Monthly Archives: March 2018

PPBF – The Drum

The moon and stars aligned last Saturday, and I was in London for the launch of today’s Perfect Picture Book. What fun to check out New Beacon Books, a north London bookstore that has specialized in African and Caribbean literature since 1966, and participate in the lively book launch, featuring dancing, stomping and clapping.

DWePGqhXkAAIwmU-1024x1005Title: The Drum

Written By: Ken Wilson-Max

Illustrated By: Catell Ronca

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2018

Suitable for Ages: 2-5

Themes/Topics: music; motion; diversity; poetry; self-expression

Opening:

This is the drum

This is the beat

Brief Synopsis: A diverse group of children enjoys moving to the beat of a drum.

Links to Resources:

  • Make a drum;
  • Listen to drum music;
  • Read about a young Cuban girl who wanted to play the drums in Margarita Engle’s Drum Dream Girl – music, especially the beat of drums, really is universal!

Why I Like this Book:

The drum takes center stage in the first in the Children Music Life series of picture books designed to get children moving and feeling the musical beat. With its diverse cast of characters, The Drum presents a lively celebration of how music unites peoples of different races, ethnicities, genders, ages and socioeconomic status.

I think children and adults will enjoy hearing, over and over again (as young children often ask for beloved books), Wilson-Max’s song-like text and following his prompts to move to the music. As I experienced at the book launch, even very young children were quick to repeat his poetic text, word for word, as they followed the prompts to clap hands, stomp feet, shake shoulders, and move their bodies. Best of all, it was clear that the message to “feel the drum in your heart” was heeded. I could easily envision kids, and maybe some adults, leaving the launch, or finishing a reading, and being inspired to beat on whatever drum-like surface they could find or make.

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Wilson-Max at the book launch

Ronca’s bright illustrations that seem to jump off the pages are the perfect accompaniment to Wilson-Max’s staccato text. With minimal backgrounds and a mixture of clothing styles, including many fabrics that could be African or Caribbean inspired, the focus is on the smiling faces and moving bodies of the diverse participants. As Ronca stated in a recent interview, “I wanted the colours to communicate life and make the visuals as striking as possible.” I think you’ll agree that she succeeded.

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Scene from The Drum

The Drum is a great addition to home, classroom and nursery school bookshelves, especially for those desiring to build a diverse library or teach listening and basic musical skills.

A Note about Craft:

With its low word count (about 80 words total), Wilson-Max’s staccato, poetic text mimics the beats of a drum and encourages repetition. This suits the subject matter of The Drum well, I believe, and brought to mind Baptiste Paul’s poetic language in The Field that, to my mind, mimicked the back and forth action of a soccer match. In addition, Wilson-Max’s short, rhythmic language is perfect for younger listeners, like those in nursery schools or music appreciation classes. It’s clear that he tailored his words not just to the subject matter but also to the young ages of his target listeners.

Visit Wilson-Max’s about.me site to learn more about him. See more of Ronca’s artwork on her website.

Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd  is an independent publishing company in the UK “committed to producing beautiful, original books for children”, and founded on the “belief that stories act as bridges – providing pathways to new experiences whilst connecting us to here and there.”

While not currently available in US book shops, The Drum is available through the Book Depository, which ships for free to the US and around the world.

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 – Out

As this post publishes, I’ll be in London, at the start of a six-day journey with my eldest daughter as she celebrates a new decade (yep! I’m old enough to have birthed a 30-year old!). Thinking about this trip has reminded me of other journeys I’ve undertaken with one or more of my children, including a few rather lengthy rail journeys, several Atlantic crossings, and even a boat journey or two.

Today’s Perfect Picture Book begins with a mother-daughter journey – a journey to a new life, away from a war-torn country. This is the type of journey most of us will never take, but that we must understand, as we welcome new immigrants to our communities.

www.scholasticTitle: Out

Written By: Angela May George

Illustrated By: Owen Swan

Publisher/date: Scholastic Canada Ltd./2017 (originally published by Scholastic Australia/2016)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: refugees; asylum; journeys; family

Opening:

I feel different. It’s the way people stare. I’m called an asylum seeker, but that’s not my name.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl describes her journey fleeing a war-torn region and settling into life in a new country.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Teaching Guides for Grades 2-3 and Grades 4-5;
  • What do you think a new child or family may need if they leave their homeland and move to your town or city?
  • The narrator of this story travels by boat to her new home. Have you ever taken a boat journey? Draw a picture or describe in words the boat and where you traveled;
  • The narrator and her mother play a string game (cat’s cradle) while on their journey. What games do you think you could play with a new child at school who may not speak English?

Why I Like this Book:

In Out, George and Swan provide a sympathetic portrayal of the flight and resettlement of a nameless girl and her mother in a new, nameless, safe city and country. While readers learn why the pair leave their homeland, a war, and accompany them on a long boat journey to the new country, much of the story is an upbeat, hope-filled account of their resettlement experiences.

I think Out will resonate with children who are refugees, and it could help their classmates understand the refugees’ experiences. At one point, the narrator thinks back on the boat ride that “seems so long ago,” and notes that “these days” she runs to “win races” and camps “for fun.” She then explains, though, that “some days, when there’s a loud bang, I drop to the floor.” If a classmate reacts to loud noises or perhaps draws pictures of what s/he has seen, the other kids, and even some teachers, may understand the reason for what otherwise may seem like strange behavior after reading and discussing Out. They then may be better able to support their classmate/student.

Swan’s mix of felt-tipped marker and colored pencil illustrations are, in his words, “rough-around-the-edges” to convey the sense of the roughness and uncertainty of a refugee’s life.

A Note about Craft:

Like several other refugee stories I’ve reviewed recently, George utilizes first-person point of view to draw us into the story, become emotionally connected to the narrator and experience the life of a refugee through her eyes. This is particularly effective when, in the opening scene, the narrator informs us that she is called an “asylum seeker,” but that isn’t her name. I immediately wanted to hug her and call her by name!

Especially as she recounts the narrator’s flight to the new country, George tackles some difficult issues such as war, fear, hunger and thirst. Rather than dwell on them, George instead refers to “horrible things” that show the narrator “what it is to be brave.” When she hears noises at night, she listens to the river, that “knew the way out of the forest.” When hungry, mother and daughter “whispered our favourite foods to each other.” None of these examples, in my mind, minimizes the traumatic events. In each instance, however, the narrator and reader move on and find solace in something, thereby offering hope.

Swan weaves a yellow string through the story that ties the narrator’s former life to her new life. Younger children, in particular, may find comfort in the string as hair bow in an early spread, a game on the long boat journey, and a tie on her backpack towards story’s end. What threads can we, as authors or illustrators, use to show the connections in our stories?

See an author’s note and illustrator’s note in Study Notes that accompanied the first Australian printing.

Visit Owen Swan’s website to learn more about this Australian illustrator.

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 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

Opening:

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.

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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

Opening:

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.

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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:

#50 PRECIOUS WORDS WRITING CHALLENGE GUIDELINES

  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!

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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…

NO-O-O!

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

Opening:

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!