Monthly Archives: August 2017

PPBF – A Bottle of Happiness

 

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is another self-import. As regular readers may recall, I reviewed When I Coloured in the World in April. Ehsan Abdollahi is the illustrator of that hauntingly gorgeous picture book as well, and I had intended to purchase today’s Perfect Picture Book on my next trip to London. When Abdollahi’s visa to visit the United Kingdom and attend events in London and the Edinburgh Book Festival was denied (see the details here), I joined the social media outcry and promptly moved up my timeline to purchase today’s book to show support. Like many others, I was thrilled when the denial was reversed.

The book arrived late last week, and I read it with visions of Charlottesville and social discord filling my twitter and news feeds. Oh that we could bottle happiness & learn to share our resources! Hopefully, the children who read today’s Perfect Picture Book will be emboldened to find a way.

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Title: A Bottle of Happiness

Written By:  Pippa Goodhart

Illustrated By: Ehsan Abdollahi

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes/Topics: fable; sharing; happiness; true wealth; #ReadYourWorld

Opening:

There was once a big mountain.

The people on one side of the mountain caught fish and mined jewels and grew crops.

They were rich, and they worked hard at getting richer. They had a big market where they sold things to each other.

Brief Synopsis: Pim, a young boy living on the poor side of a big mountain, journeys to find a new story. He finds, instead, a wealthy society that lacks the one thing that’s abundant in his community: happiness.

Links to Resources:

  • Pim collects laughter, music and love in a bottle to share. What happy things or thoughts would you include in a Bottle of Happiness?
  • The bright, patchwork illustrations were inspired by “the environment, fabrics and clothes” of southern Iran. Find out more about Iran and its rich cultural heritage
  • Try creating a Persian “carpet”.

Why I Like this Book:

I love the positive message and vibrant illustrations of A Bottle of Happiness.

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Republished from Tiny Owl’s website

When Pim sets forth from his impoverished community to find new stories, he finds, instead, a wealthy community that lacks happiness. Despite having more to eat, and working “hard at getting richer”, the people on the other side of the mountain look less happy than those in Pim’s homeland. As in a popular song from those rather famous Liverpool philosophers, this child hero of A Bottle of Happiness realizes that worldly riches, money, “can’t buy me love” or happiness, and that happiness is something Pim’s community can share.

I also love Pim’s response to the request to bring some happiness, and his pivot when only silence and nothingness flow out of the bottle.  As in all good stories, Goodhart circles back to the beginning, and the tale ends with Pim sharing a story with both communities.

Abdollahi’s unique illustrations impart a timeless feel to this fable. By setting the multi-coloured figures against brightly-hued backgrounds (Abdollahi used orange backgrounds for happy scenes, gray for sad ones, and red to show love and sharing), A Bottle of Happiness could be taking place anywhere at any time, somewhat like the land of Oz.

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Republished from Tiny Owl’s website

A Note about Craft:

Goodhart utilizes a journey and a child hero to tell this tale. Setting off on a journey seeking stories, Pim instead discovers what is good about his home, shares with those who lack that happiness, and ends up creating a new story.

While Goodhart juxtaposes two “peoples” or communities, I think older children and adults can read A Bottle of Happiness as describing two ways of life, countries, or even continents. I like the vagueness as I think it lends itself to differing interpretations and renders it more understandable for younger children.

Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd, is 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. The Tiny Owl editors deliberately paired Goodhart and Abdollahi as part of a new “Intercultural Bridge project”, “where a British author collaborates with an Iranian illustrator (or vice versa) to develop a picture book, see the story from their own cultural angles and reflect them in the book.” A Bottle of Happiness is a gorgeous addition to children’s literature. I look forward to reading further intercultural collaborations.

Read interviews with Goodhart and Abdollahi, and visit Goodhart’s blog post about building bridges through picture books.  See reviews of A Bottle of Happiness here and here.

While not currently available in US book shops, A Bottle of Happiness is available through the Book Depository, which ships for free to the US.

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 – Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story

When our daughters were young, they loved to dress up as princesses and “marry” princes. Tomorrow, our daughter will marry her “prince”, who hails from South America and speaks Portuguese and Spanish. I couldn’t resist reviewing a book set south of the US border, sprinkled with Spanish phrases and with the happy ending we all know and love!

9781417735105_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story

Written & Illustrated By: Tomie dePaola

Publisher/date: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers)/2002

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: fairy tale retelling; Mexico; folklore

Opening:

Hace mucho tiempo – a long time ago- in a village in Mexico, there lived a merchant named Francisco and his beautiful young wife, Adela.

Brief Synopsis: This retelling of the Cinderella tale features a young Mexican orphan living with a stepmother and two stepsisters, a young rancher seeking love, a doting nurse, and a fiesta.

Links to Resources:

  • Host a fiesta with Mexican-inspired foods and crafts;
  • Discover more about the lovely traditional clothing and Rebozos (shawls) that play a role in this retelling;
  • Try your hand at creating some Mexican folk art of your own;
  • Compare this Cinderella retelling with the “Disney” version so many of us know: what’s the same? What’s different? Why do you think dePaola kept what he did and changed other aspects of the story?

Why I Like this Book:

Adelita is a classic dePaola offering: lovely, detailed illustrations framed by vibrant Mexican tilework and a story with just enough elements from a familiar fairytale combined with new details to satisfy any fairytale lover. I especially appreciate the inclusion of Spanish phrases throughout the text, especially as a dictionary with pronunciation guide is provided.

Although Adelita is an older book and the text is longer than many picture books published in today’s market, I think the story stands the test of time and kids today will enjoy meeting this Mexican Cinderella.

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reproduced from dePaola’s website

A Note about Craft:

How has dePaola made the classic Cinderella story his own, and what can writers learn from what he kept or changed?

  • The folkart Rebozo that Adelita wore to the Fiesta is at the heart of the story and replaces the glass slippers. dePaola picked an item that is found in Mexico and honors its artistic traditions. Additionally, we learn that the Reboza belonged to Adelita’s mother – another break with the “original” Cinderella story where the shoes appear magically;
  • The prince becomes a rancher in dePaola’s tale, a person with stature in the community, but one that is more believably from the region;
  • The magical elements of other versions are absent from Abelita. Instead, the kindness of a loving older woman enables Abelita to attend the Fiesta; and
  • Rather than being named Cinderella, Abelita references the fairytale when she is at the Fiesta, and bids her “prince” to “Just call me Cenicienta – Cinderella.”

dePaola published insights about his Mexican Cinderella story on his website .

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books https://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/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- A Place Where Sunflowers Grow

Regular readers of this blog know that for the past several months, I’ve focused on picture books about refugees, migrants and areas affected by immigration bans – stories set in those regions and/or by authors and illustrators hailing from those regions. Today’s choice may seem at first blush to be a deviation from this focus. I’d argue, though, that the themes in today’s Perfect Picture Book, in particular forced relocation and finding hope through art, are illuminating to those trying to understand, convey to children or write about these difficult current issues. It’s also a lovely book about a difficult topic rarely addressed in picture books.

main_largeTitle: A Place Where Sunflowers Grow

Written By: Amy Lee-Tai

Illustrated By: Felicia Hoshino

Japanese Translation By: Marc Akio Lee

Publisher/date: Children’s Book Press (an imprint of Lee & Low Books)/2006

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: Japanese internment; World War II; historical fiction; relocation; bilingual; art; #WNDB

Opening:

Mari stared at the ground. It had only been a week since she and her mother had planted a handful of sunflower seeds outside their new home. Mari asked Mama, “Will these flowers grow as tall and strong and beautiful as the ones in our old backyard?”

Brief Synopsis: When Mari, a young Japanese-American girl, and her family are relocated to an internment camp during World War II, art and gardening help Mari adjust to the unfamiliar and harsh conditions.

Links to Resources:

  • For background about the Japanese internment, see Lee-Tai’s Introduction about the experiences of her mother and grandparents at the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah;
  • See the comprehensive Teacher’s Guide;
  • The Topaz Museum opened last month and displays examples of artwork from the Center on its site. Lee-Tan attended the opening and blogged about it here.

Why I Like this Book:

This is the first picture book I’ve read about the experiences of Japanese-American children in the internment centers. Although I knew that the relocations and life in the camps were difficult, I had no idea of the efforts of Japanese-American artists to continue creating and sharing art with fellow internees, including the children. And although the internment is a difficult topic to explore with children, I love the resilience and hopefulness that are evident in this story.

The text is in English and Japanese, a fitting tribute to those Japanese-Americans whose first language was Japanese. Hoshino studied the artworks of Lee-Tai’s grandmother, Hisako Hibi, and she based some of her watercolor, ink, tissue paper and acrylic illustrations on Hibi’s work.

A Note about Craft:

At first blush, the title, A Place Where Sunflowers Grow, may seem a bit misplaced: this picture book is about Japanese internment during World War II, not gardening. But by utilizing this natural, floral motif, Lee-Tai enables the reader to hope, like Mari, that sunflowers, like those that grew in the backyard she misses, will bloom in the desert and peace will return to the world.

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow is a work of fiction, but it is based on the experiences of Lee-Tai’s mother and family during World War II. Both of Lee-Tai’s grandparents were artists and produced artwork while at the Center. Her grandfather ran the Topaz art school for part of the war, and her mother and uncle attended art classes there. With these many experiences to draw upon, why did Lee-Tai choose to write a work of historical fiction? And, for writers, why may we make the same choice? In an interview, Lee-Tai stated,

By creating a character that readers might relate to or feel empathy for, I hope this book will plant some seeds in readers: to steer clear of racial and ethnic targeting in their individual interactions with others, and to work towards a world that will not commit other atrocities targeting entire races or ethnicities.

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow  won the 2007 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award for younger children.

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!