Monthly Archives: July 2017

PPBF – Leaving My Homeland: A Refugee’s Journey from Syria

I discovered today’s Perfect Picture Book in my local library. I’m so happy that our children’s librarian acquires such timely titles!

9780778731849_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Leaving My Homeland: A Refugee’s Journey from Syria

Written & Illustrated By: Helen Mason

Publisher/date: Crabtree Publishing Company/2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-11

Themes/Topics: Syria, refugees

Opening:

Leaving Syria: A terrible civil war has been fought in Syria since March 2011. The war is between the Syrian government and rebel fighters. The rebels are fighting for democracy.

Brief Synopsis: Pimarily a non-fiction, encyclopedic account about Syria, its civil war, and the refugee crisis, interspersed with the facts is the fictional account of Roj, a young boy who flees Aleppo with his family to seek safety in Germany.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the ways “You Can Help!”, including making newcomers feel welcome and learning welcoming words in other languages;
  • A Glossary and Learning More sections help spur further study.

Why I Like this Book:

Leaving My Homeland is a hybrid of non-fiction facts that provide background information and context to the Syrian conflict and the refugee crisis, and the fictional account of one child and his family fleeing Syria. This picture-book sized book is divided into chapters, each of which is a mixture of text, colorful text boxes, photographs and other graphics. For instance, A “Syria’s Story in Numbers” graphic is repeated in several chapters and highlights that people have lived in Damascus for 11,000 years, that almost every child in Syria attended school before the war, but that now 2.8 million lack access to education, and that more than 420,000 Syrian refugees arrived in Germany in 2015. This quick-facts format is visually engaging and will enable kids to gain greater understanding of the enormity of the Syrian refugee crisis and what they can do to help.

I particularly like that Leaving My Homeland includes information about the UN Rights of the Child, as this information can help readers understand the rights and privileges they enjoy and that refugees seek.

refugeesyria-1

reprinted from the Crabtree Publishing Company website

A Note about Craft:

Leaving My Homeland is part of a “curriculum-specific book series” created and published by Crabtree Books. I have not yet read the others in the series; however, the cover art looks similar for all 10 titles, and I imagine they follow a similar format. This will make them particularly valuable for classrooms and libraries. For non-fiction writers, thinking about similar topics that could form a series and addressing those topics using identical formats are ways to increase your publication potential.

Interspersing factual sections with a fictional story helps kids relate to the issues presented and build empathy for refugees, such as the fictional Roj, whose story appears here.

Finally, especially in books written with older children in mind, a mixture of illustration types and breaking the information up into “sound-bites” are important to focus attention on these important details. I think all authors and illustrators profit from thinking in this kid-focused way.

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad

I had the pleasure this past March of visiting Cuba, the setting of much of today’s perfect picture book. To prepare for that journey, I read several of the Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle’s historical novels in verse about that lovely island. It was through Margarita’s work that I first learned about José Martí. I also had the pleasure of meeting both today’s debut author, Emma Otheguy, and her agent, Adriana Domíngez, at the recent New Jersey SCBWI conference and seeing a copy of the book there. To say that I’ve been eagerly awaiting its release is an understatement! Without further ado:

9780892393756_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad

Written By: Emma Otheguy

Illustrated By: Beatriz Vidal

Text Translated By: Adriana Domínguez

Publisher/date: Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books Inc/July 2017

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes/Topics: Cuba, biography, poetry, freedom, nature, social justice, bilingual book, #WNDB, #OwnVoices, #debutPB

Opening: 

When José was a young boy,

his father took him to the countryside,

where he listened to the crickets chirp

and the roosters crow.

José bowed to the palmas reales,

the grand royal palms that shaded the path

where he rode his horse.

He chased the river

as it swelled with the rains

and rushed on to the saltwater sea.

José fell in love with his home island, Cuba.

Brief Synopsis: José Martí, a 19th century Cuban poet, writer and political activist, loved nature and fought for the abolishment of slavery and freedom from Spanish rule during his lifetime in Cuba and New York City.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover Cuba, the country of Martí’s birth and death;
  • Martí traveled to the Catskill Mountain region of New York State. Find out more about this forested, natural area near New York City.
  • Take a walk in the woods and write about what you experience and feel.
  • What issue are you passionate or upset about? Think about some ways you could help solve the issue or encourage others to help you bring about change.
  • Write a poem in the style of Martí’s Versos sencillos, his most-famous poem, using Lee & Low’s Activity Guide.
  • An Afterword, Author’s Note, further Excerpts from the Versos sencillos, and a Selected Bibliography accompany the text.

Why I Like this Book:

Debut picture book author Emma Otheguy has written an enlightening biography of a Spanish-language poet that showcases the power of words to bring about positive social change. I especially appreciate that Otheguy highlights Martí’s learning process, how he saw, and abhorred, the treatment of slaves during his Cuban childhood, and how he then went on to fight the Spanish colonial rule that supported slavery.

I also loved learning how the emancipation of slaves during the American Civil War helped shape young Martí’s beliefs and how experiences he had in New York influenced his later writing. I believe that learning from others’ experiences is an important lesson for children, whether it’s learning how to solve an individual problem or how to solve one that affects an entire country or people. That Martí found inspiration in the American fight for emancipation and solace in a natural setting so far from his country of birth are, to me, reasons why cultural interactions are important and why a country that prides itself on its democratic traditions should continue to be welcoming to those who travel here.

While I regrettably am not bilingual, I appreciate that Otheguy has made Martí’s words accessible to those who otherwise couldn’t read them, that Domínguez has translated the English text into Martí’s native tongue, and that Lee & Low has combined the texts in one picture book. To do so, the editors present the lyrical text in verse side by side on the left-side page, with the folk-art illustrations appearing as full-page spreads on the right side. I think this works well for this biography, as the illustrations appear as historic paintings, like one would find in a museum. Two small illustrations, often snippets of nature, appear on each page with text as well, and help carry through the theme of nature as freedom.

spread_3

From Lee & Low’s website

A Note about Craft:

Otheguy writes lyrical free verse text and verses from Martí’s Versos sencillos appear as separate text following her words. By doing so, she has allowed Martí to tell parts of his story in his own words. Otheguy also shows the reader in the first lines what was important to Martí, nature, equality and the freedom exemplified by the swaying of the palms, and carries these themes through the book.

Martí’s Song for Freedom received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. It is a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Visit Emma Otheguy’s website here.

View more of Betriz Vidal’s work here.

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey

Today’s perfect picture book is another find from Books of Wonder in New York City. It’s also a tale about a beloved pet – something near and dear to me, as we rescued a dog who undertook a long journey to join our family just a few weeks ago.

9781524715472_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey

Written By: Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes

Illustrated By: Sue Cornelison

Publisher/date: Crown Books for Young Readers (Penguin Random House)/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: non-fiction, Iraqi refugees, cat, pet

Opening:

Late one night in August 2015, a car driven by a smuggler snuck out of the city of Mosul, in the country of Iraq. The smuggler’s passengers were a mother and her four daughters and one son.

Brief Synopsis: A family fleeing from fighting in Iraq lose a beloved pet cat while on their journey to safety in Europe. With the help of many people, the family and pet finally reunite.

Links to Resources:

  • This story begins in Iraq and ends in Norway. Find out more about these countries;
  • Draw a picture of your pet;
  • Have you ever lost or found an animal? What characteristics (size, color, name, etc.) did you share to help find your pet or find a lost animal’s owner?
  • Create a Lost or Found poster.

Why I Like this Book:

Lost and Found Cat is one of the few non-fiction picture books to address the current refugee crisis. It also is a touching story about the feelings one family has for its beloved pet cat, and the kindness of strangers who find Kunkush, foster him in Greece and Germany, use social media to find his family, and then reunite them. I think kids will enjoy experiencing the journey through the cat’s perspective, and will be relieved and amazed at the outcome – after all, not every pet survives life in a war zone let alone the journey over land and sea to a new life.

A Note about Craft:

As revealed in an Author’s Note, Kuntz and Shrodes were working with refugees in Greece when they found Kunkush. I love how they feature him as the focus of the story without anthropomorphizing him. By doing so, they keep the story non-fiction and keep the attention on the cat, where it belongs.

Interestingly, although neither author appears to be a professional writer, a major US publisher, Penguin Random House, published Lost and Found Cat. To my knowledge, Lost and Found Cat is one of the first picture books focused on the current refugee journey that has been published by a major US publisher (Canadian publishers have published many more). I think that the focus on a lost pet adds a universal theme that appealed to the editors.

If you enjoyed Lost and Found Cat, you may also enjoy:

9781600609985_p0_v2_s192x300The Three Lucys, about a boy’s three pet cats in Lebanon and how they coped during a violent period there

The-Jasmine-Sneeze-Cover-3-300x295The Jasmine Sneeze, about a cat in Damascus, Syria

9781772780109_p0_v2_s192x300My Beautiful Birds, about a boy’s pet birds that are left behind in Syria and the birds he adopts in a refugee camp in Jordan

51vdxeKM7CL._AA160_The Story of Moose, about a shelter dog in the Virgin Islands whose Facebook page helped him find a new, loving family in Massachusetts

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!