Monthly Archives: October 2017

Monster! A Halloweensie Tale

Happy Halloween! That day when all things pumpkin flavored, scented and colored rule; when every dog who has ever shared our home cowers under covers as the doorbell rings again, and again, and again; and when writers of picture books converge like a coven of witches and warlocks to stir 100 words into Halloweensie treats for kids of all ages.

The rules as stated on Susanna Hill’s site are simple: 100 words (not including the title); kid-friendly; using the terms monster, candy corn (counted as one word), and shadow. Entries are linked at Susanna’s site – read as many as you dare! I double dare you to comment on as many as you can! I trust you won’t be disappointed – they’re much more satisfying than anything you’ll find at the bottom of a treat bag.

And now, without further adoooOOO..

MONSTER! (100 words)

Jeremiah whispered, “I vant to drink your blood.”

But then he bumped into Jessy’s desk. Milk spilled across her homework.

She yelled, “Monster!”

“No! I’m not!”

He stumbled down the stairs, smashing into Gran’s favorite planter. CRASH!

She cried, “Monster!”

“No! I’m not!”

Jeremiah tripped and toppled the candy corn dish.

Jimmy hissed, “Monster!”

“No! I’m not!”

Lips quivering over bloodied fangs, Jeremiah squinted at his blurry shadow.

“What do they see that I don’t?”

He sighed. “Everything.”

Jeremiah straightened his cape, grabbed a sack, and put on his thick glasses.

“I’m no Monster! This Vampire vants to trick or treat!”

 

 

 

 

 

PPBF – Día de Los Muertos

Regular readers will notice that I’m posting not on Friday, as planned, but on Sunday evening. You’ll also find today’s post a bit shorter than usual, which is neither a reflection on the book nor the subject matter. Rather, it’s a reflection on life, and how life can change in an instant. Such changes make me appreciate family even more, and cause me to celebrate those who paved the path along which we trod.

thTitle: Día de Los Muertos

Written By: Roseanne Greenfield Thong

Illustrated By: Carles Ballesteros

Publisher/date: Albert Whitman & Company/2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: bilingual; Latino; celebrations; Day of the Dead; rhyming

Opening:

It’s Día de Los Muertos, the sun’s coming round,

as niños prepare in each pueblo and town.

For today we will honor our dearly departed

with celebraciones – it’s time to get started!

Brief Synopsis:

Children celebrate the Day of the Dead with their families

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Día de los Muertos in an Afterword;
  • Many Spanish words are sprinkled throughout the text and are defined in a Glossary;
  • Make pan de muerto, bread of the dead, that is part of the celebrations.

Why I Like this Book:

Día de Los Muertos is a wonderful introduction to a Halloween-like holiday celebrated throughout Mexico and much of Latin America. Unlike Halloween, though, celebrations are family-oriented, with remembrance of ancestors at the heart of the festivities.

While there isn’t a distinct story per se, the reader follows along as young children celebrate departed relatives, including Grandpa Padilla. Rhyming text keeps the action upbeat and fast-paced.

Colorful illustrations complement the rhyming text, leaving the reader with a sense of joy and connection to family.

A Note about Craft:

We learn as writers that rhyme should be utilized only when it adds to the story, when it’s necessary. In Día de Los Muertos, the rhyme quickens the pace and makes what could be a somber subject upbeat and more kid-relatable. Particularly impressive, Thong rhymes not just in English, but also in Spanish.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books https://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/ list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Robinson

Regular readers may think that I’m deviating from my focus on books about refugees, regions experiencing conflict or natural disasters, and regions affected by immigration bans. But as I read today’s Perfect Picture Book by a noted author-illustrator who, himself, was born in the former Czechoslovakia and was granted asylum as an adult in the US, I couldn’t help but think the themes of this book are so important for today’s refugees or any other kids feeling alone or hopeless. I hope you agree!

9780545731669_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Robinson

Written & Illustrated By: Peter Sís

Publisher/date: Scholastic Press/September 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Courage, loneliness, independence, friendship, adventure, bullying

Opening:

My friends and I love adventure. We play pirates all the time. Together, we rule the high seas!

Brief Synopsis: Peter, a young boy who loves Robinson Crusoe, falls ill after dressing as his hero for a school costume party and being mocked for his costume. He then dreams of a journey that mimics that of his hero.

Links to Resources:

  • A costume party is a key feature of this story. Have you ever dressed as a literary hero? Find some ideas here.
  • Have you ever worn a costume that you really liked, but others found it funny or too different? How did you feel?
  • Read a child’s version of Robinson Crusoe here.

Why I Like this Book: Robinson is a gorgeous picture book with an important message for kids who feel alone and/or different.

How will I survive on my own?” Peter asks in one dark spread, as he looks fearfully around an imposing forest. I think Peter speaks for all kids who are alone, or who feel alone due to lack of friends or bullying, or who are in an unfamiliar place due to a natural or manmade disaster or even are lost near home. As kids see Peter adapt to island life and emulate the lifestyle of his hero, I think they will feel hope, too, that their situations will improve. As in all good adventure stories, Sís circles back to the beginning, and in the end, we leave Peter and his friends ready for another adventure.

In true Sís style, the text is minimal and the illustrations are incredible. This is a dream adventure, and Sís’ depiction of the transition from reality to dream is stunning as Peter’s bed transforms into a ship, and he approaches the island after floating in and out of hours, or maybe days.

A mix of smaller panels and larger one- and two-page spreads, Sís’ pen, ink and watercolor illustrations were designed to capture the “colorful, dreamlike first impression” he had when he first read Robinson Crusoe, per an About the Art note. I believe he succeeded, and I think you’ll agree!

A Note about Craft:

As authors or author-illustrators, we learn the importance of ideas and idea generation. We also learn they can come from anywhere – even our own past. Sís mined his past for Robinson. He states, in an Author’s Note, that Robinson is inspired by a true story from his childhood. Sís wore a Crusoe costume fashioned by his mother and recalled being ridiculed by friends. He even includes a photograph of himself in that costume in the book (you’ll have to read Robinson to see it!). What memories of yours can become picture books?

From the opening above, the point of view is clear: the main character of Robinson narrates his own story. I think this works well to bring immediacy to the story.

Robinson is a 48-page picture book published by a major commercial publisher. While the word-count is low, the page count is high, showing that the “rules” can be broken.

Finally, I confess to having had trouble pulling the main themes from Robinson. It is so multi-layered! I listed those from the jacket cover first, but then realized how bullying, not listed on the cover, plays such a pivotal role in the story, and how imagination, which isn’t even listed above, pops from each page.

Robinson has justifiably received many starred reviews. Learn more about its acclaimed author/illustrator, Peter Sís at his website and Scholastic Author Page.

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 – 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:

9781580896733_p0_v1_s192x300

Reviewed here

9781419705830_p0_v2_s192x300

Reviewed here

9781419721304_p0_v1_s118x184

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!