Monthly Archives: April 2017

PPBF – Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale

It’s the last Perfect Picture Book Friday of April. I considered sharing a picture book of Poetry or about Jazz music/musicians, as both are celebrated in April. But given that funding for the Wall has been in the news so much this week, I just couldn’t resist sharing today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9781419705830_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: Mexico, migrants, folk tale, journeys, coyotes, rabbits

Opening:

One spring the rains did not come and the crops could not grow. So Papá Rabbit, Señor Ram, and other animals from the rancho set out north to find work in the great carrot and lettuce fields. There they could earn money for their families.

Brief Synopsis:

When Pancho Rabbit’s father is delayed on his return from the north, Pancho sets out to find him, “helped” by a coyote who befriends and guides him, until the food runs out.

Links to Resources:

  • Duncan Tonatiuh wrote a fascinating post about Pancho Rabbit & the plight of undocumented migrants;
  • As is indicated in the Author’s Note, the term coyote has two meanings in Spanish: it is the name of an animal, and it is slang for someone who smuggles people across the Mexican-US border. Interestingly, it is the name of the same animal in English. Try to think of words that are the same, or similar, in Spanish and English. For some examples, check here;
  • A Glossary defines other Spanish terms used in the story;
  • Pancho Rabbit packs his father’s favorite meal as he sets out to find him. What would you pack for your father, mother, sibling or friend? Is it similar to the meal of mole, rice, beans, tortillas and aguamiel packed by Pancho? If not, how does it differ?

Why I Like this Book: Although Tonatiuh wrote and illustrated Pancho Rabbit several years ago, it is, sadly, still such a timely topic. Migration, and the need to migrate, are difficult subjects to understand for kids and adults alike, as Tonatiuh comments in the Author’s Note. To make it more accessible to children, he sets the story as a modern-day fable, combines scenes every child can relate to, including a Welcome Home party, complete with Papá’s favorite foods, special decorations and musicians, peoples the story with animal protagonists, and illustrates it in his distinctive, colorful style that draws on the Mixtec Codex. This is a multi-layered picture book, perfect for home & classroom reading and discussion.

A Note about Craft:

I mentioned above that Tonatiuh includes “kid-relatable” occurrences in the fable of Pancho Rabbit and peoples the story with animal protagonists to render a difficult topic more easily understood. But where did the story come from? What can aspiring picture book writers trying to write about difficult subjects learn from this text? Note that Pancho packs a meal, loads it into a back-pack, the modern-day equivalent of a basket, and sets off on a journey to deliver the food to Papá. Sound familiar? I am indebted to Gordon West’s insight about Pancho as Little Red that appeared in an interview with Tonatiuh in Kirkus Reviews.

Pancho Rabbit was honored as:

  • Pura Belpré Author and Illustrator Honor book 2014;
  • New York Public Library’s annual Children’s Books list: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2013;
  • Kirkus Best Books of 2013;
  • Best Multicultural Children’s Books 2013 (Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature);
  • Notable Children’s Books from ALSC 2014;
  • Notable Books for a Global Society Book Award 2014.

For a companion read about migrants that also includes rabbits, see Two White Rabbits.

9781554987412_p0_v1_s192x300

You also may enjoy Diego Rivera: His World and Ours, Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011), about the famous Mexican muralist. Diego’s work, sadly, was rejected for Rockefeller Center in the 1930s for political reasons (not a focus of Tonatiuh’s book; for information about the Rockefeller Center mural, see this 2014 NPR article).9780810997318_s2

 

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 – Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey

For Earth Day, I’m reviewing a picture book that combines natural, earth-derived artwork with the story of a Syrian refugee and her family. I believe a picture book that reminds us of our connections to the earth and with each other is truly a Perfect Picture Book:

9781459814905_p0_v3_s192x300Title: Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey

Written By: Margriet Ruurs

Artwork By: Nizar Ali Badr

Translated into Arabic By:  Falah Raheem

Publisher/date: Orca Books Publishers/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: Refugees, Syria, stone artwork

Opening:

“Rama, wake up!”

the rooster crowed

every morning when we still lived at home.

From my warm bed

I listened as Mama prepared breakfast—

bread, yogurt, juicy red tomatoes

from our garden.

Brief Synopsis: Inspired by the stone artwork of Nizar Ali Badr, Stepping Stones is a fictional story of Rama and her family who leave Syria during the current war, to seek safety and security in Europe.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about the history, culture, and geography of Syria (information is all pre-war);
  • Create art from natural objects like stones and sticks. For ideas, see Orca Books’ Gallery;
  • Orca Books Publishers provides a list of organizations that are aiding refugees. Join their efforts to make a difference.

Why I Like this Book:

War and families undertaking dangerous journeys to find freedom, security and peace are difficult topics for young children and even adults. Ruurs’ sensitive text focuses on the beauty of everyday aspects of Rama’s life before the war and gently recounts the mounting problems that cause the family to leave – loss of freedom to “sing our songs, to dance our dances, to pray the prayers of our choice”, lack of food, “the birds stopped singing” and others began to leave, first “a trickle, then a stream.” Ruur doesn’t conceal that leaving is difficult and mentions explicitly that Rama is frightened and cries; but she also reminds readers that Rama and her brother “still had Mama’s hugs”. Papa tells Rama that they’re “walking toward a bright new future.” Ruur ends this story with words and images of hope, freedom, welcome, smiles and sharing. Stepping Stones is published in English and Arabic.

Syrian artist Nizer Ali Badr’s stone artwork, as Ruur recounts in a Foreword, displays “strong emotion,” helping readers connect with Rama’s story, and the stories of the refugee children she represents.

A Note about Craft:

Writers and illustrators understand that inspiration can be found anywhere. In Ruurs’ case, as she recounts in the Foreword, the inspiration for Stepping Stones was a Facebook post featuring an image created in stone by Nizar Ali Badr. Thankfully, Ruurs persisted in learning more about Badr and his artwork, eventually reached him in his village in Syria, and contacted Orca Book Publishers about writing this story. The result is a book that reflects not just the experiences of Syrian refugees, but one that is a beautiful and timeless reminder of resilience in the face of war as love and caring prevail. In addition to sharing this story, both Ruur and Orca Book Publishers have donated proceeds from publication to help refugees. I think this is a wonderful example for writers everywhere of the power of the written word.

As writers, we often hear that non-human characters are better suited to stories involving difficult topics such as war or death. I think that by rendering the characters in stone art rather than illustrations, Ruurs and Badr achieve a similar result, without sacrificing emotional connection.

For another account of the refugee experience, see Francesca Sanna’s The Journey.

See Susanna Hill’s insightful review of Stepping Stones 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!

PPBF: When I Coloured in the World

Last month, I celebrated my birthday & my son visited secondary school friends in London during his spring break. What does this have to do with Perfect Picture Book Friday? In my quest to feature authors, illustrators, books, and/or stories about regions affected by immigration bans or from regions affected by conflict or other disasters, I pre-ordered books available in the UK but not for sale in the US. I then sent my son to pick them up. Best birthday gift ever! I’m happy to share one of these gifts today as a Perfect Picture Book:
9781910328071-150x150Title: When I Coloured in the World
Written By: Ahmadreza Ahmadi
Illustrated By: Ehsan Abdollahi
Translated By: Azita Razi (2015)
Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd/2017 (first published in Persian, Nazar Publisher/2010)
Suitable for Ages: 3 and up
Themes/Topics: imagination, diverse books, creating positive change, Iranian author, power of art
Opening:
My mum gave me a box of crayons for colouring, and an eraser to rub things out with. So guess what I did?
Desert
I rubbed out the word ‘desert.’
I wrote the word ‘roses’.
Roses
Red
With my red crayon I made roses grow all over the world!
I gave the world red.
Brief Synopsis:
A child uses an eraser to rub out things she doesn’t like in the world, like hunger, and crayons and colored pencils to replace them with things that make the world better, like green wheat to feed people.
Links to Resources:

  • Draw a picture of something you don’t like. Think about how you can change the picture to make it something you like better;
  • Pick a few favorite colors. Draw things that make you happy or that you think will make life better or happier for others using your favorite colors;
  • Think of things that make you happy, sad or angry. What colors do you think of when you think of those things?
  • Discover more about Iran, where the author and illustrator live.

Why I Like this Book:
This is a deceptively simple book in which an unnamed child changes the world one word at a time through art. I think the simplicity and repetition will appeal to young children and empower them to believe that they can change things for the better, too. I also like that Ahmadi starts the book with a gift from mother to child, the gift of imagination and power to better the world.
Full-page illustrations with backgrounds the color of the child’s crayon choice and vibrant images appear on the left side of each spread with the accompanying words set poem-like on the right. This makes When I Coloured in the World appear to be a book of poetry, and, indeed, each spread can be read, and discussed, separately. I think this adds to the enjoyment and utility of this book. I can envision parents or teachers picking one of the negative terms, brainstorming with children words that are the opposite, and then discussing how that word can be illustrated and how change can occur.

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A Note about Craft:
As mentioned above, When I Coloured in the World has no story arc, per se, and is essentially a series of free verse poems that show how the reimagining of a bad thing can turn it into good. While each poem can be read on its own, I like that they also work together through repetitive language and that they follow the same format. By doing this, I think Ahmadi helps his readers better envision a child imagining these changes and allows for readers to follow his example and replace a word with another in a color and with an explanation that follows the pattern.
I also like that he has used simple, neutral objects, eraser and crayons, to effect change. This is a wonderful reminder to children’s writers to keep it simple, and reminded me, in many ways, of Peter H. Reynolds’ The Dot.
Find out more about the author, Ahmadreza Ahmadi, one of Iran’s “greatest and most famous contemporary poets”.
Discover more books published by Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd , an independent publishing company in the UK “committed to producing beautiful, original books for children”, founded on the “belief that stories act as bridges – providing pathways to new experiences whilst connecting us to here and there” and publishing a number of books by Iranian authors and illustrators.
While not currently available in US book shops, When I Coloured in the World is available through the Book Depository, which ships to the US.

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: Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics

It’s National Poetry Month, so I thought I’d kick off the month with a new poetry anthology that I believe is a Perfect Picture Book:

9780805098761_p0_v4_s118x184Title: Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics

Written By: Margarita Engle

Illustrated By: Rafael López

Publisher/date: Henry Holt and Co (BYR)/March 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes/Topics: poetry, American history, non-fiction, biography, Hispanics, diversity

Opening:

First Friend (Juan de Miralles, 1713-1780)

I believe in the good cause

of American independence from England.

Thousands of soldiers from Spain

and all the regions of Latin America

are fighting side by side with George Washington’s men,

as we struggle to defeat the British.

Brief Synopsis: A collection of biographical poems about Hispanic Americans, “a variety of amazing people who lived in geographic regions now included in the modern United States.” (quoting Author’s Note)

Links to Resources:

  • Find out more about Latin America;
  • Hispanic is a designation used by the US Census Bureau. Discover what it means to identify as a Latino or Hispanic in the United States for Census purposes;
  • The US Census Bureau maintains a website with activities and teacher resources by education level;
  • Write a poem about a famous or not-so-famous person or write a poem about yourself.

Why I Like this Book:

Engle includes biographical poems about famous and less well-known Hispanics arranged chronologically from the founding of the United States. Shared dreams and lasting contributions to the United States tie these 18 poems together. Bravo! also includes helpful “Notes About the Lives”, that are short prose biographies of those featured, and “More and More Amazing Latinos”, a poetic celebration of other famous Hispanics.

I learned facts that generally are left out of historic accounts, like that Aida de Acosta flew a powered aircraft months before the Wright Brothers’ historic flight; that in addition to Lafayette and his French comrades, Cuban merchant Juan de Miralles helped the American revolutionary cause by shipping fresh citrus to his friend George Washington and his Yorktown troops; and that baseball great Roberto Clemente was also a humanitarian who organized relief efforts following natural disasters.

López’ full-page, brightly-colored portraits complement and contextualize Engles’ poems by surrounding these subjects with the tools of their trades and providing glimpses into the eras in which they lived.

This anthology is a useful resource for homes and classrooms, as Engle has paired the details of these lives with more universal themes. Following are some favorites:

Sometimes friendship

is the sweetest form

of courage. (Juan de Miralles, 1713-1780; Cuba)

When my friend and I walk arm in arm,

it is a wordless statement of equality,

Martí’s light skin and my dark skin

side by side. (Paulina Pedroso, 1845-1925; Cuba)

Nothing makes me feel more satisfied

than a smile on the face of a child who holds

an open book. (Pura Belpré, 1899-1982; Puerto Rico)

I find poetry in tomato fields,

and stories in the faces

of weary workers. (Tomás Rivera, 1935-1984; Mexico)

A Note about Craft:

Engle uses First Person POV in her poems. I believe this helps readers more easily connect with the subjects and the historical moments. I think this is particularly helpful for the intended audience of 8-12 year olds to encourage empathy with and understanding of the lives of these notable Hispanics.

Is Bravo! a picture book? While it is a marriage of illustrations, or more accurately portraits, and words, the words comprise separate poems, or vignettes. They hang together with a common theme, Hispanics who dreamed and left their marks on US culture and history, as an anthology of poems perfect for National Poetry Month or anytime.

Bravo! has been published simultaneously in English and Spanish.

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!