Category Archives: Perfect Picture Books

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Todos Iguales/All Equal

I discovered today’s Perfect Picture Book in a listing of recent non-fiction picture books. The bilingual title and the cover image intrigued me, and I knew I had to share it with you.

Title: Todos Iguales/All Equal: Un Corrido de Lemon Grove, Y El Primer Caso Exitoso de Desegregación Escolar/A Ballad of Lemon Grove and the First Successful School Desegregation Case

Written & Illustrated By: Christy Hale

Publisher/Date: Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books/2019

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes/Topics: Mexican-Americans, California, bilingual, school desegregation, #NF

Opening:

Weekday mornings, while the sun was slowly ripening over Lemon Grove, California, twelve-year-old Roberto Álvarez raced out the door. He loved school and didn’t want to be late. He hurried along North Avenue and around the corner to Olive Street, where he joined his friends on their way across town.

Brief Synopsis: In Spanish and English, Todos Iguales/All Equal recounts the true story set in California in 1931 of the first successful school desegregation case in the United States.

Links to Resources:

  • Find additional background information, discussion questions, and more in the comprehensive Teachers Guide;
  • Have you ever felt like you weren’t being treated as an equal because of your age, gender, cultural background, citizenship status, abilities, race, heritage, or religion? How did this make you feel? What did you do about the situation?
  • Do you have a friend who faces discrimination? How do you think you can support this friend?

Why I Like this Book:

Todos Iguales/All Equal broadens our history of the fight to end school segregation by bringing to light a little-known desegregation case in California that preceded the famous Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision by over 20 years.

In Todos Iguales/All Equal, Hale introduces us to the main child witness, Roberto Álverez, at the outset, and shows readers how he loved school. But the school board of this agricultural district populated by many farm workers of Mexican descent decided that Roberto and the children from his part of town should not mix with the Anglo children, and they hastily built a school that was little more than a barn for the Mexican American children. In response, the Mexican American community came together, hired a lawyer, and took the school board to court. Although the decision was not decided on racial grounds, the resolve showed by the Mexican American community and the role of the children, in this case as a witness in the trial, foreshadows the actions of later communities in fighting school segregation.

Not only does Hale provide a wonderful introduction to the characters and issues involved in this landmark legal case, but she precedes the text with a ballad, a song about the events that will be described. I can envision a roving troubadour singing it throughout the land, lending a mythic quality to this epic fight.

Hale’s illustrations in gouache and relief printing inks, often full-page spreads, feature the fruits and colors of the region, and place readers firmly in this period.

Backmatter includes notes on the area and migration from Mexico to the region, the participants in the case, the aftermath, the history of Corridos, and sources.

Todos Iguales/All Equal is a wonderful addition to classroom and school libraries. By publishing it in Spanish and English, with the Spanish text preceding the English text, I think Lee & Low have increased its value for Spanish-speaking communities who are battling discrimination today.

A Note about Craft:

The story of a little-known state court decision can be quite dry and boring. So how does Hale gain readers’ interest? Before jumping into the story, Hale offers A Ballad of Lemon Grove, a song, complete with melody, that recounts the facts of the case and elevates it to legend status. My interest was immediately piqued! Next, Hale begins the text by introducing young Roberto, smiling as he walks to school, joined on the second spread by his fellow Mexican American students. The emphasis is placed immediately on what’s so important in the case: these children. Finally, she shows, in text and pictures, how the community rallied to sue the school board, pointing out instances when the children themselves played a part: helping to fundraise via rummage sales, boycotting the new school, and, in Roberto’s case, even testifying at the trial.

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 Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story

Happy Valentine’s Day! Some folks associate this day with romantic love. Others fondly remember the treats and Valentine’s Day cards shared among classmates. I think of it as a day to celebrate love and acceptance in all of its manifestations, including that among family members and that among friends, new and old. In the spirit of the day, I’d like to share a new Perfect Picture Book that showcases the love among family members and the friendship that can blossom in a new land.

Title: The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story

Written By: Aya Khalil

Illustrated By: Anait Semirdzhyan

Publisher/Date: Tilbury House Publishers/February 2020

Suitable for Ages: 6-8

Themes/Topics: immigrants, family, treasured objects, feeling welcome, acceptance, cultural heritage, quilts, poetry

Opening:

“Kanzi, habibti, you’re going to be late to the first day of school,” Mama calls. “I’m coming, Mama.” Kanzi stuffs her notebook into her backpack and quickly but carefully folds her quilt—the special one Teita made in Egypt.

Brief Synopsis: A young immigrant struggles to adapt to a new school in America, but finds comfort in , and a way to fit in, by showing her classmates the precious quilt her grandmother had made her.

Links to Resources:

  • Try making paper quilts;
  • Kanzi’s family moved from Egypt to the United States. Learn more about this North African country;
  • Does your family speak a language other than English at home? Share some words in that language with friends and classmates;
  • Do you have an object from a relative or friend that is special to you? Draw a picture of it or write a poem about it.

Why I Like this Book:

I believe that fitting in is so important when children start a new school, whether in a new neighborhood, town, or even country. And when language used or customs followed at home seem different from those of the other children, I think it’s even more difficult for the new child.

That’s the situation Kanzi finds herself in as The Arabic Quilt begins. Thankfully, Kanzi has some things that help console her when she’s feeling down: the soft quilt that her beloved grandmother made her and a love of poetry. When an astute teacher picks up on these things, she helps Kanzi, and Kanzi’s classmates, realize that having different customs and speaking a language other than English at home are positive circumstances that enrich us all.

Maybe this heart-warming story of love and acceptance resonates so much with me because my mother made afghans for each of my children or maybe it’s because we lived abroad during two periods when my children were young. But I think it also will resonate with anyone who’s ever felt different for whatever reason and with anyone who’s struggled to find a way to fit in, while keeping true to her or his family, religious beliefs, and/or cultural heritage.

Beautiful illustrations, including of the beloved quilt, and a glossary of Arabic words complete this heart-warming and timely new picture book.

A Note about Craft:

Per Tilbury House’s website, Khalil based The Arabic Quilt on events from her own childhood. Doing so renders this story more believable and enables the strong connection between a grandmother and granddaughter separated by oceans to shine through.

To console herself after a difficult day at school, Kanzi writes a poem about her beloved quilt. I love how she turns to writing when she’s feeling sad, and I especially love how this adds another layer to this immigration story: that by journaling or writing poetry, a child may feel better about whatever situation she or he encounters.

Visit Khalil’s website to learn more about this debut picture book author. See more of Semirdzhyan’s art on her website.

I read an electronic version of this picture book, downloaded via Edelweiss, a resource for book reviewers. This book is scheduled to publish next week.

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Overground Railroad

I was fortunate enough to meet today’s Perfect Picture Book author at a Highlights Foundation course last summer. I had read many of her picture books and her middle grade debut, Finding Langston, so when I saw this new picture book, I knew that I had to feature it here.

Title: Overground Railroad

Written By: Lesa Cline-Ransome

Illustrated By: James Ransome

Publisher/Date: Holiday House/2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: African-American history, the Great Migration, moving, train journey

Opening:

Some walked./ Some drove./ But we took the train north./ Me and Mama and Daddy got to the station/ crack of dawn early before anyone/ could see us leave./ Daddy holding tight/ to me with one hand/ three tickets to New York in the other.

Brief Synopsis:

A young African-American girl recounts her family’s 1939 journey from a sharecropping shack in North Carolina to New York City.

Links to Resources:

  • Have you ever moved to a new city or town? How did you feel about moving? What did you miss most from your prior home? What did you like best about your new neighborhood?
  • Learn about the migration of African-Americans from the rural south to northern cities in the US from World War I through 1960 in what has been termed the Great Migration;
  • How is the journey described in Overground Railroad the same as, or different from, the journeys of refugees, migrants, and those seeking to travel north from Central America to the United States today?

Why I Like this Book:

In free verse poetry, Cline-Ransome relates the story of one family’s journey from a sharecropping shack in rural North Carolina to The Promised Land, New York City. Narrated by young Ruth Ellen, readers experience the train ride north from her perspective. We see Ruth Ellen saying tearful goodbyes to extended family, passing time playing cards and reading, noting the change in scenery, and especially seeing the “whites only” sign removed as the train chugged from the segregated south to the relative freedom of the north.

Although Overground Railroad is a work of fiction, Cline-Ransome ties Ruth Ellen’s story to that of others making the same journey by, for instance, noting the crowded “colored” car and how many more joined the journey at each stop. She also ties it back to the journeys that slaves made along the Underground Railroad by placing the autobiography of Frederick Douglass, a gift from her teacher, in her hand and having her remark on the Chesapeake and the Delaware River, important waterways for slaves seeking freedom.

I think Overground Railroad will be an important addition to schools, libraries, and homes, especially with the Author’s Note, in which Cline-Ransome places the migration in context, and notes that this story was “inspired by just one of the many stories of people who were running from and running to at the same time…” I also think the story will appeal to younger children, who can focus merely on Ruth Ellen’s journey, and older children, who can use this picture book as a springboard to learn more about the Great Migration.

For me, who, as regular readers know, usually focuses on international migration, I think Overground Railroad will be a useful tool to compare and contrast the myriad human migrations occurring today to this period in our American history when millions of blacks fled the poverty and violence of the sharecropping system and segregation, seeking a better life for themselves and their families in the North.

Using graphite, paste pencils, watercolors, and collage, Ransome created stunning full-spread illustrations. I especially liked the scene showing so many people scrambling to board the train, and two spreads showing first, young Frederick Douglass alone in a dark forest lit by the North Star, and a few spreads later, young Ruth Ellen arriving in New York City, with a “sky/bright as a hundred North Stars.”

A Note about Craft:

As always, a journey related from the first-person point-of-view resonates with me and brings an immediacy to the story.

As Cline-Ransome admits in the Author’s Note, she hadn’t heard the term “overground railroad” to describe the Great Migration until recently. To help explain this little-known term, she has created a fictional narrator, an Every Child, so to say, through whom readers can experience this life-altering journey. But in addition to this focus, Cline-Ransome has added details which tie this journey to that of millions more and also to the Underground Railroad that preceded it.

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 & MCBD – The Unexpected Friend: A Rohingya Children’s Story

Friday is always a favorite day of the week, because I get to post a Perfect Picture Book and read reviews of new picture books posted by fellow bloggers. Today is a very special Friday, though, because it’s the annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day, and regular readers know how much I enjoy sharing books that shine a light on other cultures and that help build empathy for children whatever their backgrounds or abilities. To learn more about this special celebration, see below!

Title: The Unexpected Friend: A Rohingya Children’s Story

Written By: Raya Rahman

Illustrated By: Inshra Sakhawat Russell

Publisher/Date: Guba Publishing/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 and older

Themes/Topics: Rohingya, refugee camps, bird, injured animal, multicultural, Islam, hope, #ReadYourWorld, Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Opening:

It was the end of afternoon prayers. Faisal had just left the mosque and was waiting for his friend Rahim. Suddenly, he heard a faint chirping noise in the bushes.

Brief Synopsis: Faisal, a young Rohingya refugee, finds an injured bird in the bushes and nurses it back to health, even after he has injured his own arm in a fall.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

The Unexpected Friend provides a window into the lives of Rohingya children living in refugee camps in Bangladesh, for those, like most of us, who have little knowledge of what these children and their families face, why they are in this situation, and what we can do to help.

It’s also a mirror for those living that life. In a situation in which education is scarce for children, having a picture book for these children to see themselves is so important. And its creators are having it translated into Bengali and Burmese to enable these children to read it.

I especially like that even with this heavy topic, children in a refugee camp because of genocide in their native country, the focus is not on the horrors that they’ve fled or that they endure daily. Rather, Rahman has crafted a fictional account that offers realistic depictions of the refugees’ hardships, including crowded conditions, food lines, a busy medical clinic, and the necessity of gathering firewood in the forest. But Rahman doesn’t dwell on these conditions; rather, she shows how despite his circumstances and the fall that injures his own arm, young Faisal cares for an injured bird. He rescues it, convinces his mother and sisters to help care for it, and, in a truly selfless act, parts with his new-found friend once it heals.

Featuring a child who, in the depths of deprivation, cares for another, reminds us all of the need for empathy for other humans and animals. I also love the message of hope this story relates: the healed bird flies back to the wild, a symbol that Faisal and his family may also enjoy a better life someday soon.

Most of the illustrations are understandably rendered in earth-toned hues, befitting the refugee camp setting. But there are pops of vibrant reds, yellows, and greens depicted in clothing worn, and, most importantly, the red bird itself. The endpapers are also photographs of a Rohinyga camp, with the images of Faisal, his family, and the bird superimposed on the back papers.

A Note about Craft:

Writing a story set in a refugee camp and featuring a young refugee and his family is no easy task. How does one avoid portraying the protagonists as mere victims and their lives as total misery? In The Unexpected Friend, I think Rahman accomplishes this feat by portraying a main character, Faisal, who is not only true to his religion, the story begins as he leaves the mosque following afternoon prayers, but who also is willing to help another creature, even in the midst of his own misery. And while Rahman doesn’t gloss over the difficulties of life in the camp, she mentions them as Faisal passes the food lines and crowded clinic on his return with the injured bird to his sisters and mother, rather than merely portraying Faisal, or another family member, spending hours in those lines. And by placing an injured bird at the heart of the story, Rahman reminds readers that these refugees, too, can someday fly from the camp to start a new life.

Guba Publishing is “an independent publishing house based out of Oakland, California making children’s picture books, flashcards and posters with a focus on fun and quirky illustrations and telling diverse stories inspired by our Bengali roots.”

2020 Multicultural Children’s Book Day Poster by Jerry Craft.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020 (1/31/20) is in its 7th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.

Seven years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues.

MCBD 2020  is honored to have the following Medallion Sponsors on board

 

Super Platinum

Make A Way Media/ Deirdre “DeeDee” Cummings,

Platinum

Language Lizard, Pack-N-Go Girls,

Gold

Audrey Press, Lerner Publishing Group, KidLit TV, ABDO BOOKS : A Family of Educational Publishers, PragmaticMom & Sumo Jo, Candlewick Press,

Silver

Author Charlotte Riggle, Capstone Publishing, Guba Publishing, Melissa Munro Boyd & B is for Breathe,

Bronze

Author Carole P. Roman, Snowflake Stories/Jill Barletti, Vivian Kirkfield & Making Their Voices Heard. Barnes Brothers BooksTimTimTom, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee & Low Books,  Charlesbridge Publishing, Barefoot Books Talegari Tales

 

Author Sponsor Link Cloud

Jerry Craft, A.R. Bey and Adventures in Boogieland, Eugina Chu & Brandon goes to Beijing, Kenneth Braswell & Fathers Incorporated, Maritza M. Mejia & Luz del mes_Mejia, Kathleen Burkinshaw & The Last Cherry Blossom, SISSY GOES TINY by Rebecca Flansburg and B.A. Norrgard, Josh Funk and HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTER, Maya/Neel Adventures with Culture GrooveLauren Ranalli, The Little Green Monster: Cancer Magic! By Dr. Sharon Chappell, Phe Lang and Me On The Page, Afsaneh Moradian and Jamie is Jamie, Valerie Williams-Sanchez and Valorena Publishing, TUMBLE CREEK PRESS, Nancy Tupper Ling, Author Gwen Jackson, Angeliki Pedersen & The Secrets Hidden Beneath the Palm Tree, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 by Mia Wenjen, Susan Schaefer Bernardo & Illustrator Courtenay Fletcher (Founders of Inner Flower Child Books), Ann Morris & Do It Again!/¡Otra Vez!, Janet Balletta and Mermaids on a Mission to Save the Ocean, Evelyn Sanchez-Toledo & Bruna Bailando por el Mundo\ Dancing Around the World, Shoumi Sen & From The Toddler Diaries, Sarah Jamila Stevenson, Tonya Duncan and the Sophie Washington Book Series, Teresa Robeson  & The Queen of Physics, Nadishka Aloysius and Roo The Little Red TukTuk, Girlfriends Book Club Baltimore & Stories by the Girlfriends Book Club, Finding My Way Books, Diana Huang & Intrepids, Five Enchanted Mermaids, Elizabeth Godley and Ribbon’s Traveling Castle, Anna Olswanger and Greenhorn, Danielle Wallace & My Big Brother Troy, Jocelyn Francisco and Little Yellow Jeepney, Mariana Llanos & Kutu, the Tiny Inca Princess/La Ñusta Diminuta, Sara Arnold & The Big Buna Bash, Roddie Simmons & Race 2 Rio, DuEwa Frazier & Alice’s Musical Debut, Veronica Appleton & the Journey to Appleville book series  Green Kids Club, Inc.

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

Co-Hosts and Global Co-Hosts

A Crafty Arab, Afsaneh Moradian, Agatha Rodi Books, All Done Monkey, Barefoot Mommy, Bethany Edward & Biracial Bookworms, Michelle Goetzl & Books My Kids Read, Crafty Moms Share, Colours of Us, Discovering the World Through My Son’s Eyes, Educators Spin on it, Shauna Hibbitts-creator of eNannylink, Growing Book by Book, Here Wee Read, Joel Leonidas & Descendant of Poseidon Reads {Philippines}, Imagination Soup, Kid World Citizen, Kristi’s Book Nook, The Logonauts, Mama Smiles, Miss Panda Chinese, Multicultural Kid Blogs, Serge Smagarinsky {Australia}, Shoumi Sen, Jennifer Brunk & Spanish Playground, Katie Meadows and Youth Lit Reviews

FREE RESOURCES from Multicultural Children’s Book Day

TWITTER PARTY! Register here!

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

I received a copy of The Unexpected Friend to review for Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020.

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 – My Grandma and Me

As regular readers know, I love intergenerational stories. And when I find one that showcases the bond between a grandparent and grandchild that also includes a cultural tradition different from my own, you know it’s bound to become a Perfect Picture Book!

 

Title: My Grandma and Me

Written By: Mina Javaherbin

Illustrated By: Lindsey Yankey

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: grandmothers, friendship, Iran, autobiographical, tradition, religion

Opening:

When I was growing up in Iran, my grandma lived with us. I followed her everywhere. When she swept, I swept. When she cooked, I cooked. When she prayed, I prayed like her, too.

Brief Synopsis:

In little snippets of her life in Iran, Mina explores the special bond between a granddaughter and grandmother, and the joys that occur in everyday activities.

Links to Resources:

  • What do you enjoy doing with a grandparent or other older family member or friend?
  • This story is based on the author’s childhood in Iran. Learn about Iran;
  • Invite a friend and his or her grandparent to spend time with you and your grandparent. Do you think your activities will be the same as that of the older women or men?
  • Check out the Activity Kit.

Why I Like this Book:

My Grandma and Me provides a window into home life several years ago in Iran, told from the perspective of the narrator, a child. Although many of the activities are particular to the narrator’s experiences with her grandmother, like praying at dawn with a prayer rug or purchasing fresh bread from a delivery boy on a bicycle, the love that is evident between grandparent and child is a universal experience to which children will relate.

I particularly liked the inclusion of Islamic religious practices and the scenes that highlighted the respect and affection for those of different faith traditions. Interestingly, as the narrator played with her friend, their grandmothers knitted blankets together and then “donated them to my grandma’s mosque and Annette’s grandma’s church.” I also love the narrator’s conclusion that even as an adult, she still wants to be just like her grandmother who was “kind, generous, and full of love.” What a wonderful role model she describes!

I think My Grandma and Me will be a terrific conversation starter as parents and children, or perhaps grandparents and grandchildren, read this book together and discover how their lives are similar to those in Iran in the not-too-distant past. I also think this book will appeal to anyone wishing to learn more about the day-to-day practice of Islam and religious tolerance.

The delicate and detailed illustrations in soft colors include lovely Persian details that remind the reader that although the love that shines through the text is universal, the narrator’s story and the relationship with her grandmother are uniquely their own.

A Note about Craft:

Javaherbin utilizes first-person point-of-view to tell this largely autobiographical story. As always, this viewpoint draws readers into the story enabling them to better imagine Mina’s activities with her grandmother and think about the things they do with their own grandparents.

A space motif runs through the story, including a scene with the narrator imagining a flight into space. The book culminates with a comparison between the “big universe full of many moons” and the many wonders in the world, and the all-encompassing love the narrator feels for her grandmother.

Learn more about Iranian-born, US-based Javaherbin. See more of Yankey’s illustrations on her website.

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 – Freedom Soup

It’s January, and the wintry winds are whistling outside my window. Although it’s a few weeks since we celebrated the start of the new year, I think today’s Perfect Picture Book, about a special New Year tradition, and a perfect winter food, is a perfect picture book for the holiday, or any day.

Title: Freedom Soup

Written By: Tami Charles

Illustrated By: Jacqueline Alcántara

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: intergenerational, cooking, traditions, Haiti

Opening:

Today is New Year’s Day. This year, I get to help make Freedom Soup. Ti Gran says I’ve got a heart made for cooking, and it’s time I learn how.

Brief Synopsis: Belle helps her grandmother cook Freedom Soup for the New Year’s celebration, a tradition from their Haitian culture.

Links to Resources:

  • Cook and enjoy Freedom Soup, using the recipe at the back of the book;
  • Freedom Soup is a special soup prepared in Haiti and by those of Haitian descent. Learn about Haiti;
  • Does your family enjoy preparing and eating a special food? Ask an older relative to explain why the recipe is special and to help prepare it with you.

Why I Like this Book:

Freedom Soup is a joyous celebration of family and cultural traditions. With its bright illustrations and vivid language, I loved experiencing Ti Gran and Belle working together to create Freedom Soup. As snow piles up, “cottony-thick” outside, the pair shimmy and shake to musical beats – even the steam dances in ribbons “up to the ceiling”, and the “pumpkiny-garlic smell swirls all around us.”

As the soup cooks, Ti Gran relates its origins, reminding Belle, and readers, of the importance of freedom and the history of Ti Gran’s native Haiti.

Alcántara’s illustrations transported me to the Caribbean, with Haitian artwork evident in several scenes, and fabrics adding additional pops of color.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Charles reveals that she learned about Freedom Soup from her husband’s late grandmother. I love how Charles has crafted a picture book based on a family member and grounded in Haitian history by imagining Ti Gran teaching a young child how to cook Freedom Soup and why.

By weaving music and dancing through the text, Charles roots the story in the culture of Haiti, and, I think, brings a celebratory feeling to a special activity shared by a grandmother and her granddaughter.

Visit Charles’ website to see more of her books. Visit Alcántara’s website to see more of her work. Alcántara is also the illustrator of The Field (Baptiste Paul, 2018).

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 Secret of the Tattered Shoes

Sometimes when events in my own life or on the world stage get me down, there’s nothing better than retreating into a fairy tale – a fantasy world filled with princesses, heroes, and magic. And when that tale is a collaboration between an award-winning British author and an award-winning Iranian illustrator, I know that I’m in for a treat (and a welcome respite from the divisions that threaten our world), and that you are, too.

Title: The Secret of the Tattered Shoes

Written By: Jackie Morris

Illustrated By: Ehsan Abdollahi

Publisher/Date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: fairy tales, #OneStoryManyVoices, magic, fantasy

Opening:

A soldier, weary from war, wandered the land. His heart was heavy, troubled by all he had seen and much that he had done, in the name of the king.

In a forest, rich with the green light of sunlight through emerald leaves, he met a woman. He was a hollow shadow of a man. She brimmed with light and life.

Brief Synopsis:

With the help of a wise and kind woman, a war-weary soldier accepts a king’s challenge to discover why the shoes of his 12 daughters are worn out each morning.

Links to Resources:

  • Do you have a favorite fairy tale or nursery rhyme? Try changing one thing in the story – a character or the setting, perhaps, and see how that changes the ending;
  • The Secret of the Tattered Shoes is based on a very old fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Read that story and discuss how the two differ. Why do you think Morris made the changes she did?
  • Watch the book trailer.

Why I Like this Book:

A war-weary soldier meets a woman in the woods. She tells him of a mystery in need of solving by a hero, and she presents him with advice and a gift to help in the quest. When the young man arrives at the castle, he meets a king who needs to know why his daughters’ shoes are worn thin each morning, even though the girls are locked in their chambers each night. The quest: to discover the secret. The stakes: succeed and the soldier is free to marry the princess of his choice and inherit the kingdom and its riches; fail and he forfeits his life.

Like the fairy tale on which it is based, The Secret of the Tattered Shoes combines mystery, magic and a quick-thinking hero. It’s a child’s story, so the adults know in advance that our soldier will survive and solve the mystery and that love will prevail. I won’t spoil the story by sharing how the hero prevails and how he reacts when he does.  Suffice it to say that anyone tired of damsels-in-distress stories will be pleased to read Morris’ version and to learn of the soldier’s choice at the end.

Not only does Morris’ text read like a fairy tale of old, but Abdollahi’s mesmerizing and richly-coloured collaged illustrations transported this reader to a faraway land where magic is possible, and kindness and love prevail.

A Note about Craft:

This is a fairy tale retelling and I heartily recommend that writers read the original and Morris’ version side by side. When I did so, I was surprised to see that in many places Morris tracked the original quite closely. But there were subtle changes, including starting with the forest scene rather than a recounting of the mystery and changing “old woman” in the woods to “a woman”, thus rendering her less witch-like, although clearly someone with magical powers. Even the surroundings seem life-giving and capable of restoring the weary soldier. Could it be that love prevails better in the refuge of the sylvan wilds than in a gilded court?

Learn more about the independent UK publisher, Tiny Owl Publishing, Morris and Abdollahi. See my reviews of three of Abdollahi’s books, When I Coloured in the World, A Bottle of Happiness, and Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me. The latter two are also international collaborations, building bridges between creators from different cultural traditions and showing readers how the world can be better when we work together.

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!