Monthly Archives: June 2018

Picture Books that Explore the Refugee and Migrant Experience in the Americas for World Refugee Day 2018

In honor of #WorldRefugeeDay2018 and in solidarity with the “20 people [who] leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror” every minute (according to the United Nations), I’m posting this list of several Picture Books that I’ve reviewed in the past few years that illuminate the plight of those who flee their homes to seek refuge and that give voice to children separated from their parents due to immigration issues.

The refugee crisis is global, and several empathy-building Picture Books explore the refugee experience. This list focuses primarily on the Americas, however, as the events on the US border are uppermost today on my mind, and, I believe, on the minds of many parents, teachers and children trying to make sense of a senseless situation. Note: all links are to my reviews, which include resources to explore and discuss these issues further.

Please share in the comments other picture books that you’re reading about the refugee and migrant experience.

9780525428091_p0_v1_s192x300Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation

Written By: Edwidge Danticat

Illustrated By: Leslie Staub

Publisher/date: Penguin Young Readers Group/2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Opening: “When Mama first goes away, what I miss most is the sound of her voice.”

Brief Synopsis: When Mama is arrested and held in a women’s correctional facility because she lacks the correct immigration papers, young Saya misses her terribly. Mama records stories from her native Haiti for Saya while Papa writes letters to politicians and the media without success. Saya also writes a story that Papa sends to the local media, and that leads, ultimately, to the resolution of the problem.

9781554988501_1024x1024Somos como las nubes, We Are Like the Clouds
Written By:
 Jorge Argueta

Pictures ByAlfonso Ruano

Translated By: Elisa Amado

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Opening:

Somos como las nubes

Elefantes, caballos, vaca, cuches,/ flores,/ballenas,/ pericos.

Somos como las nubes.

We Are Like the Clouds

Elephants, horses, cows, pigs,/ flowers,/ whales,/ parakeets.

We are like the clouds.

Brief Synopsis:

In this bilingual (Spanish and English) poetry collection, Argueta explores the hopes and fears that cause young people to leave Central America, the perils of the journey, and the arrival to the United States.

 

9781419709579_p0_v1_s192x300Migrant

Written By: José Manuel Mateo

Illustrated ByJavier Martínez Pedro

Translated By: Emmy Smith Ready

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/ 2014 (Mexican edition: Ediciones Tecolote/2011)

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Opening:

I used to play among the roosters and the pigs. The animals roamed free, because in the village there were no pens, nor walls between the houses. On one side of the village were the mountains; on the other side, the sea.

Brief SynopsisIn this bilingual (Spanish and English) picture book, a young boy recounts his journey with his mother and sister from a small village in Mexico to Los Angeles, after the men of the village, including his father, are forced to move to find work.

 

9781419705830_p0_v2_s192x300Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Opening:

One spring the rains did not come and the crops could not grow. So Papá Rabbit, Señor Ram, and other animals from the rancho set out north to find work in the great carrot and lettuce fields. There they could earn money for their families.

Brief Synopsis:

When Pancho Rabbit’s father is delayed on his return from the north, Pancho sets out to find him, “helped” by a coyote who befriends and guides him, until the food runs out.

 

9780888999757_p0_v1_s118x184Migrant

Written By: Maxine Trottier

Illustrated ByIsabelle Arsenault

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2011

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes/Topics: Mennonites, Canada, Mexico, farming, migrant

Opening:

            There are times when Anna feels like a bird. It is the birds, after all, that fly north in the spring and south every fall, chasing the sun, following the warmth.

            Her family is a flock of geese eating its way there and back again.

Brief SynopsisMigrant is the story of Anna and her family, Mennonite farmers, who journey each summer to Canada to supplement their income by harvesting produce.

 

9780888995858_1024x1024Alfredito Flies Home

Written By: Jorge Argueta

Illustrated ByLuis Garay

Translated By:Elisa Amado

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2007

Suitable for Ages:4-9

Opening:

My name is Alfredo, just like my father, but everyone calls me Alfredito. I am as happy as a bird today because I’m going back home. Finally, after four whole years in San Francisco, my mother, Adela, my father, my grandmother Serve and I are going to climb on a plane tomorrow and fly back to El Salvador.

Brief Synopsis:

A young boy and his family who fled their home in El Salvador journey back to visit relatives and friends.

 

9781554987412_p0_v1_s192x300Two White Rabbits

Written By: Jairo Buitrago

Illustrated By: Rafael Yockteng

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-7 (per the publisher)

Opening:

When we travel, I count what I see. Five cows, four hens and one chucho, as my dad calls them.

Brief Synopsis: Like the two white rabbits of the title, a young girl and her father journey together trying to find a way to, and across, a border.

 

9781554518951_p0_v3_s192x300Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

Written By: Mary Beth Leatherdale

Illustrated ByEleanor Shakespeare

Publisher/date: Annick Press Ltd/2017

Suitable for Ages: 10-12

Opening:

At last, Ruth was free. She breathed a sigh of relief as she walked up the gangplank of the SS St. Louis. After trying to get out of Germany for two years, her family had finally secured passage on a ship headed to Havana, Cuba.

Brief SynopsisStormy Seas is a collection of five true stories about young people who fled their homelands by boat from World War II until today.

 

PPBF – Saffron Ice Cream

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is perfect in so many ways as we head into summer and as Muslims across the world celebrate Eid Al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan (the holy month of fasting).

saffron-ice-cream_1340_cTitle: Saffron Ice Cream

Written & Illustrated By: Rashin Kheiriyeh

Publisher/date: Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc./June 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigrant; moving home; summer; beach; ice cream; customs; friendship

Opening:

My name is Rashin. And this is my first trip to the beach!

Brief Synopsis:

A young girl remembers beach visits with her friend in Iran, as she and her family visit a beach in America for the first time, and she learns that while some things may differ in her new home, some pleasures remain the same.

Links to Resources:

  • Make and eat saffron ice cream;
  • Saffron is part of the saffron crocus (crocus sativus) and is the world’s most expensive spice. Discover other edible flowers;
  • Discover Iran, the birthplace of Rashin;
  • Visit a beach! Make a list of how it’s the same as or different from the beaches shown in Saffron Ice Cream.

Why I Like this Book:

The subject of Saffron Ice Cream, a family beach outing, can’t help but make anyone who reads it smile, especially as Rashin’s colorful illustrations are so joyful. Whether it’s a first beach day or the last of the summer, what child doesn’t love going to the beach and eating ice cream?

But Saffron Ice Cream is not just a romp at the beach. It’s also a window into life in Iran, an insightful exploration of cultural differences, and a story of how one act of kindness to welcome a stranger can lead to friendship.

Through her vibrant oil and acrylic illustrations, Rashin brings this story to life, making it one that families will want to read and reread.

17_1340_c

Reprinted from Rashin’s website

A Note about Craft:

Rashin focuses on a very kid-friendly topic, a favorite ice cream flavor, and uses that as a lens to explore universal themes: missing one’s homeland, cultural differences, welcoming newcomers, and friendship. I think food is a great lens to explore these themes, especially as saffron ice cream seems exotic to at least this reader.

Visit Rashin’s website to view more of her art. Kathy Temean interviewed Rashin on Illustrator Saturday in February 2017. Saffron Ice Cream is Rashin’s debut as author/illustrator in English. See my reviews of two of the many picture books that Rashin illustrated, Ramadan and 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 – Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World)

I first became aware of today’s Perfect Picture Book when I read a wonderful and thought-provoking review by Maria Popova in her online newsletter, Brain Pickings. Based on her review, I knew this was a book I had to read, and share with you!

9781592702206Title: Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World)

Written By: Henriqueta Cristina

Illustrated By: Yara Kono

Translated By: Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Publisher/date: Enchanted Lion Books/2017 (originally published in Portugal as Com 3 Novelos (O Mundo Dá Muitas Voltas) by Planeta Tangerina/2015)

Suitable for Ages: 3-9 (and older)

Themes/Topics: conformity; freedom of expression; refugees; creativity

Opening:

When I was eight years old, I lived in a warm, sunny country. It was also one where few children went to school.

My parents worried so much that lines appeared on their foreheads. They said words I didn’t understand. Words they whispered to each other, like: “Ignorance.” “Fear.” “War.” “Prison.”

One day I heard them say, “Exile.” The line on my father’s forehead deepened. The next day we left before dawn.

Brief Synopsis:

A family flees their homeland when life in a dictatorship becomes dangerous. They reach a country in which creativity and freedom of expression are non-existent, until they arrive and provide an example of how to combat conformity.

Links to Resources:

  • Try a kid-friendly type of knitting: finger knitting;
  • In search of freedom, the family in Three Balls of Wool travels from Portugal, to France, Algeria, Romania, and finally to Prague, in Czechoslvakia (today the Czech Republic). Trace their route on a map of Europe;
  • Learn in the Foreword about Amnesty International USA, which partnered with the publisher on Three Balls of Wool, learn the 20th century history of Portugal and the backstory of Three Balls of Wool in an Afterword, and view The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in an Afterword.

Why I Like this Book:

Through simple, kid-relatable words and images, Cristina and Kono bring understanding to the situations of refugees before and after they flee their homelands. In Three Balls of Wool, the young narrator notes some of the reasons the family left their home, including lack of education and worry expressed by parents through “lines” on foreheads and whispers about war and prison. But not only was their new home different, with a different language, it also was gray, cold and drab. All of the children wore only gray, green or orange sweaters, and “followed each other in an orderly way, almost as silent as the street lamps.”

While it’s the mother in Three Balls of Wool who conceived of a way to counter the drabness and conformity, she was inspired by the narrator’s braids, and the narrator and her brothers bravely wore the new sweaters to the park where initially a “strange silence” and everyone “staring” greeted them. But the narrator’s “voice grew stronger,” and in the final scene we learn that others followed the mother’s and children’s lead to express their individuality.

3_miolo23

reprinted from Planeta Tangeria

I think this very visual exploration of how to integrate some of one’s old life into a new situation and how to celebrate creativity over conformity will resonate with kids and give rise to interesting discussions about how newcomers integrate into a society, how their skills and creativity enrich their new homes, and how small steps can lead to positive change.

A Note about Craft:

Color and pattern are integral to Three Balls of Wool and its message of “being the change.” Cristina’s focus on a visual metaphor is an important reminder to focus on a kid-relatable element such as the monotone versus patterned pullovers. I also love that the metaphor of choice highlights the mother’s creativity and serves also as a subliminal metaphor for integration. Finally, Three Balls of Wool is based, per the Afterword, on the experiences of a family who fled Portugal during its dictatorship with its lack of education and inequality and settled in egalitarian, Communist Czechoslovakia. The imagery is a stark reminder that there was a price for this equality, but through creativity, change was possible there, too.

Per the book jacket, Cristina is a teacher who “likes to share stories” in her native Portugal. Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Kono is an award-winning illustrator and graphic designer at Planeta Tangerina, the original publisher of Three Balls of Wool. Enchanted Lion Books is “an independent, family-owned children’s book publisher based in Brooklyn, New York.”

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 – Chalk Eagle

I spent this past weekend with my family in the mountains, where eagles and imaginations soar. Surrounded by green hills and skies unblemished by the glare of city lights, unplugged from the internet and the world’s problems, we basked in nature and imagined a simpler time and place.

chalk-eagleTitle: Chalk Eagle

Written & Illustrated By: Nazli Tahvili

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: wordless picture book; imagination; eagles; freedom; #ReadYourWorld

Brief Synopsis: After a young child watches an eagle soar overhead, he uses chalk to draw an eagle and an image of himself so that he, too, can fly.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about eagles and other birds;
  • Watch the book trailer;
  • Using chalk, create wings in your home or classroom as a group project that encourages all of the children to imagine themselves flying;
  • Close your eyes & imagine you are flying over your home, school or the town where you live. What do you see? How do you recognize it from above? What adventures will you enjoy?

Why I Like this Book:

Using only silkscreened variants of three colors, sky blue, grassy green, and chalky white, Tahvili shows the reader the empowering freedom achieved when a young child lets his imagination soar. By telling the story only with images, Tahvili leaves space for the reader – a parent, teacher or even a child – to imagine why a young child leaves his home to soar above the mountains: is he remembering a special place? Seeking a special someone or something in a far-away land? Or perhaps tired of city noises and smells and seeking solitude in nature? And because the silk-screening process leaves the edges indistinct, the reader can fill in the details and imagine that the mountain scenery is, perhaps, a favorite location that s/he has visited in the past.

Chalk-Eagle-2

Interior spread from Chalk Eagle

I like that Chalk Eagle is no mere flight of fancy. Rather, the boy sees the eagle and then uses his creative powers, his artistic skills, to recreate it and himself. Thus, through art, the boy, and the reader, gain freedom.

I also like that through images alone, Tahvili tells a story that anyone can enjoy and share with others, regardless of where s/he lives, the language s/he speaks, and even whether s/he is literate.

A Note about Craft:

In an Afterword, award-winning Iranian artist Tahvili shares that Chalk Eagle was inspired by her husband’s childhood reminiscences of drawing eagles on his rooftop and flying with them in his imagination. What childhood reminiscences can you mine for story ideas that soar?

While I’m not an illustrator and won’t pretend to critique the stylistic components of Chalk Eagle, I learned so much by examining each spread and the page turns to see how Tahvili paces the story and draws readers into it.

Tiny Owl Publishing is an independent children’s publisher whose editors believe “that stories act as bridges – providing pathways to new experiences whilst connecting us to here and there.” Chalk Eagle is part of Tiny Owl’s wordless picture book campaign, which celebrates the power and possibilities of wordless picture books.

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!