Monthly Archives: May 2017

PPBF – The Map of Good Memories

I thought I’d kick off Memorial Day weekend with a book from across the Pond, from Spain, to be exact. What does Spain have to do with Memorial Day, you ask? Probably not much, as there doesn’t seem to be a comparable holiday there. But Memorial Day is about remembering, and it’s also the “official” start of the summer vacation season, at least here in the United States. Both relate in certain ways to today’s Perfect Picture Book.

First, today’s Book is about remembering. It also reminded me of a special vacation journey I took one summer with my two older children when they were 4 and 6 (my husband met us mid-trip). We traveled among several German, Czech and Austrian cities by train. While I kept a written diary, the girls drew pictures of their favorite activities each day – a kind of Book of Good Memories.

May you make and remember many good memories this Memorial Day weekend and on your travels this summer. And now, today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9788416147823_p0_v2_s192x300Title: The Map of Good Memories

Written By: Fran Nuño

Illustrated By: Zuzanna Celej

Translated By: Jon Brokenbrow

Publisher/date: Cuento de Luz/2016 (Spanish edition also available)

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; home; maps; remembering; saying farewell

Opening:

Zoe had lived in the city since she was born. But now, because of the war, she had to flee with her family and take refuge in another country.

Brief Synopsis: As her family prepares to flee the war-torn city of her birth, Zoe maps out the favorite places where she has spent the happiest times of her life.

Links to Resources:

  • Map your classroom, home, city or favorite picture book;
  • Learn mapping skills; a good resource to learn is a newly-published picture book, Mapping My Day, written by Julie Dillemuth, illustrated by Laura Wood, and published by Magination Press (2017);
  • When you travel, keep a “favorite places” diary by drawing a picture each evening of someplace you enjoyed seeing or something you enjoyed doing;
  • In the Author’s Note, Nuño states that The Map of Good Memories is “about saying farewell.” Think about what or to whom you would say “farewell” if you were traveling or moving house.

Why I Like this Book:

This is a poignant story about treasuring the little things you enjoy about the place where you live. On the eve of her family’s departure, ten year-old Zoe looks back at all of the happy times she has enjoyed in her hometown.

Unlike other refugee books that focus on the journey (The Journey and Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey come to mind) or a better life ahead, The Map of Good Memories focuses on the past, on the positive aspects of life in Zoe’s home city before the war. Most of these are small, everyday occurrences that kids will relate well to, like going to school, visiting the library and bookstore, playing in the park, and enjoying favorite films in the movie theatre. As Zoe maps out the special memories of her childhood, she finds a special surprise and comes to the realization that these memories will always be with her, wherever she lives, and that someday she will return.

I love this hopeful message for refugee children. I also think it’s a good reminder for all of us that places that currently are wracked by war or other disasters have a history, and potential future, that are peaceful and positive.

Celej’s soft, watercolor images impart a sense of peacefulness and reflection to the story, and will encourage multiple readings.

Images and text about the war are few, so this is a wonderful book to share with kids who are moving for other reasons as well.

Source: Cuenta de Luz

 

A Note about Craft:

Interestingly, neither Nuño’s text nor Celej’s illustrations clearly reveal the setting or era of The Map of Good Memories. While the city appears European and while most people depicted are fair-haired Caucasians who wear neither veils nor headscarves, the time period is not obvious. In a review reprinted by Barnes & Noble, one reviewer guesses World War II. I’d guess the Bosnian conflict instead, given that Zoe is portrayed in jeans in one scene and wearing a bike helmet in another. Regardless, by not naming the conflict or even the city, I think Nuño makes the action more immediate: this could happen anywhere, at any time, to any of us.

Even though they leave two key elements of the story vague, Nuño and Celej weave many small details into The Map of Good Memories. For instance, not only does Zoe remember many films she enjoyed at the movie theatre, but Nuño mentions “the candy counter, the big seats, the lady who showed you to your seat with a flashlight…” Despite this detailed description, he leaves room for the illustrations, with bookshelves “full of real treasures” that Celej then fills in with dreamy characters surrounding Zoe as she reads. Nuño also leaves the depiction of the theatre to Celej, who completes it with a marquee heralding The Wizard of Oz, a brilliant cultural reference, as, after all, “there’s no place like home.”

Cuento de Luz, “based in Madrid, Spain but with an international outlook,” is a publishing company specializing in children’s literature, primarily picture books. Its philosophy is to publish stories that are “full of light that bring out the inner child within all of us. Stories that take the imagination on a journey and help care for our planet, respect differences, eliminate borders and promote peace.” Cuento de Luz is a B Corporation that uses “stone paper” in the production of its books – no trees, no water, no bleach.

Fran Nuño is the author of over 30 children’s books and owner of a bookstore in Seville, Spain.

Zuzanna Celej is a children’s book illustrator of Polish descent, educated and working in Spain.

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 Elephant’s Umbrella

It’s been a rainy spring in the northeastern US. I’ve found myself reaching again and again for my umbrella – a common response of people all over the world when it rains. A common response, I’d wager, in Iran, too, the country in which both the author and illustrator of today’s Perfect Picture Book live:

61w7a8KNDLL._SL160_Title: The Elephant’s Umbrella

Written By: Laleh Jaffari

Illustrated By: Ali Khodai

Translated By: Azita Rassi

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd/2017 (first published by Chekkeh Publishers, Iran)

Suitable for Ages: 3-8

Themes/Topics: sharing, elephants, umbrella, empathy, Iran, translated Picture Book

Opening:

The elephant loved his umbrella. Whether it drizzled or poured, he’d open his umbrella and walk into the rain, proud to ask anybody he saw to join him under it.

Brief Synopsis: The elephant loves and shares his umbrella. But when she’s whisked from his grasp, the umbrella ends up in the hands of less-generous creatures, a leopard and a bear.

Links to Resources:

  • Make and decorate a paper-plate umbrella; better yet, make two and share one with a friend;
  • Explore Iran, where both the author and illustrator live;
  • The leopard and brown bear in the story both want to eat under the umbrella. Host an umbrella picnic and serve weather-related foods: sun-colored grilled cheese sandwiches or lemon cookies or maybe raindrop blueberries;
  • See more illustrations from The Elephant’s Umbrella and other Iranian picture books in a 2015 gallery in The Guardian newspaper.

Why I Like this Book:

The Elephant’s Umbrella is a lovely story of sharing and generosity that, I think, will appeal to the youngest of listeners. I found the jungle scenes bright and engaging, and I think kids and parents will enjoy them, too.

Unlike other sharing books that posit sharing as a win for the recipient with the donor sacrificing something (think Rainbow Fish giving its beautiful scales to others), The Elephant’s Umbrella presents sharing as a win-win situation: when the Elephant invites other creatures to sit under the umbrella with him, he stays dry and he gains friends. He shows, in a sense, that by cooperating, we help not only ourselves, but we make the pie bigger, so that all can benefit.the-elephants-umbrella-1024x512

A Note about Craft:

At first glance, The Elephant’s Umbrella is a simple story of sharing. From the title and opening lines, it seems clear: a caring Elephant has an umbrella, loses her (Jaffari uses the feminine pronoun) to a leopard and then to a bear, and finally gets her back. But how? Did either the leopard or bear steal her? And who is the main character anyway?

In a brilliant twist that’s a lesson for authors, the umbrella is the star of this story. When the wind blows her away from the elephant, the umbrella asks first the leopard and then the bear of their plans. Becoming aware of their pride and greediness, the umbrella asks the wind to “take me with you!”

By flipping the story in this way, I think Jaffari adds another layer to what could have been a very simple story. It causes me to wonder how seemingly inanimate objects or non-human creatures, like natural resources or animals, feel when misused or mistreated, whether on the playground or in the wider world. I think this opens up great discussion possibilities with kids who so often anthropomorphise pets, toys, or other objects.

Tiny Owl Publishing is “an independent publishing company committed to producing beautiful, original books for children.” Tiny Owl publishes “a range of books from Iranian authors and illustrators,” including When I Coloured in the World, which I reviewed in April 2017.

Per a review in Outside in World, “Iranian author Laleh Jaffari is an author, translator and TV director and has written 25 children’s books. Iranian illustrator Ali Khodai…has illustrated over 80 books and has won many national awards in his home country of Iran.”

Books Go Walkabout reviewed The Elephant’s Umbrella here and Tiny Owl references other reviews here.

The Elephant’s Umbrella is available for purchase in the US with free shipping via the Book Depository.

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 Whispering Cloth: A Refugee’s Story

I discovered today’s Perfect Picture Book in the bookstore at the New England SCBWI 2017 conference this past April. The gorgeous stitched illustrations and evocative title drew my attention even before I saw the tag line, a refugee’s story. Interestingly, it’s not one I’ve found on any of the many lists of picture books about refugees…yet!

As this is the story of a grandmother and grandchild journeying together, with their love and the strength of the female community so prevalent throughout the tale, I thought this is a Perfect Picture Book to feature for Mother’s Day:

9781563971341_p0_v1_s118x184Title: The Whispering Cloth: A Refugee’s Story

Written By: Pegi Deitz Shea

Illustrated By: Anita Riggio

Stitched By: You Yang

Publisher/date: Boyds Mills Press/1995

Suitable for Ages: 3-8 (per the publisher; I’d say older)

Themes/Topics: refugees, Hmong, needlework folk art

Opening:

After Mai’s cousins moved to America, Mai passed the days with Grandma at the Widows’ Store, watching the women do pa´ndau story cloths. She loved listening to the widows stitch and talk, stitch and talk – mostly about their grandmothers’ lives in China a hundred years ago. All Mai could remember was life inside the refugee camp, where everyone seemed to come and go but her.

Brief Synopsis:

With the help and encouragement of her grandmother and the women stitching, and selling, Hmong story cloths, Mai learns this traditional art and shares the tale of her losses.

Links to Resources:

  • Shea provides a Curriculum Guide on her website and there is a Glossary and Foreward that provide Hmong words and story background;
  • Learn about the Hmong peoples and culture;
  • Learn about Hmong embroidery and try some embroidery stitches;
  • Learn about Southeast Asia, including Laos and Thailand, the setting of The Whispering Cloth;
  • Create story pictures about your life or the life of an older relative or friend.

Why I Like this Book:

As is evident from the synopsis, the refugee in today’s picture book hails not from the Middle East, Africa, or Central America. Nor is Mai’s story a contemporary tale. Published over 20 years ago, The Whispering Cloth is the story of a young, orphaned Hmong refugee living with her grandmother and dreaming of a better life. Tragically, while the setting and ethnic group are different, this story is as relevant today as when it was written. And while children like Mai may now be settled in the US and have children of their own, I believe that learning what they experienced is important for all of us. Reading The Whispering Cloth together may even help these survivors share their experiences with children and grandchildren.

The bond between Mai and her grandmother is another reason I like this story. That older women have talents and traditions to share with grandchildren is a valuable facet of this tale.

Finally, I love how the arts are at the heart of The Whispering Cloth: as a way to earn money by selling the pa´ndau story cloths and as a means to both tell and process the horrific experience of losing parents, fleeing home, and living in a refugee camp. The folk art pa´ndau is also central to Hmong culture, making it particularly relevant to the story of Hmong refugees. This makes me wonder about the folk art traditions of current refugees: whether the children are learning them, whether they serve as therapeutic outlets, and whether they are surviving the transitions to new homes and cultures.

The Whispering Cloth includes scenes and references that might prove upsetting to younger children (blood, soldiers and bullets figure in the embroidered story). However, they are integral to the story, and the combination of rich watercolor and embroidered artwork may soften the potential impact of these troubling details for younger children.

A Note about Craft:

Authors and illustrators know that we must find the kernel of a story, the nugget at its heart that helps the story resonate with readers. But how do you identify that nugget? At least when writing a story set in a particular place or describing a particular culture, I think the nugget must provide insight to that place/culture. Additionally, it must play a significant role in the character development and story outcome. I think the nugget in The Whispering Cloth is the Hmong pa´ndau. Its centrality in the text and illustrations provides a window into Hmong culture, a culture about which many readers may be unfamiliar. It also acts as a mirror, for those who journeyed through the refugee camps and beyond, as they share this story with their children and future generations. And mastering the techniques enables Mai to remain tied to her traditional culture while earning the money necessary to escape from the refugee camp.

Neither Shea nor Riggio is an #OwnVoice author or illustrator, but a Hmong artist, You Yang, rendered Mai’s story as a pa´ndau, adding richness and authenticity to this story.

Pegi Deitz Shea is also the author of a middle grade book, Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl’s Story (Clarion, 2003), that follows Mai as she starts a new life in Rhode Island.O8Sg9_KvFq0C

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Rainbow Weaver

For today’s Perfect Picture Book, I’m venturing south to Guatemala, a country that has almost 6% of the population living outside of its borders, many of them in the United States, as they seek to escape extreme poverty and violence:

9780892393749_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Rainbow Weaver (Tejodora del Arcoíris)

Written By: Linda Elovitz Marshall

Illustrated By: Elisa Chavarri

Publisher/date: Children’s Book Press (Lee & Low Books)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: Guatemala, weaving, Mayans, bilingual English/Spanish, recycling, cultural traditions

Opening:

High in the mountains above Lake Atitlán, Ixchel watched her mother weave thread into fabric as beautiful as a rainbow. The fabric had blues as clear as the sky, reds as bright as the flowers, and yellows as golden as the corn.

“Mama,” Ixchel asked. “May I weave too?”

Her mother shook her head. “Not now, Ixchel,” she answered. “This cloth is for the market. If it brings a good price, it will help pay for your school and books.”

Brief Synopsis: Ixchel, a young Guatemalan girl, yearns to help her mother weave colorful fabrics to sell in the marketplace to earn money for school fees and books. Because her mother has no extra thread for Ixchel to use, Ixchel tries other weaving materials until she discovers a solution that is both colorful and solves another problem, too.

Links to Resources:

  • A Glossary and Pronunciation Guide to Mayan terms used in the text is included;
  • Lee & Low provides a comprehensive Teacher’s Guide;
  • Learn about Chavarri’s illustration inspiration and techniques;
  • Weave a potholder, other woven items, including a small purse for a special Mother’s Day gift, or a rainbow;
  • Explore Guatemala;
  • Prepare and eat traditional Guatemalan foods, including Guatemalan tacos, elotes (corn), Arroz Guatemalteco (a flavored rice and vegetable dish), and flan (a custard dessert);
  • Learn about the Mayans.

Why I Like this Book:

Rainbow Weaver is an engaging story that introduces readers to the tradition of colorful Mayan weaving while shedding light on a region and problem that many kids and parents know little about. Ixchel, its can-do, think-outside-the-box main character, not only helps solve the primary problem, raising money for school fees, but her solution benefits her entire community. I loved learning about the Mayan weaving tradition and meeting the cooperative community of female neighbors. I also appreciated the entrepreneurial spirit exhibited as Ixchel utilized new “thread” to enable an ancient handicraft to be a solution to a current problem.

Rainbow Weaver is published as an English/Spanish bilingual text and includes Mayan words as well. Even the main character’s name, Ixchel, holds special meaning: Ixchel is the name of a Mayan goddess, the Grandmother of the Moon, who, according to myth, shared the skill of weaving with the first woman.

A Note about Craft:

Rainbow Weaver begins with colorful imagery, in the form of a simile comparing woven cloth to a rainbow, foreshadowing a happy ending as well as the solution to the problem of earning money for school fees and books. In the few short sentences quoted above, Marshall indicates where we are, in the mountains above Lake Atitlán, describes the central subject of the story, weaving, indicates that the main character wants to weave, too, and what the problem, and presumable solution, are. A brilliant opening that encouraged this reader to turn the page and read more!

As indicated in an Author’s Note, Marshall wrote Rainbow Weaver because she knew the Guatemalan founders of Mayan Hands, “a fair-trade nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering Mayan women in their quest to bring their families out of extreme poverty as they continue to live within the culture they cherish” (as stated on the website). A portion of proceeds benefits this not-for-profit. Although Marshall is not an #OwnVoices author, she knew the issues because of this association, and then visited Guatemala for further research. As she states, “I…met with weavers, shared the story, and received their input.” I think this is a valuable lesson for authors who embrace causes or who desire to write about topics outside their cultural experience to not just write empathetic stories, but to do on-site research and test the story premise on people from that other background or culture.

Finally, the story premise and solution involve recycling plastic bags, which adds another layer to this rich story. A good companion book would be Miranda Paul’s One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (Lerner Publishing Group, 2015).9781467716086_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!