Monthly Archives: September 2017

PPBF – Alive Again


Yesterday was National Poetry Day in the UK. What better time to celebrate a picture book by a noted Iranian poet and picture book author that was published in the UK!

cover-alive-again-294x300Title: Alive Again

Written By: Ahmadreza Ahmadi

Illustrated By: Nahid Kazemi

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing, Ltd/2105 (first published in Persian, Salis Publisher, Tehran, Iran/2013)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: loss, regeneration, poetry, WNDB, ReadYourWorld, Iran


Last night the wind blew the blossom from the trees.

“When blossom goes, does the word ‘blossom’ die?” asked a boy.

“Can there ever be blossom again?”

Brief Synopsis: (from the publisher’s website)

When the blossom disappears, a little boy wonders, will it ever return? And when the rains stop, have they gone forever? This is a story about understanding the world and learning to trust. How do we find that grain of hope that good things might return?

Links to Resources:

  • Discover more about Iran, where the author and illustrator live.
  • Make a list of things, like flowers or migrating animals, that seem to disappear and then reappear.
  • Draw a tree in summer and winter. What’s the same? What’s different?
  • Kazemi uses fabric swatches to make collage illustrations. Try making a bug from photographs in food magazines.

Why I Like this Book:

Alive Again is a deceptively simple book that poses the question of what happens to things when they disappear or cease to happen. Are they gone forever? And if they’re gone, do we still need their names? For instance, if no one travels, do we need the word “journey”? Will that word cease to exist?

Alive Again is a wonderful book to share with children in the “why”, “what if”, questioning phase. I think it’s also a great introduction to discussing seasons or other cyclical events, and, perhaps most importantly, it’s a sympathetic introduction to concepts of loss and holding on to what or who we love.

Kazemi’s collaged artwork pares well with the sparse text. I especially loved the blossoms that reminded me of winged insects or birds and made me wonder about the connections among the plant and animal inhabitants of the natural world.


Illustration from Alive Again, reprinted from Tiny Owl’s website

A Note about Craft:

With his thought-provoking, sparse text, Ahmadi causes the reader to wonder not only about the things that disappear, like the blossom, but also about the boy and his father, the only characters in the story. In an afterward, the publisher reminds us that “it is exactly those gaps in the narrative that leave room for the child’s imagination to fill out the story”. How do we as authors and/or illustrators leave room for children’s imaginations?

Find out more about Ahmadreza Ahmadi here , one of Iran’s “greatest and most famous contemporary poets” and see my review of his book When I Coloured in the World here.9781910328071-150x150

Discover more books published by Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd, “an independent publishing company 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, Alive Again is available through the Book Depository which ships for free 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 – Four Feet, Two Sandals

Yesterday was the United Nations’ International Day of Peace. The theme this year is “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All.” This theme honors “the spirit of TOGETHER , a global initiative that promotes respect, safety and dignity for everyone forced to flee their homes and those leaving in search of a better life.”

I chose a “classic” story of two refugees in honor of the Day of Peace Together theme and to further my pledge to take action to promote peace in our world. Please join me in the United States Institute of Peace’s #PeaceDayChallenge!

ResizeImageHandlerTitle: Four Feet, Two Sandals

Written By: Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed

Illustrated By: Doug Chayka

Publisher/date: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)/2007

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: refugees; friendship; sharing; Afghanistan; loss


Lina raced barefoot to the camp entrance where relief workers threw used clothing off the back of a truck. Everyone pushed and fought for the best clothes. Lina squatted and reached, grabbing what she could.

Brief Synopsis: When two young refugee girls without shoes find one pair of sandals, they become friends and alternate wearing the sandals.

Links to Resources:

  • Wear one shoe only & walk around the house and/or neighborhood. How does it feel to wear only one shoe? Try switching one shoe or both shoes with a family member or friend. How does it feel to wear shoes that don’t fit quite correctly and/or to wear shoes that fit differently?
  • Learn about Afghanistan, the country where this story occurs.
  • View the Teacher’s Guide here.

Why I Like this Book:

Four Feet, Two Sandals is one of the first picture books dealing with the refugee situation and was published even before that situation became what we now term the “refugee crisis”. Much has changed in the ten years since its publication, but, sadly, much remains the same: only the numbers and countries seem to increase each year. Because it focuses on the day-to-day experiences of two young girls and because it concerns a kid-relatable topic, ie, what do you do when there isn’t enough of something for two or more kids, I think it remains an important book for classroom and family reading.

The sepia-toned illustrations transported me to the camp and helped me envision the experiences the two friends shared. An Author’s Note provides context and information about the refugee experience.

A Note about Craft:

The theme of leaving one’s home, losing family members to war, terror attacks or a natural disaster, and settling in a camp or center with few possessions or food is overwhelming for adults, let alone children. By focusing on one detail of that experience, the shoes Lina needs, finds, and ultimately shares with Feroza, Williams and Mohammed help us empathize with the main characters and, if you will, walk along in their shoes as they experience the trials and tribulations of life in a refugee camp. By emphasizing the particular over the general, these authors draw us into the story and build empathy for their characters. What detail(s) can you highlight in your works in progress to help draw your readers into the story and help them empathize with the main character(s)?

Not only do Williams and Mohammed focus on shoes, something kids will understand, but they provide a further description to make them more appealing: “yellow with a blue flower in the middle”. Not only does this description add more kid appeal, but the shoes stand out in each spread of the book. This reminds me that as we add details in our text, we should think about how these details will appear in illustrations throughout the book.

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 – A Bird Like Himself

Today is International Dot Day, a world-wide celebration of creativity inspired by Peter H. Reynold’s classic picture book, The Dot, that invites readers to “make your mark, and see where it takes you.”

I chose today’s Perfect Picture Book because I love the themes and the illustrations, because the main character learns to be “himself”, and also because its author/illustrator hails from a wonderfully-creative part of the world about which many readers in the US know little about. For me, the author/illustrator makes her mark with today’s Perfect Picture Book:

abirdlikehimself-300x297Title: A Bird Like Himself

Written & Illustrated By: Anahita Teymorian (Taymourian)

Translated By: Azita Rassi

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd./2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: growing up; foster families; becoming yourself; finding love; #ReadYourWorld


One day something pale and oval was left all on its own and with nobody to look after it. The oval thing was warm, and it rocked a little back and forth before suddenly…CRACK! Out of the egg came a fat little chick.

Brief Synopsis: A menagerie of animals looks after a baby bird that is born alone in their midst, but none of the animals knows how to teach “Baby” to fly.

Links to Resources:

  • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology publishes educator resources about birds;
  • Learn about foster families;
  • Discover more about Iran, where the author/illustrator lives.

Why I Like this Book:

A Bird Like Himself is a deceptively simple, gorgeously illustrated, multi-layered picture book that’s fun to read, and reread. I find more clues to the ending each time I reread it! Baby, the bird that hatches from an abandoned egg, is raised by a group of loving animals that functions like a foster family. The ways they try to care for Baby and teach him to fly are hilarious! But until he finds a fellow bird, and strikes up a friendship with her, he is unable to fly and totally be himself. In a funny, gentle way, A Bird Like Himself shows children that we can learn from many people and many experiences, but until we’re true to ourselves, we won’t be complete. It shows adults that we, as caregivers, need to let children experience life and learn on their own.

The illustrations in A Bird Like Himself look as if they are telling a story within a story. There is no natural background to the illustrations, there is a limited palette, and there is a repeated checkerboard pattern that, in the end, ties everything together.


Illustration from A Bird Like Himself

A Note about Craft:

As writers, we’re often instructed to be specific, but leave room for the illustrations. Teymorian includes several scenes with sparse text illuminated by wonderful illustrations. For instance, Teymorian writes, “They tried this…and this.” Illustrations show an elephant trying to rock Baby on tusks and Baby perched in a loop of a snake or giraffe neck. Similarly, “I’m hungry,” precedes an amusing illustration of Baby scratching his head as he stares at a picnic that may appeal to other animals, but probably not him.

Although the story seemingly occurs in a forest or on a farm (we’re never sure exactly where), Teymorian includes several details that will cause older readers to question the location. It isn’t until the end that we learn where the story has occurred. I think this appeals to young children, as they don’t question finding a cow living with an elephant, for instance, or repeated checkerboard motifs that don’t seem to have anything to do with animals or birds at all (or do they?).

Finally, Teymorian addresses the reader in several instances with open-ended questions, such as “So guess what Baby did?” This helps draw the reader into the story, I believe, and creates instances during group readings to pause and engage with young listeners.

Read reviews and interviews with Teymorian here.

I mentioned above that I chose today’s Perfect Picture Book because of the creativity on display. For another wonderful example of creativity, and a book, I’d argue, should also be celebrated world-wide, see When I Coloured in the World, which I reviewed in April9781910328071-150x150

Discover more books published by Tiny Owl Publishing, “an independent publishing company 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.  Tiny Owl is open to submissions now through 31 October 2017 for authors and illustrators with stories and illustrations on the “theme of finding hope in a scary world.”

While not currently available in US book shops, A Bird Like Himself is available through the Book Depository, which ships for free 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 – All the Way to Havana

I had the pleasure of visiting Havana earlier this year with my husband and riding in a vintage automobile like the one featured in today’s Perfect Picture Book. Since then, I’ve been eagerly awaiting its Book Birthday. Thankfully, that day arrived last week, and today’s Perfect Picture Book zoomed into my mailbox a few days ago. My husband, who barely notices the piles of books “decorating” my workspaces, oohed and aahhed at this one. I know you will, too!

9781627796422Title: All the Way to Havana

Written By: Margarita Engle

Illustrated By: Mike Curato

Publisher/date: Godwin Books (Henry Holt and Company/Macmillan Publishing Group)/August 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: Cuba; family; vintage automobiles; journey; resourcefulness


We have a gift, and we have a cake, and today we’re going to drive all the way to the big city to see my new baby cousin on his zero-year birthday!

Some of this island’s old cars purr like kittens, but ours is so tired that she just chatters like a busy chicken – cara cara, cara cara, cluck, cluck, cluck…

Brief Synopsis:

A boy and his family drive from the Cuban countryside to the big city of Havana in their vintage automobile to welcome a new baby to the family.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Cuba;
  • View the book trailer here;
  • View an interview with Mike Curato on All the Wonders;
  • Color a car, like Cara Cara, the classic car of All the Way to Havana.

Why I Like this Book:

All the Way to Havana is a beautifully written and illustrated book that brought back wonderful memories of the few days I spent in Havana, Cuba this past spring. Its simple tale of a boy helping his father fix an old car to carry them to visit a new family member paired with the lovely old cars in the picturesque city will appeal to kids and car lovers of all ages, I think. And the messages of family togetherness and caring for family treasures, like the old car, will resonate with young and old, too.

In a blog post, Curato stated that he loved drawing cars as a young child and still enjoys it today. That love shines through in All the Way to Havana, from the cover, to the end papers filled with many colorful makes and models, to the 1950s color palette, and even to a surprise if you “lift the hood” by peeling back the jacket cover.

In that same blog post, Curato wrote:

Margarita said this book is about peace, about bringing two neighbors together: the Cubans in the book, and the Americans reading it. Neighbors should be friends. While some of this book may seem very foreign to some, I hope that they can also see the universal themes of family and the roads we take, some bumpy and others smooth. If one neighbor can see the road the other is traveling on and discover a familiar feeling, then maybe that is enough for me.

A Note about Craft:

The opening lines of All the Way to Havana are among the best I’ve read as they set the scene and highlight the issues of the story. There is a gift and a cake, so the reader is on alert that there’s a party, without mention of that term. We learn that the narrator is driving “all the way” to the big city – ie, a long distance, to celebrate a “zero-year birthday”. What a lovely way to herald a birth! Reading further, we meet Cara Cara, a character in herself, and learn that she doesn’t purr like a kitten, but clucks like a chicken. What wonderful images these words evoke! And these images will be easily recognized by children and evoke the rural setting of the story’s beginning. What a wonderful way to hook readers in the first lines!

All the Way to Havana garnered four starred reviews and considerable attention in the press. Justifiably so!

Visit Mike Curato’s website here and Margarita Engle’s site here, and read an interview with both in Publisher’s Weekly .

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 – Yo Soy Muslim


I pre-ordered today’s Perfect Picture Book after reading about it in one of the recent lists of multicultural books. The title drew me in and the idea of a celebration of multicultural identities intrigued me. We are all special, and a picture book that celebrates the unique traits that make us special is, in my mind, a Perfect Picture Book:



Title: Yo Soy Muslim: A Father’s Letter to his Daughter

Written By: Mark Gonzales

Illustrated By: Mehrdokht Amini

Publisher/date: Salaam Reads, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/August 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: diversity, Muslims, Latinas, multicultural identities


It has been said, if you climb a tree to the very top and laugh,

your smile will touch the sky.

Brief Synopsis:

A Muslim Latino father writes a letter to his daughter celebrating their multicultural identity.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Islam;
  • Although Muslims make up a small percentage of the Mexican population (less than 1% as of 2009), there is a long history of Muslims in Mexico, dating back to Spanish colonization, although they were not allowed to openly practice their religion in colonial times; see Islam in Mexico (an article written for adults);
  • Create Mexican Amate folk-art paintings , featuring natural images (plants and animals) from brown paper bags;
  • Try creating Islamic tiles;
  • Yo soy means I am. What are you? Show what makes you unique and special by completing the sentence: I am…

Why I Like this Book:

In sparse, lyrical text, Gonzales breaks down stereotypes as a father’s words inspire a young Latina Muslim to be strong and proud of her diverse heritage. Respecting history, Gonzales conjures images of “Mayan pyramids that too lived amongst the heavens” like modern skyscrapers do today. From the heavens, Gonzalez returns to earth, asking what it means to be human, and preparing the daughter for questions that will be asked of her, “What are you?” “and where are you from?”  He acknowledges that some people “will not smile at” her, but assures her that she will do amazing things, as her ancestors did. In my favorite passage, Gonzalez writes:

No matter what they say, know you are wondrous. A child of crescent moons, a builder of mosques, a descendant of brilliance, an ancestor in training.

To be an ancestor in training, to be one revered by future generations, is something we can wish for all children, and especially for one whose faith and ethnic heritages place her among not one but two peoples who face discrimination within certain sectors today.


I love that Amini, who grew up in Iran but now lives in England, was chosen to illustrate Yo Soy Muslim. Her jewel-toned illustrations combine imagery from rural Mexico with images from Islam, such as mosques and the crescent moon, and highlight the rich heritage of both cultures.

A Note about Craft:

Yo Soy Muslim is not a traditional children’s story with a named main character who faces a problem and experiences growth. Rather, it is presented as a lyrical letter with the father showing his daughter her history and future, and exhorting her to be proud, even when others disagree.

A few Spanish words are used in the text, but very few. Interestingly, though, the author, or possibly the publisher, chose to use Spanish words in the title. By placing the Spanish terms with Muslim, the reader is alerted right away that the two belong together.

Like Tiny Owl Publishing that built bridges by pairing an Iranian illustrator with a British author in A Bottle of Happiness, Salaam Reads furthered a Latino Muslim’s text by pairing it with the images of an Iranian illustrator. I think this adds another rich layer to the book.

Check out more of Mehrdokht Amini’s art on her website.

Learn more about Salaam Reads, “an imprint that aims to introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works.”

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!