Monthly Archives: October 2020

PPBF – Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built

Today, I’m so happy to feature a newly-published, debut picture book, that I know you’re going to love. It’s truly a Perfect Picture Book!

Title: Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built

Written By: Angela Burke Kunkel

Illustrated By: Paola Escobar

Publisher/Date: Schwartz & Wade Books/2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: library, books, community problem solving, Columbia, Latinx, biography

Opening:

In the city of Bogotá, in the barrio of La Nueva Gloria, there live two Josés.

Brief Synopsis: Based on the true story of José Alberto Gutiérrez, a trash collector in Bogotá, Columbia, who collected books along his route and opened the first library in his impoverished neighborhood.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the many resources, including facts about Columbia, a Digging word search, suggestions for similar books, and more in the Educator’s Tool Kit;
  • Learn more about José Alberto Gutiérrez and the library he created in the Author’s Note;
  • What do you wish for? What does Paradise mean to you? Describe with words or draw a picture of something that means Paradise to you.

Why I Like this Book:

In Bogotá, Columbia, a boy named José grew up without education but loving to read with his Mamá every night. As an adult, he collects discarded books along his garbage route to read and to share with children in his barrio, an impoverished neighborhood.

One of those children, also named José, eagerly awaits the arrival of Saturday, the day when he and other children are welcome to visit Señor José’s house. There, stacks and stacks of books await. Paradise!  

Filled with city scenes and fantastical scenes of the pair’s literary journeys, Digging for Words celebrates books and the imaginative journeys they inspire. It also shows the power of persistence and how one determined man is able to share his love of books with the children who crave them in his poor neighborhood.

Filled with colorful and detailed illustrations by Columbian native Escobar, I think Digging for Words will be read, and reread, by children who love to journey through books. Although technically a work of fiction, the many facts about José Alberto Gutiérrez and the library he created make this a wonderful choice for schools and libraries, too.

A Note about Craft:

Often this is my favorite section to write when I review picture books. Today it is especially so! In this debut, Kunkel follows and breaks so many rules – I think I could do an entire post about craft using Digging for Words (and I think she could do some podcasts and workshops about it, too).

For starters, this is a parallel story with two main characters, two Josés: the real adult and the fictional child. As with many biographies, scenes from Gutiérrez’ childhood are included. But another child, the fictional José, is featured, too.

The book begins in present tense, but there’s a flashback to Señor José’s childhood (authors who are admonished to avoid flashbacks take note of how well this works here). Kunkel also includes several richly-illustrated scenes in which the characters imagine worlds based on the books they read. These books, Anna Karenina, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and The Little Prince, are even highlighted in the back matter.

I think most importantly, at least for me, is the realization that the addition of fictional elements is the best way to tell Gutiérrez’ true story. Only by doing so are we able to see the effect of his work on the children who benefit from it.

Finally, Kunkel sprinkles Spanish words throughout the text, which even this non-Spanish speaker was able to understand because of the context and illustrations. A Spanish-language version also has been published.

Digging for Words is a Junior Library Guild Selection.

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 – Follow the Moon Home: A Tale of One Idea, Twenty Kids, and a Hundred Sea Turtles

I’ve had the good fortune to view sea turtles in their natural habitat while snorkeling. And while I’m not currently traveling to anywhere I can snorkel, I can satisfy my desire to learn more about them by reading informative picture books, like today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Follow the Moon Home: A Tale of One Idea, Twenty Kids, and a Hundred Sea Turtles

Written By: Philippe Cousteau and Deborah Hopkinson

Illustrated By: Meilo So

Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-6 (and older)

Themes/Topics: sea turtles, environmental activism, moving

Opening:

I always need help finding my way, especially in a new place.

“Before long you’ll feel right at home, Viv.”

I WASN’T SO SURE.

Brief Synopsis: When Viv moves to a new community and school near the beach and the teacher assigns a class project to spur community action, Viv learns about the local sea turtles, the issues turtle hatchlings face, and how she, and her class, can help.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the fabulous back matter including a Letter to Young Activists, a note to Parents and Teachers, and information about Loggerheads and other Sea Turtles;
  • Find more ideas in the Teacher Guide;
  • “Swim” along on an online snorkeling trip in the Virgin Islands National Park to view marine life, including sea turtles;
  • What problems do people in your local community face? Even with many schools operating remotely and social distancing the norm right now, there may be ways you can help by organizing a food or holiday gift drive, coordinating a socially-distanced park cleanup, or sending cards and other encouraging messages to nursing or other group homes.

Why I Like this Book:

Follow the Moon Home is a multi-layered informational picture book with hooks to engage anyone. If you, like the narrator, Viv, have recently moved, read how she connected with her new classmates and community through the class project to help the sea turtles. If you love sea turtles and want to learn more about them, the book has plenty of facts and engaging watercolor illustrations to lure you in. If you’re interested in helping others or in environmentalism, read on and follow the steps Viv and her classmates took to spur community action. Interestingly, the problem the class tackles, the lights from beachfront homes that confused the turtles, is not one I’ve seen discussed much in picture books about protecting sea turtles.

Because Follow the Moon Home offers so much on so many levels, I think it would be a tremendous resource in classrooms, as well as a terrific family read (note that the actions taken are initiated by a class, but a family easily could identify a community problem to solve).

A Note about Craft:

Although primarily an informational picture book about sea turtles and environmental activism, Follow the Moon Home is also a story about Viv, who settles into a new home, school, and community by rallying her classmates and neighbors to help the sea turtle hatchlings. Using first person POV, the authors forge an immediate connection between the reader and Viv, as we empathize with her desire to find her way. This, in turn, helps the reader connect with the young sea turtles, who also struggle to find their way to the sea.

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 – Sharuko: El Arqueólogo Peruano/Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello

I don’t know about you, but after months of staying at home, I’m ready for some travel – some virtual travel to a new place and time. And what better way to do that than by reading this new Perfect Picture Book biography set in Peru!

Title: Sharuko: El Arqueólogo Peruano/Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello

Written By: Monica Brown

Illustrated By: Elisa Chavarri

Spanish Translation: Adriana Domínguez

Publisher/Date: Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books/2020

Suitable for Ages: Grades 1-6

Themes/Topics: biography, archaeology, indigenous culture, bilingual, persistence, curiosity, #OwnVoices

Opening:

This is the story of Julio C. Tello, one of the most important archaeologists in all the Americas. He was born in Peru on April 11, 1880, in the rugged highlands just outside the capital city of Lima, in the shadow of the Andes mountains.

Brief Synopsis: The bilingual biography of Julio C. Tello, the first indigenous archaeologist of South America, who persevered to prove the longevity of the country’s indigenous cultures, who celebrated his ancestors’ accomplishments, and who shared his findings with Peruvians and the world.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the comprehensive Teacher’s Guide;
  • Sharuko, which means “brave” in Julio’s native Quechuan language, explored and found bones and other artifacts from his ancestors. Explore your home or yard to find objects that belonged to your family and/or are culturally significant. Ask an older family member to explain more about them;
  • Check out these family history activities;
  • Learn about Peru, where Sharuko lived and worked.

Why I Like this Book:

With its focus on persistence, treasure hunting, and honoring the past, this picture book biography, about a man most of us never knew existed, and a country few, if any of us, have visited, left this reader eager to read on and learn about Sharuko, Peru, and the indigenous cultures that flourished there.

Targeting a slightly older reader than the typical picture book, Sharuko is a wonderful resource to encourage kids to explore their pasts, honor indigenous cultures, and be curious. I love how Brown shows Julio’s courage and persistence. We learn that he left his rural home as a child to study in Lima, the capital of Peru. Even with his aunt living there, how difficult this must have been!

As a young man, Julio worked many jobs, including carrying travelers’ luggage and working in a library. He studied medicine, and then he used that knowledge as a springboard to learn more about the artifacts he had seen in the mountains and caves of his youth. Perhaps as importantly, he shared that knowledge, so that the children of Peru could be proud of the civilizations that flourished there in the pre-Columbian era.

Filled with brightly-colored images of the artifacts Julio uncovered, studied, and shared with the world, this new bilingual picture book biography of the founder of modern Peruvian archaeology is a wonderful resource for home and school libraries.

A Note about Craft:

I noted above that Sharuko is targeted to a slightly older age range than the typical picture book. So why do I think Julio’s story is best told with words and images? Given the wealth of objects that Julio uncovered and its setting in a country with which most North American and European readers may be unfamiliar, I found the illustrations to be an invaluable part of this story. Especially for those of indigenous descent, seeing these artifacts must be a real treasure. And for those of us who don’t share that heritage, how wonderful to see and experience these pre-Columbian cultures in these pages.

Note that Brown does not gloss over the killings and destruction by the invading Spaniards, so this book is best read with an adult. Note though, too, that Brown also informs readers that “[a]lthough the Spanish tried to destroy Peru’s Indigenous language, culture, and customs, they were kept alive and passed on from generation to generation by families such as Sharuko’s.”

Brown is the daughter of a Peruvian immigrant, and Chavarri was born in Peru, so this truly is an #OwnVoices work. Among other works, Chavarri illustrated Rainbow Weaver/Tejedora del arcoíris, which I reviewed in 2017.

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 – Jacob Riis’s Camera: Bringing Light to Tenement Children

For today’s Perfect Picture Book, I’m happy to share a biography of a man whose name you may not recognize, but whose photographs live on and show how one person’s actions can improve the lives of many.

Title: Jacob Riis’s Camera: Bringing Light to Tenement Children

Written By: Alexis O’Neill

Illustrated By: Gary Kelley

Publisher/Date: Calkins Creek, an imprint of Boyds Mills & Kane/2020

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: social justice, immigrants, photojournalism, biography, New York City, tenements, STEAM

Opening:

Twelve-year-old Jacob hated Rag Hall. The rest of Ribe, Denmark, was filled with trim homes, sweet grass meadows, and fresh wind blowing from the sea.

But Rag Hall was a rat-infested, ramshackle dwelling.

As soon as he earned extra money, Jacob donated it to the poor in Rag Hall to help tidy things up.

Brief Synopsis: Jacob Riis, a Danish immigrant and newspaper reporter in late 19th century New York City, used flash photography to shine a light on the poor conditions in tenements crowded with new immigrants.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the amazing back matter including a timeline, glossary, and much more;
  • Take or find a photograph of your home and compare it to one of Riis’s photographs of the tenements. What’s the same? What’s different? Where would you rather live?
  • Take a photograph of a darkened space without using flash and then with the flash working. How do these photographs differ? Which one more effectively shows the scene?
  • Try these photography activities for kids.

Why I Like this Book:

I first learned about Jacob Riis when I was a university student many, many years ago. His photos of New York City tenements, and the immigrant families who inhabited them, have haunted me ever since.

As readers learn in Jacob Riis’s Camera, though, Riis was a reporter first, and he only began taking photographs when he discovered that words alone were not enough to show people, including policy makers, the awful living conditions in the tenements. Through persistence, Riis mastered the new art of flash photography to shine a light on the filth and overcrowding that impoverished families endured, and he helped change conditions for the better.

As debates about fake news and immigration swirl around us, and as inequality has become more visible during this pandemic, I think the story of Jacob Riis and his desire to clean up the tenements, his persistence to find a way to do that using new technology to combine photographs with words, and his work with Teddy Roosevelt to effect reforms are important to share with children. Whether at home or in a classroom setting, this picture book biography is a wonderful resource to spur conversations about these topics, especially with the rich back matter.

Kelley’s etched ink and pastel illustrations really made me feel like I was there with Jacob in the tenements. In many ways they reminded me of Riis’s photos, a few of which are reproduced in the back matter.

A Note about Craft:

With longer text than the typical picture book, Jacob Riis’s Camera is targeted to a slightly older age group. Given the difficult subject matter, this is understandable.

Given Riis’s status as a founder of photojournalism, the illustrations in this picture book are particularly important. Kelley’s muted palate and renderings of Riis’ photos drew me back to the late 19th century and vividly highlight the conditions Riis was trying to alleviate.

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!