Monthly Archives: October 2017

PPBF – Flowers for Sarajevo

As natural and man-made disasters continue to dominate the news, it’s difficult to remain hopeful. But today’s Perfect Picture Book shows that one act of kindness and beauty can spread, one person at a time:

FlowersforSarajevo_mainTitle: Flowers for Sarajevo

Written By: John McCutcheon

Illustrated By: Kristy Caldwell

Publisher/date: Peachtree Publishers/2017

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: historical fiction, music, Sarajevo, Bosnian War, beauty, healing

Opening:

See that man in the floppy hat? That’s Milo. He’s my father. He can sniff out the best roses in all of Sarajevo. Many kinds of people come together here in our marketplace, looking for spices, meats, and bread. Sometimes they buy, sometimes they don’t. But almost everyone leaves with flowers. Milo’s flowers.

Brief Synopsis: Drasko, the son of a flower seller, experiences war firsthand in Sarajevo when a bomb detonates near the local bakery. He also experiences the solace of music when a noted musician plays a daily tribute to those whose lives were lost. Moved by the music, Drasko discovers a way to spread beauty himself in his war-ravaged city.

Links to Resources:

  • Listen to the CD that accompanies the book; how does the music make you feel?
  • A Discussion Guide is available from Peachtree;
  • Learn about Bosnia and Herzegovina and its capital city, Sarajevo;
  • How do you spread kindness and beauty? Some ideas to try include sharing artwork, homemade greeting cards or music with elderly or ill neighbors, family members or friends.

Why I Like this Book:

War is never an easy topic to address in picture books, but Flowers for Sarajevo does so in a way that empowers rather than traumatizes children. Rather than focusing on the bakery bombing and senseless killing, McCutcheon focuses on the actions afterwards that spread hope and beauty from one person to the next. By doing so, he shows readers how they can bring about positive change, whether after a personal or larger manmade or natural disaster.

Caldwell utilizes a muted palate and faded backgrounds, except for splashes of color on the flowers that draw readers’ attention to them.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, McCutcheon, a storyteller and Grammy-winning musician, explains that he first learned about the cellist memorialized in Flowers for Sarajevo in a New York Times article. McCutcheon then wrote a song about Vèdran Smailovic, the musician, which is included in the book.

Rather than writing the story as non-fiction from an adult’s point of view, McCutcheon invented a child narrator, Drasko, who experienced Smailovic’s daily concerts and, moved by the music, spread beauty, too. By veering from the factual article and fictionalizing the story, McCutcheon renders it more kid-relatable.

McCutcheon further engages the reader by speaking directly to her or him. The story opens, “See that man…” The reader is thus on location with Drasko, and invited, in a way, to follow Drasko, his father, and the cellist to do her or his “own small part” to make the world beautiful.

In addition to the Author’s Note, back matter includes information about the Balkan peninsula and the Bosnian war, with further reading; the text and music for John McCutcheon’s song, Streets of Sarajevo, a short biography of cellist, Smailovic, and a CD.

Flowers for Sarajevo is a Parents Choice Gold Award winner.

Visit John McCutcheon’s website here. Visit Kristy Caldwell’s website 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 – Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México

As we’re nearing the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, and as Mexico, and particularly the region surrounding Mexico City, just experienced horrific damage from devastating earthquakes, I decided to showcase a new picture book about a Mexican cultural treasure as today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9781419725326_s3Title: Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/August 2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes/Topics: Mexico, biography, dance, traditions

Opening:

Amalia Hernández was born in Mexico City in 1917, and everyone assumed she would grow up to be a schoolteacher like her mother and her grandmother. Even Ami, as everyone called her, expected that.

Brief Synopsis:

Danza! is the biography of Amalia Hernández (1917-2000) who enjoyed and practiced ballet and modern dance as a child, grew up to become a professional dancer and choreographer, and later founded El Ballet Folklórico de México, the most famous dance company in Mexico. It also recounts the story of El Ballet from its inception through the present.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Danza! shares a positive message about the cultural traditions of Mexico and the hard-work and persistence of the founder of El Ballet Folklórico de México. I can imagine many children reading this story and dreaming of dancing in a company of dancers such as El Ballet or perhaps founding a cultural or sports group themselves.

The text is informative without being didactic. I appreciated the inclusion of pronunciation guides and ballet terms, the sprinkling of Spanish terms throughout the text, and the inclusion of an Author’s Note, Glossary, and Bibliography.

Tonatiuh’s artistic style suits the subject matter well. His characters seem to dance on the pages. I especially enjoyed the collaged additions of photographed fabrics and even hair.

A Note about Craft:

Although Danza! principally is the biography of Amalia Hernández, it also tells the story of her legacy, namely El Ballet and the promotion of Mexican folk dancing. By taking the story beyond Hernández’ death and focusing on El Ballet, Tonatiuh leaves the reader feeling hopeful about the continuation of this important dance company.

Tonatiuh brings Hernández’ story full circle: he tells us at the outset that it was “assumed” that she would become a school teacher. We learn near the end of the book that in later life, she taught and supervised the ballet rehearsals. “She had become a schoolteacher after all, like her mother and her grandmother.” Placing her in her family tradition strengthens the story, I think, as Danza! is, at its heart, a story about preserving cultural traditions.

Visit Tonatiuh’s  website and check out some of his other books:

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Reviewed here

9781419705830_p0_v2_s192x300

Reviewed here

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Reviewed 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!