Monthly Archives: May 2018

PPBF – The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid

None of my children is a visual artist or an architect, but all enjoyed designing and re-designing special places when they were young. From my daughters’ connected castles (with a third, for my husband and me, in the middle), to my son’s over-sized drawing of a zoo, to many hours spent together on the computer designing Syms’ homes and even “real” homes with home design software, my children loved architecture and design. I wish today’s Perfect Picture Book had been available when they were young – I know they would have savored every page!

148144669XTitle: The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid

Written & Illustrated By: Jeanette Winter

Publisher/date: Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster)/2017

Suitable for Ages: 5-10

Themes/Topics: STEAM; biography; architecture; persistence

Opening:

In Iraq, rivers flow through green marshes. Wind swoops across sand dunes and through ancient cities. Zaha Hadid sees the rivers and marshes and dunes and ruins with her father and imagines what cities looked like thousands of years ago.

Brief Synopsis: As a child in Iraq, Zaha Hadid loved nature; as an architect, she incorporated the swoosh, zoom and flow of nature into her designs.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover Iraq, the country where Hadid grew up;
  • Learn about architecture and elements of design here and here;
  • See illustrations of some of Hadid’s creations and learn where they are in an Afterword, explore more in the Sources, and see photographs of 10 of Hadid’s best buildings;
  • Find discussion questions and curriculum connections in this review;
  • Design and draw your dream house, classroom, park, or other favorite place.

Why I Like this Book:

In The World is Not a Rectangle, Winter combines sparse, lyrical text with gorgeous, often-full page illustrations to tell the story of architect Zaha Hadid. Like Hadid’s nature-inspired designs, Winter’s text flows and swoops across the pages and recounts Hadid’s journey to become a world-renowned architect, despite being a woman in a male-dominated field and a Muslim. I love how Winter shows the reader the natural scenes that inspired Hadid, and I love the many details Winter shares in her text and illustrations. A particular favorite includes reams of scribbled designs and text that highlight the sense of movement in Hadid’s creations and her belief that “the world is not a rectangle.” This spread, and several others, can be viewed at Simon and Schuster (but are not reproducing well here!).

The text and illustrations work together on many levels to highlight the work of a Muslim female pioneer; to inspire children to persevere and reach for their dreams; and to appreciate these architectural gems.

A Note about Craft:

Winter tells Hadid’s story in the present tense, from her childhood in Iraq, to her days as a student and struggling architect, to her time at the pinnacle of success, to the night when “the light in Zaha’s window goes dark.” Only then does Winter switch to past tense, “[s]he has left this world” before returning to present tense with the revelation that Hadid’s colleagues “keep their lights on…keeping her flame burning bright.” Not only does Winter’s choice of present tense render the story more immediate (similar to using first person point of view, I think), but I believe it’s particularly effective in the biography of a woman whose creations will endure for centuries.

Winter uses sparse, lyrical text interspersed with quotations in this longer than usual, 56-page picture book. I particularly think her verb choices are important ways to incorporate movement in the text, as Hadid, herself, incorporates movement in her architectural designs.

The World is Not a Rectangle is an NCTE 2018 Orbis Pictus honor book.

See a review of another book by Winter:  Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan.

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 – Mommy’s Khimar

It’s Mother’s Week (we deserve more than a one-day celebration, don’t you agree?), and Ramadan. I can’t think of a better time to review a new picture book that celebrates a special mother-daughter bond and provides a window into the lives of these Muslim American characters.

mommys-khimar-9781534400597_lgTitle: Mommy’s Khimar

Written By: Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Illustrated By: Ebony Glenn

Publisher/date: Salaam Reads (an imprint of Simon & Schuster Inc)/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Islam, #WNDB, mother-daughter bond, imagination

Opening:

A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears. Before she walks out the door each day, she wraps one around her head.

Brief Synopsis: A young Muslim American girl dresses up in her mother’s head scarves.

Links to Resources:

  • Create a dress-up corner or dress-up box with ties, hats, scarves, jewelry and other fun-to-wear accessories and clothing (a friend had a collection of bridesmaids’ dresses from a second-hand shop that my daughters loved);
  • Find Ramadan coloring pages here;
  • Find daily Ramadan craft ideas at A Crafty Arab.

Why I Like this Book:

Mommy’s Khimar is a joyful book exploring the bonds of daughter and mother as the narrator, an unnamed child, wears a favorite khimar, scarf, that belongs to her mother. I love the exuberance of the young girl, and I love that the politics about whether to cover or not are absent from this heartwarming story.

I think kids will love how the narrator wears her mother’s khimar in so many imaginative ways: as a queen’s “golden train,” to “shine like the sun”, as a “shooting star” diving into clouds, as “golden wings” shielding her baby brother, as a superhero dashing “at the speed of light.” And adults will love the opportunities to discuss differing forms of dress and religious practices, including a Christian grandmother who doesn’t go to the mosque, but “we love each other just the same.” Also, as Thompkins-Bigelow notes in a blog post, black Muslims are the largest group of Muslims in the US, but the post-9/11media focus on Muslims as “foreigners” means that few representations of religious black Muslims exist in children’s literature. Mommy’s Khimar is a most welcome exception.

Starting with the welcoming cover that invites the reader to open the book, Glenn fills the pages with smiling faces and a sunny-yellow palette mixed with other bright pastels that further the celebratory feel of Mommy’s Khimar.mommys-khimar-9781534400597.in03

A Note about Craft:

Thompkins-Bigelow combines two universal themes, the bond between mother and child and a child’s desire to be like a parent by dressing in her or his clothing, and explores these themes as they play out in a specific cultural group, African-American Muslims. As we write our own stories, what universal themes can we explore?

Thompkins-Bigelow utilizes one item of clothing, the khimar, to be a lens, focused on the life and love within the family she portrays. What unique items could you highlight to help explore your particular cultural or ethnic group?

Although I’m not an illustrator, I can’t help noting the effect of Glenn’s sunny color scheme that renders the entire reading experience so joyful. What a different reading experience this might have been if Glenn hadn’t used yellow throughout or if Thompkins-Bigelow hadn’t highlighted the color in her text.

Mommy’s Khimar received starred review from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly and Shelf Awareness.

Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow is a former English teacher and current program director of Mighty Writers South, a Philadelphia not-for-profit that helps children write with clarity. Mommy’s Khimar is Thompkins-Bigelow’s debut picture book. Read about her inspiration for Mommy’s Khimar and see interviews with her at CityWide Stories, bookish.com, and Cynsations.

Illustrator Ebony Glenn “seeks to create enchanting visual stories with whimsical illustrations to incite more beauty, joy, and magic in people’s lives.” Read an interview with her at The Brown Bookshelf.

Founded in 2016, Salaam Reads is an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Salaam Reads’ mission is “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.” Salaam Reads also published Yo Soy Muslim, which I reviewed last September.

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 – Ramadan

 

I found today’s Perfect Picture Book at a lovely, local independent book store in Hoboken, NJ, Little City Books, when I was attending an author’s visit. Although I generally don’t review board books, I couldn’t resist the colorful cover and, knowing that Ramadan begins next week, I thought this is a Perfect Picture Book to help explain this important month of fasting and prayer to young children.

ramadan-9781534406353Title: Ramadan

Written By: Hannah Eliot

Illustrated By: Rashin

Publisher/date: Little Simon (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division)/April 2018

Suitable for Ages: 2-4 (and older)

Themes/Topics: Islam; #WNDB; Ramadan; celebration; non-fiction

Opening:

In the ninth month of the year, when the crescent moon first appears in the sky, it’s time to celebrate Ramadan!

Brief Synopsis: A non-fiction explanation of the Muslim celebration of Ramadan from a child’s perspective.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Ramadan is the first in a new board book series from Little Simon, Celebrate the World, which highlight “celebrations across the world.” In her upbeat, cultural exploration of Ramadan, Eliot focuses on the aspects of the holiday that I think will resonate with young children without delving into dogma. While Eliot notes that we “pray”, no deity is mentioned nor are there any references to a mosque or other places of worship. Instead, the text moves joyously through the “special month” that Eliot’s narrators clearly enjoy, from the first sighting of the crescent moon, through the Eid al-Fitr, or “Sweet Feast”, when Ramadan ends. Eliot helpfully focuses on the aspects of Ramadan, such as fasting and eating only while it is dark outside, that kids will notice, and ask about. As she does so, Eliot highlights “what is most important to us”: family, prayer and good deeds.

Eliot’s text provides a wonderful introduction to Ramadan and is suitable for practicing Muslims and people of other faiths (or no faith) who want to introduce their children to this important religious holiday. Rashin’s colorful illustrations bring this board book to another level. Rather than focusing on one family in one place, Rashin fills Ramadan with families from across the world, including families of color and families of differing social backgrounds. I especially enjoyed the spread, shown below, of a family enjoying suhoor, the meal before dawn, in a suburban home, complete with pet dog, and a family breaking fast at their iftar, in their tented home, complete with a cat.

ramadan-9781534406353.in01

Interior spread from Ramadan, reprinted from Simon & Schuster

A Note about Craft:

Eliot introduces Ramadan to young children by inviting them into the celebration through her focus on what “we” do. Use of the inclusive “we” is furthered via Rashin’s choice (or perhaps the choice of an editor) to focus not just on one family but on many families throughout the world.

Check out Eliot’s Author’s Page.

Among many other awards for her illustrations, Iranian-born and educated, US-based Rashin Kheiriyeh, the illustrator/author of 70 children’s books, was a 2017 Sendak Fellow. Visit her website to view more of her work, and check out a 2017 interview on Kathy Temean’s blog. See also my review of her 2013 picture book, Two Parrots.

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 – Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos

I was fortunate to have visited the New York Botanical Garden’s 2015 FRIDA KAHLO: Art, Garden, Life exhibition with an artist friend and view first-hand some of her paintings and the flora that she incorporated into them.IMG_5558

The conservatory show included a recreation of part of the exterior of La Casa Azul, as I was transported to the Mexico of Frida Kahlo, the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book:

28807785Title: Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos

Written By: Monica Brown

Illustrated By: John Parra

Publisher/date: NorthSouth Books, Inc (an imprint of NordSüd Verlag AG)/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: art; biography; Frida Kahlo; pets; Latina; Mexico.

Opening:

This is the story of a little girl named Frida who grew up to be one of the most famous painters of all time. Frida was special.

This is also the story of two monkeys, a parrot, three dogs, two turkeys, an eagle, a black cat, and a fawn. They were Frida’s pets, and they were special too.

Brief Synopsis:

The story of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and her many pets that inspired her and were subjects of her paintings.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Xolo dogs (Xoloitzcuintli – pronounced, show-low-eats-queen-tlee), an ancient Aztec breed, and view a short video of a Xolo playing;
  • Frida Kahlo is known for her self-portraits (over 50 of her 200+ paintings are paintings of herself, sometimes with her beloved pets). Color in the portrait from the Activity Page;
  • Try drawing or painting your own self-portrait;
  • An Author’s Note provides further information about Frida Kahlo, the first Latina to be featured on a US postage stamp;
  • Find more activities and insights in the Educator’s Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

Frido Kahlo and her Animalitos is an inspiring story of overcoming adversities and celebrating what is near and dear. For Frida Kahlo, what was near and dear were her pets, who were “her children, her friends, and her inspiration.”

I think kids will enjoy reading about the art and life of this important artist, an artist who hailed from Mexico, who was a female artist, at a time when most artists were male, and who suffered from illness and physical injury. I especially think they will enjoy how Brown relates the features of the pets to traits Kahlo shared. For instance, Brown connects the flight of Frida’s pet eagle, Gertrudis, to Frida’s imagination: “Like her eagle, Frida’s imagination could fly high.” Brown also includes a quotation from Kahlo, “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” Brown relays these insights as she explains how Kahlo was injured in an accident and spent many months in bed. By pairing these facts with the image of Kahlo’s imagination soaring like an eagle, I think Brown enables children to understand how Kahlo turned her adversities into opportunities to create art, and this will inspire them to overcome their own adversities.

Frido Kahlo’s art was colorful, a reflection of her Mexican home and love of its folk art traditions. So, too, are Parra’s vibrant acrylic illustrations. View the book trailer that captures some of these award-winning illustrations.

14.FridaKahloLovedPets

Reprinted from John Parra’s website

A Note about Craft:

Brown’s picture book biography of Frido Kahlo is not the first picture book to explore this important 20th century Mexican artist and her work. So what sets it apart and what can authors interested in writing about a well-known, and examined, figure learn from Brown’s approach? I think a key to the success of Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos is Brown’s identification of an important influence on Kahlo and using it as a lens to relate her life story and explore her artwork. That this influence is her beloved pets, a topic to which kids easily can relate, renders Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos not only an enjoyable book to read, but one for budding artists to examine, too.

Check out Monica Brown’s website and see the many other picture books and picture book biographies she has written.

See more of John Parra’s artwork on his website, and read a 2015 interview with him at Latinx in Kidlit.

Among other awards, Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos was named a 2017 New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year and 2018 Pura Belpré Honor for Illustration.

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos is also published in Spanish as Frida Kahlo y Sus Animalitos.

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!