Monthly Archives: August 2018

PPBF – Drawn Together

I first learned of today’s Perfect Picture Book from a blog post interview (cited below) with the talented author and illustrator. I knew right away that I had to read and review this newly-published picture book. I’m so glad I did!

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Title: Drawn Together

Written By: Minh Lê

Illustrated By: Dan Santat

Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion (an imprint of Disney Book Group)/2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-5 (and older)

Themes/Topics: grandparents; communication; connections; art

Opening:

So…what’s new, Grandpa?

Brief Synopsis: A young boy and his non-English speaking grandfather bridge their communication divide through art and a shared love of fantasy.

Links to Resources:

  • Watch a video of Dan Santat discussing his art process for Drawn Together;
  • Draw a picture of, or for, a grandparent or special person in your life;
  • Lê’s grandparents and parents emigrated from Vietnam. Santat is of Thai descent. Discover these two Southeast Asian countries, Vietnam and Thailand;
  • Find more ideas in the Educator Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

Drawn Together is a visually stunning picture book that tackles an important question: how to bridge a generational divide, especially when the parties don’t speak the same language. In this case, the unnamed young narrator doesn’t speak Thai, the language of his grandfather, the grandfather speaks no English, and the two seem far apart and rather unhappy together as the story begins. But a shared love of creating art unites the two, even though the art they create differs stylistically. In the book’s dramatic turning point, the grandfather surprises his grandson “by revealing a world beyond words.” The boy notes that “in a FLASH” the pair see each other through their art, through the fantastical characters and scenes they create with markers, pen and ink.

What starts as a fairly quiet book becomes a rousing adventure as the pair work together to draw and defeat a “roaring” serpent monster. I think the inclusion of these epic action-filled scenes will appeal to kids (and adults), whether or not they’ve experienced communication problems with older relatives, new kids at school, or anyone else.

Santat created the detailed illustrations in traditional mixed media. I especially enjoyed how the beginning illustrations were wordless panels, like stills from a cartoon video, but then became intricate, full-page and double-page spreads with the boy’s and grandfather’s creations interacting to create “a new world that even words can’t describe.”

A Note about Craft:

With text comprising about 100 words and not starting until page 4, to say that this is a low word-count picture book or that Lê left plenty of space for the illustrator is a bit of an understatement. Nowhere in the text does it explicitly dictate how the two artists’ creations will come together to “build a new world”. Lê seemingly gave no direction to his illustrator, letting Santat create the new world from old, pen & ink, black & white, Asian warriors, and new, colorful markers and a young wizard reminiscent of Mickey as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia.

The title is, as you’ve probably discovered, a double entendre, a play on words, that drew this reader in & reminded me of the importance of an evocative, memorable title.

Finally, as I examined the endpapers, lifted the jacket cover, and poured over Drawn Together, I was reminded of Megan Dowd Lambert’s Whole Book Approach, and the many opportunities Lê and Santat offer readers to delve deeper into this wonderful collaboration.

Visit Minh Lê’s website. Read the transcript, or listen to the audio, of an All Things Considered (NPR) interview with Lê about Drawn Together and the importance of connecting with others.

Visit Dan Santat’s website to see more of his books and artwork.

For an insightful Q&A with Lê & Santat, see Think Quick.

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 – Tomorrow

Regular readers may recall that I reviewed The Jasmine Sneeze, written and illustrated by Nadine Kaadan, in March 2017. When I learned that she had written and illustrated a new picture book set in Syria, her homeland, I reached out to the publisher for a review copy. I’m so happy that today’s Perfect Picture Book is releasing next week and that Lantana Publishing’s books, including Kaadan’s books, are now available in the US (See below).

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Title: Tomorrow

Written & Illustrated By: Nadine Kaadan

Translated By: Nadine Kaadan

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing Ltd/16 August 2018 (originally published in Arabic by Box of Tales Publishing House, Syria/2012)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Syria; war; art; hope; #OwnVoices

Opening:

Yazan no longer went to the park, and he no longer saw his friend who lived next door.

Everything was changing around him.

Brief Synopsis:

Yazan, a young boy in Damascus, Syria, is stuck in the house because of the escalating conflict, but he’s desperate to go outside, visit the park, play with his friends, and even return to school.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about the geography and rich history of Syria before the current conflicts;
  • What do you do when you’re stuck at home? See a list of ideas to end indoor boredom;
  • Draw a picture of your “happy place”;
  • Yazan makes paper airplanes to pass the time. Make, and fly, your own paper airplanes.

Why I Like this Book:

Tomorrow provides a child’s-eye view of life in a Syrian neighborhood when war disrupts everyday activities. We learn that Yazan can no longer go outside by himself, play with friends, or go to school. His artist mother “stopped painting” and spends her days watching the news. At first, Yazan tried to amuse himself, even making “142 paper planes.” But despite his best efforts, we learn he was “BORED!” Finally frustrated at the lack of things to do, Yazan escapes outside, only to learn that the neighborhood, his world, has changed. But through the love of his parents and the creativity of his mother, Yazan learns to imagine his neighborhood as it was, before the conflict began, thus offering the reader hope that a better day will come at some future time, some tomorrow.

While several picture books published in the past several years have focused on the traumatic onset of war, the journey from a war zone, the plight of refugees, and/or the need to welcome refugees to our communities and schools, Kaadan’s focus is on the immediate onset of the conflict. She reveals only those aspects of war that would be visible to a young child sheltered at home. Rather than depicting injury, death, or flight – occurrences that could overwhelm young children, Kaadan highlights the inability to play outside and interact with friends, disruptions to education, and experiencing loud newscasts – all very kid-relatable occurrences. Through text and her evocative illustrations, she shows the emotions Yazan feels: confusion, anger, fear, and even boredom. I think kids will relate to both the changes highlighted and the emotions Yazan displays. Tragically, these are affecting both children still in conflict zones, like many places in Syria, and those who have fled to refugee camps and/or other communities and countries.

Kaadan’s watercolor and pencil illustrations have a child-like sense to them, as if Yazan is not only experiencing the situation, but recording it, too. Utilizing color, oozing dark grays and blues for the escalating conflict, bright yellows and greens for times and places of safety and comfort, Kaadan depicts both the changes and Yazan’s emotional reactions to them.

A Note about Craft:

Kaadan is an #OwnVoices author/illustrator who depicts her home city of Damascus as war erupts. Because she is so familiar with the locale, I think she includes details in the story that help place the reader in the situation. In a note to readers, Kaadan writes, “I wrote this story because I saw children like Yazan in my hometown of Damascus. Their lives were changing, and they couldn’t understand why.”

Kaadan also focuses on disruptions to normal “kid stuff,” rather than on the aspects of war that often grab headlines. I especially appreciated the focus on Yazan’s boredom – an emotion not often mentioned in stories dealing with conflict but that is an understandable reaction to the loss of freedom to leave the house to play outside, visit with friends or even attend school. That Yazan tries to “keep himself busy” with pursuits most kids can relate to, such as doodling, building a castle from pillows, and making paper airplanes, will help kids empathize with his situation, I think.

Finally, Kaadan utilizes different color palates to contrast conflict and comfort and to display feelings, and she depicts items, like the paper airplanes and Yazan’s unused red bike, to symbolize freedom and its absence.

Visit Kaadan’s website to view more of her artwork. View a video of Kaadan discussing Tomorrow and the displaced children of Syria.

Lantana Publishing, is an independent publishing company in the UK “producing award-winning diverse and multicultural children’s books”. Both Tomorrow and The Jasmine Sneeze are available in the US, through Lantana’s US distributor, Lerner 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!

PPBF – Her Right Foot

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is another library find, and like Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight that I reviewed last week, written for a slightly older picture book reader.

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Image reproduced from wbur.org 

Title: Her Right Foot

Written By: Dave Eggers

Illustrated By: Shawn Harris

Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books/2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-9 (and older)

Themes/Topics: immigration; famous landmarks; Statue of Liberty

Opening:

You have likely heard of a place called France.

If you have heard of France, you may have heard of the French. They are the people who live in France.

You may have also heard of something called the Statue of Liberty.

Brief Synopsis: This is a detailed, but fun, non-fiction exploration of the Statue of Liberty, ultimately focused on one of its lesser-known traits, that embodies an important message about immigration and the character of the United States.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Just as the Statue of Liberty, at 305 feet tall, is much larger than the “average” statue, so, too, at 104 pages and over 1,500 words, Her Right Foot is larger than the average picture book – even non-fiction picture books. But because of the longer page count filled, primarily, with engaging images, and because, I think, of Egger’s conversational tone, this book is a fast-paced read, that, I think, will draw kids into the story of the Statue of Liberty, her history and meaning.

I especially enjoyed how Eggers often stated that “you” may know, or have known, or probably know facts about the Statue of Liberty. Even though I didn’t know some (true confession: many) of these facts, I felt as if I did. By the point that Eggers got to the facts that gave title to the book, the statue’s “right foot”, I felt like a true insider, as anxious to discover what I didn’t know as a kid tearing open a present. That this small facet, this moving foot, is the key to the meaning of the Statue of Liberty, that she is moving forward to welcome immigrants, the “tired and poor” arriving at our shores, is an important lesson that children, I think, will “get” from this book. As Eggers writes,

After all, the Statue of Liberty is an immigrant, too. And this is why she’s moving. This is why she’s striding.

That the “big reveal” occurs in a two-page wordless spread shows how Her Right Foot is a true marriage of text and illustrations. I was especially happy to see that a young, dark-skinned boy is the one who points to Lady Liberty’s heel, raised, in mid-stride, off of the pedestal. I also loved how Harris’ construction paper and India ink illustrations include many details, including one scene that features a surprised-looking pup staring at the moving Statue (I can only imagine my two pups barking in that situation. I’ll be on the lookout, as we regularly walk in a park only a few miles upriver from Liberty Island!).

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Interior spread from Her Right Foot

A Note about Craft:

Eggers employs many techniques that make Her Right Foot a fun and informative non-fiction read. He begins by addressing the reader, using second-person point-of-view: “You…” I think this draws the reader immediately into the story. At least this reader felt a part of the action.

Like another wonderful storyteller, Arlo Guthrie – who spent almost an entire song about the Vietnam War and the draft (Alice’s Restaurant), focused on a Thanksgiving feast and a trial about littering – Eggers starts not with Lady Liberty’s foot, but in France, the country of her origin. Eggers thus shows us from the outset that she is an immigrant, too. From there, he explores her history and various features, until finally focusing on one small detail to find meaning for the whole.

And how did Eggers discover that detail? As he revealed in an NPR interview, he was with his family visiting Liberty Island and, in his words,

I never had noticed until we were up close that she’s in mid-stride, and that she seems to be walking and walking with great purpose out to the sea. And I thought, ‘Well, that’s gotta mean something.’

Writers take note: A family outing to a new place may spur a story idea for you, too, especially if you pay attention to small details!

Finally, I think the humor in Her Right Foot is what will keep kids reading, and thinking about, not just the Statue of Liberty, but about how we welcome immigrants and what it means to be American.

Learn more about Dave Eggers, his publications and philanthropic pursuits on his website. See a July 2016 Guardian newspaper article by Eggers about why the Statue of Liberty’s welcome “must not end.”

Visit Shawn Harris’ website to see more of his art. Her Right Foot is his debut picture book.

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!