Monthly Archives: December 2019

My Twenty-Teens in Picture Books

I first began reviewing picture books on this blog in January 2016. Since then, I’ve posted over 50 reviews each year. Beginning in 2018, I’ve been pairing two picture books weekly as well.

Although that’s quite a few books, I’ve read many more picture books than I’ve reviewed, and I also was reading many picture books before I began this venture. Interestingly, the first review I posted, Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation, contains two of the themes which run through several of the books I’ve reviewed: immigration and family separation. Note that I posted this review, and this book was published, prior to the political changes that encouraged my focus.

I’ve heard that these past several years have been a renaissance in picture books. I agree! When I looked back through my posts and perused my shelves, it was wonderful to see the blossoming of this craft.

Several of these picture books of this past decade have stuck with me. Here, in no particular order, are a baker’s dozen (the magic 13, my favorite number) that first came to mind:

The Journey

The first of, sadly, many of the picture books chronicling the refugee experience

 

I Am Henry Finch

So thought provoking

 

Two White Rabbits

The arduous journey through Mexico to the US

 

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

A photograph illuminated via poetry

 

A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech that Inspired a Nation

Brilliant new insight into a seminal moment in history

 

The Remember Balloons

Explaining memory loss to children & their adults

 

Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad

Bilingual, poetic & I loved learning about this Cuban hero’s sojourn in NY

 

Grandad’s Island

Reflections on the loss of a loved one

 

The Field

Pure fun! I felt like I was on the soccer field with the players

 

I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness

So calming

 

You Nest Here with Me

A reassuring bedtime story, filled with bird facts & back matter

 

Love, Triangle

Best title ever: so simple yet so profound

 

When I Coloured in the World

Possibly my favorite picture book of all time – we can change the world for the better, one word at a time.

Happy New Year, dear readers! Here’s to a wonderful year and decade ahead of reading, writing, and positive changes!

 

 

 

 

PPBF – Quill Soup

Today for the last Perfect Picture Book post of 2019, I’m happy to share a new-in-2019 book that I picked up on a quick trip to London this fall. Enjoy & happy reading this holiday season! I look forward to sharing more Perfect Picture Books in 2020!

Title: Quill Soup

Written By: Alan Durant

Illustrated By: Dale Blankenaar

Publisher/Date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: #OneStoryManyVoices, animals, folk tales, generosity, hospitality

Opening:

Noko the porcupine was hungry and tired. He’d been travelling through the Valley of a Thousand Hills and hadn’t eaten for days. He saw a small village ahead and his spirits lifted.

“Food and shelter at last,” he thought.

Brief Synopsis:

When Noko the porcupine arrives tired and hungry in a village, none of the animals offer food to him, until he shows them how to share.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Set in a colorful, jungle-filled village in Africa and peopled with a variety of animals, Quill Soup is a delightful retelling of the classic tale of the stranger denied food who shows the villagers how everyone benefits when resources are pooled and shared.

With a brain “as sharp as the quills on his back”, hungry Noko, the porcupine, knew that the villagers had food they weren’t sharing. But how could he get some of it?

In the classic stone soup tale, of which Quill Soup is a variant, the stranger finds a stone to start a soup. Here, though, Noko gives of himself, literally pulling quills from his own back to start the soup. In addition, he tells the villagers that this quill soup is just like his Majesty the king likes it. Who could resist wanting to add to a soup that will be shared with the king? Certainly not these villagers!

You can probably guess how the soup, and the story, end. But I think you and your children will enjoy reading each page of the journey and discussing the issues raised, including what if feels like to be an outsider and a hungry stranger, and how by sharing everyone benefits.

Blankenaar’s colorful and highly-detailed illustrations are based on African art to complement the setting of the story. Young and old will enjoy searching for and counting the many animals within each spread.

A Note about Craft:

Quill Soup is part of Tiny Owl’s #OneStoryManyVoices series, that also includes Cinderella of the Nile.

Set in Africa, the main character, Noko the porcupine, is a stranger who gives of himself to show others how to share. By changing the characters to animals, Durant enables Noko to literally add part of himself to the soup. I love this added element to the basic “stone soup” story and the reminder of how newcomers enrich our society. I also love how Blankenaar highlights Noko’s otherness by portraying him in shades of gray and black, even as all of the other characters are so colorful.

Read an interview with Blankenaar and one with Durant to learn more about each of them and how they created this wonderful new retelling of a traditional African story.

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 Family Favorites for Christmas

Every year, several new holiday picture books appear to the delight of young children and their families. But if your family is like my family, you probably have a few favorite classics that you read, and reread, year after year. Following are two of my family’s favorites. Happy reading this holiday season and see you in 2020!

Santa Cows

Author: Cooper Edens

Illustrator: Daniel Lane

Publisher/Date: Green Tiger Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster/1991

Ages: 4-8+

Themes: holidays, Christmas, family, cows, humor

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Cooper Edens and Daniel Lane have created their own madcap Night Before Christmas with some inspiration from (but no apologies to) Clement Clarke Moore. Full color throughout.

Read a review at Publishers Weekly.

Santa Cow Island

Author: Cooper Edens

Illustrator: Daniel Lane

Publisher/Date: Green Tiger Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster/1994

Ages: 4-8+

Themes: holidays, Christmas, family, cows, humor, tropical island

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The Santa Cows come to the rescue as Ruby Schwartz and her family are whisked off for a South Sea adventure, in this bizarre sequel to Santa Cows and Santa Cows Studios. Full color.

Read a review at Publishers Weekly.

I paired these books because they’re so much fun to read together! The off-beat humor, cultural references, zany illustrations, and fun-to-read rhymes of both books make them go-to picture books to revisit year after year. I hope your family enjoys reading them as much as our family does!

PPBF – My Shoes and I: Crossing Three Borders/Mis Zapatos Y Yo: Cruzando Tres Fronteras

As we enter the holiday season when many people around the world give and receive gifts, I think today’s Perfect Picture Book is a wonderful reminder of the power of gifts to help us accomplish our dreams and open our hearts to those seeking better lives.

Title: My Shoes and I: Crossing Three Borders/Mis Zapatos Y Yo: Cruzando Tres Fronteras

Written By: René Colato Laínez

Illustrated By: Fabricio Vanen Broeck

Publisher/Date: Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Público Press/2019 (originally published in 2010)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigration, journey, family, bilingual, #OwnVoices

Opening:

For Christmas, Mamá sent me a new pair of shoes from the United States.

I love my new shoes. They walk everywhere I walk. They jump every time I jump. They run fast as me. We always cross the finish line at the same time.

It’s a very long trip to where Mamá lives. We need to travel across three countries. No matter how far, my shoes will take me there.

Brief Synopsis: (from jacket flap)

As a boy and his Papá travel from El Salvador to the United States to be reunited with Mamá, his wonderful new shoes help distract him from the long and difficult journey.

Links to Resources:

  • The narrator travels across three countries to be reunited with his mother. Describe or draw a picture of a journey you’ve made;
  • What would you bring and/or wear on a journey?
  • Draw a picture of your favorite pair of shoes. Why are they your favorite shoes?
  • The narrator and his father travel from El Salvador, through Guatemala and Mexico to the United States. Find and color maps from these regions and trace a path their journey may have followed.

Why I Like this Book:

My Shoes and I provides a seemingly realistic glimpse into the journey that those fleeing the violence and poverty of El Salvador face while not overwhelming young readers with the difficulties they encounter. Few, if any of us, have undertaken or even contemplated the journey which Laínez describes. But we can empathize with a young boy who loves the new shoes sent by his mother who clearly loves him. And we can cheer him and his father on as these shoes enable the narrator to travel long distances, overcome obstacles, and finally reach their goal, even as the shoes become dirty and dusty, and develop holes in the soles.

Based on Laínez’ own experience of emigrating with his father from El Salvador in 1985 wearing new shoes sent from his mother, Laínez recounts in an Author’s Note that he is

writing this book to tell readers about the hard journey that immigrant children and families face. They are escaping from violence and crime. Their journey is not a choice but a necessity to look for a better place, where they can accomplish their dreams.

Vanden Broeck’s rich illustrations on distressed paper or board capture the cities and countryside through which the narrator and his father travel, as well as focus our attention on the narrator’s beloved shoes.

A Note about Craft:

As noted above, My Shoes and I is written by an #OwnVoices author who not only was an immigrant but who undertook a journey like that he describes. This perspective not only makes him the perfect one to write this picture book, but it also helps us better understand the fatigue and fear that accompany this young immigrant.

Laínez uses first-person point-of-view to bring immediacy to the story, but by personifying a kid-relatable sidekick, the shoes, he shows us that the narrator isn’t alone, that the narrator shares an interest with kids reading the story, and that, like the shoes, the narrator himself is worn down by the journey.

Visit Laínez’ website to learn more about him and his other books. Visit Vanden Broeck’s website to see more of his illustrations.

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 – Heals Injured Birds

As we think about how to foster empathy in children, what better animal to highlight than a small, injured bird. Who could resist helping one? I know I couldn’t!

How to Heal a Broken Wing

Author & Illustrator: Bob Graham

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2008

Ages: 3-7

Themes: injured pigeon, empathy, animal rescue, letting go

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In a spare urban fable, Bob Graham brings us one small boy, one loving family, and one miraculous story of hope and healing.

“No one saw the bird fall.”

In a city full of hurried people, only young Will notices the bird lying hurt on the ground. With the help of his sympathetic mother, he gently wraps the injured bird and takes it home. In classic Bob Graham style, the beauty is in the details: the careful ministrations with an eyedropper, the bedroom filled with animal memorabilia, the saving of the single feather as a good-luck charm for the bird’s return to the sky. Wistful and uplifting, here is a tale of possibility — and of the souls who never doubt its power.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

The Scarecrow

Author: Beth Ferry

Illustrator: The Fan Brothers

Publisher/date: HarperCollins Children’s Books/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: scarecrow, injured crow, seasons, friendship, animal rescue, rhyming

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

All the animals know not to mess with old Scarecrow. But when a small, scared crow falls from midair, Scarecrow does the strangest thing. . . .

Bestselling author Beth Ferry and the widely acclaimed Fan Brothers present this tender and affectionate tale that reminds us of the comforting power of friendship and the joy of helping others.

Read a review at Gathering Books and a guest post and cover reveal by Beth Ferry at Mr. Schu Reads.

I paired these books because they both involve injured birds who are helped by a friend. In How to Heal a Broken Wing, that friend is a small boy, the only one who notices it on a busy street and convinces his parents to help him save it. With the family’s loving care, the pigeon recovers to fly off with the other birds, leaving the boy sad, but also hopeful. In The Scarecrow, the scarecrow stands alone, friendless, scaring off the animals, until a baby crow falls near him. Uncharacteristically, the scarecrow saves the baby crow. The two become friends until, like the pigeon, the healed crow flies off. There the two books diverge, but I won’t spoil the ending of The Scarecrow for you. You’ll have to read it to find out – I highly recommend that you do!

 

PPBF – A Map into the World

I saw today’s Perfect Picture Book on one of the many “best of” lists that have begun popping up these past few weeks. When I read the reviewer’s description and the synopsis, I just had to read, and review, it!

Title: A Map into the World

Written By: Kao Kalia Yang

Illustrated By: Seo Kim

Publisher/Date: Carolrhoda Books, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group/2019

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes/Topics: Hmong, seasons, maps, moving, death, intergenerational, new siblings, immigrant, #OwnVoices

Opening:

The first time we saw the swing and the slide and the garden of the green house with the big windows, my mother sat down in a chair in the backyard and said she did not want to get up. Tais Tais and I looked at the garden, and she pointed out tomatoes, green beans, and a watermelon round as my mother’s belly.

Brief Synopsis: When the narrator, Paj Ntaub, and her family move to a new house, she experiences the seasons and the phases of life, including birth and death.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

A Map into the World follows the narrator, Paj Ntaub, as she adjusts to life in a new home and the arrival of twin baby brothers. But even as life is beginning in Paj Ntaub’s house, an elderly neighbor passes away, leaving her husband of over 60 years alone. How does this sensitive young narrator deal with these three big changes? Frankly any one of them on its own would be difficult for any person, let alone a young child, to process.

But young Paj Ntaub is observant. She notes the changes in nature, and she takes comfort in the Hmong story cloth that graces her new home and tells the story of how her family had left its homeland in southeast Asia. Bringing these threads together, she draws a map to show her neighbor how he can navigate the loss of his lifelong partner and find joy in the world once again.

I love the sensitivity exhibited by young Paj Ntaub, and I love how immigrant culture provides a way for the elderly neighbor, a non-immigrant, to process his grief.

A Map into the World is a perfect read for anyone dealing with a life-changing occurrence and for anyone interested in learning more about Hmong culture.

With soft yellows and greens, Kim’s nature-filled illustrations created with “digital graphite, pastels, watercolor, and scanned handmade textures” render a soothing setting for the story and are a gentle reminder that life is filled with seasons of beginnings and endings.

A Note about Craft:

Per an end note, A Map into the World is based upon the author’s actual neighbors, Ruth and Bob, and the author’s own family. She also is an #OwnVoices writer, familiar with Hmong culture and, presumably, problem-solving. I love how she uses aspects of this culture to problem solve and uses the metaphor of a map as a means to adapt to difficult life changes. This is her first picture book.Visit Yang’s website to see more of her books.

Visit Kim’s website to view more of her illustrations.

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 Small

With the rush of shoppers and tourists and selfie-sticks in midtown Manhattan this weekend, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed. Maybe you felt similarly, wherever you ventured.

 

Small in the City

Author & Illustrator: Sydney Smith

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Holiday House Publishing/2019

Ages: 6-10

Themes: size, city living, feeling lost, pet cat

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

It can be a little scary to be small in a big city, but this child has some good advice for a very special friend in need.

When you’re small in the city, people don’t see you, and loud sounds can scare you, and knowing what to do is sometimes hard. But this little kid knows what it’s like, and knows the neighborhood. That makes for some pretty good advice for an even smaller friend.

Like, alleys can be good shortcuts, but some are too dark.

Or, there are lots of good hiding places in the city, like under a mulberry bush or up a walnut tree.

And, if the city is too loud and scary, a small one can always just go back home, where it’s safe and quiet.

In his first author-illustrated picture book, Sydney Smith tells a contemplative, quiet story from the perspective of a child.

Read a review at Picture Book Builders.

 

Small World

Author: Ishta Mercurio

Illustrator: Jen Corace

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: size, shapes, growing up, perspective

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When Nanda is born, the whole of her world is the circle of her mother’s arms. But as she grows, the world grows too. It expands outward—from her family, to her friends, to the city, to the countryside. And as it expands, so does Nanda’s wonder in the underlying shapes and structures patterning it: cogs and wheels, fractals in snowflakes. Eventually, Nanda’s studies lead her to become an astronaut and see the small, round shape of Earth far away. A geometric meditation on wonder, Small World is a modern classic that expresses our big and small place in the vast universe.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews and an interview with Mercurio at Writing for Kids (While Raising Them).

I paired these books because both deal with the concept of being small, and they both include amazing illustrations. Smith’s low word-count debut, Small in the City, follows a young child as she navigates a snowy city, reflects on being small in that city, and searches for a special someone. In contrast, Small World, Mercurio’s picture book debut, is more concept book and shows how Nando’s world expands from the circle of her mother’s arms to encompass the entire world.

Looking for similar reads? See Kirkus Reviews list of Best Picture Books of 2019 about Small People in a Big World.