Monthly Archives: March 2018

PPBF – The Field

As the snow is melting and temperature’s rising (a bit!), I’ve been enjoying the sight of teams, families and friends heading to the town sports fields near my home, sports gear in tow. As is clear from today’s Perfect Picture Book, this is a sight that’s replicated on fields near and far – even those that are never snow-covered.

the-field-cover-300x233Title: The Field

Written By: Baptiste Paul

Illustrated By: Jacqueline Alcántara

Publisher/date: NorthSouth Books, Inc/March 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: soccer; teamwork; play; St. Lucia (Caribbean); #WNDB; #ReadYourWorld


Vini! Come!

The field calls.

Brief Synopsis: An island field calls a group of children to play a pick-up game of soccer, friend against friend.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about the island of St. Lucia, the unnamed setting of The Field;
  • Match the Creole word to the English word and color the book illustrations in this Activity Sheet;
  • Play soccer, or another sport, with your family or friends;
  • Find more ideas in the Discussion Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

This exuberant debut picture book follows a group of island children as they play a game of pick-up soccer, friend against friend. Not only do the children need to first gather their shoes, ball and goals, but they also must convince the fruit vendor to serve as referee, shoo cows from the field, and decide whether to call the match when the “sky falls” and rain muddies the field.

Paul’s short, poetic text, with many Creole words paired with their English equivalents, coupled with Alcántara’s vivid, mixed-media illustrations make this a book that children and their parents will want to read, and reread.

A Note about Craft:

The word count of The Field is extremely low, with only a few words, at most, appearing on most pages, and with only a few full sentences. The longest sentences I found were a mere five words long! The text, to me, reads as a free-verse poem. With short, staccato phrases and sentences, Paul mimics the action and pacing of a soccer match and helps the reader feel as if s/he is part of the game. As writers, we should consider the subject matter and match the pacing to the subject, as Paul does so well here.

Likewise, in a story about teamwork, Paul (or his editor) chose not to name any characters or attribute any dialogue. I’m presuming this may be because attributing the dialogue would slow the pace. Another result, though, is that this encourages any child reading this story to feel as if s/he is on the field, too, a kind of “Every Child,” effect, if you will.

The two-word title of this book, The Field, captured my attention, and, after I’d read the book, caused me to think back on all of the places I, or my kids, enjoyed playing. Thinking about the many other possible titles this story could have had, makes me realize the importance of just the right title to lure readers in.

Finally, The Field is about universal themes like teamwork and soccer and playing through an obstacle, like rain – things everyone can relate to. But the children playing in this story don’t all wear official soccer gear, or even sneakers, the field is shared with livestock, and no bleachers line its sides. From the illustrations and the inclusion of Creole words, we can guess at its island setting.  From the illustrations, we know a diverse group of kids comprise the players. As author and editor Denene Millner wrote in a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece, children of color “want to read books that engage with their everyday experiences, featuring characters who look like them….White children, too, deserve — and need — to see black characters that revel in the same human experiences that they do.” I’d add to that, that kids who don’t have fancy soccer gear or state-of-the-art fields want to read stories that show kids having fun without those things, too. I think Paul and Alcántara have created a book that fulfills both of these desires.

Among the many reviews, including starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist,  see this interview with Paul in The Brown Bookshelf, Vivian Kirkfield’s PPBF review and interview with Paul, Latinxs in Kid Lit’s interview with Alcántara, and Maria Marshall’s PPBF review and interview with Paul.

This is a double debut picture book. Visit Paul’s website and Alcántara’s website. Alcántara won the inaugural 2016 “We Need Diverse Books” illustration mentorship award.

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 – The Roses in my Carpets

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is another Canadian import, this one by a prolific Muslim Pakistani-Canadian female author, Rukhsana Khan.



Title: The Roses in my Carpets

Written By: Rukhsana Khan

Illustrated By: Ronald Himler

Publisher/date: Fitzhenry & Whiteside/2004 (first published by Stoddart Kids/1998)

Suitable for Ages: 6-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; Afghanistan; carpet weaving; resilience


It’s always the same. The jets scream overhead. They’ve seen me. I’m running too slowly, dragging my mother and sister behind. The ground is treacherous, pitted with bomb craters. My mother and sister weigh me down. A direct hit. Just as I’m about to die, or sometimes just after, I awake.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy in a refugee camp relives the horrible memories of war in Afghanistan, and lives with the difficulties in the camp, but he dreams of a better life for himself and his family.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Although The Roses in my Carpets deals with serious subjects, war, poverty and life in a refugee camp, the dreams of the young main character left me feeling hopeful that life would improve. Despite losing his father during the war and despite living a bleak hand-to-mouth existence with his mother and sister in a mud hut (he terms washing his face “a useless habit”) supported by the kindness of foreign sponsors, the narrator works hard to learn a craft that he believes will ensure that his “family will never go hungry.” I love the message of resolve and duty to family shown.

I also love that the means to make life better is a traditional art that the narrator uses to cope with the horrors he has experienced. He describes that with his fingers “I create a world the war cannot touch.” He further explains that the colors he uses have “special meaning,” with white being for his father’s shroud, green for life, black for the night sky that hides them from enemies, blue for a sky “free of jets” and red for roses. This usage and symbolism of colors reminded me of When I Coloured in the World, in which the nameless narrator imagines erasing bad things, like war, and coloring in good things, like peace.

Veteran illustrator Himler’s watercolor and pencil drawings bring Khan’s words to life, providing a stark contrast between the dinginess and dirt of the camp and the colorful carpets.

A Note about Craft:

Khan chose first-person POV to tell this story. This helps the reader to experience life in a refugee camp first-hand, something, thankfully, the vast majority of us will never do!

The carpets that the narrator weaves not only are a future means of earning a living but a way to process the horrors of his life and a way to visualize the world he hopes to inhabit. I love how Khan has made one object so central to the meaning of this story, especially as that object is a work of art. I think it’s a useful lesson for authors to find objects to include in their stories that can add meanings on multiple levels, as the carpet does here.

Khan is an #OwnVoices author who was born in Pakistan, the location of the Afghan refugee camp, and moved as a young child to Canada. According to a review from The Toronto Star newspaper reproduced on Khan’s website, the inspiration for the narrator is a foster child whom Khan sponsored.

Visit Rukhsana Khan’s website, where you can learn about The Libraries in Afghanistan Project that she supports and see the Muslim Booklist for kids. Among many other books, Khan is the author of King for a Day, which I reviewed last month.


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!

#50PreciousWords Writing Challenge

I can’t resist entering the #50PreciousWords Writing Challenge over at Vivian Kirkfield’s blog. In honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday this past March 2nd, Vivian challenged herself, and us, to the following:


  1. Write a story appropriate for kids ages 12 or under, using only 50 words…they can all be different words, or you can use some of them over and over…just as long as the total word count of the story is 50 or less.
  2. It can be prose, rhyme, free verse, silly or serious…whatever works for you.
  3. Title is not included in the word count.

If Dr. Seuss could do it, why not try? Sounds simple, right? Not so fast…to write a complete story, ie, beginning, middle & end, in a mere 50 words is no mean feat. But some awesome writers have taken up the challenge – check out all of the entries on Vivian’s blog.

Now, to my humble entry. As we stare down another Nor’easter, I personally am thinking I’d rather do battle with another force of nature, in warmer climes. Enjoy! And stay safe & warm everyone!


Battle at the Beach

(47 words)

Shovel! Scoop! Pile it high.

Whoosh! A wave –

say good-bye.

Scoop! Shovel! Pile again.

Swoosh! New wave –

all gone then.

Shovel! Scoop! Pile third time.

Shush! No waves –

all is fine…


We scoop and shovel,

Ocean erases;

Smooshing our castles,

leaving no traces.


PPBF – The Streets Are Free

As students across the United States mobilize to rally support for gun control legislation, I’ve been encouraged to read books that celebrate social activism among children and young people. I found today’s Perfect Picture Book in Canada, although its first publication was in Venezuela, a country from which I have seen very few picture books. I hope you find it as inspiring as I did!

streetsrevisedTitle: The Streets Are Free

Written By: Kurusa

Illustrated By: Monika Doppert

Translated By: Karen Englander

Publisher/date:  Annick Press Ltd./1995 (originally published by Edicones Ekaré/Banco del Libro as La Calle es Libre/1981)

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: social activism; Venezuela; playground; #ReadYourWorld


Not very long ago, when Carlito’s grandfather was a boy, mountain lions roamed the hills of Venezuela.

One particular mountain was covered with forests and bushes, small creeks and dirt paths. Every morning the mist would reach down and touch the flowers and the butterflies.

Brief Synopsis: When a barrio outside Caracas becomes too congested and there is nowhere for the children to play, the children try convincing the mayor and then they ask the community to work together to build a playground.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Venezuela, the setting of this story;
  • The children in the story work together to design a playground. What would you include in a playground if you were building a new one? Draw a map of your ideal playground;
  • Is there something at home or at your school that you don’t like or think should be changed? Think about how you can convince your teachers or family to do what you’d like done.

Why I Like this Book:

The Streets Are Free is an inspiring story of children who band together to build a playground in the barrio of San José de la Urbina in Caracas, Venezuela. As Caracas grew, open lands and streams disappeared, replaced by busy streets, crowded buildings and sewers that were unfit spaces for the children to play.

When a group of children discovered an unused lot, they discussed the playground among themselves during an after-school library program and then asked the city government to build the playground. When the politicians didn’t follow through on their promises, the children pestered and prodded their families and neighbors to build it themselves without government help.

Facets of the story that I found most interesting to discuss in a classroom or as a family include the role of the media in spurring the mayor to action, initially; the necessity of persistence to finally solve the problem and achieve a goal; the role of community spaces, like libraries, and helpers, like librarians, to facilitate social change; and the differences between the families who live in the barrio and the politicians who have the power to enact the changes.

Lovely watercolor illustrations bring the barrio to life, especially as the bleaker aspects of barrio life appear in black and white illustrations.

A Note about Craft:

Not only is The Streets Are Free based on a true story, but the problem the children face, and solve, is one with kid-centric stakes: a safe place to play. When thinking about writing books about concepts like social activism, I think it’s important to target the activity to something that’s generally something kids can understand. What’s more understandable for kids than the desire for a playground?

As this is an older book, written for a different market, the text is longer than the current norm and the story begins with information about the lost rural lands that have been replaced by the barrio. I think if someone were to rewrite this story today, the opening would focus on the kids and their problem at the outset, and the information in the current first four pages would be condensed into back matter. Interestingly, too, this book is longer than the norm, at 48 pages.

According to a review I read on Vamos A Leer, Kurusa is the pseudonym of a Venezuelan anthropologist and editor.

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!