing to do when someone needs our help.

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!

Phyllis’ Valentine’s Day Mystery

♥ Happy Valentine’s Day ♥

Today is a special day, a special opportunity to spread a little love AND share my entry to Susanna Hill’s Second Annual Pretty-Much World-Famous VALENTINY Contest. Valen-tiny because the stories are not very long and are written for little people 🙂

valentinywriting-contest2017

The Rules? Straight from Susanna…

The Contest:  since writing for children is all about “big emotion for little people” (I forget who said that, but someone did so I put it in quotes!) and Valentines Day is all about emotion, write a Valentines story appropriate for children (children here defined as ages 12 and under) maximum 214 words in which someone is confused!  

The Other Entries: Read more entries at Susanna’s site to get into the holiday spirit.

Without further ado, my 213-word entry…

Phyllis’ Valentine’s Day Mystery

Phyllis leapt from her cozy cot, her sleepy shadow trailing behind.  Rose-colored hearts laced with pin pricks littered the dirt below. A gooey stream of strawberry cream oozed from a broken chocolate heart above. Crimson balloon bits festooned snow-covered pines outside the den door.

“What creature made this mess? These dreadful deeds must be addressed. But who will solve this mystery? And how?”

“Whoo! Whoo!”

“Who indeed? I know! He’s hidden somewhere in this snow.”

Phyllis searched high and low for Oscar Owl. He’s so wise, she thought. He’s Forest President so he’ll surely solve this problem.

Oscar surveyed the scene and said,

“My dear, you have an enemy, but I believe I have the remedy. Roll out the Armadillos! Buzz the bees! Summon Sword Fish! Then there’s one more thing I wish: A wall, a HUGE WALL. A wall will bring Safety for ALL.”

Soon a tall timber wall was erected. Snug inside, Phyllis now was secure. But those outside? They felt rejected. Dejected, they watched, waiting for their chance to slip inside. At the back of this pack crouched Harry Hedgehog – sniffling, snuffling, quills quivering. In his tiny paws, he clutched a pin-pricked, strawberry cream-stained sign:

============================

PLEASE LET ME IN,

I LOVE YOU, PHYLLIS

♥♥♥ ♥♥♥

WILL YOU BE MY VALENTINE?

============================

 

PPBF – Deep in the Sahara

My local library is displaying books about Islam in the wake of the recent immigration ban. I found today’s featured book there. It also appears on a helpful list of children’s books, Refugees Welcome Here, published recently by Horn Book.

Without further ado, today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9780375870347_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Deep in the Sahara

Written By: Kelly Cunnane

Illustrated By: Hoda Hadadi

Publisher/date: Schwartz & Wade Books (Random House)/2013

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Islam; clothing; Mauritania; family; growing up; Sahara

Opening:

Deep in the Sahara, sky yellow with heat,

rippled dunes slide and scorpions scuttle.

In a pale pink house the shape of a tall cake,

you watch Mama’s malafa

flutter as she prays.

More than all the stars in a desert sky,

You want a malafa so you can be beautiful too.

Brief Synopsis: A young Muslim girl dreams of wearing the malafa garment worn by the women in her Mauritanian village.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Deep in the Sahara is a lovely, non-didactic introduction to Islamic practices in a part of the world Americans typically know little about. It also helps answer the question of why women wear clothing that partially or totally covers their hair and/or faces. I appreciate the desire of young Lalla to emulate the women she admires in her village, and I think Ms. Cunnane does a wonderful job explaining this. Written in lovely, poetic language, Deep in the Sahara provides a glimpse into village life as well. A glossary of the Hassaniya words (an oral dialect of Arabic) that are sprinkled through the text is included.

Hadadi’s bright, collaged images upend the stereotype of dark, drab Islamic female dress, and showcase each woman’s individuality. As noted in several reviews, Deep in the Sahara is an important introduction to Islamic practices for young children, that highlights the regional differences in the Muslim world.

A Note about Craft:

Ms. Cunnane wrote Deep in the Sahara after she lived and taught in Mauritania. She refers to the main character, Lalla, in the second person, thus helping young readers empathize with Lalla’s quest to don the malafa. By doing so, I think she also broadens the appeal of this book to include children in Mauritania and perhaps other Muslim countries.

The issue of who can tell a person’s story rages within the Kidlit world. Kelly Cunnane is a caucasian American, writing about a practice and region to which she is an outsider. To her credit, she includes an author’s note about her preconceptions about covering, ie, wearing a veil or other head/face-covering item of clothing and how her perceptions changed after living in Mauritania. She also thanks many native Mauritanians for sharing “wonderful stories” and explaining their religion.

The editors at Schwartz & Wade Books chose Hoda Hadadi, an Iranian illustrator who resides in Tehran, to illustrate Deep in the Sahara. While also an outsider to Mauritania, according to the short bio on the book jacket, Ms. Hadadi has worn a head scarf since childhood, and so, presumably, understands Lalla’s desire to emulate her mother and other women.

Among other accolades, Deep in the Sahara received a Kirkus starred review and was a Kirkus Best Children’s Book of 2013.

See an interesting review on a site that only reviews children’s books about Africa (a good site to keep bookmarked!).

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 Princess and the Warrior

Last Friday was the fourth annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day, and many bloggers reviewed diverse books that day. I chose to review The Three Lucys, set in Lebanon during a period of conflict.

Last Friday, as most of the world already knows, also was the day the current US President signed an executive order temporarily banning travel to the US for anyone born in, or a citizen of, seven predominantly Muslim countries, indefinitely barring Syrians from travel to the US, and halting the refugee resettlement program for the next four months, including for those already approved for resettlement and even for those in transit. Earlier that week, he reiterated his infamous campaign pledge to build a Wall along the Mexican border.

While authors and illustrators from these regions may be barred or discouraged from travel to the US, I believe their voices and the stories they tell must be shared with children here. To that end, my reviews will focus on picture books written and illustrated by those from the regions affected by current US government directives, books about the refugee and immigrant experience generally, and stories from these cultures. Folks who have read my reviews this past year know that many of the books I’ve reviewed meet these criteria already. I’ll be doubling down, though, to locate and review even more of them. I invite readers to share their favorite picture books in these categories in the comments. After all, isn’t any picture book that introduces us to different cultures, that sheds light on different experiences, or that opens our minds to the world a Perfect Picture Book?

9781419721304_p0_v1_s118x184Title: The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2016

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: origin myth, Aztecs, volcanoes, diversity, love story, native legends

Opening:

            Once upon a time, there lived a kind and beautiful princess named Izta. Even though she was the daughter of an emperor, she loved to spend time with the people who grew corn in the milpas. She liked to teach them poetry, or flor y canto.

Brief Synopsis:

The Princess and the Warrior is a love story about a poetry-loving princess and a warrior, and a retelling of an Aztec origin myth that explains the appearance of two volcanoes in central Mexico.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover more about the Aztecs, and other indigenous peoples of Mexico and central America,
  • Learn more about volcanoes and make a model volcano,
  • Iztaccíhuatl means white woman in the Nahuatl language, the language spoken by the Aztecs, and is often called la Mujer Dormida, the “Sleeping Woman” because its peak resemble a woman lying under a blanket of snow (see the Author Note). Draw the outline of a many-peaked mountain: what do you see? Could it be a face, a human or animal form, or something else?

Why I Like this Book:

I love origin myths, and I love discovering folk tales from other countries. Tonatiuh includes a strong female princess, who shares poetry with farm workers and rejects suiters who try to woo her with material gifts and a posh lifestyle, and a loyal warrior, who loves Princess Izta because of her “kind and beautiful heart” and who pledges to “stay by… [her] side no matter what”. By doing so, he elevates this myth from a story from the past to one that includes important role models for children today.

Drawing on images in the Mixtec Codices, Tonatiuh’s hand-drawn, digitally-collaged artwork set against earth-toned backgrounds invites readers to imagine the Aztec world at the heart of this love story.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author Note, Tonatiuh indicates that he added his own twists to the original myth. I can pick out hints of Beauty and the Beast, with Izta’s love of poetry, Sleeping Beauty, as Izta falls asleep after drinking a poisoned potion, and Romeo and Juliet.

The inclusion of Nahuatl words and phrases adds to the authentic feel of the story. Thankfully, Tonatiuh includes a Glossary with meanings, and importantly for this non-Spanish/non-Nahuatl speaker, a pronunciation guide!

The Warrior and the Princess is a 2017 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book, was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of 2016, and received many starred reviews. Discover Tonatiuh’s many other books on his website.

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!