Category Archives: Perfect Pairing

Perfect Pairing – Dances into Spring

I’m continuing the celebration of Women’s History Month with a focus on trailblazing dancers.

Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins

Author: Michelle Meadows

Illustrator: Ebony Glenn

Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan Publishing Group)/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: ballet; diversity; trailblazers; biography

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A lyrical picture book biography of Janet Collins, the first African American principal dancer at the Metropolitan Opera House. 
Janet Collins wanted to be a ballerina in the 1930s and 40s, a time when racial segregation was widespread in the United States. Janet pursued dance with a passion, despite being rejected from discriminatory dance schools. When she was accepted into the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as a teenager on the condition that she paint her skin white for performances, Janet refused. She continued to go after her dreams, never compromising her values along the way. From her early childhood lessons to the height of her success as the first African American prima ballerina in the Metropolitan Opera, Brave Ballerina is the story of a remarkable pioneer as told by Michelle Meadows, with fantastic illustrations from Ebony Glenn.

Read a review at Noodling with Words.

 

Firebird: Ballerina Misty Copeland Shows a Young Girl How to Dance Like the Firebird

Author: Misty Copeland

Illustrator: Christopher Myers

Publisher/Date: Penguin Young Readers Group/2014

Ages: 6-10

Themes: ballet; trailblazers; determination

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In her debut picture book, Misty Copeland tells the story of a young girl–an every girl–whose confidence is fragile and who is questioning her own ability to reach the heights that Misty has reached. Misty encourages this young girl’s faith in herself and shows her exactly how, through hard work and dedication, she too can become Firebird.
Lyrical and affecting text paired with bold, striking illustrations that are some of Caldecott Honoree Christopher Myers’s best work, makes Firebird perfect for aspiring ballerinas everywhere.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because both are lyrical picture books that explore the hard work and dedication necessary to excel at ballet and that encourage all young children, regardless of race or socio-economic situation, to soar through their endeavors. In Brave Ballerina, readers learn the story of Janet Collins, the first African-American prima ballerina in a major company. In lyrical rhymes that dance through the story, Meadows explores each component that led to Collins’ success, ending with the revelation that “This is the dancer,/bold like the sun,/a prima ballerina/in 1951.” In the fictional Firebird, Copeland herself offers encouragement to the narrator, a young dancer who doubts her abilities. With practice, Copeland assures the budding ballerina that she’ll “soar become a swan, a beauty, a firebird for sure”.

Looking for similar reads?

See Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova (Chronicle Books/2015).

Perfect Pairing – Thinks about Spring Flowers

It’s my eldest daughter’s birthday today, so to celebrate, I thought I’d give her flowers, or more precisely, share two picture books with greenery and blossoms at their heart.

Florette

Author & Illustrator: Anna Walker

Publisher/Date: Clarion Books/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: gardening; nature in urban areas; moving; friendship

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When Mae’s family moves to a new home, she wishes she could bring her garden with her. She’ll miss the apple trees, the daffodils, and chasing butterflies in the wavy grass. But there’s no room for a garden in the city. Or is there?

Read a review at Design of the Picture Book .

 

The Seeds of Friendship

Author & Illustrator: Michael Foreman

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2015

Ages:  4-8

Themes: gardening; nature in urban areas; moving; friendship; immigrant

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Adam felt alone in the strange, new city. He missed the colours and friendships of his faraway home. But when a teacher at school gives him a few seeds, she plants an idea in him – an idea that could transform his grey world forever. Michael Foreman’s beautifully-illustrated story is a powerful fable of how friendship can grow in our world.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because they both feature children who have moved to gray urban spaces and who strive to bring nature’s greenery to the city. In Florette, Mae draws trees on empty moving boxes, races to visit pebble-covered parks, and then rescues a small sprout from outside a florist shop window. From that sprout, she grows both a garden and finds friends. In The Seeds of Friendship, Adam, a young immigrant, seeks to adapt to life in a cold, gray city. When a teacher gifts him some seeds, he grows a rooftop garden, bringing color to the city and finding friends. I especially liked how both books depict nature-loving children who persevere to bring what they love to their new homes.

Looking for similar reads?

See A Piece of Home.

Perfect Pairing – of Female Poets

I can’t think of a better way to start off a celebration of Women’s History Month than with two picture books that celebrate two American female poets.

My Uncle Emily 

Author: Jane Yolen

Illustrator: Nancy Carpenter

Publisher/Date: Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group/2009

Ages: 6-8

Themes: poetry; Emily Dickinson

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This six-year-old has an uncle like no other! His uncle wears long white dresses and never smokes cigars. Gilbert’s uncle is none other than Emily Dickinson . . . Uncle Emily he calls her. And how he loves her. He knows that she writes poems about everything, even dead bees. But it’s a poem about truth that, after a fracas in school, he remembers best. “Tell all the Truth,” the poem begins. And, in finally admitting what went on that day, he learns something firsthand about her poetry, something about her, and a good deal about the importance of telling the truth, no matter how difficult it might be.

Read a review at Publisher’s Weekly.

 A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Author: Alice Faye Duncan

Illustrator: Xia Gordon

Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books/2019

Ages: 5-8

Themes: poetry; Gwendolyn Brooks; biography; Pulitzer Prize; African-American

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks.
Sing it loud—a Chicago blues.
With a voice both wise and witty, Gwendolyn Brooks crafted poems that captured the urban Black experience and the role of women in society. She grew up on the South Side of Chicago, reading and writing constantly from a young age, her talent lovingly nurtured by her parents. Brooks ultimately published 20 books of poetry, two autobiographies, and one novel. Alice Faye Duncan has created her own song to celebrate Gwendolyn’s life and work, illuminating the tireless struggle of revision and the sweet reward of success.

Read a review at Chapter 16 by Julie Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, where she features illustrations from the book.

I paired these books because they explore the lives and poetry of two important women from two different eras of American history, but in quite different ways. In My Uncle Emily, Yolen sets up a fictionalized interaction between poet Emily Dickinson and a favorite nephew that centers on Dickinson’s poem, “Tell All the Truth”. Despite the fictional treatment, however, Yolen reveals the truth in Dickinson’s poetry and sheds light on the importance of family to Dickinson. In A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks, Duncan recounts the life of Brooks, starting in childhood, with lyrical text that weaves Brooks’ poetry into the narrative. Poetry is front and center in both picture books, not surprisingly, given the centrality of poetry in the subjects’ lives and in the lives of these gifted authors.

 

 

Perfect Pairing –  Robots at the Beach

It may not be beach weather where you’re at (YET!), but it’s never too early to “think Summer” and think about who, or what, you’ll bring to your favorite beach.

Bitty Bot’s Big Beach Getaway

Author: Tim McCanna

Illustrator: Tad Carpenter

Publisher/Date: Paula Wiseman Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)/2018

Ages: 3-7

Themes: robots; making friends; innovation; beach; rhyming

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The world’s cutest robot goes on a rhyming, deep-sea adventure with two new friends in this sweet and silly companion to Bitty Bot.
Fish and coral. Crabs and snails.
Stingrays, turtles, sharks, and whales. 
Giant squid! A sunken ship!
“Now we’re talking. What a trip!”

Bitty Bot is back—and he is not excited about his family vacation to Botco Bay. Luckily, new friends make everything better. Bitty Bot and his new pals build a submarine using supplies they find at the beach:
Bottles, barrels, buggy, bench, 
hammer, pliers, socket wrench, 
soda cans, a coil of rope, 
drainpipe for a periscope.
Off they go on an underwater adventure!

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

How to Code a Sandcastle

Author: Josh Funk

Illustrator: Sara Palacios

Publisher/Date: Viking, Penguin Young Readers (an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC)/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: coding; robots; sand castles; beach; STEM

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

From the computer science nonprofit Girls Who Code comes this lively and funny story introducing kids to computer coding concepts.
Pearl and her trusty rust-proof robot, Pascal, need to build a sandcastle before summer vacation is over, and they’re going to do it using code. Pearl breaks the big we-need-a-sandcastle problem into smaller steps, then uses conditionals, loops, and other basic coding concepts to tell Pascal exactly what to do. But building a sandcastle isn’t as easy as it sounds when surfboards, mischievous dogs, and coding mishaps get in the way! Just when it looks like the sandcastle might never work, Pearl uses her coding skills to save the day and create something even better: a gorgeous sandcastle kingdom!

Read a review at Biracial Bookworms.

I paired these books because it’s not every day that you see a robot at the beach! Written in quick-paced rhyme, Bitty Bot’s Big Beach Getaway features a bored robot who uses his skills to build a submarine with friends. In How to Code a Sandcastle Pearl brings her “trusty rust-proof robot, Pascal” to the beach and codes him to build a sandcastle. Written by software engineer/picture book author Funk and filled with coding how-to information (including a terrific Guide to Coding), How to Code a Sandcastle is a Girls who Code Book with a Foreword by Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code. Both books involve problem solving, and both are humorous read-alouds.

Looking for similar reads?

See Tim McCanna’s Bitty Bot and Josh Funk’s Albie Newton.

Perfect Pairing – for the Dogs (Rescue)

Sadie, our “island girl”

As the mother of a rescue pup,  I know how much these pups are loved and how much we all enjoy reading heartwarming furever home tales. Today, I’m pairing two wonderful recent dog rescue picture books.

 

A Dog Named Haku: A Holiday Story from Nepal 

Authors: Margarita Engle with Amish Karanjit and Nicole Karanjit

Illustrator: Ruth Jeyaveeran

Publisher/Date: Millbrook Press (an imprint of Sterling Publishing Group)/2018

Ages: 5-8

Themes: dogs; rescue; Nepal; holiday

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

It’s the Festival of Lights in Nepal, and today is the day to honor dogs! Brothers Alu and Bhalu wander the streets of Kathmandu, passing by twirling kites and bamboo swings, looking for a dog to feed. But as night falls, their task begins to feel hopeless, until they spot a small black dog who is in need of a friend. This sweet story presents an important Hindu holiday through the eyes of two young boys, making it relatable for both those familiar with the holiday and those reading about it for the first time.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

Operation Rescue Dog

Author: Maria Gianferrari

Illustrator: Luisa Uribe

Publisher/Date: Little Bee Books/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: dogs; rescue; missing family

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This sweet story about a girl named Alma and a stray dog named Lulu shows how a girl and a dog can rescue each other.
Lulu’s ears flap in the wind
as the rescue truck rolls into the lot.
Lulu’s tail thumps—
Everything smells . . . new.
Lulu sleeps under the moon, drinking from mud puddles and covered in ticks until she is rescued. She waits for the Operation Rescue Dog truck, scared and uncertain.
Alma misses her Mami, who is far away in Iraq. Alma wears Mami’s scarf around her like a hug. She wonders: Can a dog feel like a hug?
In this heartwarming and moving picture book, a lonely child and a lonely dog come together and find warmth, companionship, and love in each other.

Read a review at Picture Books Help Kids Soar.

I paired these books because both involve bringing a new dog into the family and both feature diversity. The story in A Dog Named Haku takes place in Nepal, a mountain kingdom in the Himalayas. We learn that dogs are honored there during a holiday, and the two brothers in the story find and bring home a homeless puppy, Haku, and share their family’s feast with him. In Operation Rescue Dog, Alma misses her soldier mother and thinks a dog will be the perfect “surprise friend for Mami’s return”. Alma and her Abuela set off to meet the Operation Rescue Dog truck as, in a parallel story, pup Lulu journeys to meet Alma and find her forever home.  Reading these books together shows that the human-animal bond is universal and that families of all types have room for four-legged friends. Both books also feature helpful back matter.

Looking for similar reads?

See Toby (Hazel Mitchell, 2016), Found. (Jeff Newman & Larry Day, 2018), The Story of Moose: How a Big Dog on a Little Island Found Love…After Nearly 5 Years in a Shelter (Laurie Damron, 2016).

Perfect Pairing – of  Books about Walls, Art & Community

As Valentine’s Day is coming, I thought I’d pair a few books that show how we can share love through creative pursuits that strengthen our communities.

 

Hey Wall: A Story of Art and Community

Author: Susan Verde

Illustrator: John Parra

Publisher/Date: A Paula Wiseman Book (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: art; community; wall; street art

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

One creative boy.
One bare, abandoned wall.
One BIG idea.

There is a wall in Ángel’s neighborhood. Around it, the community bustles with life: music, dancing, laughing. Not the wall. It is bleak. One boy decides to change that. But he can’t do it alone.

Read a review at Children’s Books Heal.

 

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood

Author: F. Isabel Campoy & Theresa Howell

Illustrator: Rafael López

Publisher/Date: HMH Books/2016

Ages: 4-7

Themes: murals; art; community; wall

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

What good can a splash of color do in a community of gray? As Mira and her neighbors discover, more than you might ever imagine! Based on the true story of the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, California, Maybe Something Beautiful reveals how art can inspire transformation and how even the smallest artists can accomplish something big. Pick up a paintbrush and join the celebration!

Read a review at All the Wonders.

I paired these books because they show how something that we generally think of as a barrier, something that can divide us, can also unite us. In Hey Wall, the unnamed young narrator addresses the wall directly and shows readers how that old, “lonely concrete” wall can be changed with “pencil”, “paints”, and “dreams” to tell the story of the community, that is “somethin’ to see”. In Maybe Something Beautiful, the young protagonist spreads color across a gray city, one picture at a time, until she partners with a muralist to bring color to all. I love how children lead the way to transformation in both books, I love the multicultural communities depicted, and I love the centrality of art to bringing communities together. How will you share beauty, and love, in your neighborhood or city today?

Looking for similar reads?

For another creative treatment of walls, see The Wall in the Middle of the Book  .

Perfect Pairing of Objects on Journeys

When I saw the haunting cover of Almost to Freedom in my local library, I had to read it. It immediately brought to mind another picture about another child at another time in another part of the world.

 

Almost to Freedom 

Author: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Illustrator: Colin Bootman

Publisher/Date: Carolrhoda Books (a division of Lerner Publishing Group)/2003

Ages: 6-10

Themes: slavery; Underground Railroad; doll; journey

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Lindy and her doll Sally are best friends – wherever Lindy goes, Sally stays right by her side. They eat together, sleep together, and even pick cotton together. So, on the night Lindy and her mama run away in search of freedom, Sally goes too. This young girl’s rag doll vividly narrates her enslaved family’s courageous escape through the Underground Railroad. At once heart-wrenching and uplifting, this story about friendship and the strength of the human spirit will touch the lives of all readers long after the journey has ended.

Read a review at Publisher’s Weekly.

 

The Dress and the Girl

Author: Camille Andros

Illustrator: Julie Morstad

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: immigration; memory; journey

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A little girl and her favorite dress dream of an extraordinary life. They enjoy simple pleasures together on a beautiful Greek island. They watch the sunset, do chores, and pick wildflowers on the way home. One day, the dress and the girl must leave the island and immigrate to the United States. Upon arrival, the girl is separated from the trunk carrying her favorite dress, and she fears her dress is lost forever. Many years later, the girl—now all grown up—spots the dress in a thrift store window. As the two are finally reunited, the memories of their times together come flooding back. While the girl can no longer wear the dress, it’s now perfect for her own daughter—and the new journey of a girl and her dress begins. Featuring lush illustrations, The Dress and the Girl is a stunning picture book about memory and the power of the items we hold most dear.

Read my review.

I paired these books because both recount journeys of important inanimate objects that accompany their special persons through difficult life changes. The main character and narrator in Almost to Freedom is Sally, a rag doll who is “best friends” with Lindy, an enslaved girl, who is by Lindy’s side as Lindy is whipped, and who accompanies Lindy and her family as they flee slavery utilizing the Underground Railroad. In The Dress and the Girl, the unnamed pair do everything together, until they are separated accidentally following a journey to America. In both of these books, I think the presence of these beloved objects brings comfort to the children. I think telling these stories by focusing on the objects rather than on the children enables readers to witness the events but be somewhat removed as well, something that I found particularly helpful when reading about Lindy being whipped.

Looking for similar reads?

See Ella & Monkey at Sea, about a young girl and her stuffed monkey who move to America.