Monthly Archives: November 2018

PPBF – Ella & Monkey at Sea

I first learned of today’s Perfect Picture Book in a review by Vivian Kirkfield on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar. I purchased the book for my own collection and am so happy to share it with you today.

Title: Ella & Monkey at Sea

Written & Illustrated By: Emilie Boon

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: immigration; journey; moving/loss

Opening:

Monkey doesn’t like good-bye hugs. He doesn’t want to say good-bye to Oma. Oma wipe away tears and hugs Mama too.

Brief Synopsis:

A young girl, accompanied by her mother and a favorite sock monkey, journey from the Netherlands to America to reunite with her father.

Links to Resources:

  • Ella draws pictures when she’s scared and angry. What colors are your pictures when you’re scared or angry? What colors do you use to cheer yourself up or cheer up someone else? Draw a cheerful picture;
  • Have you moved to a new house, city, or country? How did you feel? List three things you miss from your old home and three things you like about your new home;
  • Monkey is a sock monkey. Try ten sock crafts (with thanks to Vivian for the suggestion!).

Why I Like this Book:

In Ella & Monkey at Sea, the reader travels along with Ella, her special friend, Monkey, and Mama as they journey from the home and grandmother they have known in Europe to a new home in America, where Ella’s father awaits their arrival. Filled with emotion, we feel Ella’s doubts and misgivings about this long sea voyage and life-changing move through the reactions of Monkey, who, we learn, “doesn’t like good-bye hugs”, “doesn’t want to get on a ship, or sail off to sea, or move away forever”. It’s also Monkey who doesn’t like the fish served at dinner and who is “clingy” when a storm arises. And it’s Monkey who “loves hello hugs”, as, Ella reveals, does she.

While it isn’t clear why the family moves, I think Ella & Monkey at Sea will be a helpful book for any child whose family is moving across town or across the world. I think even children who have never moved will relate to the very real emotions that Monkey (and Ella) feel and, hopefully, will gain empathy for new students in their classrooms or new neighbors.

Boon is an author-illustrator whose watercolor, graphite, colored pencil and crayon illustrations show the emotions Ella and Monkey feel through facial expressions, body language and color. I especially liked Boon’s descriptions of Ella scribbling during a bad storm at sea, using “angry black”, “scared gray”, “cold blue”, until, as her crayons “snap”, she borrows “Monkey’s crayons” and draws “sun pictures” filled with bright yellow – a hopeful sign of future happiness.

A Note about Craft:

As in many recent refugee and immigrant picture books, Boon uses first-person point-of-view to bring immediacy to the story and help others empathize with Ella’s situation. Unlike many other young immigrants, Ella doesn’t travel alone or just with a parent: she has Monkey. Boon projects Ella’s feelings onto Monkey, so Ella doesn’t have to face the unpleasant aspects of the journey – leaving her grandmother, a long sea voyage and a storm at sea – alone. I found this “role playing” aspect of the story especially beneficial for kids who may be undergoing similar changes in their lives and who, like Ella, may be scared or feeling unsure of their future. Whether it’s a pet, a stuffed animal or another toy, I think it’s helpful to include something upon which the main character can project his or her emotions and which s/he can help overcome misgivings and fears.

Visit Boon’s website to see more of her work and learn the backstory of Ella & Monkey at Sea, Boon’s journey by ship to America from the Netherlands as a young girl. Read Kirkfield’s interview with Boon on “Will Write for Cookies”.

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 – Two Picture Books that Provide Reassurance

Sometimes I read something by a particular author and immediately search out everything else s/he’s written and anxiously await her or his next book. I think serious readers can relate – who doesn’t have “one of those collections”? Sometimes, with picture books, it’s the illustrations that speak to me, as in the case of today’s pairing.

 

Virginia Wolf

Virginia Wolf 

Author: Kyo Maclear

Illustrator: Isabelle Arsenault

Publisher/Date: Kids Can Press/2012

Ages: 4-8

Themes: mental health; moods; emotions; healing power of art; imagination

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Vanessa’s sister, Virginia, is in a “wolfish” mood — growling, howling and acting very strange. It’s a funk so fierce, the whole household feels topsy-turvy. Vanessa tries everything she can think of to cheer her up, but nothing seems to work. Then Virginia tells Vanessa about an imaginary, perfect place called Bloomsberry. Armed with an idea, Vanessa begins to paint Bloomsberry on the bedroom walls, transforming them into a beautiful garden complete with a ladder and swing so that what was down could climb up. Before long, Virginia, too, has picked up a brush and undergoes a surprising transformation of her own. Loosely based on the relationship between author Virginia Woolf and her sister, painter Vanessa Bell, Virginia Wolf is an uplifting story for readers of all ages.

Read a review at This Picture Book Life.

 

You Belong Here

Author:  M.H. Clark

Illustrator:  Isabelle Arsenault

Publisher/Date: Compendium Inc./2016

Ages: 4-8

Themes: belonging; love; lyrical text; bedtime story; reassurance

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The stars belong in the deep night sky, and the moon belongs there too, and the winds belong in each place they blow by, and I belong here with you. So begins this classic bedtime book, richly illustrated by award-winning artist Isabelle Arsenault. The pages journey around the world, observing plants and animals everywhere, and reminding children that they are right where they belong. A beautiful title for new babies, adoptive families, and children of all ages.
You are a dream that the world once dreamt,
And now you are part of its song.
That’s why you are here, in the place where you’re meant,
For this is right where you belong.

Read a review at Brain Pickings.

I paired these books because both are quiet books that reassure children and both feature Arsenault’s distinctive illustrations. In Virginia Wolf, Virginia is in a “wolfish” mood that causes her sister Vanessa to worry and use art to lift Virginia’s spirits. I think Vanessa’s actions and Virginia’s response will reassure children of all ages who either suffer from mood swings or live with someone who does that moods can change for the better. With its lyrical text and soft illustrations, You Belong Here also provides reassurance, in this case that no matter what, you belong with loved ones. Both books are perfect for a cozy read by a fireplace on a cool evening!

Looking for similar reads?

See Carson Ellis’ Home for another reflection on belonging, reviewed at Brain Pickings; M.H. Clark/Madeline Kloepper’s Tiny, Perfect Things, a lyrical ode to noticing small things, also reviewed at Brain Pickings; and visit Isabelle Arsenault’s website to find other picture books that she’s illustrated.

PPBF – My Name is Not Refugee

According to news reports I’ve read, more travelers will be on the road and in the skies in the US than ever before this Thanksgiving weekend, traveling to celebrate the holiday with family and friends. But as we celebrate, I think it’s important to remember those that travel for different reasons, including the boy and his mother in today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: My Name is Not Refugee

Written & Illustrated By:  Kate Milner

Publisher/Date: The Bucket List (an imprint of Barrington Stoke/2017)

Suitable for Ages: 5 and under

Themes/Topics: refugees; moving; empathy

Opening:

We have to leave this town, my mother told me, it’s not safe for us, she said. Shall I tell you what it will be like?

Brief Synopsis: Step by step, a mother explains to her young son that they are leaving the home they know because it isn’t safe and traveling to a new place where they’ll have to learn a new language, eat different foods, and otherwise adapt.

Links to Resources:

  • Describe or draw a journey or walk you’ve taken;
  • Find many more activities in the Teacher Toolkit;
  • Try one or more of the 20 Simple Acts to learn more about refugees or help one or more of them feel welcome in your school or community.

Why I Like this Book:

In simple, child-friendly sentences, a mother explains to her young son their upcoming journey and what they may find in their new home. Unlike many picture books about the refugee experience, Milner mentions and shows the unsafe home the pair leave, but there is no mention of death, soldiers or bombs. She thus leaves it to a child’s imagination, or the answer of a caregiver or teacher, to explain why there’s no running water and why there’s garbage everywhere. The adult reading with a child then can tailor the answer to the comprehension level of that child.

In addition to his mother’s reassurances, the young boy finds comfort in a stuffed animal that he carries in most spreads. I think younger children will relate to this, and find it reassuring as well. For the youngest of listeners, they may even want to search the pages to find the beloved item.

On the right-side page of most spreads, Milner addresses the reader, asking direct questions that are highlighted in blue boxes. From “what would you take,” to “how far could you walk,” and “what is the weirdest food you have ever eaten,” Milner invites readers to journey along with the unnamed refugees, to better understand their journeys and build empathy.

Milner uses pencil drawings and lots of white space to engage readers in the refugee experience. And by not showing a specific region or including details that could indicate that the refugees practice a particular religion, she universalizes the experience: anyone could be a refugee.

A Note about Craft:

Although the main character is a child, he relates the story as told to him by his mother. The reader thus experiences the journey through the mother’s perspective, too, which, in my mind, provided a reassurance missing from many refugee stories.

The inclusion of direct questions helps an adult reader tailor story-time to particular children, I think. To stick to the narrative, an adult reading aloud can skip a question or all questions, or s/he can stop and explore the main character’s experiences and discover how they may relate to the experiences of children listening.

My Name is Not Refugee is the winner of the Klaus Flugge Prize, which “celebrates the most exciting newcomer to children’s book illustration.” Milner won the V&A Student Illustrator of the Year in 2016 for My Name is Not Refugee.

See more of Kate Milner’s work on her website. Read an interview with Milner about her reason for writing My Name is Not Refugee and learn about her illustration techniques at Library Mice.

Edinburg-based, independent publisher Barrington Stoke is the “home of super-readable books” and aims to publish books for children with dyslexia and reluctant readers.

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 – Travels Wordlessly through the World

As the biggest holiday in the United States looms and as many of you dear readers may be jostling through airports, cramming into trains or sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, take a deep breath and imagine journeys that are much more pleasant, like the ones paired today. Happy Thanksgiving! 

Chalk Eagle

Author & Illustrator: Nazli Tahvili

Publisher/Date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: imagination; flight; adventure; wordless

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A young boy living in the heart of a busy city spots an eagle swooping overhead. He dreams of what it would be like to fly away from the noise and soar over mountains and rivers. Climbing onto the roof, he uses chalk to draw his own eagle – and then himself – into existence. The two fly away together and embark on a wonderful adventure of the boy’s imagination.

Read my review.

 

Door

Author & Illustrator: JiHyeon Lee

Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books/2018 (originally published in South Korea, Iyagikot Publishing Co/2017)

Ages: 3-5

Themes: imagination; friendship; adventure; wordless

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

What’s on the other side of the door? There’s only one way to find out: You’ll have to go through it.

JiHyeon Lee’s debut book, Pool, was lauded as a wordless masterpiece. Here she takes readers on another journey into an unexpected world. Delicate drawings transform from grays to vivid color as a curious child goes through a mysterious door and discovers that open-mindedness is the key to adventure and friendship.

Read a review at Brainpickings.

I paired these books because they are wordless picture books involving imaginative journeys. In Chalk Eagle, a young boy views an eagle and draws an eagle and himself with chalk to experience the joys of flying over serene, forested mountains. With a palate of blues and greens, Tahvili evokes vast mountains and sky, leaving many details to the readers’ imaginations. In Door, a young boy finds a key to a locked garden, enters, and discovers a colorful, exuberant world filled with welcoming creatures on the other side. Leaving the black and white reality of frowning adults, the boy enters the colorful, detail-filled garden to frolic with a cast of merry characters. While both main characters undertake imaginative journeys, the look and feel of these journeys differ, perhaps because Tahvili and Lee hail from different parts of the world: Iran and South Korea.

Looking for similar reads?

See Circle, Jeannie Baker (2016) or the Journey series by Aaron Becker.

PPBF – There’s Room for Everyone

We celebrated World Kindness Day this past Tuesday. In the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving next Thursday, and family and friends will travel on crowded planes, trains and roads to enjoy festive meals together. With these two special days in mind, I want to share this new Perfect Picture Book.

Title: There’s Room for Everyone

Written & Illustrated By: Anahita Teymorian

Publisher/Date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4+

Themes/Topics: kindness; sharing; hope; peace

Opening:

Before I was born, there was only a little space in my mummy’s tummy…But there was enough room for me.

Brief Synopsis: As a boy grows from a baby to old age, he reflects on how people and animals interact with our environments and concludes that with love and kindness, “there’s room for everyone”.

Links to Resources:

  • Have you ever been told that there’s no room for you to sit with your friends or play a game with them? Or have you ever told someone that there’s no room for her or him? How did you feel? Think about how you could add a chair, move to a larger table, find another game piece, or otherwise find space for yourself or someone else;
  • Practice being kind, by performing acts of kindness;
  • Visit Teymorian’s studio and see how she makes room for all of her illustrations and stories;
  • Watch the book trailer;
  • In a Message at the back of the book, Teymorian explains how the idea for this book began: she was angry at the images on the television showing people fighting for a piece of land. What makes you angry? What do you do when you’re angry? Draw a picture of something that helps you feel less angry.

Why I Like this Book:

With kid-relatable text and images, Teymorian invites children to think about physical spaces, those they inhabit, like their homes, those that are public, like a library, and those in nature, like the sky, seas, and land. The unnamed narrator notes that there’s enough room in all of those spaces for whatever needs to be there – even for plentiful things, like stars and the moon, for necessary things, like books, and for large things, like giant animals. So why isn’t there enough room for everyone here?

Teymorian shows people arguing over physical spaces, like an elevator or train, or even a bathroom. Some of these arguments are squabbles over a small space, some escalate to armed conflict, and some involve beliefs about which public restroom is appropriate to use.

As the narrator points out, though, he knows a “secret” that he wants to share – and what child can resist a secret! And what parent, caregiver or teacher can resist a picture book with such a positive message: if we love and act with kindness, “there’s room for everyone”.

Photo of interior spread

An author-illustrator, Teymorian spreads her message as much through the vibrant, colorful, full-page illustrations as through the simple text. Using repeated patterns and elongated limbs, Teymorian depicts people, animals and objects fitting into a variety of spaces, discovering room for everyone.

A Note about Craft:

Teymorian utilizes first-person point-of-view that brings an immediacy to the action and that made me feel like I was with the narrator, visiting the many spaces referenced. The narrator also addresses the reader directly, imparting the book’s message in a straight-forward call to join in with “those in the know” and act with kindness and love. This call to action empowers children, I think, to be the change, to ensure that “there’s room for everyone”.

The narrator is a young child through part of the book, but he also grows up and travels the world as a sailor. Although this life-spanning story is unusual for a picture book, I think it works well here as it enables Teymorian to show aspects of life that a child generally would not experience first-hand. The narrator, depicted as a kindly, grandfather-like man at the end of the story, can then also share his secret, discovered through his many years of life and travels.

Teymorian is an Iranian illustrator-author. Read an interview with her here. See my review of Teymorian’s A Bird Like Himself.

There’s Room for Everyone is the first in Tiny Owl Publishing’s Hope in a Scary World series that is intended to “show hope and how to cope with the problems in this scary world in a very simple and subtle and childish way.”

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 is Sharing Memories

I love how small treasures are often at the heart of family get-togethers. Whether it’s a tattered photo, a battered object, or a collection of keepsakes, the item often sparks a story and memories pass from generation to generation.

Nanna’s Button Tin

Author: Dianne Wolfer

Illustrator: Heather Potter

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018 (originally published in Australia, Walker Books/2017)

Ages: 4-6

Themes: intergenerational; family history

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

I love nanna’s button tin. It is full of stories.
Nanna’s button tin is very special. It has buttons of all shapes and sizes and they all have a different story to tell. But today, one button in particular is needed. A button for teddy. A beautiful story about memories and the stories that shape a family.

Read a review at Reading Time.

 

The Matchbook Diary

Author: Paul Fleischman

Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2013

Ages: 6-9

Themes: Intergenerational; family history; diary

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Newbery Medalist Paul Fleischman and Bagram Ibatoulline tell a breathtaking immigration tale with appeal across generations.
“Pick whatever you like most. Then I’ll tell you its story.” 
When a little girl visits her great-grandfather at his curio-filled home, she chooses an unusual object to learn about: an old cigar box. What she finds inside surprises her: a collection of matchboxes making up her great-grandfather’s diary, harboring objects she can hold in her hand, each one evoking a memory. Together they tell of his journey from Italy to a new country, before he could read and write — the olive pit his mother gave him to suck on when there wasn’t enough food; a bottle cap he saw on his way to the boat; a ticket still retaining the thrill of his first baseball game. With a narrative entirely in dialogue, Paul Fleischman makes immediate the two characters’ foray into the past. With warmth and an uncanny eye for detail, Bagram Ibatoulline gives expressive life to their journey through time — and toward each other.

Read my review.

I paired these books because they are intergenerational and feature the sharing of family history. In Nanna’s Button Tin, the unnamed narrator and her Nanna search through the button tin for a “perfect brown button for a perfect brown bear”, but also remember family stories about other buttons they find. In The Matchbook Diary, the great-grandfather purposely used matchboxes as a diary, and the focus of the conversation is his life and journey to America. In both, small “treasures” are the lens for sharing family history – what might you see and share when you visit a grandparent or great-grandparent?

Looking for similar reads? See The Remember Balloons (Jessie Oliverios, 2018) and Grandad’s Island (Benji Davies, 2016).

 

 

PPBF – Marwan’s Journey

With the scent of holidays in the air, November always reminds me of journeys – those taken, to visit family and friends, and those yet to come. But as I reflect on these generally happy journeys in my own life, I can’t help but think of those people undertaking difficult journeys for other reasons, whether fleeing from violence or poverty or seeking a better life in some new location. Today’s Perfect Picture Book recounts the journey of one such child.mne_DE_Marwan's Journey_Cov_z_Layout 1

Title: Marwan’s Journey

Written By: Patricia de Arias

Illustrated By: Laura Borràs

Publisher/Date: minedition (Michael Neugebauer Publishing, Ltd)/2018 (first published in Spanish as El Camino de Marwan, Amanuta, Chile/2016)

Suitable for Ages: 5-7 (or older)

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; courage; hope

Opening:

I take giant steps even though I am small. One, two, three…crossing the desert.

Brief Synopsis: When the cold darkness of war arrives at Marwan’s house, he flees on foot, joining a caravan of refugees, but always remembering happy times with his family and dreaming of a peaceful future, of returning to his homeland.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about the refugee experience with materials from Amnesty International;
  • If you were going on a journey, what would you bring? Choose three favorite toys or books that you’d bring along;
  • Marwan travels mainly on foot. Think of other ways that people travel, and draw a picture of your favorite way to travel.

Why I Like this Book:

With its young, named main character traveling by foot to escape war, Marwan’s Journey is a haunting window into the refugee experience. Although the setting is not named, the reader learns that Marwan crosses a desert and reaches a border with the sea. And although he seemingly travels without parents or other relatives, it’s clear that Marwan is one of many undertaking this journey.

Told in sparse, lyrical prose, Marwan’s Journey enables the reader to walk along with Marwan, as he places one foot in front of the other, “one, two, three,” a “line of humans like ants crossing the desert”. He doesn’t look back, but he knows that, without hesitation, one day, he will return to “plant a garden with my hands, full of flowers and hope.”

With its glimpses of happy memories, its focus on the act of traveling, and its promise of a hopeful future, I think de Arias presents a believable portrait of a child refugee while not focusing too much on issues that would be difficult for children.

Borràs’ ink and color-washed illustrations have a child-like quality, at times seeming even surrealistic. Utilizing primarily sepia tones as Marwan crosses the desert, she adds pops of color as he remembers life before the war and as he looks forward to a life back in his homeland and prays “that the night never, never, never goes so dark again.”

A Note about Craft:

Like most of the refugee picture books, de Arias utilizes first-person point-of-view which renders the narrator’s experience more immediate. Unlike refugee stories such as Francesca Sanna’s The Journey or Nicola Davies’ The Day War Came, de Arias names the narrator, choosing a male name of Arabic origin that means “flint stone,” a stone used to start fires.

Interestingly, de Arias includes a flashback to life before the conflict which, while providing relief from the tedium of the long march, may be difficult for younger children to follow and is not a technique usually found in picture books.

Per the jacket cover, de Arias is a Spaniard currently residing in Brazil, where she has published a number of children’s books.

Borràs is an “internationally acclaimed illustrator who has published numerous books in many countries”.

minedition publishes picture books of the highest quality that “open the door to the world” for children….After 10 years with the Swiss Nord Sud Publishing, minedition – michael neugebauer edition – was founded 2004, first as an imprint with Penguin and now independent and distributed in North America by IPG.”

Marwan’s Journey received a Special Mention at the Bologna Ragazzi Awards in 2017 and a starred review in Kirkus.

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!