Monthly Archives: March 2021

PPBF – Birdsong

For my first Perfect Picture Book of the spring, I chose a quiet book filled with friendship and nature. Enjoy!

Title: Birdsong

Written & Illustrated By: Julie Flett

Publisher/Date: Greystone Books/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: moving, #OwnVoices, nature, intergenerational, creativity, friendship

Opening:

Spring

It’s a mucky spring morning as we pack up the last of our belongings and leave our little home in the city by the sea.

I’m going to miss my friends and cousins and aunties and uncles. I’m going to miss my bedroom window and the tree outside.

“Goodbye, tree friend,” I whisper.

Brief Synopsis:

When a lonely young girl moves to a new home, she becomes friends with an elderly neighbor who helps her discover the beauty of her new surroundings.

Links to Resources:

  • Have you moved from one house or neighborhood to another one? Draw a picture of something you miss from your old house or something you like in your new home;
  • In the summer time, Katherena’s new home “hums with peeps and whistles and ribbits and chirps.” What do you hear when you’re outside?
  • Check out the Teachers Guide for more resources.

Why I Like this Book:

Arranged by seasons and incorporating a few Cree words, Birdsong is a beautiful and multi-layered picture book that explores how one young girl adapts to her new home and life through her interactions with a kindly neighbor. As a serial mover whose kids have trouble naming their hometown, I can relate to Katherena’s sadness at leaving family and friends behind and venturing to a new, unfamiliar location.

An art lover, Katherena has no desire to draw in her new home until she meets Agnes, an elderly neighbor who shares her own creative endeavors and the beauty of her garden. Through Agnes, Katherena learns to appreciate the beauty of her new surroundings, and the two share their art and cultures.

I love that Flett highlights the power of intergenerational friendship, especially as both friends learn from each other and benefit from the relationship. I also love how nature, including the birds in the title, provides a bond between these neighbors.

The soft pastel and pencil illustrations provide sweeping views of nature, a lovely invitation to go outside and explore our own bit of the world.

A Note about Craft:

Flett perfectly ties together so many themes in this quietly beautiful picture book: moving, loneliness, creativity, Cree language and culture, friendship, and intergenerational relationships.

She arranges Birdsong by seasons, an apt metaphor, I think, for life as the two main characters, young Katherena and elderly Agnes, are in the different seasons of their lives.

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 – Oscar’s American Dream

With little opportunity to venture into and browse in bookstores since last March, I’ve purchased very few picture books. But when my local indie opened to limited in-store shopping last fall, and when I saw today’s Perfect Picture Book featured, I knew I had to grab my bike, don my mask, and head over to purchase it.

Title: Oscar’s American Dream

Written By: Barry Wittenstein

Illustrated By: Kristen & Kevin Howdeshell

Publisher/Date: Schwartz & Wade Books/2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigration, urban landscapes, dreams

Opening:

Oskar Nowicki arrived at Ellis Island carrying his life in a cardboard suitcase and a skinny roll of money in his coat pocket, a loan from his mother in Poland for a down payment on his dream.

Brief Synopsis:

From Oscar’s dream of a barber shop in the late 19th century to a candy store in the late 20th century, a small corner store reflects the hopes and lives of successive generations of New Yorkers.

Links to Resources:

  • Ask an adult about the home you or they live in. When was it built? How has it changed through the years? Draw a picture of the home then and now;
  • Ask an adult to share older photographs of the town where you live. Think about what has changed. Why do you think these places have changed?
  • See the Curriculum Guide for more ideas.

Why I Like this Book:

In Oscar’s American Dream, American history and the hopes and dreams of waves of immigrants come alive through the history of one corner store. From its first iteration as Polish immigrant Oscar’s All-American barber shop to years as a dress shop, soup kitchen, bodega, candy shop, and more, this one shop is a window into large events, like the Great Depression, and smaller neighborhood changes.

I think kids will better understand these changes as they see them unfold through the many iterations of the corner store. Most notable, I think, is the switch from the late 19th and early 20th century Eastern European immigrants who frequent Oscar’s barbershop, the dress shop, and the soup kitchen, and the mid-20th century newcomer from Puerto Rico who opens up a bodega followed by a television shop.

Although Oscar’s American Dream takes place in a large city, namely the lower east side of New York City, I think even children living in suburban or rural settings have experienced the changing faces of area businesses and will enjoy this book.

The Howdeshells’ soft-hued, detailed illustrations further illuminate societal changes.

A Note about Craft:

It’s no small feat to chronicle 100 years of American history in a way that’s accessible to young children. But by casting a building, a tangible place, as the main character of the story, I think Wittenstein has made it much easier for kids to understand the changes that occurred during the 20th century.

In addition to the corner store itself, the other main characters in this story are adults. To draw in young readers, Wittenstein adds a particularly kid-friendly detail to this fictional story: Oscar gave “lemon drops to all the boys and girls” who visited his barber shop. These same candies appear later as well, as Wittenstein circles back to tie up this story. The Howdeshells include children in almost every spread, too.

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 – I Am One: A Book of Action

I chose today’s Perfect Picture Book in honor of my daughter, my eldest child, who celebrates her birthday today. Not only has she met and worked with the inspiration of this book, and not only did she gift me a copy autographed by the awesome illustrator, but in her life and work she inspires me to action.

Title: I Am One: A Book of Action

Written By: Susan Verde

Illustrated By: Peter H. Reynolds

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: making a difference, social activism

Opening:

How do I make a difference?

It seems like a tall order for one so small.

But beautiful things start with just One.

Brief Synopsis:

A call to action for each person to take one step to start something beautiful, to help make the world better.

Links to Resources:

  • In the Author’s Note, Verde shares that I Am One was inspired by a quotation from the Dalai Lama, “Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.” Learn about the Dalai Lama and his work;
  • Drop a pebble in calm water and notice what you see. If you can’t do so outside in a pond, lake, or other calm body of water, fill a large bowl with water, drop in a small pebble, coin, or dried bean, and notice what you see;
  • Try the mindfulness exercise in the Author’s Note.

Why I Like this Book:

With sparse, lyrical text, Verde shares an important message in a very kid-friendly way. She reminds readers that just one person, YOU, can take action, start something beautiful, make a positive difference in this world. Whether it’s the first brushstroke to start a painting, the first seed planted in a garden, or the first brick removed from a wall, you can start to make positive changes at home, in your neighborhood, at school, and even in the world.

Paired with Reynolds’ colorful, lively illustrations, I think Verde’s words will inspire readers to take positive action.

A Note about Craft:

Verde’s direct, lyrical text leaves lots of space for her frequent collaborator, Reynolds, to show readers how seemingly small actions can make positive change possible.  

Midway through the book, Verde reminds readers that “We are each One. And we can take action.” From the sole protagonist at the start of the book, to a pair who undertake a journey, to a group who create together, Verde shows the actions of many “Ones” working towards a common goal.

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 – Poetree

Spring will be here soon. I hope! And while we’re awaiting its arrival, I found a Perfect Picture Book to get you in a springtime mood!

Title: Poetree

Written By: Shauna LaVoy Reynolds

Illustrated By: Shahrzad Maydani

Publisher/Date: Dial Books for Young Readers/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: poetry, friendship, nature, spring, loneliness

Opening:

The snow had melted, the buttercups were blooming, and Sylvia celebrated winter’s end by writing a poem about spring.

Brief Synopsis: When a birch tree seemingly responds to the poems Sylvia had left for it, she is thrilled, until she realizes that someone other than the tree may be the mysterious poet.

Links to Resources:

  • Read or write a poem about a favorite place or season;
  • Take a walk and discover signs that the seasons are changing;
  • Do you know someone who can’t explore outdoors, like an elderly relative or neighbor? Send a poem, picture, or letter to that person, to help him or her experience the beauty of nature.

Why I Like this Book:

With lyrical language, Reynolds presents young poet, Sylvia, who shares poems with a nearby birch tree. Imagine Sylvia’s surprise when the tree seemingly answers each poem with one of its own! But Sylvia’s joy is short-lived when she discovers who really wrote the poems.

I won’t spoil the story by revealing the answer here, but this lovely picture book features not just beautiful poetry but also a reminder that friends can be found where you least expect to find them and that two people can bond over the beauty of words and nature.

Maydani’s graphite pencil and watercolor illustrations in muted shades perfectly complement the lyrical text and reveal the thoughts swirling through the young poet’s mind.

A Note about Craft:

In Poetree, Reynolds celebrates nature and poetry, and she reminds readers that friends can be found in unlikely places and that classmates aren’t always what they seem to be. The text blends poems that feature child-like simplicity with lyrical language such as “rhymes falling like autumn leaves” and “words…blossomed into her mind”. Although the individual poems are distinct from the lyrical language, including both encourages word-loving readers (and aren’t all readers word lovers?) to read this lovely picture book again and again.

Per the jacket flap, Poetree is Reynolds’ debut picture book. Maydani, of Iranian and English descent, grew up in Niger and Kenya, but currently resides in the US.

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!