Monthly Archives: May 2019

PPBF – Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child: A Worldwide Jack and the Beanstalk Story

 

This past Tuesday, the United Nations marked World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development with a goal of bridging cultural gaps, bringing about greater understanding and tolerance. I thought, at first, to feature a book from a culture different than my own today. But from which other culture? I couldn’t decide. So when I saw today’s Perfect Picture Book highlighting aspects of many cultures from throughout the world, I was happy to discover that I didn’t need to choose just one.

Title: Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child: A Worldwide Jack and the Beanstalk Story

Written By: Paul Fleischman

Illustrated By: Julie Paschkis

Publisher/Date: Godwin Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan Publishing Group)/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: fairy tale retelling, underdogs, multiculturalism, fears, folk art

Opening:

It was scary, but I begged for that story. How the king adored his older children but could barely stand to look at his youngest son.

Brief Synopsis: Combining elements of tales from many different traditions, a fearless child confronts a fearsome foe.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Similar to an earlier picture book by this author and illustrator duo, Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal , Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child is a composite version of a popular hero tale told by incorporating details from many versions told throughout the world. Unlike in the previous book in which Fleischman examined the many iterations of the Cinderella story, Fleischman here melds together many different stories that feature a child who confronts a larger-than-life nemesis and ends up victorious. Referencing Jack and the Beanstalk in the subtitle, Fleischman also includes references to thumb-sized heroes, youngest siblings, and other brave children who, with brains and bravery, defeat such giants as ogres, witches and even the devil.

Not only do I think that children will find it interesting to note the variations in these hero tales, but Paschkis’ colorfully-detailed folk art illustrations provide further insight into the culture of each region depicted. I think anyone seeking a comparative multicultural picture book or anyone who enjoys fairy tales (is there anyone who doesn’t?) will enjoy reading, and rereading Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child.

A Note about Craft:

As in Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal, Fleischman has not changed any of the original stories from which he draws, but through his storytelling, he has highlighted what is the same and what’s different across various cultures. He has, in effect, opened a window into the various cultures and historical eras that produced these many hero stories, and, I believe, he has achieved a composite story that will prompt discussion about what’s the same and what’s different in the many cultures highlighted.

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 Loves Lemonade

I saw this display at a garden center recently, and I suddenly grew thirsty for lemonade. How about you?

The Lemonade Club

Author & Illustrator: Patricia Polacco

Publisher/Date: Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group/2007

Ages: 6-9

Themes: lemonade, friendship, cancer, teacher, making the best of a bad situation

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Everyone loves Miss Wichelman’s fifth-grade class, especially best friends Traci and Marilyn. That’s where they learn that when life hands you lemons, make lemonade! They are having a great year until Traci begins to notice some changes in Marilyn. She’s losing weight, and seems tired all the time. She has leukemia, and a tough road of chemotherapy ahead. It is not only Traci and Miss Wichelman who stand up for her, but in a surprising and unexpected turn, the whole fifth-grade class, who figures out a way to say we’re with you. In true Polacco fashion, this book turns lemons into lemonade and celebrates amazing life itself.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree

Author: Jamie L.B. Deenihan

Illustrator: Lorraine Rocha

Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books/2019

Ages: 3-7

Themes: birthday, gifts, intergenerational, gardening, making the best of a bad situation

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When Grandma gives you a lemon tree, definitely don’t make a face! Care for the tree, and you might be surprised at how new things, and new ideas, bloom. 

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” In this imaginative take on that popular saying, a child is surprised (and disappointed) to receive a lemon tree from Grandma for her birthday. After all, she DID ask for a new gadget! But when she follows the narrator’s careful—and funny—instructions, she discovers that the tree might be exactly what she wanted after all. This clever story, complete with a recipe for lemonade, celebrates the pleasures of patience, hard work, nature, community . . . and putting down the electronic devices just for a while.

Read a review at Jilanne Hoffmann’s blog.

I paired these books because both refer to that old saying, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. On the surface, these are very different picture books. Based on a true story, The Lemonade Club deals head on with a very difficult topic: cancer. In contrast, When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree is humorous fiction with the “bad situation” being the receipt of an unusual birthday gift, a lemon tree. But both books feature main characters who grow and show empathy, and both feature surprise endings. Also, in a note at the beginning of When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree, debut author Deenihan reveals that as she was writing and revising, her family was dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, all is well now.

 

 

 

PPBF – Hand in Hand

When I first saw mention to today’s Perfect Picture Book and read a review at Picture Books Help Kids Soar, I knew I had to find, read and share it!

Title: Hand in Hand

Written By: Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum

Illustrated By: Maya Shleifer

Publisher/Date: Apples & Honey Press, an imprint of Behrman House/2019

Suitable for Ages: 7+

Themes/Topics: Holocaust; loss; separation; hope

Opening:

Mama had a smile sweeter than strawberries in summer. So did my little brother, Leib.

Brief Synopsis: When their mother goes missing during wartime, young Ruthi and her brother, Leib, are sent to an orphanage. When Leib is adopted, Ruthi shares a tattered photo and promises to always remember him.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Teacher’s Guide;
  • After the war, Ruthi finds solace by planting in the garden. Grow colorful flowers or favorite vegetables, or gift a plant you pot to a special friend or relative;
  • Check out other ideas at Picture Books Help Kids Soar .

Why I Like this Book:

In Hand in Hand, Rosenbaum introduces two very difficult subjects, the Holocaust and loss, in an empathetic way that, I believe, will enable caregivers to discuss these important subjects with young children. Hinting at some of the more difficult aspects of the Holocaust experience, Rosenbaum notes that Mama left and failed to return, but the reader does not learn her fate. Similarly, soldiers appeared and “hovered over our heads, like tidy rows of storm clouds – threatening to burst”, but there is no indication that the soldiers harmed Ruthi or her family. Most evocative of the Holocaust, Ruthi “walked through Nightmares, in a place where numbers replaced names.”

But, as Ruthi notes, “even in that colorless landscape”, there was hope. Other people took care of her until, finally, “one spring morning the black boots vanished.” Alone, Ruthi journeyed to a different land where, through the restorative powers of gardening, she was “brought back to life”.

The story could have ended at this hope-filled point, but it doesn’t. Instead, Rosenbaum follows Ruthi’s life to adulthood and old age when, readers learn, photo galleries of missing children helped reunite siblings, even after so many years. Experiencing these reunifications leaves readers feeling even more hopeful, and caused at least this reviewer to shed a few tears.

Shleifer’s bright, nature-filled illustrations accompanying happy times in Ruthi’s life and the dark, foreboding spreads when she is scared and alone help capture and further the emotions that Rosenbaum’s text evokes. I found the two-page spread of children at an orphanage standing against a light-colored background particularly haunting. Interestingly, too, the children in Hand in Hand are portrayed as animals, which will, I think, help children distance themselves from the more traumatic aspects of the story.

A Note about Craft:

Rosenbaum relates Ruthi’s story using first-person point-of-view. This enables readers to know from the first page that Ruthi will be there through the entire story, despite the perils she faces. From the start, Rosenbaum also focuses on a few kid-relatable features in the story – a photograph of Ruthi and her brother, including his “strawberry smile,” and holding hands. By honing in on these details, I think Rosenbaum makes it easier for children to relate to Ruthi’s experiences and empathize with her.

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 visits Korea

Although much in the news lately, I’ve seen very few picture books written in English about North Korea and South Korea. Following are two recent ones that I’ve enjoyed reading, as I learn more about the fascinating history of this divided peninsula.

Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans

Author: Tina Cho

Illustrator: Keum Jin Song

Publisher/Date: Little Bee Books, an imprint of Bonnier Publishing USA/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: South Korea, North Korea, hunger, rice, compassion, making a difference

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Rice from Heaven is based on a true story about compassion and bravery as a young girl and her community in South Korea help deliver rice via balloons to the starving and oppressed people in North Korea.

We reach a place where mountains become a wall. A wall so high, no one dares to climb. Beyond that wall and across the sea live children just like me, except they do not have food to eat.

Yoori lives in South Korea and doesn’t know what North Korea is like, but her father (Appa) does. Appa grew up in North Korea, where he did not have enough food to eat. Starving, he fled to South Korea in search of a better life. Yoori doesn’t know how she can help as she’s only a little “grain of rice” herself, but Appa tells her that they can secretly help the starving people by sending special balloons that carry rice over the border.

Villagers glare and grumble, and children protest feeding the enemy, but Yoori doesn’t back down. She has to help. People right over the border don’t have food. No rice, and no green fields.

With renewed spirit, volunteers gather in groups, fill the balloons with air, and tie the Styrofoam containers filled with rice to the tails of the balloons. With a little push, the balloons soar up and over the border, carrying rice in the darkness of the night over to North Korea.

Read a review at Picture Books Help Kids Soar.

 

When Spring Comes to the DMZ

Author & Illustrator: Uk-Bae Lee

Translators: Chungyon Won and Aileen Won

Publisher/Date: Plough Publishing House/2019 (originally published in Korean/2010)

Ages: 4-12

Themes: South Korea, North Korea, nature, demilitarized zone, division, barriers

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Korea’s demilitarized zone has become an amazing accidental nature preserve that gives hope for a brighter future for a divided land.

This unique picture book invites young readers into the natural beauty of the DMZ, where salmon, spotted seals, and mountain goats freely follow the seasons and raise their families in this 2.5-mile-wide, 150-mile-long corridor where no human may tread. But the vivid seasonal flora and fauna are framed by ever-present rusty razor wire, warning signs, and locked gates–and regularly interrupted by military exercises that continue decades after a 1953 ceasefire in the Korean War established the DMZ.

Creator Uk-Bae Lee’s lively paintings juxtapose these realities, planting in children the dream of a peaceful world without war and barriers, where separated families meet again and live together happily in harmony with their environment. Lee shows the DMZ through the eyes of a grandfather who returns each year to look out over his beloved former lands, waiting for the day when he can return. In a surprise foldout panorama at the end of the book the grandfather, tired of waiting, dreams of taking his grandson by the hand, flinging back the locked gates, and walking again on the land he loves to find his long-lost friends.

When Spring Comes to the DMZ helps introduce children to the unfinished history of the Korean Peninsula playing out on the nightly news, and may well spark discussions about other walls, from Texas to Gaza.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because they tell stories based in fact about the divided Korean Peninsula. In Rice from Heaven, a young girl and her father in South Korea help send rice via helium balloons to hungry North Koreans across the demilitarized zone. Here the DMZ acts as a barrier which compassion breaches. In When Spring Comes to the DMZ, the DMZ is portrayed as a nature preserve, an Eden flourishing between the divided Koreas and signaling the possibility of future peace. Both books also include informative back matter to help explain the complex issues that remain decades after the international conflict that divided the land into two vastly different countries.

Looking for similar reads? See Sergeant Reckless: The True Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero (Patricia McCormick/Jacobo Bruno, 2017) about the Korean War.

 

PPBF – Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is a new picture book that tells a story rooted in the past that sheds light on issues relevant today.

Title: Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story

Written By: Lesléa Newman

Illustrated By: Amy June Bates

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2019

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes/Topics: immigration, Judaism, Ellis Island, mother-child relationship, bravery

Opening:

“Gittel, will you write to me from America?” Raisa asked.

Brief Synopsis: A young Jewish girl and her mother leave their Eastern European village, but when her mother’s health precludes her from boarding the ship to America, Gittel must journey alone to this strange and faraway land.

Links to Resources:

  • 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;
  • Raisa gives Gittel a rag doll to accompany her on the journey. What favorite item or items would you bring on a journey?
  • Interview an older relative or friend to learn about his or her life when s/he was young;
  • Are there items from the past that your family treasures? Ask why those items are important;
  • Gittel arrives to the US at Ellis Island. Learn more about Ellis Island and US immigration.

Why I Like this Book:

With longer text than most current fiction picture books, Gittel’s Journey reads like a story from the era in which it is based. Opening with a scene including a beloved farm animal and best friend, Gittel’s Journey follows Gittel and her mother as they leave their eastern European village and travel to a seaside port. There, Gittel’s mother is refused passage because she appears to have an eye infection. This denial reminded me of the current concern about measles in the US.

I think kids will empathize with Gittel’s fear as she leaves her mother and embarks on the journey to an unknown land. I think they’ll be curious about the candlesticks that Gittel brings with her. They also may be surprised to learn how the story ends and how she reunites with new relatives without the aid of computer databases or smartphone messaging.

As the debate about immigration continues today and as the history of prior waves of immigrants fades from memory, this is an important book for home and classroom discussion and libraries.

Bates’ muted color palette evokes an earlier era. The block-print boarders that surround each page and illustration reminded me of picture frames and contributed to the historical feel.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Newman shares that Gittel’s Journey is based on two true stories from her childhood: the journey of her grandmother and great-grandmother from the “old country” of Poland/Russia to America and a similar journey of a family friend, whose adult companion was denied passage due to health reasons. In an essay in the Jewish Book Council, Newman explains that she remembered these stories from her childhood and decided to write this historical fiction story when she saw images of Syrian refugees in boats. What stories from your past shed light on issues relevant today?

Visit Newman’s website to see more of her adult and children’s books.

Visit Bates’ website to see more of her illustrations. Bates illustrated My Old Pal, Oscar, that I reviewed a few years ago.

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 celebrates Muslim-American Mothers

This upcoming weekend is Mother’s Day in the United States. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the US mothers celebrating! To mark the occasion, I thought I’d share two recent picture books that feature mothers who often are overlooked in picture books, Muslim-American mothers.

Mommy’s Khimar

Author: Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Illustrator: Ebony Glenn

Publisher/Date: Salaam Reads, an imprint of Simon & Schuster/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: khimar; Islam; mother-daughter bond; imagination; #WNDB

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A young Muslim girl spends a busy day wrapped up in her mother’s colorful headscarf in this sweet and fanciful picture book from debut author and illustrator Jamilah Tompkins-Bigelow and Ebony Glenn.

A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears.
Before she walks out the door each day, she wraps one around her head.

A young girl plays dress up with her mother’s headscarves, feeling her mother’s love with every one she tries on. Charming and vibrant illustrations showcase the beauty of the diverse and welcoming community in this portrait of a young Muslim American girl’s life.

Read my review.

Under My Hijab

Author: Hena Khan

Illustrator: Aaliya Jaleel

Publisher/Date: Lee & Low Books/2019

Ages: 4-10

Themes: hijab; Islam; confident women; #WNDB

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Grandma wears it clasped under her chin. Aunty pins hers up with a beautiful brooch. Jenna puts it under a sun hat when she hikes. Zara styles hers to match her outfit. As a young girl observes six very different women in her life who each wear the hijab in a unique way, she also dreams of the rich possibilities of her own future, and how she will express her own personality through her hijab. Written in sprightly rhyme and illustrated by a talented newcomer, Under My Hijab honors the diverse lives of contemporary Muslim women and girls, their love for each other, and their pride in their culture and faith.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because both celebrate strong, independent women and both explore the Muslim-American community through the lens of clothing, in particular the hijab, or khimar. In Mommy’s Khimar, the young narrator dons her mother’s bright yellow khimar and wears it in many imaginative ways. In Under My Hijab, the young narrator visits a number of female relatives and interacts with them in public, where they wear the hijab, and in private, where each shows her unique hair style. Both Mommy’s Khimar and Under My Hijab feature refreshingly diverse casts of characters and provide positive portrayals of Muslim Americans.

 

 

PPBF – Anya’s Secret Society

I saw today’s Perfect Picture Book featured in a list of new picture books and immediately was drawn in by the title and description. I think you’ll enjoy this one, too.

Title: Anya’s Secret Society

Written & Illustrated By: Yevgenia Nayberg

Publisher/Date: Charlesbridge/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: left-handed; feeling different; conformity; Soviet Union; art; self-expression; imagination

Opening:

Anya was born in Russia, in the middle of winter.

Brief Synopsis: Left-handed Anya loved to draw, but conformity in the Soviet Union meant that she could use only her right hand for all tasks. Although she learned to perform other tasks with her right hand, she drew in secret at night with a society of great artists of the past.

Links to Resources:

  • Try drawing with the hand you don’t usually use to draw;
  • Learn more about the famous artists who were part of Anya’s Secret Society: Leonardo da Vinci , Rembrandt , and Michelangelo , who could create with both hands.

Why I Like this Book:

Using a very concrete example that I think even young kids will understand, Nayberg explores a universal issue: feeling different. Left-handed children who have tried to play sports or create art with their right hands will immediately understand Anya’s frustration. I think those of us who are right-handed will empathize with Anya, too, as all of us, I believe, have some trait that makes us feel different from others.

In Anya’s case, she hid the difference, conformed to rules, but maintained her unique left-handed drawing abilities in secret. As Nayberg notes, “The right hand took care of the world around Anya. The left hand took care of the world inside Anya.”

I think older kids will understand Anya’s desire to conform, to hide the difference, while at the same time creating an inner, secret world where her talent could flourish. This story also explores life in repressive societies, the need to fight conformity and oppression, and the relief felt by those, like Anya, who find freedom in a new society.

Nayberg accompanies her text with colorful, surrealistic, acrylic on illustration board and digital collage illustrations. I particularly enjoyed comparing the depictions of Russian and American society and viewing the wonderous animals that Anya imagined and that “her left hand could draw”.

A Note about Craft:

Anya’s Secret Society is based on Nayberg’s own experiences as a left-handed artist growing up in the former Soviet Union. Rather than writing an autobiographical picture book, Nayberg creates a character, Anya, with whom children may more readily identify. She also focuses on one aspect of her experience, hiding her left-handedness, to explore the universal feeling of being different and the desire to hide that difference. Are there times in your past or features that make you feel different than others? Could these be the particulars to help you explore that universal feeling?

Visit Nayberg’s website to see more of her work, including the illustrations for Martin & Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank (Nancy Churnin, Creston Publishing/2019)

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!