Monthly Archives: March 2019

PPBF – Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré

I was so happy to find this new #OwnVoices picture book biography at my local library in time to share it with you during Women’s History Month.

Title: Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré

Written By: Anika Aldamuy Denise

Illustrated By: Paola Escobar

Publisher/Date: Harper (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: librarians; storytelling; biography; Puerto Rico; bilingual – Spanish and English

Opening:

It is 1921. Pura Teresa Belpré leaves her home in San Juan for a visit to Nueva York/Words travel with her: stories her abuela taught her. Cuentos folklóricos Pura retold in the shade of a tamarind tree, in Puerto Rico.

Brief Synopsis:

Planting Stories recounts the life and achievements of the extraordinary Pura Belpré who was the first bilingual assistant at the New York Public Library and who shared the stories of her childhood with the children of her adopted city.

Links to Resources:

  • Ask a relative or older adult neighbor or family friend to share stories from their childhoods or from the places they grew up;
  • Make and share stories using puppets;
  • It’s spring! Time to plant a garden! Still too cold where you live? Visit the conservatory at a local botanical garden or even a florist.

Why I Like this Book:

In Planting Stories, Denise shows how one person’s idea, to share the stories of her beloved abuela from her homeland, Puerto Rico, grew into books and story hours for Spanish speakers in New York City, helped welcome this new population into libraries, and grew into a legacy of bilingual literature. I loved learning that Pura Belpré brought the Puerto Rican folktales that she’d learned from her grandmother with her to New York. I think this notion of using aspects of the past to enrich the future is an important one to share with kids. I think that kids will be surprised to learn that one librarian could have such a lasting impact on children’s literature, especially as, I suspect, most of them would not recognize Pura Belpré’s name. Finally, I think Planting Stories includes several themes that teachers and librarians can use in classrooms, including the importance of children seeing their own cultures reflected in books, the use of non-italicized Spanish terms sprinkled in the English text and how we can figure out meaning through context, the many things we can learn from elderly relatives and friends, and how newcomers can enrich their new homes.

Escobar’s vibrant and detailed illustrations help provide context to Pura Belpré’s story and further Denise’s analogy of stories growing like plants with many flowers evoking Pura Belpré’s tropical Puerto Rican childhood.

A Note about Craft:

Like seeds, stories can grow and multiply, as Denise shows us in Planting Stories. Although gardens and plants aren’t always the first images that come to mind when we think of libraries, I love this analogy, as it shows connections between storytelling and finding one’s place in the world, be it the natural world or an unfamiliar city. What analogies can you use in your writing to tie a story together or to help readers better understand or relate to its subject?

Visit Denise’s website to discover her other picture books. Per the jacket flap, Paola Escobar is a Columbian illustrator, working and living in Bogotá.

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 – Dances into Spring

I’m continuing the celebration of Women’s History Month with a focus on trailblazing dancers.

Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins

Author: Michelle Meadows

Illustrator: Ebony Glenn

Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan Publishing Group)/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: ballet; diversity; trailblazers; biography

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A lyrical picture book biography of Janet Collins, the first African American principal dancer at the Metropolitan Opera House. 
Janet Collins wanted to be a ballerina in the 1930s and 40s, a time when racial segregation was widespread in the United States. Janet pursued dance with a passion, despite being rejected from discriminatory dance schools. When she was accepted into the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as a teenager on the condition that she paint her skin white for performances, Janet refused. She continued to go after her dreams, never compromising her values along the way. From her early childhood lessons to the height of her success as the first African American prima ballerina in the Metropolitan Opera, Brave Ballerina is the story of a remarkable pioneer as told by Michelle Meadows, with fantastic illustrations from Ebony Glenn.

Read a review at Noodling with Words.

 

Firebird: Ballerina Misty Copeland Shows a Young Girl How to Dance Like the Firebird

Author: Misty Copeland

Illustrator: Christopher Myers

Publisher/Date: Penguin Young Readers Group/2014

Ages: 6-10

Themes: ballet; trailblazers; determination

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In her debut picture book, Misty Copeland tells the story of a young girl–an every girl–whose confidence is fragile and who is questioning her own ability to reach the heights that Misty has reached. Misty encourages this young girl’s faith in herself and shows her exactly how, through hard work and dedication, she too can become Firebird.
Lyrical and affecting text paired with bold, striking illustrations that are some of Caldecott Honoree Christopher Myers’s best work, makes Firebird perfect for aspiring ballerinas everywhere.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because both are lyrical picture books that explore the hard work and dedication necessary to excel at ballet and that encourage all young children, regardless of race or socio-economic situation, to soar through their endeavors. In Brave Ballerina, readers learn the story of Janet Collins, the first African-American prima ballerina in a major company. In lyrical rhymes that dance through the story, Meadows explores each component that led to Collins’ success, ending with the revelation that “This is the dancer,/bold like the sun,/a prima ballerina/in 1951.” In the fictional Firebird, Copeland herself offers encouragement to the narrator, a young dancer who doubts her abilities. With practice, Copeland assures the budding ballerina that she’ll “soar become a swan, a beauty, a firebird for sure”.

Looking for similar reads?

See Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova (Chronicle Books/2015).

PPBF – Ayobami and the Names of the Animals

I saw this picture book last fall on a “best illustrated” list, and the title and cover intrigued me. Thankfully, my local library has a copy, and I’m able to share it with you.

Title: Ayobami and the Names of the Animals

Written By: Pilar López Ávila

Illustrated By: Mar Azabal

Translated By: Jon Brokenbrow

Publisher/Date: Cento de Luz SL/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: education; literacy; overcoming danger; persistence; war; jungle animals

Opening:

When the war finally came to an end, the teacher went from house to house, telling everyone that the children could go back to school the next day.

Brief Synopsis: When a young African girl, Ayobami, becomes lost on her way to school, she promises the animals she meets in the jungle that she will write their names for them, if they let her pass.

Links to Resources:

  • Ayobami meets several jungle animals on her walk to school. Learn about African jungle animals;
  • What jungle animal do you resemble most? Take this fun quiz to find out;
  • Ayobami was happy to return to school to learn to read and write. What makes you happy at school? What subject do you most want to learn?
  • Compare your journey to school with Ayobami’s journey. How are they the same? How are they different?

Why I Like this Book:

In fable-like prose, complete with talking animals who long to learn their names, Ayobami and the Names of the Animals features a determined young girl who convinces the dangerous jungle animals she encounters that she will write down their names for them if they allow her to pass. Not only will young children learn the names of several African jungle animals, such as crocodile, snake, and mosquito, but I think they will appreciate Ayobami’s tenacity as she negotiates with each animal in turn to reach her goal of learning to read and write. Even young children will be able to follow along as they identify different animals and search the illustrations for the many hidden letters.

I love that Ayobami kept her promises and shared the literacy she gained with the animals by naming them – a sign of dignity or perhaps order that indicates the power of education to bring peace and stability to the world. I especially love López Ávila’s description of how Ayobami learned to read and write by learning “the letters of the alphabet”, learning “how to put them together to make sounds”, joining “the sounds to make words”, and mixing “the words together to make sentences.” The result? “And she heard the music that comes from making words.”

Azabal’s colorful illustrations include letters sprinkled throughout most of the illustrations. And don’t miss the lined yellow endpapers that include the cursive alphabets that many of us might remember from our school days.

A Note about Craft:

You’ll note from the Opening above that the main character does not appear in the first lines. In fact, she doesn’t appear until page three. I think López Ávila does this to give context to Ayobami’s story, to show how the education of one girl can restore order after the cessation of war.

Per the publisher’s website, López Ávila is a Spanish author and doctor of veterinary medicine.

Visit Azabal’s website to see more of her work. Ayobami and the Names of the Animals was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of 2018.

Cuento de Luz  is an independent publisher based in Spain that “publishes stories that take the imagination on a journey, help care for our planet, respect differences and promote peace.” It’s a certified B corporation, which means that it uses its business as a source for good, including by printing its books using special “stone paper”.

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 – Thinks about Spring Flowers

It’s my eldest daughter’s birthday today, so to celebrate, I thought I’d give her flowers, or more precisely, share two picture books with greenery and blossoms at their heart.

Florette

Author & Illustrator: Anna Walker

Publisher/Date: Clarion Books/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: gardening; nature in urban areas; moving; friendship

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When Mae’s family moves to a new home, she wishes she could bring her garden with her. She’ll miss the apple trees, the daffodils, and chasing butterflies in the wavy grass. But there’s no room for a garden in the city. Or is there?

Read a review at Design of the Picture Book .

 

The Seeds of Friendship

Author & Illustrator: Michael Foreman

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2015

Ages:  4-8

Themes: gardening; nature in urban areas; moving; friendship; immigrant

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Adam felt alone in the strange, new city. He missed the colours and friendships of his faraway home. But when a teacher at school gives him a few seeds, she plants an idea in him – an idea that could transform his grey world forever. Michael Foreman’s beautifully-illustrated story is a powerful fable of how friendship can grow in our world.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because they both feature children who have moved to gray urban spaces and who strive to bring nature’s greenery to the city. In Florette, Mae draws trees on empty moving boxes, races to visit pebble-covered parks, and then rescues a small sprout from outside a florist shop window. From that sprout, she grows both a garden and finds friends. In The Seeds of Friendship, Adam, a young immigrant, seeks to adapt to life in a cold, gray city. When a teacher gifts him some seeds, he grows a rooftop garden, bringing color to the city and finding friends. I especially liked how both books depict nature-loving children who persevere to bring what they love to their new homes.

Looking for similar reads?

See A Piece of Home.

PPBF – Dangerous Jane

For International Women’s Day, I’m happy to share a fairly recent picture book biography of one of my all-time heroes.

Title: Dangerous Jane

Written By: Suzanne Slade

Illustrated By: Alice Ratterree

Publisher/Date: Peachtree Publishers/2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes/Topics: biography; Nobel Peace Prize; Hull House; immigrants; settlement house

Opening:

Jane was born beside a sparkling creek on an Illinois prairie in a friendly town called Cedarville.

Brief Synopsis: The biography of Jane Addams who founded Hull House, the first settlement house in the United States, led the Women’s Peace Party and the International Congress of Women to restore peace during World War I, helped displaced persons and refugees after the war, and was the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Teacher’s Guide to find discussion questions, a timeline, vocabulary crossword puzzle, simile writing exercise, and more;
  • Pair Dangerous Jane with primary sources from the era to discover more about Jane Addams;
  • Check out the back matter, including a timeline, more about “Dangerous Jane”, and a select bibliography;
  • Celebrate International Women’s Day in your classroom, library or home, with these resources.

Why I Like this Book:

In this cradle to almost-grave picture book biography, Slade constructs a compelling narrative to show how the losses Jane Addams suffered as a child and the poverty she saw then informed her life’s work. As Slade notes, “Jane promised herself- when she grew up, she would buy a big house to share with people in need.” Later, we learn that Addams founded Hull House in Chicago to help immigrants adapt to life in America. She then used the skills she’d honed helping “people from different countries live in peace at Hull House” to promote peace during World War I. Although her efforts were not immediately successful and although Addams was criticized for the work she undertook, ultimately “dangerous” Jane was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the first American woman to be so honored.

I think children, teachers, and parents will appreciate how Slade ties the seemingly disparate aspects of Addams’ work into a cohesive narrative and how she relates it back to Addams’ childhood. By doing so, I think she helps children realize that they, too, can make a difference. I also liked that Slade focuses not just on Addams’ well-known settlement house work, but that she extends the story to include Addams’ peace-building efforts.

Based on a William Morris color scheme and incorporating the faces evident in contemporary photographs, Ratterree’s detailed illustrations help evoke Addams’ world.  Even young children will be able to follow along finding Addams, clad in green throughout the story, in each spread.

A Note about Craft:

The title of today’s perfect picture book intrigued me and caused me to pick it up. Reading the jacket flap, I learned immediately that Dangerous Jane is the biography of Jane Addams, whose work at Hull House I’d studied, and whose memoir about the same I’d read. I could think of many adjectives to describe Addams, but “dangerous” wasn’t among them. I was hooked! You’ll have to read the book to determine why this is such a perfect title – you may be as surprised as I was.

Dangerous Jane is a cradle to almost-grave biography. Writing Addams’ story in this way enables Slade, I think, to put the main events into perspective and encourages children to think that if the sickly, motherless Addams could found a movement and promote world peace, they can bring about positive change, too.

With such a long timeline, it could be difficult to follow the story. Slade provides repetition and repeats motifs which, I think, help tie the story together. Addams’ “aching heart” is one of those; asking questions, “What could she do?”, is another. Depicting Addams in a signature-green outfit, wearing her mother’s broach is a third, and I’m sure there are several I’m not highlighting here. What repetition or threads can you use to bring order to and help readers follow a decades-long story?

Visit Slade’s website to see more of the many non-fiction picture books she has written. Read a post by Slade at Picture Book Builders in which she shares why she wrote Dangerous Jane and interviews Ratterree.

Visit Ratterree’s website to see more of her illustrations and read a post in which she discusses her research for Dangerous Jane and interviews Slade.

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 – of Female Poets

I can’t think of a better way to start off a celebration of Women’s History Month than with two picture books that celebrate two American female poets.

My Uncle Emily 

Author: Jane Yolen

Illustrator: Nancy Carpenter

Publisher/Date: Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group/2009

Ages: 6-8

Themes: poetry; Emily Dickinson

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This six-year-old has an uncle like no other! His uncle wears long white dresses and never smokes cigars. Gilbert’s uncle is none other than Emily Dickinson . . . Uncle Emily he calls her. And how he loves her. He knows that she writes poems about everything, even dead bees. But it’s a poem about truth that, after a fracas in school, he remembers best. “Tell all the Truth,” the poem begins. And, in finally admitting what went on that day, he learns something firsthand about her poetry, something about her, and a good deal about the importance of telling the truth, no matter how difficult it might be.

Read a review at Publisher’s Weekly.

 A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Author: Alice Faye Duncan

Illustrator: Xia Gordon

Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books/2019

Ages: 5-8

Themes: poetry; Gwendolyn Brooks; biography; Pulitzer Prize; African-American

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks.
Sing it loud—a Chicago blues.
With a voice both wise and witty, Gwendolyn Brooks crafted poems that captured the urban Black experience and the role of women in society. She grew up on the South Side of Chicago, reading and writing constantly from a young age, her talent lovingly nurtured by her parents. Brooks ultimately published 20 books of poetry, two autobiographies, and one novel. Alice Faye Duncan has created her own song to celebrate Gwendolyn’s life and work, illuminating the tireless struggle of revision and the sweet reward of success.

Read a review at Chapter 16 by Julie Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, where she features illustrations from the book.

I paired these books because they explore the lives and poetry of two important women from two different eras of American history, but in quite different ways. In My Uncle Emily, Yolen sets up a fictionalized interaction between poet Emily Dickinson and a favorite nephew that centers on Dickinson’s poem, “Tell All the Truth”. Despite the fictional treatment, however, Yolen reveals the truth in Dickinson’s poetry and sheds light on the importance of family to Dickinson. In A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks, Duncan recounts the life of Brooks, starting in childhood, with lyrical text that weaves Brooks’ poetry into the narrative. Poetry is front and center in both picture books, not surprisingly, given the centrality of poetry in the subjects’ lives and in the lives of these gifted authors.

 

 

Dancing Birds: 50 Precious Words Writing Contest

MAGIC HAPPENS WHEN YOU MAKE EVERY WORD COUNT

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I agree with my friend, and contest creator, Vivian Kirkfield, who once again is hosting this magical kidlit contest to celebrate the birthday of the late Dr. Seuss. The challenge: to create a complete story, suitable for children, using only 50 words or less (not including the title), and without illustration notes. All entries are posted in the comments of her blog post. Do stop by and read and comment on the stories there – and share, share, share! And if you are so inclined, write and submit your own story – the contest is open until March 6, 2019, at 11:59 pm.

Dancing Birds

(48 words)

Merritt the parrot was green with envy, feeling blue, when she spied Sylvia Swan’s sparkly tutu. Feathers ruffled, Merritt squawked, “I want one, too!”

Sylvia pecked. Off flew the tutu. She chirped, “For you, my friend! Please wear it. This tutu is perfect – for a colorful parrot.”