Monthly Archives: September 2018

PPBF – The Day You Begin

Though today is its one-month birthday, today’s perfect picture book already has garnered many starred reviews and is on several lists as a future award winner. Once you read it, I think you’ll know why!

9780399246531Title: The Day You Begin

Written By: Jacqueline Woodson

Illustrated By: Rafael López

Publisher/Date: Nancy Paulsen Books (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)/2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: feeling different; diversity; self-image; self-esteem; fear; bravery

Opening:

There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.

Brief Synopsis: Several unnamed young narrators reflect on how it’s not easy to take the first steps into a place where nobody knows you, especially when you feel different because of how you look or talk, where you’re from or even what you eat.

Links to Resources:

  • Think of a favorite relative or friend. Think of a few ways you are the same (age, skin or hair color, favorite color, etc.) and a few ways you differ (gender or types of music you enjoy, for instance). Draw a picture of your friend or relative and you;
  • Watch the Book Trailer;
  • Look for some things that López includes in several illustrations, such as a ruler, books and bluebirds. Why do you think López includes these things? What do you think they mean?
  • Check out the Educator Guide (specific ideas about The Day You Begin appear on pp 4-5).

Why I Like this Book:

The Day You Begin is a lyrical exploration of a problem that plagues many young children and even adults: entering a room or joining a group when you feel different from others in one or more ways. As Woodson points out, this feeling can arise for many reasons. I think everyone will discover a reason that resonates with them. I particularly appreciate that Woodson reaches beyond appearance and athletic prowess and highlights language and socio-economic differences, among many others.

But Woodson doesn’t just point out the uneasy feelings. She also shows how, with bravery, you will find that when you “share your stories” you’ll discover some similarities among new friends who have “something a little like you” and something “fabulously not quite like you”. This acknowledgement of our individual gifts celebrates the uniqueness of individuals and the contributions everyone makes to the group or community. That stories and books run through The Day You Begin makes it extra special.

López’ multi-media illustrations are vibrant and joyful, bringing Woodson’s text to life. I especially appreciated how he pictured one boy alone in a right-hand spread dominated by a beige, rather lifeless background while the facing spread includes smiling children playing in a colorful, lush school yard. I think even young children will see immediately that this young boy feels alone and different. López also includes in many spreads gorgeous flowers and greenery that help show how the characters are feeling.

A Note about Craft:

The text of The Day You Begin began with a line from Woodson’s Newbery Honor novel in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014) that refers to the courage of her great-grandfather. That line, A moment when you walk into a room and no one there is like you” is altered slightly to become the opening line of The Day You Begin. I love how Woodson reaches back into her family history and her past work to give life to this line in a setting for younger readers.

When I first read the title, The Day You Begin, and saw the pensive face on the cover, I thought the book was focused solely on that feeling of dread when you encounter a new situation or group. But I realize now that the title also refers to the day you overcome your fears, when you realize that you have stories to tell and that you are a unique and wonderful person. I love that the title can have both of these meanings.

Read López’ blog post that shares many interior spreads and includes his thoughts on illustrating Woodson’s text.

Visit Woodson’s website to learn more about this award-winning author and 2018-19 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Visit López’ website to see more of his illustrations and artwork. And see also my review of Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics, a book that López illustrated and that would be a wonderful read for National Hispanic Heritage Month.

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!

Perfect Pairing for the Autumn of the Year

the days grow short
I’m in the autumn of the year

So sang Frank Sinatra in It Was a Very Good Year, one of my favorite Sinatra songs, especially as my son sang it solo in concert on my birthday several years ago (proud Mama moment!).

While for many, fall signals sugary holidays and the promise of family get-togethers, for others, the falling leaves and withered blooms signal mortality. That Halloween, All Saints Day, All Souls Day and Día de los Meurtos all loom may be no coincidence. For our family, both of my parents entered life in September, and my father left us in September 1997 and my mother this past October. My mother-in-law’s passing was 30 Novembers ago. If I read, and review, a few more serious books these next few weeks, perhaps you’ll understand why. And thankfully, there are several heart-filled picture books that tackle the difficult subjects of aging, memory loss and death, and grief.

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Grandad’s Island

Author & Illustrator: Benji Davies

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2016

Ages: 4-8

Themes: loss; death; intergenerational; grandparent

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

With subtlety and grace, Benji Davies paints a poignant and ultimately uplifting picture of loss.

At the bottom of Syd’s garden, through the gate and past the tree, is Grandad’s house. Syd can let himself in any time he likes. But one day when Syd comes to call, Grandad isn’t in any of the usual places. He’s in the attic, where he ushers Syd through a door, and the two of them journey to a wild, beautiful island awash in color where Grandad decides he will remain. So Syd hugs Grandad one last time and sets sail for home. Visiting Grandad’s house at the bottom of the garden again, he finds it just the same as it’s always been — except that Grandad isn’t there anymore. Sure to provide comfort to young children struggling to understand loss, Benji Davies’s tale is a sensitive and beautiful reminder that our loved ones live on in our memories long after they’re gone.

Read my review here.

 

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The Remember Balloons

Author:  Jessie Oliveros

Illustrator:  Dana Wulfekotte

Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/September 2018

Ages:  5-9

Themes: aging; memory loss; intergenerational

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

What’s Happening to Grandpa meets Up in this tender, sensitive picture book that gently explains the memory loss associated with aging and diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

James’s Grandpa has the best balloons because he has the best memories. He has balloons showing Dad when he was young and Grandma when they were married. Grandpa has balloons about camping and Aunt Nelle’s poor cow. Grandpa also has a silver balloon filled with the memory of a fishing trip he and James took together.

But when Grandpa’s balloons begin to float away, James is heartbroken. No matter how hard he runs, James can’t catch them. One day, Grandpa lets go of the silver balloon—and he doesn’t even notice!

Grandpa no longer has balloons of his own. But James has many more than before. It’s up to him to share those balloons, one by one.

Read an interview with Jessie Oliveros on Susanna Leonard Hill’s Tuesday Debut.

I paired these books because both are intergenerational, showcasing the special bond between grandparents and grandchildren. In Grandad’s Island, Davies utilizes a sea journey and a beautiful tropical island as metaphors for death and the afterlife. In The Remember Balloons, Oliveros utilizes balloons as metaphors for memories that pass from the elderly to younger family members. Both deal sensitively with topics that are difficult for children (and adults). It’s clear that both authors had a special relationship with their grandparents – these picture books are filled with heart.

Looking for similar reads?

See Lane Smith’s Grandpa Green, reviewed at Children’s Books Heal; Glenn Ringtved/Charlotte Pardi’s Cry Heart But Never Break, reviewed at Brain Pickings;  Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart and the Bottle, also reviewed at Brain Pickings; and Maria Shriver/Sandra Speidel’s What’s Happening to Grandpa, reviewed by Richard R Blake.

PPBF – People of Peace: 40 Inspiring Icons

Happy #PeaceDay! How will you celebrate? I can’t think of a better way than learning about folks from throughout the world who have promoted peace. And how can we do that? By reading about them, of course! Starting with today’s Perfect Picture Book:

36205142Title: People of Peace: 40 Inspiring Icons

Written By: Sandrine Mirza

Illustrated By: Le Duo

Publisher/Date: Wide Eyed Editions, an imprint of The Quarto Group/2018 (first published in French, Gallimard Jeunesse, France/2017)

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: Peace; non-fiction; biography

Opening:

These women and men, enlightened thinkers, engaged citizens and revolutionary leaders, have all forcefully denounced the atrocity and absurdity of war, and fought against slavery, racial oppression and social injustice. They have spoken out against the violation of human rights everywhere with their rallying cry for non-violence.

Brief Synopsis: A collection of 40 people of peace, with information about each person’s identity, action, and context.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about the UN International Day of Peace;
  • Check out some of the suggested activities, including some ideas for children and students, participating in a one-minute silence for peace at noon in your local time-zone, creating and sharing a Peace Crane,  and hosting a Feast for Peace;
  • This year’s #peaceday celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “The Right to Peace- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70.” Learn more here;
  • Did you know we have a US Institute of Peace that is “America’s nonpartisan institute to promote national security and global stability by reducing violent conflicts abroad”? Check out their student resources and ideas to promote peace;
  • Take the #PeaceDayChallenge;
  • Follow the format of People of Peace and present information about someone you think is a Person of Peace.

Why I Like this Book:

People of Peace includes snapshots of well-known, and less well-known, people (“icons”) who promote or promoted peace in their lifetimes. I love the international focus of the book, with people from almost every continent represented, and I love that they represent different pathways to peace. For instance, are you a sports fan? See how Muhammad Ali championed civil rights in the US and was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. A music lover? Learn about folk singer Joan Baez, rock legend John Lennon, and pianist/composer Daniel Barenboim, who co-founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, comprised of members from Palestine, Israel and other Middle Eastern nations.

Because of the diverse assortment of peace builders highlighted, I think People of Peace is a wonderful addition to school libraries and classrooms. Told in a series of text boxes for each person, I think this format will appeal to older elementary and middle school students, and it could act as a template for a project highlighting other People of Peace.

Computer-generated “iconic” illustrations complete the snapshots of these peace builders.

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Rosa Luxemburg, reprinted from People of Peace

A Note about Craft:

As noted above, People of Peace uses a unique format to present a variety of peace builders. Given its vast breadth, both historically and geographically (not to mention gender, race, ethnicity, and professional), this could have been a muddled mess. Instead, the uniform formatting makes it easy to navigate, learn more, and compare these peace builders. Sadly, although there is a timeline in the back, there is no bibliography. Hopefully, an e-version with click-through bibliographies will be forthcoming.

Per the publisher’s website, Mirza “holds a Master’s degree in History from the University of Paris and is a graduate of the Institut Français de Presse. After six years of working at a publisher, she is now a full-time author, specialising in history. Sandrine lives in Paris.”

Also from the publisher’s website, “Le Duo is an illustration partnership between Alberic and Leopoldine, who trained at the Esag-Penninghen (Paris) and the Chelsesa College of Art and Design (London). They specialise in advertising (clients include Monoprix, Thalys and Nestlé) and editorial illustrations, having being featured in The Good LifeMen’s Health and Le MondeLe Duo are based in Paris.”

“The leading global illustrated non-fiction book publishers”, the Quarto Group “makes and sells great books that entertain, educate and enrich the lives of adults and children around the world.”

Check out more multicultural kids’ books about peace at Colours of Us.

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!

Perfect Pairing for International Dot Day 2018

I’m deviating from my usual practice of posting Perfect Pairing on Tuesday in order to celebrate an important day: the 10th Annual International Dot Day! I hope you enjoy the post and join Peter H. Reynolds, the author/illustrator of The Dot, and close to 13 million people in 177 countries celebrating creativity and the joy of “making your mark.”

the-dot103606801The Dot

Author & Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2003

Ages: 5-8 (and older)

Themes: art; creativity; confidence; making your mark

 Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

With a simple, witty story and free-spirited illustrations, Peter H. Reynolds entices even the stubbornly uncreative among us to make a mark — and follow where it takes us.

Her teacher smiled. “Just make a mark and see where it takes you.”

Art class is over, but Vashti is sitting glued to her chair in front of a blank piece of paper. The words of her teacher are a gentle invitation to express herself. But Vashti can’t draw – she’s no artist. To prove her point, Vashti jabs at a blank sheet of paper to make an unremarkable and angry mark. “There!” she says.

That one little dot marks the beginning of Vashti’s journey of surprise and self-discovery. That special moment is the core of Peter H. Reynolds’s delicate fable about the creative spirit in all of us.

Read more about celebrating Dot Day at Children’s Books Heal and By Word of Beth.

 

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When I Coloured in the World

Author:  Ahmadreza Ahmadi

Illustrator:  Ehsan Abdollahi

Translated By: Azita Razi (2015)

Publisher: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd/2017 (first published in Persian, Nazar Publisher/2010)

Ages: 3 and up

Themes: imagination, diverse books, creating positive change, power of art

Short Synopsis (from Book Depository):

This is a story that is told with poetic simplicity, offering beautiful images but also raising questions to set thoughts going in readers’ imaginations as a child uses an eraser and crayons to bring happier colours to the world, replacing bad with good.

Read my review from April 2017.

I paired these books because the celebration of creativity permeates both books.  The teacher in The Dot encourages Yashti to tap into her inner artist and share her creativity with others. The mother gave the unnamed young narrator in When I Coloured in the World crayons and an eraser, which the child then used to change the bad and sad in the world to good and happy. Both children make their marks – how will you make your mark in the world?

And my DOT for 2018? A combination of my favorite place and my hope for this world.

 

My Dot 2018

PPBF – The Matchbook Diary

When I first read today’s Perfect Picture Book, I was reminded of a journey I shared with my daughters when they were quite young. To help them remember favorite places and to help pass the time on long train rides, I brought along sketch books and encouraged them to record what they saw. As one of my daughters is celebrating her birthday today, I thought it was a perfect day to share today’s Perfect Picture Book.

0763676381.medTitle: The Matchbox Diary

Written By: Paul Fleischman

Illustrated By: Bagram Ibatoulline

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: diary; immigration; intergenerational; family history

Opening:

“Pick whatever you like the most. Then I’ll tell you its story.”

“There’s so many things here.”

“You’ll know when you see it. And then I’ll know something about you. The great-granddaughter I’ve only heard about.”

Brief Synopsis: A young girl discovers her great-grandfather’s matchbox diary, and she learns the history of his journey to America and first years in the country.

Links to Resources:

  • Keep a diary, either by writing entries each day or week, or drawing pictures of noteworthy events;
  • Do you collect anything? What do you collect? How do you store your collection?
  • The great-grandfather in the story journeyed from Italy to Ellis Island, in America. Discover more about these places;
  • View a YouTube video of Fleischman’s Matchbox Theatres and try making your own;
  • For more ideas, see the Teachers’ Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

The Matchbox Diary reads like an afternoon visit with an older relative. Told all in dialogue, the story has an immediacy which I think will resonate with kids. As the unnamed great-granddaughter opens each matchbox, she, and the reader, hear the great-grandfather share his journey to America and his difficult early life in his adopted homeland, including the jobs the entire family did, like canning fish, sorting peaches, shelling peas, peeling shrimp, opening oyster shells, rolling cigars, and “shelling nuts for restaurants, day and night.” I think this will be eye-opening to kids today!

I love how this story unfolds as the contents of each tiny box is revealed. And I love how the great-grandfather relates diary writing to collecting keepsakes, something even young children can do. That learning to read and keeping newspaper scraps with dates is important to the great-grandfather is an important lesson, too, as I think it will show kids the importance of reading.

Ibatoulline’s sepia-toned illustrations with their many details are the perfect accompaniment to the text, as they evoke the past and show the importance of even tiny items in our lives.

A Note about Craft:

In the Teachers’ Guide, Fleischman notes that he first conceived of the idea of a matchbox diary from an illustrator friend. Although he knew immediately that he wanted to write a story about this form of diary-keeping, it took him 15 years to publish the story. Good ideas certainly are worth waiting for!

The matchboxes at the heart of the story are very kid-relatable items. Although kids today may not see matchboxes often, their small size and ability to be repurposed as treasure boxes will resonate with kids, I think.

As noted above, Fleischman relates this tale entirely in unattributed dialogue. I think this draws the reader into the story and makes the slow-moving action more immediate and engaging for kids.

Visit Newbery-winner Fleischman’s website to see more of his books, including Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella, which I reviewed in March 2017.

Visit Ibatoulline’s website to view more of his illustrations.

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!

Perfect Pairing: The Day War Came & Tomorrow

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personal photo, Weehawken, NJ

I chose today’s paired picture books because both published this month in the United States. Then I looked at the calendar. For those who read my Perfect Picture Book posts, it’s not surprising that I’d highlight two more serious books on this date that is seared in our memories.

 

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The Day War Came 

Author: Nicola Davies

Illustrator: Rebecca Cobb

Publisher/Date: Walker Books/June 2018; published in the US, Candlewick Press/Sept. 2018

Ages: 6-9

Themes: refugees; war; empathy; social activism; free verse poetry

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A moving, poetic narrative and child-friendly illustrations follow the heartbreaking, ultimately hopeful journey of a little girl who is forced to become a refugee.

The day war came there were flowers on the windowsill and my father sang my baby brother back to sleep.

Imagine if, on an ordinary day, after a morning of studying tadpoles and drawing birds at school, war came to your town and turned it to rubble. Imagine if you lost everything and everyone, and you had to make a dangerous journey all alone. Imagine that there was no welcome at the end, and no room for you to even take a seat at school. And then a child, just like you, gave you something ordinary but so very, very precious. In lyrical, deeply affecting language, Nicola Davies’s text combines with Rebecca Cobb’s expressive illustrations to evoke the experience of a child who sees war take away all that she knows.

Read my review here and see Davies’ blog post about writing the poem, publishing it, and the outpouring of illustrations of empty chairs that became the #3000chairs project on Twitter.

 

 

Tomorrow-807x1024

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

Short Synopsis (from Lantana Publishing):

Yazan no longer goes to the park to play, and he no longer sees his friend who lives next door. Everything around him is changing. His parents sit in front of the television with the news turned up LOUD and Yazan’s little red bike leans forgotten against the wall. Will he ever be able to go outside and play? An uplifting story about a courageous little boy growing up in a time of conflict, and the strength of family love.

Read my review here and view a video of Kaadan discussing Tomorrow and the displaced children of Syria.

 

I paired these books because I found both of these picture books to be particularly kid-centric due to their story lines, illustration styles and messages of hope, but they offer two different snapshots of how war has affected children. In The Day War Came, the young protagonist flees the war without family members, and much of the action occurs in the country to which she flees. In contrast, all of Tomorrow takes place in a city at war, with much of it occurring within the family’s intact apartment. Given the millions of children affected by war in, tragically, too many places, I think it’s important to consider that there is a range of experiences, emotions and life changes, and that we can’t “lump” these kids together or “label” them. By viewing them as individuals and seeking to understand the vast range of war-time experiences, we hopefully will help our children, and ourselves, become more empathetic.

Looking for similar reads?

See my post about Picture Books that Explore the Refugee and Migrant Experience in the Americas and read a recent New York Times review by Monica Edinger of 6 recent picture books about migrants and refugees, including The Day War Came.

PPBF – Dreamers

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of today’s Perfect Picture Book. When I learned that the book launch was occurring this past Tuesday evening at Books of Wonder in NYC, a favorite indie children’s book store not far from my home, I just had to attend. IMG_1480While I can’t begin to capture the evening’s excitement in this post, I hope my review will encourage you to read today’s Perfect Picture Book, share it with others, and share your own story, too.

dreamers-book-des1-final-253x300Title: Dreamers

Written & Illustrated By: Yuyi Morales

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books (Holiday House Publishing, Inc.)/September 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigration; storytelling; libraries; books; hope

Opening:

I dreamed of you, then you appeared. Together we became Amor Love Amor. Resplendent life, you and I.

Brief Synopsis: A baby and his mother immigrate to the United States from Mexico, and at the local libraries, they learn a new language and find home and hope in a world of books.

Links to Resources:

  • If you were moving or traveling to a new city or country, what gifts would you bring with you?
  • Share a favorite book with a friend. Note that Morales shares a list of books that inspired her in the back matter;
  • Find more activities in the Dreamers’ Event Kit, including tips to tell your own story;
  • Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins on September 15th, with these Teacher Resources.

Why I Like this Book:

In sparse, lyrical prose and stunning mixed-media illustrations, Morales captures the hopes and fears of new immigrants to the United States. I love how Morales relates just a few details of the journey, including one gorgeous spread showing the young mother and her child crossing “a bridge outstretched like the universe” which holds such metaphorical meaning. I also love how the pair discover a world of knowledge within the library. I think this will resonate with kids – even those who aren’t newcomers or non-English speakers. As the pair note:

Books became our language.

Books became our home.

Books became our lives.

Morales’ vibrant, mixed-media illustrations bring heart and life to her words. In an afterword, she explains her process, lists some of the personal items that she photographed and scanned in, and even indicates that she used a nib pen that once belonged to Maurice Sendak to draw some of the artwork. Morales includes so many details – kids and adults will want to pour over the illustrations again and again (hint: look for favorite kids’ books, monarch butterflies, and other items repeated through many spreads).

A Note about Craft:

Morales utilizes first-person Point of View that brings an immediacy and intimacy to the story. Although the “you” of the text refers to her infant son, the inclusion of “you” made me feel as if I were journeying with the pair. As the story progresses, Morales often uses “we” to include her child as narrator, to help, I think, kids view Dreamers as not just a mother’s story but also her child’s story.

In her presentation, Morales shared her belief that we all bring gifts when we travel or move. Before reading Dreamers aloud to the audience, she shared a bag of surprises that held items she had enjoyed as a child in Mexico, and which she had brought as gifts to the US. This visual representation of gifts and talents resonated with me, and, I think, will encourage kids, especially newcomers, to realize that they have gifts and skills they can share.

Morales is an #OwnVoices author. In her presentation, she encouraged everyone to tell their stories, and reminded us that all authors and immigrants should be sharing their stories. And we are all immigrants.

Interestingly, Morales shared that she hesitated to tell her story, but that she did so in an attempt to “take our humanity back”, to show what immigrants bring, what they give, to their new homelands. At the encouragement of Neal Porter and her agent, Morales created Dreamers. Read Porter’s Editor’s Letter for more insights.

Dreamers is a journey story, complete with an actual bridge, that functions as a metaphor for entering a new life/new world, and a “surprising”, “unbelievable” place, the library. By making these spaces seem other-worldly, I think Morales highlights the importance of these locations and events to her journey and life.

As an illustrator/author, Morales understandably tells much of the story in the illustrations. I especially appreciate how she brings humor to the story through illustrations, such as in a favorite scene showing the young mother bathing her son in a public fountain with the simple text “we made lots of mistakes.”

Dreamers has received many starred reviews, and it’s the September book pick of Margarita Engle, Young People’s Poet Laureate. Dreamers is also available in Spanish as Soñadores. View a video of Morales discussing Dreamers and visit her website to see more of her work. Last month, I reviewed Sand Sister, a picture book Morales illustrated.

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!