Monthly Archives: July 2018

PPBF -Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight

When I first learned the title of today’s Perfect Picture Book and discovered the name of the author/illustrator, I knew this was a “must read and review” for me. So, I reached out to the publisher, and in exchange for an unbiased review, received an advance copy. I hope you find it as insightful and inspiring as I did, and that you’ll look for it in early August!

51sOxhTCEGL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_Title: Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/Date: Abrams ComicArts (an imprint of Abrams Books)/7 August 2018

Suitable for Ages: 14-18 (per one book seller website, or, in my opinion, as young as 8)

Themes/Topics: immigrants; workers’ rights; undocumented workers; Codex; #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Opening:

You don’t know our names but you’ve seen us. In this country we build houses, we harvest crops, we cook, we clean, and we raise children. Some people want to kick us out and some act like we don’t exist, but we are here, compañeros. We may not have documents, but we all have a story and we all have a name. This is my story. I am Juan.

Brief Synopsis:

Juan, an undocumented worker who relocates from Mexico to a city in the United States, recounts his experiences being underpaid and his fight for better pay and working conditions in the restaurant industry.

Links to Resources:

  • The illustrations in Undocumented form a Codex, a long sheet of paper gathered into an “accordion” fold; try writing your own Codex book;
  • Tonatiuh mentions several types of work that Juan considers, including one dream position. What kind of work would you like to do? Describe it in words or pictures;
  • In an Author’s Note, Tonatiuh provides background and context for the story. There’s also a short bibliography.

Why I Like this Book:

Combining his classic illustration style with a compelling story of one representative undocumented worker, Tonatiuh tackles a timely, controversial topic in a way that will resonate with tween and teen readers. Unlike his earlier works, several of which are listed below, the target age is older than the typical picture book age range. But I think the combination of pictures and text is a powerful way to approach this complicated topic, especially for reluctant readers and those for whom English is not a first language.

In Undocumented, we meet Juan, the narrator, and learn that he worked in the fields of Mexico to support his mother and siblings after the death of his father, when Juan “was a niño.” We follow young Juan across the border with a coyote, a smuggler, to reach his uncle who lives in a poor neighborhood of an unknown city. Using short text and pictures, Tonatiuh depicts Juan considering several low-paying, low-skilled jobs, plus “[f]amous músico” with a parenthetical below, indicating that “we all have dreams…” I love the inclusion of this picture and phrase, as I think it alleviates some of the tension of the story and provides a touchpoint for young readers, many of whom may dream of being a famous musician.

The bulk of Undocumented concerns Juan’s attempts to organize fellow restaurant workers to procure better wages and working conditions, a fight, Tonatiuh makes clear in the text, that benefits all workers – not just those from Mexico or who may be undocumented.  Tonatiuh also includes instances of workers of different ethnicities working together, and learning from each other.

Tonatiuh illustrates Undocumented in his signature style that combines imagery from the Mixtec Codices with digitally-collaged artwork. I especially appreciated the inclusion of newspapers serving as a background as Juan contemplated various job possibilities and the use of woven fabrics to depict blankets. Finally, Tonatiuh and/or his editors at Abrams produced Undocumented as a codex, with the story unfolding poster-like across the front and back of the accordion-folded paper.  61ePqqq35bL

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, Tonatiuh tackles a tough, contemporary issue in Undocumented. How does he draw the reader into the story and achieve his goals of building empathy for, and understanding of, undocumented workers, and according them dignity?

To begin, he addresses the reader directly, “You” and “compañeros,” companions. He then recounts the group experience, before reminding the reader that “we” have names and stories.

After he sets the stage, Tonatiuh introduces the narrator, Juan, who proceeds to tell his story. To further encourage reader empathy, Tonatiuh adds compelling details: Juan’s father died when Juan was young; Juan is beaten by border guards and hassled by police officers; Juan dreams of being a musician; Juan’s wife is pregnant; Juan rejects an easy payout and instead seeks compensation for all of the workers; and Juan volunteers to help others.

To wrap things up, Tonatiuh returns to the group narrative, reminding the reader that “we” work hard, pay bills, and pay taxes. Tonatiuh packages his text and images into Codex form, a pre-Columbian style of writing utilized by Mixtec, Aztec and Mayan people, and thereby ties Juan’s story to the rich cultural history of his ancestors.

To view more of multi-award winning Tonatiuh’s work, visit his website, and see the following:

For another contemporary story told in Codex form, see Migrant, also published by Abrams, under its Abrams Books for Young Readers imprint.

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 – Leaf

I discovered today’s Perfect Picture Book at my local library and was, frankly, surprised I hadn’t learned of it sooner. Not only does it include themes of current importance and interest, it’s also beautiful. Enjoy!

Leaf_RGB-728x623Title: Leaf

Written & Illustrated By: Sandra Dieckmann

Publisher/Date: Flying Eye Books (an imprint of Nobrow Ltd)/2017

Suitable for Ages: 3-5 (or older)

Themes/Topics: newcomer; polar bears; nature; global warming

Opening:

Crow saw it first. The strange white creature, carried upon the dark waves towards the shore.

Brief Synopsis:

When a solitary polar bear arrives in a forest, the woodland creatures are afraid and avoid him because he is different, until some clever crows realize the reason he’s there and how they may help him.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about polar bears and the disappearance of polar ice;
  • Draw some of the gorgeous leaves shown in the illustrations, or visit a garden or park to find leaves you can draw and color;
  • Sometimes people are afraid of people, places or things that seem different. Describe or draw a picture of a time when you encountered something or someone “different;”
  • See a lesson plan using Leaf to help children think about differences and overcoming prejudices.

Why I Like this Book:

Leaf is a contemporary fairy tale, set in a lush, exotic forest, inhabited by a community of animals. A polar bear arrives to this strange woodland, retreats to a cave on a hill, and keeps apart from the woodland creatures. They, however, view and judge the bear, fleeing “in fear” when he approaches, calling him “monster,” and naming him Leaf, not only due to his strange habit of collecting leaves but also “because they wanted him to leave”.

I think kids will notice right away that the animals rush to judgment about this newcomer without learning Leaf’s story. Particularly poignant and instructive is a two-page spread in which a few small creatures voice compassion and offers of help while others term him “dangerous” and “destructive” and focus on his “teeth.”

I think kids also will be happy to see how the crows, a bird species not generally thought of as compassionate (at least not by me), lead the efforts to learn the truth about Leaf and help him. This made me realize that it isn’t always the creature that we expect to be a hero who steps up to help, and that sometimes small creatures can have big impacts.

Finally, I think the environmental message of Leaf, of animals separated from their native environment and of other animal groups learning to live with these newcomers, will resonate with kids and offer important opportunities to discuss global warming and its effects on nature and people, and to discuss the current refugee and immigration crises.

Dieckmann’s detailed and colorful spreads are gorgeous! The deep blues are haunting, and the contrast of the white polar bear against the lush background focused my attention immediately on the main character. The image of Leaf covered in leaves made me cheer his determination to fly home, even as it reminded me of the mythological Icarus.

Screen+Shot+2018-05-29+at+19.15.08

Interior spread from Leaf, reproduced from Dieckmann’s website

A Note about Craft:

Dieckmann populates her modern fairy tale with animals instead of people.  I think using animals as protagonists helps kids relate to the issues of non-acceptance and fear of newcomers who are different. Because climate change is affecting animals, especially those in the colder climes, so much, I think the choice of a polar bear as the main character is particularly effective.

Interestingly, Leaf engages in almost no dialogue in the story. We learn what he’s feeling through the illustrations and the crows’ comments. While this could, arguably, provide distance from his plight, it also has the laudable effect of encouraging children to think about how they perceive newcomers and to see that they, like many of the animals depicted, view newcomers through a lens of prejudice.

Dieckmann is a German-born, London-based illustrator/author and artist, “deeply inspired by all that’s weird and wonderful in nature, drifting thoughts and dreams”. Leaf, her debut picture book, has been “nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal, long listed for the Klaus Flugge Prize and short listed for the Waterstones Children’s book prize as well as the AOI World Illustration Award.”

Flying Eye Books focuses “on the craft of children’s storytelling and non-fiction” and is the children’s imprint of London-based, “award-winning visual publishing house” Nobrow Ltd.

For a picture book presenting similar themes, see Barroux’ Welcome.

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 – I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness

The weather tells me it’s summer in the northern hemisphere – a time of relaxation and rejuvenation for many. But the news feed is anything but relaxing, as we – adults and children, learn of families being torn apart, young children housed with strangers, and long-time allies acting and speaking more like enemies than friends.

The past few weeks I’ve reviewed multicultural fairy tales, as, I believe, we can uncover truths, make sense of the bad in the world, and gain empathy for others through these ancient, ever-evolving tales.

Today, I’m reviewing a book that’s written and illustrated in the US and doesn’t deal directly with refugees, war, or regions of the world affected by travel bans. But hopefully you’ll agree that, like fairy tales, this Perfect Picture Book will help you deal with the bad in the world and find and share peace.

9781419727016_s2Title: I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness

Written By: Susan Verde

Illustrated By: Peter H. Reynolds

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8, and older

Themes/Topics: mindfulness; meditation; self-care; peace

Opening:

There are times when I worry about what might happen next and what happened before.

Brief Synopsis: A young child expresses feelings of being worried and upset, and shows readers how to find peace.

Links to Resources:

  • Try the Guided Meditation that appears as an Afterword or is downloadable here;
  • Draw a peaceful scene. What colors do you use? Picture yourself in that place – why does it help you feel calm and happy?
  • Find, print, and photograph yourself or friends with downloadable peace signs.

Why I Like this Book:

A lyrical monologue, I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness is a “how to” guide to mindfulness, to “being fully engaged in the present moment,” experiencing our surroundings and feelings “without judgment, but with kindness and curiosity.” The nameless, genderless main character starts as a sad-faced worrier with thoughts rushing like water in a boat “being carried away.” But s/he pauses, reflects, steadies him or herself to focus on the “here” and “now.” As s/he finds peace, s/he is able to share kindness and make a difference.

I Am Peace is a quiet book that, I think, will appeal to kids and adults needing to calm down – whether from a tantrum, a hectic day at child care, camp or school, or from the news bombarding us constantly. I think its message of peace for oneself and for others is an important one, too. How often do we hear that we’ve done something wrong when, instead, the message should be “It’s alright”? So even if no one else says it, say it to yourself, let those worries go and be at peace.

Set against white backgrounds, Reynolds’ expressive illustrations show kids how they can make a difference, whether by feeding birds or by planting a tree. I especially love how they incorporate peaceful symbols. Per the copyright page, they were created with “ink, gouache, watercolor, and tea.”

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, Verde crafted her meditative text as a first-person monologue. I think this point of view promotes immediacy and lets the narrator, and reader, focus on his or her own feelings, without interruption from other characters.

The symbols in Reynolds’ illustrations include doves and peace signs worn on a necklace and hat. The peace signs, in particular, combined with the narrator’s style of dress, reminded me of the 1960s and the protest movements prevalent in my youth. This helped solidify the connection in my mind between promoting inner peace and peace in the world.

See a lovely review of I Am Peace by Patricia Tilton at Children’s Books Heal.

Visit Verde’s website to see more of her books, including The Water Princess, a collaboration with Reynolds, which I reviewed last year, and her upcoming collaboration with Reynolds, I Am Human: A Book of Empathy (Abrams Books for Young Readers, October 2018).

Read Reynolds’ blog post about I Am Peace and see more of his art on his website.

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 – La Princesa and the Pea

I’m keeping with the theme of fairy tales and princesses this week. Today’s Perfect Picture Book is a retelling that celebrates Peruvian handicrafts with a sprinkling of Spanish text. Enjoy!

9780399251566Title: La Princesa and the Pea

Written By: Susan Middleton Elya

Illustrated By: Juana Martinez-Neal

Publisher/date: GP Putnam’s Sons (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: bilingual (English/Spanish); rhyming; fairy tale

Opening:

There once was a prince who wanted a wife.

But not any niña would do in his life.

Brief Synopsis:

When a young princess arrives in a kingdom where a prince seeks a wife, his mother, the queen, tests her by placing a pea underneath several mattresses.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Glossary at the front of the book and then find the Spanish terms in this Word Puzzle;
  • In a Note from the Illustrator, Martinez-Neal explains that the textiles in the illustrations were inspired by the weaving & embroidery of indigenous people of Peru. Learn more about the Andean communities where alpaca wool is woven into blankets and clothing;
  • Add patterns and color to el Principé’s blankets;
  • Find more coloring and activity pages on Martinez-Neal’s website.

Why I Like this Book:

La Princesa and the Pea is a delightful retelling of this classic fairy tale, with a fun twist at the end. With Spanish terms scattered throughout, this rhyming text is fun to read, and reread.

Martinez-Neal’s warm, colorful illustrations that draw on Peruvian weaving and embroidery designs further the Latino feel of this retelling. I think kids will love looking for and counting the small animals on every page, including two alpacas, several guinea pigs, and most notably, a very grumpy-looking cat.

A Note about Craft:

Rhyming well in one language is difficult. Sprinkling Spanish text into the rhyme makes it that much more challenging, but such fun to read. Elya manages this feat well, and I’d argue, this is a story that benefits from the addition of rhyme.

Elya added the Spanish text to the story, but Martinez-Neal chose the distinct setting: an Andean kingdom. As Martinez-Neal explains in the Note from the Illustrator, the indigenous peoples of Peru practice different types of handicrafts, so she was able to clothe the prince and his mother in fuzzy, alpaca wool clothing, while the princess appears in lighter, embroidered clothing. I love how a fairy tale with a visitor from outside the kingdom lends itself to this adaptation, and how we, as readers, can learn a bit about the distinct native cultures still evident in Peru.

Finally, as Dora M. Guzmán pointed out in a review at Latinx in Kid Lit, the mother-son dynamic evident in Latinx culture works well with this fairy tale of a mother wanting nothing but the best for her son.

La Princesa and the Pea was the 2018 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award winner. See more of the illustrations and links to starred reviews on Juana Martinez-Neal’s website. You can also see more of her art by following her on Instagram.

Visit Susan Middleton Elya’s website to see some of her other bilingual 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!