Monthly Archives: January 2019

PPBF – The Wall in the Middle of the Book

When I saw the cover of today’s Perfect Picture Book and then read a review (thank you, Julie Rowan-Zoch!), I knew I had to read and review it. And with a certain wall in the news so much these days, I thought now is the right time to focus on a different type of wall:

Title: The Wall in the Middle of the Book

Written & Illustrated By: Jon Agee

Publisher/Date: Dial Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: misperceptions; wall; ogres; fear; knight

Opening:

There’s a wall in the middle of the book.

And it’s a good thing.

Brief Synopsis:

A knight on one side of a wall fears the wild animals and ogre on the other side of the wall until he learns that maybe his side of the wall isn’t as safe as he’d imagined.

Links to Resources:

  • Play 20 Questions, Charades, or another guessing game;
  • The “dangerous” animals in The Wall in the Middle of the Book are afraid of a tiny mouse. Think of other small animals or insects that scare you or other larger animals or people. Why do you think these creatures are scary?
  • Build a wall or fort out of building blocks, empty boxes or other stackable things you can find in your home. And then have fun tearing it down;
  • Watch the book trailer.

Why I Like this Book:

Sometimes you read a book and you laugh aloud because of the humorous situation described. But then you realize that while the book may be humorous, the author is making a serious point about human nature, misperceptions, and judging others based on looks or pre-conceptions.

In The Wall in the Middle of the Book, the knight on one side of the wall uses short, declarative sentences perfect for young listeners to explain how he is safe because of the wall between him and the wild animals and ogre on the other side. Shown only in the illustrations, though, it’s clear to readers (especially observant young children), that the knight’s safety is illusory only: real danger lurks on his side of the wall. I think even the youngest of children will love watching the danger progress even as the knight talks on and on about the safety of his side of the book. And I think adult readers will love that young listeners are realizing a valuable lesson about jumping to conclusions and judging others based on appearance or other biases, especially as this is such a fun book for reading aloud.

Set against a white background, the red brick wall provides a stark division between the action occurring on the two sides. And the large, easily-identifiable animals and ogre and the friendly-faced knight are wonderful for young listeners who, I think, will follow this story easily and beg adults to read it again and again.

A Note about Craft:

Agee uses primarily first-person POV and straightforward sentences as the knight tells readers how safe he is on his side of the wall. Readers and listeners, though, can see both sides of the wall and the looming danger on the seemingly-safe side. This set up, I think, ramps up the humor and enables readers to reach the conclusion that all is not what the knight sees or thinks.

The Wall inhabits the gutter of the book, thus utilizing the “whole book” to tell the story. I think The Wall in the Middle of the Book would be a wonderful choice for Meghan Dowd Lambert’s whole book approach to story time, as so much of the story is evident only from the illustrations, and Agee utilizes the space and proportions of characters to great effect.

Finally, Agee uses humor and suspense to encourage young children to realize that preconceived beliefs can be incorrect – a truth that sometimes adults don’t heed.

Visit Agee’s website to discover more of his picture books, and read an interview with Agee about creating The Wall in the Middle of the Book.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing – Reflections on the Last Days of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday next Monday, almost fifty years after the assassination that cut short his life far too soon, two new picture books recount the last weeks of his life, one in a series of poems, the other in a combination of snapshot-like prose and poetry.

 

Martin Rising: Requiem for a King

Author: Andrea Davis Pinkney

Illustrator: Brian Pinkney

Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press/2018

Ages: 8+

Themes: Martin Luther King Jr.; Civil Rights; protest

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In a rich embroidery of visions, musical cadence, and deep emotion, Andrea and Brian Pinkney convey the final months of Martin Luther King’s life — and of his assassination — through metaphor, spirituality, and multilayers of meaning.
Andrea’s stunning poetic requiem, illustrated with Brian’s lyrical and colorful artwork, brings a fresh perspective to Martin Luther King, the Gandhi-like, peace-loving activist whose dream of equality — and whose courage to make it happen — changed the course of American history. And even in his death, he continues to transform and inspire all of us who share his dream.
Wonderful classroom plays of Martin Rising can be performed by using the “Now Is the Time” history and the 1968 timeline at the back of the book as narration — and adding selected poems to tell the story!

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968

Author: Alice Faye Duncan

Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie

Publisher/Date: Calkins Creek (an imprint of Highlights)/2018

Ages: 9-12

Themes: Martin Luther King Jr.; Civil Rights; protest

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This historical fiction picture book presents the story of nine-year-old Lorraine Jackson, who in 1968 witnessed the Memphis sanitation strike–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final stand for justice before his assassination–when her father, a sanitation worker, participated in the protest.
In February 1968, two African American sanitation workers were killed by unsafe equipment in Memphis, Tennessee. Outraged at the city’s refusal to recognize a labor union that would fight for higher pay and safer working conditions, sanitation workers went on strike. The strike lasted two months, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was called to help with the protests. While his presence was greatly inspiring to the community, this unfortunately would be his last stand for justice. He was assassinated in his Memphis hotel the day after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon in Mason Temple Church. Inspired by the memories of a teacher who participated in the strike as a child, author Alice Faye Duncan reveals the story of the Memphis sanitation strike from the perspective of a young girl with a riveting combination of poetry and prose.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because I believe that reading them together will help children gain a more complete picture of this epic era and the legacy of Dr. King and his dreams. In Martin Rising, Andrea Pinkney crafts a series of “docu-poems” (her term) using religious and folkloric imagery combined with Brian Pinkney’s abstract visuals to recount the last months of the sainted icon of the Civil Rights movement. She also sought to “honor the lives and spirits of the sanitation workers” whose fight Dr. King took up (quotations from the Author’s Reflections). In Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, Duncan “mined” history books and the “memories of a Memphis teacher” who had marched as a young girl and whose father was a striking sanitation worker. Duncan also tells the story in short, poetic vignettes (quotations from Introduction). Both texts include wonderful back matter to further readers’ experiences, and both remind readers of the centrality of economic equality to Dr. King’s dream.

Looking for similar reads?

See, I Have a Dream, the words of Dr. King’s well-known speech paired with paintings by Kadir Nelson (2012).

PPBF – I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon

I’m so happy to share a soon-to-be-released picture book biography that I’ve had on my radar for a while. Insightful and inspirational – this is one you won’t want to miss!

Title: I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon

Written By: Baptiste & Miranda Paul

Illustrated By: Elizabeth Zunon

Publisher/Date: Millbrook Press (an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group)/5 February 2019

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Themes/Topics: environmentalism; Cameroon; farming; clean water; intergenerational; social activism; biography

Opening:

This is northwestern Cameroon. Green. Wet. Alive. The rainy season has begun.

Brief Synopsis:

A young boy in West Africa who loves to garden becomes a farmer and founds a grassroots, not-for-profit organization to protect the environment via sustainable farming and clean water projects.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover the West African country of the Republic of Cameroon, where Farmer Tantoh lives and works;
  • Try some kid-friendly gardening activities, including inside activities that you can do in your home or classroom;
  • Learn about the Save Your Future Association, a grassroots, not-for-profit organization in Cameroon that Farmer Tantoh founded in 2005 to protect the environment, including sustainable landscaping and ensuring clean water to rural communities in northwestern Cameroon, to build community, and to promote education about environmental issues;
  • Watch the book trailer and learn more about Farmer Tantoh and Cameroon in the Authors’ Note, Glossary and Pronunciation Guide (which helpfully includes words for water), and Proverbs.

Why I Like this Book:

I Am Farmer is an inspirational, true story that shows young and old alike that one person with passion and persistence can make a difference in his or her home community and the world. In this picture book biography, the Pauls introduce young readers to Farmer Tantoh, who has a life-long love of gardening inherited from his grandmother and father, who has pursued his passion to become a farmer, and who works to bring clean water and organic farming to his home country of Cameroon. Whether reading I Am Farmer at home or in the classroom, I think young environmentalists will chuckle at Tantoh’s first attempts to grow onions without soil or water and marvel at his persistence to become a farmer despite his classmates’ jeers, his older brother’s pleading that Tantoh not pursue this low-paying occupation, and a water-borne illness that left Tantoh ill for several years.

I Am Farmer is a fascinating story about Farmer Tantoh’s life and work, and it’s a wonderful introduction to life in rural Cameroon in West Africa, a place most of us are unlikely to visit. This picture book biography also introduces children to important science topics including horticulture, sustainable agriculture, and the need for clean water.

Zunon’s colorful collage illustrations bring Farmer Tantoh’s world to life. The inclusion of photographs on the endpapers, including of Farmer Tantoh, of his grandmother and other family members, and of Cameroon, is an added bonus.

A Note about Craft:

Picture book biographies are popular now, but who is a good subject to feature? I think Farmer Tantoh is a wonderful choice because he became interested in his life’s work as a child, he’s overcome several challenges, including physical and economic, his work helps others, and growing food and obtaining clean water are issues that kids can relate to and understand. That there are few picture books set in Cameroon and that Farmer Tantoh’s grandmother inspired and helped him grow his passion add interest and layers to this inspiring biography.

The Pauls sprinkle gardening and water-related terms and phrases throughout I Am Farmer. I think this will help readers better enjoy the story and understand and discuss the issues raised. For instance, as a student, “Tantoh drinks up facts and figures faster than his teacher can pour them onto the chalkboard.” Zunon helpfully includes environmental, water, and horticultural terms on the classroom chalkboard. Likewise, a “stream of hands” work together to bring fresh water to villages, where a “trickle of hope” grows, and a “crop” of young people are “digging in, planting ideas, and growing a movement”.

Visit Baptiste Paul’s website and Miranda Paul’s website to learn more about their other picture books. To view more of Elizabeth Zunon’s artwork, visit her website here.

The authors provided a digital copy of I Am Farmer in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing – Peace

For the first Perfect Pairing of the new year, I couldn’t think of a better topic than Peace: May you find it in your own life and may we work together to promote it in our world in 2019. Happy New Year!

Peace and Me: Inspired by the Lives of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates

Author & Illustrator: Ali Winter

Illustrator: Mickaël El Fathi

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing/2018

Ages: 7-11

Themes: peace; peace builders; non-fiction; Nobel Peace Prize

Short Synopsis (from publisher’s website):

What does peace mean to you? This illustrated collection of inspirational ideas about peace is based on the lives of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates of the 20th and 21st centuries, among them Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Malala Yousafzai. A must for anyone interested in exploring this essential issue of our times, this child-friendly exploration of what peace means to you and me is a book for every bookshelf.

Amnesty International endorses this book because it shows how standing up for other people makes the world a better, more peaceful place.

Read my review from last October.

 

Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts About Peace

Author & Illustrator: Anna Grossnickle Hines

Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company/2011

Ages:  4-8

Themes: peace; peace builders; quilts; poetry; non-fiction

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In this evocative collection of poems illustrated by beautiful handmade quilts, Anna Grossnickle Hines explores peace in all its various and sometimes surprising forms: from peace at home to peace on a worldwide scale to peace within oneself.  Pondering the meaning of peace and its fleeting nature, this book compels each of us to discover and act upon peace ourselves.

Read a review and see a Readers’ Guide at Poetry for Children.

I paired these books because both feature peace builders and invite readers to contemplate how they build peace in their own communities. Arranged chronologically, Peace and Me introduces children to 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners. Linked together with taglines that explore what “peace is” in the context of each winner, the one-page biographies highlight the impact the winners had on the world leading to their awards. In Peaceful Pieces, Grossnickle Hines explores peace via a series of poems about the meaning of peace and about the work of peace builders. How will you find peace in your life and promote peace in your community?

Looking for similar reads?

See, People of Peace: 40 Inspiring Icons  (Sandrine Mirza, 2018).

PPBF – Imagine

As a new year dawns, imagine the possibilities that await!

Title: Imagine

Written By: Juan Felipe Herrera

Illustrated By: Lauren Castillo

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes/Topics: migrant; dreams; poetry

Opening:

If I picked chamomile flowers/ as a child/ in the windy fields and whispered/ to their fuzzy faces,/ imagine

Brief Synopsis: A young boy invites readers to imagine what they could do, as they learn about the varied experiences of his life.

Links to Resources:

  • Try writing a poem like Herrera has, by starting a sentence, “If I”, and ending with “imagine”;
  • Have you ever slept outside under the stars? Draw a picture of what you saw or heard;
  • Have you ever spoken or sang in front of a large audience? Describe how you felt;
  • Herrera’s family were migrant farm workers, who moved from place to place to find work. Have you ever moved? How did you feel?

Why I Like this Book:

Imagine is a quiet, poetic picture book that gently encourages children to imagine what they can do, what they can become. Sharing scenes from his childhood in a migrant farming family, former US Poet Laureate Herrera ends most scenes with the term “imagine”, inviting children to think about childhood experiences that probably differ from their own and to empathize with the child narrator. He also addresses readers directly at a few points in the poem and asks them to “imagine what you could do…”

Imagine’s peaceful, contemplative text will soothe listeners at bedtime and could also be a powerful classroom tool to help build empathy for others. In a classroom setting, I can envision teachers questioning students in particular about Herrera’s entry to a new, English-speaking school, even though he didn’t know “how to read or speak in English”, and contrasting that with a scene “in front of my familia and many more”, as he read as an adult from his poetry book on the “high steps” of the Library of Congress as Poet Laureate.

Castillo’s earth-toned, pen and monoprint illustrations further the dreamy, contemplative feel of the text, providing further encouragement to listeners to imagine the young poet’s life and their own possibilities.

A Note about Craft:

At its core, Imagine is a memoir targeted to young readers/listeners. By using poetic language, by relating the story using first-person point-of-view, and by addressing the reader/listener directly, Herrera stretches it much further, rendering his life story a gentle lesson for readers of all ages, reminding us that we, too, can dream and achieve our goals.

It’s always a fine line between adding descriptive adjectives in a picture book, that risk not leaving room for the illustrations to tell part of the story, and leaving them out. Herrera, though, chooses carefully, entering “my classroom’s wooden door” –  which could be any size, shape or color, and climbing “high steps” to the Library of Congress – how high and what color and material are left to the illustrator to show. I especially liked the image of “gooey and sticky ink pens” that the young poet used to grab “a handful/ of words” and sprinkle “them over a paragraph/ so I could write/ a magnificent story,/ imagine”.

Learn more about Herrera’s life and works at poets.org. See more of Castillo’s artwork on her website.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!