Category Archives: Perfect Pairing

Perfect Pairing Loves Lemonade

I saw this display at a garden center recently, and I suddenly grew thirsty for lemonade. How about you?

The Lemonade Club

Author & Illustrator: Patricia Polacco

Publisher/Date: Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group/2007

Ages: 6-9

Themes: lemonade, friendship, cancer, teacher, making the best of a bad situation

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Everyone loves Miss Wichelman’s fifth-grade class, especially best friends Traci and Marilyn. That’s where they learn that when life hands you lemons, make lemonade! They are having a great year until Traci begins to notice some changes in Marilyn. She’s losing weight, and seems tired all the time. She has leukemia, and a tough road of chemotherapy ahead. It is not only Traci and Miss Wichelman who stand up for her, but in a surprising and unexpected turn, the whole fifth-grade class, who figures out a way to say we’re with you. In true Polacco fashion, this book turns lemons into lemonade and celebrates amazing life itself.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree

Author: Jamie L.B. Deenihan

Illustrator: Lorraine Rocha

Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books/2019

Ages: 3-7

Themes: birthday, gifts, intergenerational, gardening, making the best of a bad situation

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When Grandma gives you a lemon tree, definitely don’t make a face! Care for the tree, and you might be surprised at how new things, and new ideas, bloom. 

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” In this imaginative take on that popular saying, a child is surprised (and disappointed) to receive a lemon tree from Grandma for her birthday. After all, she DID ask for a new gadget! But when she follows the narrator’s careful—and funny—instructions, she discovers that the tree might be exactly what she wanted after all. This clever story, complete with a recipe for lemonade, celebrates the pleasures of patience, hard work, nature, community . . . and putting down the electronic devices just for a while.

Read a review at Jilanne Hoffmann’s blog.

I paired these books because both refer to that old saying, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. On the surface, these are very different picture books. Based on a true story, The Lemonade Club deals head on with a very difficult topic: cancer. In contrast, When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree is humorous fiction with the “bad situation” being the receipt of an unusual birthday gift, a lemon tree. But both books feature main characters who grow and show empathy, and both feature surprise endings. Also, in a note at the beginning of When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree, debut author Deenihan reveals that as she was writing and revising, her family was dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, all is well now.

 

 

 

Perfect Pairing visits Korea

Although much in the news lately, I’ve seen very few picture books written in English about North Korea and South Korea. Following are two recent ones that I’ve enjoyed reading, as I learn more about the fascinating history of this divided peninsula.

Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans

Author: Tina Cho

Illustrator: Keum Jin Song

Publisher/Date: Little Bee Books, an imprint of Bonnier Publishing USA/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: South Korea, North Korea, hunger, rice, compassion, making a difference

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Rice from Heaven is based on a true story about compassion and bravery as a young girl and her community in South Korea help deliver rice via balloons to the starving and oppressed people in North Korea.

We reach a place where mountains become a wall. A wall so high, no one dares to climb. Beyond that wall and across the sea live children just like me, except they do not have food to eat.

Yoori lives in South Korea and doesn’t know what North Korea is like, but her father (Appa) does. Appa grew up in North Korea, where he did not have enough food to eat. Starving, he fled to South Korea in search of a better life. Yoori doesn’t know how she can help as she’s only a little “grain of rice” herself, but Appa tells her that they can secretly help the starving people by sending special balloons that carry rice over the border.

Villagers glare and grumble, and children protest feeding the enemy, but Yoori doesn’t back down. She has to help. People right over the border don’t have food. No rice, and no green fields.

With renewed spirit, volunteers gather in groups, fill the balloons with air, and tie the Styrofoam containers filled with rice to the tails of the balloons. With a little push, the balloons soar up and over the border, carrying rice in the darkness of the night over to North Korea.

Read a review at Picture Books Help Kids Soar.

 

When Spring Comes to the DMZ

Author & Illustrator: Uk-Bae Lee

Translators: Chungyon Won and Aileen Won

Publisher/Date: Plough Publishing House/2019 (originally published in Korean/2010)

Ages: 4-12

Themes: South Korea, North Korea, nature, demilitarized zone, division, barriers

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Korea’s demilitarized zone has become an amazing accidental nature preserve that gives hope for a brighter future for a divided land.

This unique picture book invites young readers into the natural beauty of the DMZ, where salmon, spotted seals, and mountain goats freely follow the seasons and raise their families in this 2.5-mile-wide, 150-mile-long corridor where no human may tread. But the vivid seasonal flora and fauna are framed by ever-present rusty razor wire, warning signs, and locked gates–and regularly interrupted by military exercises that continue decades after a 1953 ceasefire in the Korean War established the DMZ.

Creator Uk-Bae Lee’s lively paintings juxtapose these realities, planting in children the dream of a peaceful world without war and barriers, where separated families meet again and live together happily in harmony with their environment. Lee shows the DMZ through the eyes of a grandfather who returns each year to look out over his beloved former lands, waiting for the day when he can return. In a surprise foldout panorama at the end of the book the grandfather, tired of waiting, dreams of taking his grandson by the hand, flinging back the locked gates, and walking again on the land he loves to find his long-lost friends.

When Spring Comes to the DMZ helps introduce children to the unfinished history of the Korean Peninsula playing out on the nightly news, and may well spark discussions about other walls, from Texas to Gaza.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because they tell stories based in fact about the divided Korean Peninsula. In Rice from Heaven, a young girl and her father in South Korea help send rice via helium balloons to hungry North Koreans across the demilitarized zone. Here the DMZ acts as a barrier which compassion breaches. In When Spring Comes to the DMZ, the DMZ is portrayed as a nature preserve, an Eden flourishing between the divided Koreas and signaling the possibility of future peace. Both books also include informative back matter to help explain the complex issues that remain decades after the international conflict that divided the land into two vastly different countries.

Looking for similar reads? See Sergeant Reckless: The True Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero (Patricia McCormick/Jacobo Bruno, 2017) about the Korean War.

 

Perfect Pairing celebrates Muslim-American Mothers

This upcoming weekend is Mother’s Day in the United States. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the US mothers celebrating! To mark the occasion, I thought I’d share two recent picture books that feature mothers who often are overlooked in picture books, Muslim-American mothers.

Mommy’s Khimar

Author: Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Illustrator: Ebony Glenn

Publisher/Date: Salaam Reads, an imprint of Simon & Schuster/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: khimar; Islam; mother-daughter bond; imagination; #WNDB

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A young Muslim girl spends a busy day wrapped up in her mother’s colorful headscarf in this sweet and fanciful picture book from debut author and illustrator Jamilah Tompkins-Bigelow and Ebony Glenn.

A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears.
Before she walks out the door each day, she wraps one around her head.

A young girl plays dress up with her mother’s headscarves, feeling her mother’s love with every one she tries on. Charming and vibrant illustrations showcase the beauty of the diverse and welcoming community in this portrait of a young Muslim American girl’s life.

Read my review.

Under My Hijab

Author: Hena Khan

Illustrator: Aaliya Jaleel

Publisher/Date: Lee & Low Books/2019

Ages: 4-10

Themes: hijab; Islam; confident women; #WNDB

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Grandma wears it clasped under her chin. Aunty pins hers up with a beautiful brooch. Jenna puts it under a sun hat when she hikes. Zara styles hers to match her outfit. As a young girl observes six very different women in her life who each wear the hijab in a unique way, she also dreams of the rich possibilities of her own future, and how she will express her own personality through her hijab. Written in sprightly rhyme and illustrated by a talented newcomer, Under My Hijab honors the diverse lives of contemporary Muslim women and girls, their love for each other, and their pride in their culture and faith.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because both celebrate strong, independent women and both explore the Muslim-American community through the lens of clothing, in particular the hijab, or khimar. In Mommy’s Khimar, the young narrator dons her mother’s bright yellow khimar and wears it in many imaginative ways. In Under My Hijab, the young narrator visits a number of female relatives and interacts with them in public, where they wear the hijab, and in private, where each shows her unique hair style. Both Mommy’s Khimar and Under My Hijab feature refreshingly diverse casts of characters and provide positive portrayals of Muslim Americans.

 

 

Perfect Pairing – of Soccer Stories

The children’s soccer leagues restarted for the season at the sports fields near my home recently. To mark their return, I’m featuring two diverse soccer stories today.

The Field

Author: Baptiste Paul

Illustrator: Jacqueline Alcántara

Publisher/Date: North-South Books/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: soccer, teamwork, play, St. Lucia (Caribbean), #WNDB, #ReadYourWorld

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Vini! Come! The field calls!” cries a girl as she and her younger brother rouse their community—family, friends, and the local fruit vendor—for a pickup soccer (futbol) game. Boys and girls, young and old, players and spectators come running—bearing balls, shoes, goals, and a love of the sport.

“Friends versus friends” teams are formed, the field is cleared of cows, and the game begins! But will a tropical rainstorm threaten their plans?

Read my review.

 

Pelé: King of Soccer (El rey del fútbol)

Author: Monica Brown

Illustrator: Rudy Gutiérrez

Publisher/Date: Rayo, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers/2009

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, dual-language (English & Spanish), soccer, #WNDB, #ReadYourWorld

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Monica Brown and Rudy Gutierrez team up to deliver what Kirkus called, in a starred review, an “inspiring blend of art and story,” about the most famous soccer star in the world, Pelé. This bilingual picture book will inspire, teach, and amaze readers as they learn about the man who revolutionized the sport of soccer.

Do you know how a poor boy from Brazil who loved fútbol more than anything else became the biggest soccer star the world has ever known? This is the true story of Pelé, King of Soccer, the first man in the history of the sport to score a thousand goals and become a living legend. Rudy Gutierrez’s dynamic illustrations make award-winning author Monica Brown’s story of this remarkable sports hero come alive!

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because soccer is the main subject of both. Although The Field is fiction and Pelé is a biography, both feature language that made me feel the motion and emotion of a soccer match. Both also feature children who play soccer on improvised fields, in Pelé’s case using a grapefruit or “an old sock with newspapers”.  I love how the fictional players found happiness playing soccer in The Field  and how the real Pelé loved soccer and found success playing it.

For more soccer books, see Pragmatic Mom’s recent #OwnVoices Diversity Soccer Books for Kids list.

Perfect Pairing is Moonstruck

With the fiftieth anniversary of the first lunar landing approaching, there’s been increased interest in stories about our relationship with the moon. I recently read two new picture books that had me moonstruck, too.

A Kite for Moon

Authors: Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple

Illustrator: Matt Phelan

Publisher/Date: Zonderkidz/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: moon; historical fiction; space exploration; friendship

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A Kite for Moon, written by New York Times bestselling author of How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? Jane Yolen and her daughter, Heidi E. Y. Stemple, tells a heartfelt story about a young boy’s fascination and unlikely friendship with the moon. With whimsical illustrations by award-winning artist Matt Phelan, the story begins when the little boy, who is flying his kite, notices a sad Moon. He sends up kites to her, even writing notes to Moon promising he will come see her someday. This promise propels him through years and years of studying, learning, and training to be an astronaut! Dedicated to Neil Armstrong, and a perfect children’s book to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first United States moon landing, the cover of this book will captivate readers with eye-catching spot UV, foil, and embossing.

Read a review and an interview with Yolen and Stemple at Writing for Kids (While Raising Them).

Music for Mister Moon

Author: Philip C. Stead

Illustrator: Erin E. Stead

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books (Holiday House Publishing, Inc.)/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: moon; shyness; friendship; music; courage; imagination

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

What if you threw your teacup out your window…and what if it accidentally knocked the moon out of the sky? 
A girl named Harriet longs to play her cello alone in her room. But when a noisy owl disrupts her solitude, Harriet throws her teacup out the window and accidentally knocks the moon out of the sky in frustration. Over the course of an evening, Harriet and the moon become fast friends. Worried that he’ll catch a chill, Harriet buys the moon a soft woolen hat, then takes him on a boat ride across a glistening lake, something he’s only dreamed of. But can she work up the courage to play her music for the moon?

Read a review at The Picture Book Buzz.

I paired these books because they are dreamy, lyrical books, perfect for bedtime, that personify the moon and treat it as a character (a her, in A Kite for Moon and a him, in Music for Mister Moon). Interestingly, the moon is envisioned as lonely in both books, and friendship is a strong theme in both. As the unnamed boy in A Kite for Moon works hard to realize his dream to visit the moon as an adult, shy Hank works hard to overcome her fear of performing as she plays her cello on the moon in Music for Mister Moon. Both books thus show children that dreams are attainable.

Looking for similar reads?

To find out more about our quest to reach the moon, see Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon by Suzanne Slade/Thomas Gonzalez (Peachtree Publishers/2018), and a “galaxy” of fiction and non-fiction children’s books about space exploration in a recent post in Publishers Weekly.

Perfect Pairing – of Friendly Ships

During the recent Reading for Research month, I saw the first book featured here in a post about quiet books. When I read that book, it brought to mind another book I’d read, and reviewed, a few years ago. I think you’ll understand why when you read these books together.

The Antlered Ship

Author: Dashka Slater

Illustrator: The Fan Brothers

Publisher/Date: Beach Lane Books/2017

Ages: 4-8

Themes: Curiosity, adventure, animals, and friendship.

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

An inquisitive fox sets off on a seafaring voyage with a crew of deer and pigeons in this enchanting tale of friendship and adventure.
Marco the fox has a lot of questions, like: how deep does the sun go when it sinks into the sea? And why do birds have such lizardy feet? But none of the other foxes share his curiosity. So when a magnificent ship adorned with antlers and with a deer for a captain arrives at the dock looking for a crew, Marco volunteers, hoping to find foxes who are as inquisitive as he is that can answer his questions. The crew finds adventure and intrigue on their journey. And, at last, Marco finds the answer to his most important question of all: What’s the best way to find a friend you can talk to?

Read a review at The Picture Book Buzz.

The Friend Ship

Author: Kat Yeh

Illustrator: Chuck Groenink

Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion/2016

Ages: 3-5

Themes: friendship; journey; hedgehogs; loneliness

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Little Hedgehog is very lonely. But then she overhears passersby talking about something that gives her hope-something called a Friend Ship!
Hedgehog imagines a ship filled with friends of all kinds, and soon she’s ready to hit the open seas in a boat of her own to track it down. Along the way, she meets other lonely animals eager to join her quest.
They search north. They search south. They search east. But Hedgehog and her new friends can’t find the Ship anywhere! Until she realizes she knows just where the Friend Ship is. . .
This heartwarming tale by Kat Yeh, with charming illustrations by Chuck Groenink, proves that sometimes, what you’re searching for is right in front of you.

Read my review.

I paired these books because they involve animal characters seeking something and embarking on journeys. In The Antlered Ship, the deer seek an island with tasty food, the pigeons seek adventure, and Marco the fox seeks answers to his many questions. In The Friend Ship, Hedgehog undertakes a journey to find friendship and ends up finding it on a ship filled with friends. Both books feature imaginative journeys that aren’t quite what the travelers, and the readers, expect at the outset.

Perfect Pairing of Dual-Story Picture Books

Very few picture books involve two separate stories that meet at some point in the book. Interestingly, I discovered two recently that use this structure, so I couldn’t help but pair them.

 

The Diamond and the Boy: The Creation of Diamonds & The Life of H. Tracy Hall

Author: Hannah Holt

Illustrator: Jay Fleck

Publisher/Date: Balzer + Bray (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: diamonds; engineering; STEM; innovation; biography

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Told in a unique dual-narrative format, The Diamond and the Boy follows the stories of both natural diamond creation and the life of H. Tracy Hall, the inventor of a revolutionary diamond-making machine. Perfect for fans of Rosie Revere, Engineer, and On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein.

Before a diamond is a gem, it’s a common gray rock called graphite. Through an intense trial of heat and pressure, it changes into one of the most valuable stones in the world.

Before Tracy Hall was an inventor, he was a boy—born into poverty, bullied by peers, forced to work at an early age. However, through education and experimentation, he became one of the brightest innovators of the twentieth century, eventually building a revolutionary machine that makes diamonds.

From debut author Hannah Holt—the granddaughter of Tracy Hall—and illustrator Jay Fleck comes this fascinating in-depth portrait of both rock and man.

Read a review at Picture Books Help Kids Soar and an interview with Holt at The Picture Book Buzz.

 

Naming Liberty

Author: Jane Yolen

Illustrator: Jim Burke

Publisher/Date: Philomel Books/2008

Ages: 6-9

Themes: immigration; Statue of Liberty; freedom

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A double celebration for Independence Day! In this wonderfully unique book, Jane Yolen and Jim Burke weave two stories at once, as readers see young Gitl in Russia leaving her home for faraway America, wondering what new name she will choose for herself when she arrives, and young artist Frederic Auguste Bartholdi dreaming of a monument he wants to build to honor freedom. It is an arduous journey for Gitl as she and her family travel across land and sea to arrive on this shore, but when she sees the magnificent Statue of Liberty standing in New York Harbor, she knows her name in this great new country must be ?Liberty.

Just in time for Independence Day, Jim Burke’s magnificent paintings capture Yolen’s inspired tale of a girl and an artist and their passionate belief in freedom.

Read a review at Kids Bookshelf.

I paired these books because of their parallel structures.

In The Diamond and the Boy, Holt tells the story of the creation of a natural diamond, from graphite to sparkling gem on the left side of each spread. On the right side, she shares the biography of her grandfather, the scientist and inventor, Tracy Hall, who rose from an impoverished childhood to discover a process of creating man-made industrial diamonds. I love how Holt uses similar adjectives to describe the graphite’s journey to become a diamond and Hall’s life. I also appreciate the terrific backmatter about diamonds and Hall.

In Naming Liberty, Yolen uses the left side of each spread to tell the fictional story of young Gitl and her family as they embark on a journey from a small Russian village to New York City, where they are greeted by the Statue of Liberty. On the right side, Yolen tells the story of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and the creation of the Statue of Liberty. In an Author’s Note, Yolen explains that Gitl’s story is based on that of Yolen’s family as well as the immigration stories of other Eastern European Jewish immigrants. She also provides further information about the Statue of Liberty and its creator.

Although The Diamond and the Boy is pure non-fiction and Naming Liberty is only partially true, I think it’s illuminating how telling two stories side-by-side creates a picture book that is more than the sum of its parts.