Monthly Archives: May 2020

Perfect Pairing – Helps Save Nature

Today’s Perfect Pairing features two women, one famous and one not as well known outside her native Michigan, who loved the natural world and helped preserve it for future generations, including us.

Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story

Author: Lindsey McDivitt

Illustrator: Eileen Ryan Ewen

Publisher/Date: Sleeping Bear Press/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, ecology, women’s history, nature, art

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The art and writing of Gwen Frostic are well known in her home state of Michigan and around the world, but this picture book biography tells the story behind Gwen’s famous work. After a debilitating illness as a child, Gwen sought solace in art and nature. She learned to be persistent and independent–never taking no for an answer or letting her disabilities define her. After creating artwork for famous Detroiters and for display at the World’s Fair and helping to build WWII bombers, Gwen moved to northern Michigan and started her own printmaking business. She dedicated her work and her life to reminding people of the wonder and beauty in nature.

Read a review at GROG blog.

Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit

Author: Linda Elovitz Marshall

Illustrator: Ilaria Urbinati

Publisher/Date: Little Bee Books/2020

Ages: 5-9

Themes: countryside, rural England, biography, nature, women’s history, famous author/illustrator

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Growing up in London, Beatrix Potter felt the restraints of Victorian times. Girls didn’t go to school and weren’t expected to work. But she longed to do something important, something that truly mattered. As Beatrix spent her summers in the country and found inspiration in nature, it was through this passion that her creativity flourished.

There, she crafted The Tale of Peter Rabbit. She would eventually move to the countryside full-time, but developers sought to change the land. To save it, Beatrix used the money from the success of her books and bought acres and acres of land and farms to prevent the development of the countryside that both she and Peter Rabbit so cherished. Because of her efforts, it’s been preserved just as she left it.

This beautiful picture book shines a light on Beatrix Potter’s lesser-known history and her desire to do something for the greater good.

Read a review at A Mighty Girl.

I paired these books because they both involve women who helped save natural spaces in their later lives. Both were known during their lifetimes first and foremost as artists, and, in the more famous Potter’s case, as an author-illustrator of one of the most famous series of children’s books and perhaps its most famous main character, Peter Rabbit. Whereas Frostic helped save nature by creating artworks directly based on it, Potter used the vast sums she earned from her books to purchase farmlands and open spaces in the English Lakes District to preserve them for future generations.

Looking for similar reads? See Spring After Spring: How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement.

 

 

 

PPBF – Ariba: An Old Tale About New Shoes

This holiday weekend marks the start of the summer travel season in many places. But for most of us, travels may be out of the question, if not for the entire summer, at least for now. So, I thought I’d share a Perfect Picture Book that includes travel, adventure, and maybe even some ideas to enjoy our time at home.

Title: Ariba: An Old Tale About New Shoes (Based on a story that has traveled around the world)

Written & Illustrated By: Masha Manapov

Publisher/Date: Enchanted Lion Books/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: favorite shoes, storytelling, intergenerational, multicultural

Opening:

From the moment Marcus put on his new shoes, he couldn’t stop moving. He bounced all the way from the living room to the kitchen, circled the house 3 times and the shed 3 times more, climbed the tree in Billy’s backyard, ran up and down the 19 steps to his front door, and accidentally stepped on Carlo’s tail.

Brief Synopsis:

When Marcus tells his grandpa about his new shoes, his grandpa shares an old tale about a pair of shoes, discarded by their owner, that keep returning to him.

Links to Resources:

  • Do you have a favorite possession? Why is it a favorite of yours? Draw a picture of it;
  • In his new shoes, Marcus moves all about his house and yard. Create an obstacle course around your house for your family to enjoy;
  • Marcus’ grandpa tells an old tale about new shoes. Ask an older relative to share a tale with you, either from their own childhood, or a tale they remember hearing when they were young;
  • Ask older relatives to tell you about favorite toys or outfits from when they were young.

Why I Like this Book:

In this quirky tale within a tale, young Marcus’ grandpa transports Marcus, and readers, to a village that seems to be in Africa. There, we meet Ariba, a youth similar in age to Marcus, who, like Marcus, has just been gifted a new pair of shoes. As this tale proceeds, the reader journeys with Ariba, wearing the shoes, of course, to a big city. Here the shoes seem out-of-place. Ariba replaces them, or at least tries to do so. Because every time he tries to donate or discard them, some kindly person remembers how much Ariba valued those shoes and thoughtfully returns them.

I think kids will enjoy guessing how the shoes return each time. I think adults will value the opportunity to discuss how we value our possessions and why we should strive to be our own person, even if our sense of fashion, or our family’s ability to “buy the newest thing”, isn’t the same as everyone else’s.

I won’t spoil the ending, but trust that everything comes together as the story circles back to Marcus and his beloved grandpa.

This is Manapov’s debut as an author/illustrator. The brightly-colored, collaged illustrations lend an air of fantasy to this story-within-a-story.

A Note about Craft:

I mentioned above that this is a story within a story. The tag line notes that it’s “based on a story that has traveled around the world.” I confess that I don’t recognize the folktale, but Ariba’s story certainly feels like one that could have been around, in some form or another, for ages.

Note that for much of the story, Ariba is an adult. So is the storyteller, Marcus’ grandpa. But Ariba and grandpa both exhibit child-like qualities and, perhaps more importantly, the story begins, and ends, with Marcus, a child.

Enchanted Lion Books “is an independent children’s book publisher based in Brooklyn, New York. We publish illustrated books from around the world, convinced by the power of cultural exchange to inspire curiosity, awareness, and wonder in children everywhere. We reach across time and oceans to find new authors and old treasures to share with a new generation of readers.”

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 – Sudses Up

With adults everywhere reminding children (and themselves) to wash hands, not touch faces, and stay clean, I thought these humorous books about bathing may add some fun to the situation.

The Bath of Least Resistance

Author: Gregory E. Bray

Illustrator: Steve Page

Publisher/Date: McLaren-Cochrane Publishing/2017

Ages: 5-8

Themes: pets, bath time, humor, ingenuity

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A paint covered puppy.
A brothers unsuccessful attempts to get him clean.
What will it take to get Bogie into the bath?
Or is he destined to remain a colorful pooch forever?

Read a review at Picture Books Help Kids Soar.

 

When Your Lion Needs a Bath

Author: Susanna Leonard Hill

Illustrator: Daniel Wiseman

Publisher/Date: Little Simon, a division of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/2017

Ages: 2-4

Themes: pets, bath time, humor

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When your lion needs a bath, you have to be pretty sneaky! This charming and hilarious board book highlights the many ways to get your lion into that tub!

Does your lion need a bath? When your lion needs a bath, you must be a little sneaky. After all, have you ever met a cat who likes water? So gather up your towels and rubber ducks and get that lion into the tub! But be careful…or you just might end up in the bath, too!

Read a review at Little Red Story Shed.

I paired these books because they add humor to what often seems like a never-ending, messy job, especially as the weather warms and the little ones spend more time playing outdoors. And I think everyone needs some humor in their lives now. Don’t you agree?

 

Looking for similar reads? See When Your Llama Needs a Haircut (Susanna Leonard Hill, Daniel Wiseman/2018)

 

 

PPBF – Wherever I Go

I’m always so happy when I’m able to feature a new picture book by a debut author, especially when I’ve had the pleasure of meeting that author and discussing the book before it was published (or even under contract for publication). I know you’ll agree that my selection today truly is a Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Wherever I Go

Written By: Mary Wagley Copp

Illustrated By: Munir D. Mohammed

Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Children, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Publishing/2020

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: refugee, resilience, imagination, resettlement

Opening:

I AM QUEEN ABIA of the Shimelba Camp. Of all my friends, I have been here the longest—seven years, four months, and sixteen days. That’s what Papa says.

“Too long,” he adds.

I think it’s the perfect amount of time to become a queen.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl recounts her experiences as queen of a refugee camp, sharing the skills she’s acquired that will help her settle in a new country and home.

Links to Resources:

  • Try one or more of the 20 Simple Acts to learn about refugees or help one or more of them feel welcome in your school or community (for Refugee Week 2020, 15-21 June, the listed activities can be done at home);
  • Are you a queen or king? Make a crown from a paper plate, or make a real or paper daisy crown;
  • Queen Abia balances a large pail of water on her head. Try placing a book or a container of water on your head (you might want to do this outside!), and then try walking while balancing it there. How does doing this make you feel?
  • Queen Abia helps her mother to prepare fufu, a traditional African food. Try making fufu;
  • Learn more about the refugee experience in the Note from the Author and in the books for young readers listed.

Why I Like this Book:

In Wherever I Go, the imaginative, young Abia introduces readers to her life in a refugee camp. We learn how she marches with friends, pumps and carries water to her mother, helps prepare meals, watches her young cousin, drums while waiting for food distributions, howls at hyenas, and sleeps on a prickly mat. She even wears a crown because she is Queen Abia, who has remained in the camp longer than any of her friends. And when she and her family leave the camp to resettle in a new country and home, she will bring the stories of her reign and the many skills she has learned, because she’ll still be a queen.

In young Abia, Wagley Copp has created a narrator who is imaginative, brave, and resilient. Neither Wagley Copp nor Abia sugarcoat life in the camp. But Wagley Copp reminds readers that refugees, like Abia, are survivors who will thrive and enrich any community where they settle. For they are not victims but authors of their own destinies, who will still be queens or kings wherever they go.

Mohammed’s acrylic paintings transported me to Africa where much of this story takes place. Paired with Wagley Copp’s lyrical text, this debut picture book that tackles the difficult subjects of life in a refugee camp and resettlement afterwards is a must have for schools, libraries, and the homes of everyone who cares about those displaced by war or anhy other reason.

A Note about Craft:

As with many of the picture books about the refugee experience, Wagley Copp uses first-person point-of-view to bring immediacy to the story, to enable readers to experience life in the refugee camp from Abia’s perspective. I think this helps build reader empathy and greater understanding of the refugee experience.

In the Note from the Author, Wagley Copp explains that she never has been a refugee. She has, however, visited a refugee camp and met resettled refugees in her role as a documentary filmmaker. This first-hand knowledge helps bring authenticity to the story, as does the inclusion of small details, like the number of years, months, and days the family has been in the camp and the type of tree branches that form Abia’s crown.

Visit Wagley Copp’s website to learn more about this debut author and read an interview with her on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog.

The author provided a digital copy 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!

PPBF – The New Neighbours

You may not have “new” neighbors right now. But if, like me, you’re staying at home most of the time, you may be noticing your neighbors more, and maybe you’re even annoyed by some of their behaviors. If so, this is  just the Perfect Picture Book for you!

Title: The New Neighbours

Written & Illustrated By: Sarah McIntyre

Publisher/Date: David Fickling Books/2018 (republished in the US as The New Neighbors, Penguin Workshop, an imprint of Penguin Random House/2019)

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: preconceptions, prejudice, neighbors, gossip

Opening:

High on the roof, above the city, Mr. Pigeon had the latest news.

“You’ve got rats in your flats!” he burbled with glee. “They moved in today on the ground floor.”

Brief Synopsis: When rats move into an apartment building, the other animals react with dread, fearing the worst from these rodents.

Links to Resources:

  • Has someone new moved into your neighborhood recently? Draw a picture to help them feel welcome;
  • Think of 3 things that make your neighborhood special. Why are these places or activities important to you?
  • The new neighbors in this story are rats. Learn about them here. Why do you think McIntyre features rats in this story?
  • Download activity sheets from McIntyre’s website.

Why I Like this Book:

With hopping, and trotting, and tottering, a variety of animal neighbors rush to the ground floor of their apartment building to meet their new neighbors: rats. And as each neighbor joins the group, they share preconceptions about these new neighbors.

Using traits that kids will understand and relate to, the animal residents reveal that rats are messy, smelly, steal food, and more. With short sentences and loads of active verbs, the misconceptions and mayhem grow until everyone tumbles to the rats’ front door. I won’t spoil the ending, but as you can imagine, the reality does not match the escalating fear.

I think kids will enjoy this fast-paced and humorous story with its bright color palette and expressive animal characters. The New Neighbours also is a great introduction to a classroom or family discussion about prejudice, gossiping, and what it means to be a good neighbor or friend.

A Note about Craft:

McIntyre sets her story in an apartment building, where new neighbors, with new preconceptions, join a parade-like group that grows floor by floor. I think using this cumulative format helps build tension leading up to the encounter with the rats. I also love the expressive and kid-friendly language that quickens the pace and makes the text especially appropriate for younger children.

Discover more of McIntyre’s work at 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!

 

Perfect Pairing of Little Things that Matter Most

Sometimes it’s the little things that matter the most in life, like time spent together and stew shared. I think today’s picture books capture these things.

Saturday

Author & Illustrator: Oge Mora

Publisher/Date: Little Brown Young Readers, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: mother-child relationship, day off, special routines, disappointment, multicultural

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In this heartfelt and universal story, a mother and daughter look forward to their special Saturday routine together every single week. But this Saturday, one thing after another goes wrong–ruining storytime, salon time, picnic time, and the puppet show they’d been looking forward to going to all week. Mom is nearing a meltdown…until her loving daughter reminds her that being together is the most important thing of all.

Author-artist Oge Mora’s highly anticipated follow up to Caldecott Honor Thank You, Omu! features the same magnificently radiant artwork and celebration of sharing so beloved in her debut picture book.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

Thank You, Omu!

Author & Illustrator: Oge Mora

Publisher/date: Little Brown Young Readers, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: kindness, sharing, community, stew, multigenerational, multicultural

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A generous woman is rewarded by her community in this remarkable author-illustrator debut that’s perfect for the Thanksgiving season, perfect for fans of Last Stop on Market Street.

Everyone in the neighborhood dreams of a taste of Omu’s delicious stew! One by one, they follow their noses toward the scrumptious scent. And one by one, Omu offers a portion of her meal. Soon the pot is empty. Has she been so generous that she has nothing left for herself?

Debut author-illustrator Oge Mora brings a heartwarming story of sharing and community to life in colorful cut-paper designs as luscious as Omu’s stew, with an extra serving of love. An author’s note explains that “Omu” (pronounced AH-moo) means “queen” in the Igbo language of her parents, but growing up, she used it to mean “Grandma.”

Read my review.

I paired these books because they both capture and celebrate life’s little moments. Saturday recreates a highly anticipated outing shared by a mother and child, but when several things go wrong, the child realizes it’s the time together, not the activities, that matter. In Thank You, Omu! an older woman shares a rich stew with her neighbors. As we’ve hunkered down and have missed so many “important” events, these two picture books by the talented Mora remind us that it’s time spent with family and sharing with others that truly matter. And we haven’t lost these!

 

PPBF – It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way

Every time I sit down to write either a book review or a Perfect Pairing post, I am so grateful to the interlibrary loan system that enabled me to find so many wonderful picture books, and to my local library, that allowed me to check them out for the duration of the current closure. I truly don’t know how I’d be coping now if I didn’t have these books at hand as well as the many wonderful picture books I’ve been fortunate to have purchased in the past. And I’m grateful, too, to those who have created these treasures, including the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way

Written By: Kyo Maclear

Illustrated By: Julie Morstad

Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Children’s Books/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Japanese-American, biography, women’s history, illustration, artist, diversity, trailblazer

Opening:

It began with a page, bright and beckoning.

Brief Synopsis: The biography of Gyo Fujikawa, a Japanese-American female illustrator who produced picture books filled with young children of all races in the early 1960s.

Links to Resources:

  • Find a page, “bright and beckoning” and draw a picture. What did you draw? How did it feel to create your picture?
  • Gyo visited Japan to study art, including wood block printing. Try this woodblock printing art project;
  • Gyo’s family, although not Gyo herself, were interned in a camp for people of Japanese descent during World War II. Learn about these internment camps.

Why I Like this Book:

From her discovery of the magic of drawing as a five-year old to the creation of the first of her ground-breaking picture books fifty years later, It Began With a Page recounts the life and passion of trailblazing children’s book creator, Gyo Fujikawa. A woman pursuing a field dominated by men, a Japanese American who did not see herself, or others like her, in books for young children, Gyo made her living as a commercial artist and illustrator at a time when the stereotypical American woman was a housewife and mother. Perhaps because she existed outside these norms, Gyo noticed the lack of diversity in children’s picture books.

Realizing that a book “can be anything that anyone imagines it to be”, Gyo set out to write and illustrate a picture book featuring babies of all colors interacting. In the early 1960s in America, the publishers did not believe such a book could sell. But Gyo kept pressuring until they relented. After the first book launched successfully, Gyo continued publishing children’s picture books, creating over fifty books for children in her lifetime.

I confess to having no knowledge of Gyo before reading this biography, although I’m sure I must have read some of her books, either as a young child or as a parent. I appreciated learning about her persistence, about her desire to create art, and most especially about her need to see herself in picture books.

In back matter, the author and illustrator explain that they both loved Gyo’s work and “were full of questions” about her. I think this picture book answers these questions, for the creators and readers.

Morstad’s illustrations hearken back to the eras when Gyo was creating art. Although most of the spreads are full color, those dealing with the internment of Gyo’s family in the 1940s and the social unrest of the early 1960s are in black and white or with a limited, dark palette, lending gravity to those periods of Gyo’s life.

A Note about Craft:

Rather than focusing on one or two scenes from Gyo’s fascinating life, Maclear starts the narrative with a scene featuring Gyo drawing at an early age and continues the narrative through the publication of Gyo’s first children’s books as an author/illustrator. I think this long timeline shows readers how Gyo honed her craft, enables readers to empathize with Gyo’s sense of existing outside the mainstream American narrative, and helps focus our attention on Gyo’s persistence.

Gyo did not experience internment firsthand. But it’s clear that this deeply affected her worldview and made her sympathetic to the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. Adding information about the internment adds another layer to this fascinating biography, I think, and it helps to explain why a successful artist and illustrator would persevere to create inclusive books for children.

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!