Monthly Archives: February 2021

PPBF – The Refuge

With Mars and space exploration in the news right now, I thought this was a perfect time to feature a picture book that features a friendship born out of a shared love of astronomy.

Title: The Refuge

Written By: Sandra le Guen

Illustrated By: Stéphane Nicolet

Translated By: Danial Hahn

Publisher/Date: Amazon Crossing Kids/2020 (originally published in French, Éditions les P’tits Bérets/2019)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: refugee, astronomy, friendship

Opening:

When Jeannette got home from school that day, she dropped her bag on the floor. She didn’t bother to take off her shoes, and she didn’t bother to have her afternoon snack.

When Jeannette got home from school that day, she hurried into her mom’s office. She opened the window wide. She pointed the telescope toward the sky and brought her eye up close.

Brief Synopsis: When a new girl, Iliana, who doesn’t speak the language arrives at Jeannette’s school, Jeannette and Iliana become friends, bonding over a shared love of the night sky.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover activities to learn about space with NASA;
  • Because Iliana doesn’t know the language in her new school yet, she uses hand motions and draws pictures of her home country and her journey to her new home and school. Try telling a story using only gestures and/or pictures;
  • Think about ways you could help a new student in your class or new neighbor feel welcome, especially if you and she don’t speak the same language.

Why I Like this Book:

In The Refuge, a French picture book translated into English, two young girls bond over a shared love of astronomy. I love that this book not only builds empathy for refugees from an unnamed war-torn country, but that it features two science-loving girls who bond over their shared passion.

I also love that Jeannette’s mother keeps a telescope in her office, and that she encourages Jeannette to use it. Similarly, Iliana’s mother calms Iliana during the perilous sea journey by encouraging her to focus on the stars in the sky and by reminding her that the sky “belonged to everybody”.

In many refugee books, a child seeks to teach a newcomer the language spoken at the new home. That happens in The Refuge, but, in addition, Jeannette also seeks to learn Iliana’s language. I love the mutuality shown, and I think kids and adults will enjoy seeing the English and Arabic words side-by-side.

Although le Guen doesn’t shy away from letting readers know that Iliana’s family has fled a war and experienced a life-threatening journey to reach Europe, the focus on a shared passion and friendship makes this a hope-filled book, perfect to help explain the refugee experience to children.

Nicolet’s expressive and fanciful illustrations transport readers to the young girls’ star-filled world.

A Note about Craft:

In The Refuge, a sky that knows no borders, that belongs to everybody, is the passion that unites two astronomy-loving friends. By focusing on the sky, le Guen shows, I think, how everyone is united, how these two friends, who speak different languages, can find a shared language over which to bond.

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 Day Saida Arrived

Since it’s still Valentine’s Day week, I thought it was the perfect time to feature a picture book about friendship. Enjoy!

Title: The Day Saida Arrived

Written By: Susana Gómez Redondo

Illustrated By: Sonja Wimmer

Translated By: Lawrence Schimel

Publisher/Date: Blue Dot Kids Press/2020 (originally published in Spain, El día que Saída Ilegó, Takatuka SL/2012)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: friendship, immigration, language, empathy, respect

Opening:

The day Saida arrived, it seemed to me that she had lost all her words. So, I tried to look for them in every nook cranny corner drawer seam to see if, between them and me, we might get rid of her tears and throw away her silence.

Brief Synopsis: When a new girl, Saida, arrives at the narrator’s school, the two become friends as the narrator shares English words with Saida and learns words in Saida’s native Arabic.

Links to Resources:

  • Try to learn some words in another language from a relative, friend, or neighbor;
  • Saida has traveled to her new school from Morocco. Discover Morocco here;
  • Saida speaks Arabic and teaches the narrator some Arabic words. Check out the activities at A Crafty Arab to learn more Arabic words and discover Arabic culture;
  • Discover other ideas in the Teacher’s Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

With lyrical language and effective repetition, The Day Saida Arrived recounts the journey undertaken by the narrator and her new friend, Saida, as they explore each other’s language. I love that the narrator welcomes the young immigrant, Saida, and that she seeks to help her learn the language spoken at her new school. But rather than heading down a one-way street to teach her new friend this new-to-her language, the narrator seeks to bridge the language divide by learning Saida’s language, Arabic. Together, the girls forge a friendship by sharing both languages, learning about each other’s culture, and dreaming of a day when they can visit Saida’s home country of Morocco together.

With Arabic words and pronunciations sprinkled throughout the text, and English and Arabic alphabets set side by side at the end, I think The Day Saida Arrived is a wonderful introduction to Arabic language and culture. I also think it’s a good reminder that children, and adults, can welcome newcomers to their country by sharing their culture and by being open to learning about the immigrants’ culture. That way, everyone can learn a “world of new words.”

With its dreamy, surrealistic illustrations, The Day Saida Arrived is a gorgeous picture book. The inclusion of words in English and Arabic, with pronunciations, scattered within the illustrations makes this a book that I think kids and adults will want to reread numerous times.

A Note about Craft:

In The Day Saida Arrived, Redondo utilizes first-person point-of-view, telling the story of Saida’s arrival from the perspective of the young girl who befriends the newcomer. I think this perspective is particularly effective because it provides a roadmap to readers showing how they can welcome newcomers to their schools or neighborhoods.

Intrigued by the newcomer and wanting to help her, the narrator tells her parents all about Saida that evening. I love how Mama finds Morocco on a globe and how Papa explains that perhaps Saida doesn’t want to speak because she’s aware her words are different, just as the narrator’s words would be different and wouldn’t work in Morocco. Including these sympathetic adults, I think, strengthens the story because it shows the importance of supportive adults to expand children’s horizons.

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!

A Valentiny Story: Stella & Sparky and the Last Valentine

Today’s a very special day. It’s the day when we celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birth and Lunar New Year 2021. It’s the Friday before the long-awaited Presidents’ Day Weekend, and it’s one day closer to spring. But most especially, it’s the day when children’s writers around the world submit a story to…  

The 6th Annual Valentiny Writing Contest

Now for those very few of you who may not be familiar with this special contest, you’re in for a real treat. Each and every one of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of the maximum 214-word stories for children (ages 12 and under) features a character who is feeling BRAVE!

To read these fabulous stories, hop on over to Susanna Hill’s blog. It’s free and pairs perfectly with hot cocoa, cookies, candy from your sweetheart, or your treat of choice. And if you leave a comment on a story you enjoy, you’ll warm the heart of its creator.

As to my entry, I’ve taken this opportunity to feature two characters who have been roaming around in my brain for quite some time: Stella, a miniature horse, and Sparky, a small but spirited pup. They’re based on real therapy animals who live and train at a ranch in Montana. Without further ado, may I present…

Stella & Sparky and the Last Valentine

(213 words)

Stella and Sparky delivered Valentines to the library Ready Readers, to young patients at Cancer Care, and to wounded soldiers at the Veterans Hospital. When they finished, one card remained.

“Let’s give it to Mrs. Stinkenblum.”

“That grump never smiles!”

“That’s why she needs it!”

“But she lives on the other side of the valley.”

“Easy-peasy! I’ll nudge the paddock gate open. You sniff out the trail. We’ll cross the snowy fields, tiptoe past the wolf’s den, and be there in no time!”

“Maybe…”

“What’s that noise, like the snorting of…”

“BISON! RUN!”

“Whew! That was close! But the rest should be easy-peasy.”

“Once I dig out of this snowbank.”

“What’s that noise, like the rumbling of…”

“AVALANCHE! RUN!”

“Whew! That was close! But the rest should be easy-peasy.”

“Once we scale these boulders.”

“What’s that noise, like the growling of…”

“THE WOLF! RUN!”

“Whew! That was too close!”

“I. Give. Up!”

“But we’re so close. Be brave!”

“Look! Mrs. Stinkenblum’s house!”

“Happy Valentine’s Day!”

“What’s that noise?”

“Snorting? Rumbling? Growling?”

“With hairy arms!”

“Slimy red nose!”

 “Gaping mouth!”

“MONSTER! RUN!”

“Stella! Sparky! It’s me, Mrs. Stinkenblum, in my furry robe, with such a bad cold. Ahhh-choo!

But this lovely Valentine is the perfect medicine. Thank you!”

Wide smiles spread across everyone’s faces.

PPBF – The Paper Kingdom

I read this newish picture book late last year, and it struck me how few picture books tackle income inequality and the difficulties that unskilled workers and their children face. Then when I read the Author’s Note and learned that this picture book is based on the author’s own childhood, you know that I had to review it!

Title: The Paper Kingdom

Written By: Helena Ku Rhee

Illustrated By: Pascal Campion

Publisher/Date: Penguin Random House/2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: imagination, cleaners, night shift, family, #OwnVoices

Opening:

Mama and Papa were night janitors. While they got ready for work, Daniel got ready for sleep.

Brief Synopsis: When the babysitter cancels, Daniel accompanies his parents to their job as nighttime office cleaners.

Links to Resources:

  • Daniel’s parents imagine that a king rules over a large office and that small dragons have been messy. Imagine a creature that creates a mess and draw a picture of it or tell a story about it;
  • Imagine a creature that battles messiness, dust, and dirt. How is this creature different from the messy creature?
  • Use household items, like a broom, vacuum cleaner, or an empty box to create your own kingdom;
  • Explore more ideas in the Reader’s Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

In The Paper Kingdom, Rhee presents a difficult situation, a young child who has to accompany his parents to clean in an “angry” looking building in the middle of the night, and shows how, with imagination, it can be turned into a hope-filled story. Although it’s clear at the outset that the parents are also tired and most likely aren’t looking forward to cleaning messy office space in the middle of the night, the parents don’t complain. Instead, they turn their chores into a game for Daniel, as he searches for the king, the queen, and the messy dragons. And as Daniel sits on the throne at the end of the story, he, and the readers, imagine a world when the dragons pick up “their litter” so that people like his parents don’t need to do so.

I think The Paper Kingdom is a picture book that can help raise awareness about the dignity of work, and how people, including children, can ease burdens for those who keep our schools and other public areas clean and safe. Despite his age, Daniel noticed that papers were strewn about the conference room and that the cafeteria was a total mess with items like banana peels left on the floor. Hopefully, after reading this story, kids will become more aware of the impact their action, or inaction, has on others.

Campion’s detailed illustrations complete the picture of this hard-working family. At the outset, readers see that Daniel sleeps in a bed in the kitchen, that Mama cooks on what seems to be a hotplate, but that a flower-filled vase and houseplant cheer the surroundings while books appear on a shelf and Papa reads a book at the small kitchen table. It’s clear that these hardworking parents have dreams to better their lives, and Daniel’s.

A Note about Craft:

Per the Author’s Note, The Paper Kingdom is based on Rhee’s experiences accompanying her own parents to work as night janitors in an office building. I think this experience has enabled Rhee to be particularly empathetic to kids in this situation and renders this fictional story more relatable.

Interestingly, the ethnic and even racial heritage of Daniel and his parents have been kept vague. I think that’s a good choice, as it will enable more children to see themselves in Daniel, and it may prevent readers from stereotyping that people from a particular ethnic or racial background are more likely to work as cleaners.

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!