Monthly Archives: November 2019

PPBF – Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War

I recently saw a reference to the latest picture book by Duncan Tonatiuh. As we’ve just celebrated Remembrance Sunday, or Veterans Day here in the US, originally celebrated to mark the end of World War I, I thought it was the perfect time to review this Perfect Picture Book:

Title: Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2019

Suitable for Ages: 6-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: Latinx, military service, biography, #OwnVoices, World War I

Opening:

“Greaser!”

Luz (looz) ran toward the boy and tackled him to the ground. Luz had had enough. ¡Ya basta! Why did they call him names? Why were those kids mean to him just because his family had come from Mexico?

Brief Synopsis:

The story of de la Luz Sáenz, a Mexican-American teacher who served as a soldier in France in World War I, who returned home to Texas to work for Mexican-American rights, and who co-founded the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and its founding;
  • Has anyone ever called you a name or otherwise been mean to you? How did you feel? What did you do?
  • Luz kept a diary during World War I that shared what he experienced and felt. Try keeping a diary or journal to record your thoughts and reflections.

Why I Like this Book:

The latest picture book by award-winning illustrator/author Tonatiuh, Soldier for Equality, provides wonderful insight into the life and times of an American of Mexican descent in the early part of the 20th century. Although the narrative begins during Luz’s childhood, much of the book records his experiences as an adult and especially as a soldier during World War I.

Although I wasn’t surprised to learn that Latinos were discriminated against in Texas and in the military at that time, nor do I think that children reading this will be, I was saddened to read how this discrimination affected Mexican-Americans living in Texas and how these loyal men’s service was treated as less valuable than that of white men.

But Tonatiuh doesn’t leave readers feeling sad or angry. Rather, he shows how Luz channeled his frustrations into a passionate fight for equality by teaching Latinx children and adults to read, by joining with other veterans to fight for Latino veteran rights, and by joining with other like-minded individuals to form the League of United Latin American Citizens in 1929. LULAC, which still exists, is “the oldest and most widely respected Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States”, per the organization’s website.

As Tonatiuh notes in the Author’s Note, Luz is a “largely unsung hero whose fight for equality is still alive”. I think it’s wonderful that Tonatiuh has brought Luz’s story to a new generation of children, especially Latinx children, and I hope that reading this biography will inspire this generation to continue the fight for equal rights, liberty and justice.

Tonatiuh’s distinctive, earth-toned illustrations complement the text well, and, for me, rendered the combat scenes a little less disturbing (note, though, that these could scare a younger child).

Back matter includes the Author’s Note, a select timeline of the US and Luz’s involvement in World War I and of LULAC, a bibliography, an index, and a glossary of Spanish terms.

A Note about Craft:

In the Author’s Note, Tonatiuh reveals that he first learned about Luz from a history professor at the University of Texas in Austin who had translated Luz’s wartime diary. A diary or journal is a wonderful source to learn about historical eras and a person’s reflections about them, especially when it is paired with other sources. That Luz not only kept the diary but that he also was a participant in the fight for equality and justice renders him an especially important figure for children to learn about. Thankfully, Tonatiuh distilled these adult-focused sources into a story for children. And while this isn’t entirely a cradle to grave biography, Tonatiuh begins it with a scene from Luz’s childhood, showing how even a child can stand up for his or her rights. As Tonatiuh quotes Luz’s father saying, “don’t let anyone make you feel ashamed. You should always be proud of who you are, mijo.”

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 Fearless Female Flyers

Today is the 103rd anniversary of a daring flight by Ruth Law, a female pilot and the subject of one of today’s perfectly paired picture books. As so many Americans anticipate holiday flights next week, I thought it would be interesting to look back to the dawn of aviation, and the roles two courageous female pilots played in that history.

 

Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine

Author: Heather Lang

Illustrator: Raúl Colón

Publisher/Date: Calkins Creek, an imprint of Boyds Mills Press/2016

Ages: 5-8

Themes: flying, women, biography, courage

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

On November 19, 1916, at 8:25 a.m., Ruth Law took off on a flight that aviation experts thought was doomed. She set off to fly nonstop from Chicago to New York City. Sitting at the controls of her small bi-plane, exposed to the elements, Law battled fierce winds and numbing cold. When her engine ran out of fuel, she glided for two miles and landed at Hornell, New York. Even though she fell short of her goal, she had broken the existing cross-country distance record. And with her plane refueled, she got back in the air and headed for New York City where crowds waited to greet her. In this well-researched, action-packed picture book, Heather Lang and Raúl Colón recreate a thrilling moment in aviation history. Includes an afterword with archival photographs.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

The Flying Girl: How Aída de Acosta Learned to Soar

Author: Margarita Engle

Illustrator: Sara Palacios

Publisher/date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster)/March 2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: flying, first female pilot, biography, courage

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In this beautiful picture book filled with soaring words and buoyant illustrations, award-winners Margarita Engle and Sara Palacios tell the inspiring true story of Aída de Acosta, the first woman to fly a motorized aircraft.

On a lively street in the lovely city of Paris, a girl named Aída glanced up and was dazzled by the sight of an airship. Oh, how she wished she could soar through the sky like that! The inventor of the airship, Alberto, invited Aída to ride with him, but she didn’t want to be a passenger. She wanted to be the pilot.

Aída was just a teenager, and no woman or girl had ever flown before. She didn’t let that stop her, though. All she needed was courage and a chance to try.

Read my review.

I paired these books because they both feature ground-breaking female pilots at the dawn of aviation, who conquered their fears and society’s expectations to soar to new heights. Each book focuses on the flight and events leading up to it, and both contain helpful backmatter about each pilot and her role in aviation history.

PPBF – Encounter

Regular readers know I generally focus on stories about immigration or refugees and migrants, or on international folktales. But today’s Perfect PictureBook imagines a meeting of a European traveler and an indigenous person. As you read on, I hope you will understand why this story has captured my attention and why, I think, it sheds light on many of the themes I explore in the books I generally review. And as November is National Native American Heritage Month, this seems like the perfect time to feature this new Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Encounter

Written By: Brittany Luby

Illustrated By: Michaela Goade

Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Native Americans, exploration, differences, similarities, cultural interaction, #OwnVoices

Opening:

Sun rose to light all Creation. He woke Seagull and Mouse from their nests. He coaxed Mosquito from a long blade of grass. He chuckled as Crab retreated inside her shell. When the coastline buzzed with life, Sun woke the two-leggeds with a burst of light.

Brief Synopsis: When a European explorer and a native American meet, the two acknowledge their differences but also see their similarities.

Links to Resources:

  • With words or pictures show ways that you are the same or different from a sibling, friend, or school mate;
  • In an Historical Note, Luby reveals that Encounter is a work of fiction, but it is based on information found in the diaries of French explorer, Jacques Cartier. Learn more about Cartier and his exploration of Canada;
  • In an Author’s Reflection, Luby reveals that she is descended from native peoples but learned the history of Canada through the histories of settler-colonists. Why do you think it’s important to view history from the point of view of those who were in a place first? How do you think the story changes when the point of view is changed?
  • Read or listen to an NPR interview with Luby and Goade.

Why I Like this Book:

Encounter tells the story of an imagined meeting on one day between Sailor, a sailor on the first, or one of the first, European ships to enter North American waters in present day Canada, and Fisher, an indigenous fisherman. As the two men experience their differences, in looks, language, dress, mode of transportation, and diet, creatures from the natural world note their similarities. This juxtaposition and change in perspective, between what the two men see and think and the reality of their similarities, made me realize that, in fact, our similarities as people, regardless of skin tone, language, region, religion, background or any of the myriad features that make us unique, are greater than these differences. If, as the natural creatures do, we could step back from our differences and focus on these similarities, perhaps our encounters could lead to greater understanding and kindness in this world.

#OwnVoices illustrator Goade created the gorgeous artwork in watercolor, pen and ink, gouache, and digitally. View a book chat with Goade about her techniques and what she was trying to show.

A Note about Craft:

Looking above at the Opening, which includes all of the text from the first spread, you might wonder who are the main characters of this picture book. Luby mentions neither Fisher, who appears in the next spread, nor Sailor, who appears first in the third spread. Not only are these two protagonists not mentioned in the text of this initial spread, they don’t even appear in the illustrations. Instead, Luby and Goade introduce them one by one on the next spreads, and show both in small boats on the water in the fourth spread. I was surprised by this opening, but I think it makes sense if, as I think Luby wants the reader to do, you change perspective and view the encounter which ensues from the perspective of the noted creatures of the natural world. I’d even argue that Sun, whose rising and setting frames this one-day meeting, and the creatures, who opine about the similarities of the two “two-leggeds”, are, in a sense, characters in this story. By beginning with this people-less scene, I think Luby is inviting readers to step back and view our differences from the perspective of the natural world. Maybe we aren’t so different after all.

Interestingly, too, Luby chooses two adult males as the people who meet. But in the lack of familiarity with the other person’s culture, each man seems child-like. The inclusion of natural creatures who observe and speak is also very child-friendly, as, to me, this lends a fable-like aspect to this story.

Per the book jacket, Luby, of Anishinaabe descent, is a history professor at the University of Guelph, Canada. Goade, of Tlingit descent, is a designer and illustrator. Visit her website to view more of her work.

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 – features Grandparents & Memory Loss

As the holidays loom and family gatherings feature in many children’s lives, I thought it would be helpful to feature two picture books that might help if those gatherings include older relatives suffering from memory loss.

Grandma Forgets

Author: Paul Russell

Illustrator: Nicky Johnston

Publisher/Date: EK Books, an imprint of Exisle Publishing/2017

Ages: 4-8

Themes: intergenerational, memory, family, dementia

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When your grandmother can’t remember your name it should be sad, but maybe it is just an opportunity to tell her more often how much you love her. Grandma Forgets is the heart-warming story of a family bound by love as they cope with their grandma’s dementia. Over the years, the little girl has built up a treasure trove of memories of time spent with Grandma: sausages for Sunday lunch, driving in her sky-blue car to the beach, climbing her apple trees while she baked a delicious apple pie, and her comforting hugs during wild storms. But now, Grandma can’t remember those memories. She makes up new rules for old games and often hides Dad’s keys. Sometimes Dad is sad because he has to hold onto the memories for both him and his mother now, but fortunately his daughter is only too happy to help him make new memories to share. This is a warm, hopeful story about a family who sometimes needs to remind their grandmother a little more often than they used to about how much they care. She might have trouble remembering any of their names but she will always know how much she is loved.

Read a review in The Guardian.

 

The Remember Balloons

Author: Jessie Oliveros

Illustrator: Dana Wulfekotte

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

Ages: 5-9

Themes: intergenerational, memories, balloons, family

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

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 a review at Children’s Books Heal.

I paired these books because they feature intergenerational stories in which the grandparents are suffering from memory impairment. In Grandma Forgets, the narrator remembers good times with her grandmother and shares that even if Grandma can’t remember her or her family, they have “so many memories of her” and they can always remind Grandma that she is loved. In The Remember Balloons, the balloons symbolize the memories that bind James and his beloved grandfather. Both books feature loving families and deal with the difficult topic of memory loss in older relatives in helpful, positive ways.

PPBF – Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

I confess that the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book was not familiar to me. Nor did I know about the performance noted in the title. So I’m so happy that Margarita Engle discovered young Teresa and shared this heart-warming story.

Title: Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

Written By: Margarita Engle

Illustrated By: Rafael López

Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: music, refugee, immigrant, courage, biography

Opening:

When Teresa was a little girl in Venezuela, Mamá sang lullabies while Papá showed Teresita how to let her happy hands dance across all the beautiful dark and light keys of a piano.

Brief Synopsis: The story of how a young pianist, the “Piano Girl” Teresa Carreño, performed for President Lincoln and his family at the White House during the dark days of the Civil War, as the family was grieving the death of their son.

Links to Resources:

  • Teresa was born in Venezuela. Find out more about this South American country;
  • Teresa performed a song about a Mockingbird. Learn more about this bird;
  • Listen to the Mockingbird was a popular song in America in the mid-19th century. Listen to a recording of it;
  • Learn more about Teresa in the Historical Note and see the Curriculum Guide for further insights;
  • Teresa played the piano to cheer up President Lincoln and his family. What can you do to cheer up a friend, family member, or neighbor?

Why I Like this Book:

In Dancing Hands, Engle introduces readers to a famous 19th century pianist, Teresa Carreño. Readers learn that Teresa loved playing the piano as a young child in Venezuela, but that sometimes she “had to struggle” to play the “stubborn music”. Despite these struggles, Teresa persisted and became an accomplished pianist at a young age.

When Teresa was eight years old, her family fled conflict and sailed to New York City, where Teresa “felt lost”, lonely, and sad, especially as no one spoke Spanish and the US was embroiled in the Civil War. But when Teresa acquired a piano in New York, her life and playing skills improved. Soon, she was performing in concerts, culminating with a performance at the White House before President Lincoln and his family, shortly after the death of his son and during the bleak days of the Civil War.

I think any child who has felt shy speaking before strangers, nervous before a music recital or worried about a big game will relate to Teresa’s predicament. That a child could brighten a President’s life and bring comfort to him and his family is an important lesson for children and adults that young people, including those who are recent arrivals to a country, can make the world better by sharing their talents.

I also think Dancing Hands reminds readers that music has the power to soothe people in times of trouble, acting as a balm for creators, performers and listeners.

López’s mixed media illustrations reflect Teresa’s moods throughout the story, with bright, tropical colors prevalent when she was happy and darker blues and grays dominating scenes of worry and concern.

A Note about Craft:

Dancing Hands is a biography of a pianist who had a long international career as a professional pianist and singer. But Engle has focused solely on the start of that career, when Teresa was still a child, culminating with this one special performance for President Lincoln. I think by limiting the timespan and focus in this way, Engle has created a picture book that will appeal even to younger children and to which children will more readily relate. Also, by honing in on this one important performance early in her stay in the United States, Engle widens the subject of the book from just the story of a gifted pianist to include her journey as a refugee and immigrant who shared her talents and enriched her new home.

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 Architects

I love it when I can pair a female trailblazer with a male icon in the same field. Don’t you agree?

Prairie Boy: Frank Lloyd Wright Turns the Heartland into a Home

Author: Barb Rosenstock

Illustrator: Christopher Silas Neal

Publisher/Date: Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights/2019

Ages: 7-10

Themes: organic architecture, STEAM, biography

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Frank Lloyd Wright, a young boy from the prairie, becomes America’s first world-famous architect in this engaging and inspirational nonfiction picture book introducing organic architecture–a style he created based on the relationship between buildings and the natural world–and transformed the American home.

Frank Lloyd Wright loved the Wisconsin prairie where he was born, with its wide-open sky and waves of tall grass. As his family moved across the United States, young Frank found his own home in shapes: rectangles, triangles, half-moons, and circles. When he returned to his beloved prairie, Frank pursued a career in architecture. But he didn’t think the Victorian-era homes found there fit the prairie landscape. Using his knowledge and love of shapes, Frank created houses more organic to the land. He redesigned the American home inside and out, developing a truly unique architecture style that celebrated the country’s landscape and lifestyle. Author Barb Rosenstock and artist Christopher Silas Neal explore the early life and creative genius of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, highlighting his passion, imagination, and ingenuity.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

 

The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid

Author & Illustrator: Jeanette Winter

Publisher/Date: Beach Lane Books/2017

Ages: 5-10

Themes: STEAM, biography, architecture

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Get to know Zaha Hadid in this nonfiction picture book about the famed architect’s life and her triumph over adversity from celebrated author-illustrator Jeanette Winter.

Zaha Hadid grew up in Baghdad, Iraq, and dreamed of designing her own cities. After studying architecture in London, she opened her own studio and started designing buildings. But as a Muslim woman, Hadid faced many obstacles. Determined to succeed, she worked hard for many years, and achieved her goals—and now you can see the buildings Hadid has designed all over the world.

Read my review.

I paired these books because they are picture book biographies of world-famous architects, both of whom changed the practice of architecture. In Wright’s case, he originated the idea of a prairie home that was part of and complemented its natural surroundings. Hadid was not only the first female architect to head her own firm, but her designs were rooted in her Muslim and Middle Eastern heritage. Interestingly, Wright’s Guggenheim Museum and Hadid’s residential building along New York City’s High Line combine curved facades which complement their surroundings well.

 

 

PPBF – Bijan & Manije: A Story from the Book of Kings

As the chill winds blow, I love reading stories from long ago that transport me to another time and place. I hope you agree that today’s Perfect Picture Book does just that.

Title: Bijan & Manije: A Story from the Book of Kings

Written By: Ali Seidabadi

Edited By: Nicolette Jones

Illustrated By: Marjan Vafaian

Publisher/Date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4 and up

Themes/Topics: fairy tale, #ReadYourWorld, Persia, courage, hero

Opening:

Once upon a time the people of Iran and the people of neighbouring Turan were enemies. Turan was ruled by a tyrant, King Afrasaib, who made his subjects tremble and threatened the country next door. Iran was a land of colour and perfume and beauty, ruled over by good King Khosrow.

Brief Synopsis:

A tale from Persia featuring a boar-hunting young knight, a princess from an opposing kingdom, and their love that overcomes all obstacles.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about the Shahnameh, a poem that gathered the “historical stories and myths of Persia” in the 10th century;
  • Write your own story that begins “once upon a time”;
  • Watch the book trailer.

Why I Like this Book:

Bijan & Manije features many elements found in classic fairy tales: monstrous creatures that terrorize helpless people; a brave, young knight; a quest to subdue the creatures; a cowardly general; a lonely princess; a tyrannical king; and a love that conquers all. But the setting, in ancient Iran and Turan, and the colorful illustrations lend an exotic air to the story, and they transported this reader into a fantastic world. I especially appreciated the loyalty of Princess Manije, who kept watch over the imprisoned Bijan, and her strength and courage as she helped Bijan escape and fled with him from her tyrannical father. No helpless female here!

I also enjoyed thinking about who the true hero of this tale is and what it means to be a hero. Is it Bijan, who subdues the monstrous boars? Or Manije, who defies her father and stays true to Bijan? Or is it the cowardly General Gorgin, who confesses that he led Bijan to the enemy lands? Or, perhaps, it’s the clever and courageous Rostam, who tracks down Bijan and helps the lovers escape? Maybe all of these are heroes who, by working together, help ensure the happy ending. I leave it for you to decide!

I think all children will enjoy this heroic love story, but children with a Persian heritage will truly love reading this tale set in the lands where their families lived and adapted from an ancient text.

With their jewel tones, Vafaian’s colorful and intricate illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to Seidabadi’s text.

A Note about Craft:

Bijan & Manije is a retelling of an older story into modern language, and then it’s been translated into English. Although the endnotes don’t reveal how or how much Seidabadi changed the story, I think updating an older story for modern readers is a wonderful way to preserve stories from the past and share a cultural heritage with children.

Read an interview with Seidabadi here and visit his Facebook page. Seidabadi is also the author of A Rainbow in my Pocket and collaborated with Iranian illustrator Vafaeian on The Parrot and the Merchant. Vafaeian is also the illustrator of Cinderella of the Nile.

Discover more books published by Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd , an independent publishing company in the UK “committed to producing beautiful, original books for children”, founded on the “belief that stories act as bridges – providing pathways to new experiences whilst connecting us to here and there”.

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!