Category Archives: Perfect Picture Books

PPBF – The Field

As the snow is melting and temperature’s rising (a bit!), I’ve been enjoying the sight of teams, families and friends heading to the town sports fields near my home, sports gear in tow. As is clear from today’s Perfect Picture Book, this is a sight that’s replicated on fields near and far – even those that are never snow-covered.

the-field-cover-300x233Title: The Field

Written By: Baptiste Paul

Illustrated By: Jacqueline Alcántara

Publisher/date: NorthSouth Books, Inc/March 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: soccer; teamwork; play; St. Lucia (Caribbean); #WNDB; #ReadYourWorld


Vini! Come!

The field calls.

Brief Synopsis: An island field calls a group of children to play a pick-up game of soccer, friend against friend.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about the island of St. Lucia, the unnamed setting of The Field;
  • Match the Creole word to the English word and color the book illustrations in this Activity Sheet;
  • Play soccer, or another sport, with your family or friends;
  • Find more ideas in the Discussion Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

This exuberant debut picture book follows a group of island children as they play a game of pick-up soccer, friend against friend. Not only do the children need to first gather their shoes, ball and goals, but they also must convince the fruit vendor to serve as referee, shoo cows from the field, and decide whether to call the match when the “sky falls” and rain muddies the field.

Paul’s short, poetic text, with many Creole words paired with their English equivalents, coupled with Alcántara’s vivid, mixed-media illustrations make this a book that children and their parents will want to read, and reread.

A Note about Craft:

The word count of The Field is extremely low, with only a few words, at most, appearing on most pages, and with only a few full sentences. The longest sentences I found were a mere five words long! The text, to me, reads as a free-verse poem. With short, staccato phrases and sentences, Paul mimics the action and pacing of a soccer match and helps the reader feel as if s/he is part of the game. As writers, we should consider the subject matter and match the pacing to the subject, as Paul does so well here.

Likewise, in a story about teamwork, Paul (or his editor) chose not to name any characters or attribute any dialogue. I’m presuming this may be because attributing the dialogue would slow the pace. Another result, though, is that this encourages any child reading this story to feel as if s/he is on the field, too, a kind of “Every Child,” effect, if you will.

The two-word title of this book, The Field, captured my attention, and, after I’d read the book, caused me to think back on all of the places I, or my kids, enjoyed playing. Thinking about the many other possible titles this story could have had, makes me realize the importance of just the right title to lure readers in.

Finally, The Field is about universal themes like teamwork and soccer and playing through an obstacle, like rain – things everyone can relate to. But the children playing in this story don’t all wear official soccer gear, or even sneakers, the field is shared with livestock, and no bleachers line its sides. From the illustrations and the inclusion of Creole words, we can guess at its island setting.  From the illustrations, we know a diverse group of kids comprise the players. As author and editor Denene Millner wrote in a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece, children of color “want to read books that engage with their everyday experiences, featuring characters who look like them….White children, too, deserve — and need — to see black characters that revel in the same human experiences that they do.” I’d add to that, that kids who don’t have fancy soccer gear or state-of-the-art fields want to read stories that show kids having fun without those things, too. I think Paul and Alcántara have created a book that fulfills both of these desires.

Among the many reviews, including starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist,  see this interview with Paul in The Brown Bookshelf, Vivian Kirkfield’s PPBF review and interview with Paul, Latinxs in Kid Lit’s interview with Alcántara, and Maria Marshall’s PPBF review and interview with Paul.

This is a double debut picture book. Visit Paul’s website and Alcántara’s website. Alcántara won the inaugural 2016 “We Need Diverse Books” illustration mentorship award.

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

PPBF – The Roses in my Carpets

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is another Canadian import, this one by a prolific Muslim Pakistani-Canadian female author, Rukhsana Khan.



Title: The Roses in my Carpets

Written By: Rukhsana Khan

Illustrated By: Ronald Himler

Publisher/date: Fitzhenry & Whiteside/2004 (first published by Stoddart Kids/1998)

Suitable for Ages: 6-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; Afghanistan; carpet weaving; resilience


It’s always the same. The jets scream overhead. They’ve seen me. I’m running too slowly, dragging my mother and sister behind. The ground is treacherous, pitted with bomb craters. My mother and sister weigh me down. A direct hit. Just as I’m about to die, or sometimes just after, I awake.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy in a refugee camp relives the horrible memories of war in Afghanistan, and lives with the difficulties in the camp, but he dreams of a better life for himself and his family.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Although The Roses in my Carpets deals with serious subjects, war, poverty and life in a refugee camp, the dreams of the young main character left me feeling hopeful that life would improve. Despite losing his father during the war and despite living a bleak hand-to-mouth existence with his mother and sister in a mud hut (he terms washing his face “a useless habit”) supported by the kindness of foreign sponsors, the narrator works hard to learn a craft that he believes will ensure that his “family will never go hungry.” I love the message of resolve and duty to family shown.

I also love that the means to make life better is a traditional art that the narrator uses to cope with the horrors he has experienced. He describes that with his fingers “I create a world the war cannot touch.” He further explains that the colors he uses have “special meaning,” with white being for his father’s shroud, green for life, black for the night sky that hides them from enemies, blue for a sky “free of jets” and red for roses. This usage and symbolism of colors reminded me of When I Coloured in the World, in which the nameless narrator imagines erasing bad things, like war, and coloring in good things, like peace.

Veteran illustrator Himler’s watercolor and pencil drawings bring Khan’s words to life, providing a stark contrast between the dinginess and dirt of the camp and the colorful carpets.

A Note about Craft:

Khan chose first-person POV to tell this story. This helps the reader to experience life in a refugee camp first-hand, something, thankfully, the vast majority of us will never do!

The carpets that the narrator weaves not only are a future means of earning a living but a way to process the horrors of his life and a way to visualize the world he hopes to inhabit. I love how Khan has made one object so central to the meaning of this story, especially as that object is a work of art. I think it’s a useful lesson for authors to find objects to include in their stories that can add meanings on multiple levels, as the carpet does here.

Khan is an #OwnVoices author who was born in Pakistan, the location of the Afghan refugee camp, and moved as a young child to Canada. According to a review from The Toronto Star newspaper reproduced on Khan’s website, the inspiration for the narrator is a foster child whom Khan sponsored.

Visit Rukhsana Khan’s website, where you can learn about The Libraries in Afghanistan Project that she supports and see the Muslim Booklist for kids. Among many other books, Khan is the author of King for a Day, which I reviewed last month.


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

PPBF – Malaika’s Costume

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is another one of my Canadian finds, and its story occurs in the Caribbean – truly a pan-American picture book!

7873637_origTitle: Malaika’s Costume

Written By: Nadia L. Hohn

Illustrated By: Irene Luxbacher

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: carnival; absent parent; #ReadYourWorld; #WNDB


I close my eyes and dance. I am a beautiful peacock. Each feather shimmers – green, gold, turquoise and brown.

Grandma say, “Girl, I think you is definitely my granddaughter for true.”

Brief Synopsis:

When the money for Malaika’s carnival costume doesn’t arrive from Mummy, Malaika and her grandmother must find another way to create a costume in time for the Carnival parade.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Malaika’s Costume is a marvelous window into Caribbean life and the colorful carnival celebrations that occur on many islands. The story is tinged, though, with the reality of the hardships endured by children left with relatives when a parent migrates abroad to work.

Through Malaika’s eyes, we experience the anticipation of an upcoming Carnival parade in which the children don fancy costumes to dance through the streets. Malaika dreams of strutting like a peacock. But Malaika’s mother is working at a “good job” in Canada, a far-away country that is “cold like an icebox” with snow that looks “like coconut sky juice”. When the money Mummy has promised to send doesn’t arrive, Malaika and her grandmother must improvise, as it seems they, and Mummy, must do on a daily basis. Malaika’s solution demonstrates the resourcefulness she has developed since her mother left for Canada.

I think Malaika’s Costume will appeal to families and teachers wanting to learn about island life and cultural events as well as to those wanting to shed light on the difficulties facing migrants and the children they leave on island.

Luxbacher’s colorful collaged artwork brings Hohn’s empathetic story to life. They helped me feel like I’d enjoyed a virtual visit to the sunny Caribbean. Hand-drawn black-and-white drawings sprinkled throughout the pages are an extra bonus for younger children to find.


Reprinted from Groundwood Books

A Note about Craft:

As is evident from the Opening above, Hohn tells Malaika’s story using first-person point of view. Utilizing this point of view brings immediacy to the story, and it enables not only Malaika, but also the reader, to wonder about her mother and the solitary life she leads in Canada.

Also evident in the Opening is that Hohn uses the Caribbean patois  of the unnamed island that is Malaika’s home. This language adds to the authenticity of Malaika’s voice and could be an interesting discussion topic for teachers using Malaika’s Costume in the classroom.

Visit Hohn’s website here.

Groundwood Books “is an independent Canadian children’s publisher based in Toronto” that is “particularly committed to publishing books for and about children whose experiences of the world are under-represented elsewhere.”

For a list of more children’s books that involve Carnival celebrations, see a recent blog post on Anansesem, a site about Caribbean children’s books.

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

PPBF – The Land Beyond the Wall: An Immigration Story

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is a self-import from Toronto, Canada. I visited there last weekend with my husband to celebrate a colleague’s birthday. Knowing that the independent Canadian children’s publishers often tackle difficult subjects, I couldn’t help but drag my husband to a bookstore – Another Story, where I found sections of the children’s area devoted to topics such as multicultural books, bullying, feelings and many others (the themes of “social justice, equity, and diversity” are highlighted on their website). I heartily recommend spending a few hours there! Interestingly, I also happened to read in a New York Times article a few days ago that a milestone has been reached: the time period since the Berlin Wall fell now exceeds the time period that it stood. As a wall features in today’s Perfect Picture Book, I couldn’t think of a better time to review it!

homegraphic02Title: The Land Beyond the Wall: An Immigration Story

Written & Illustrated By: Veronika Martenova Charles

Publisher/date: Nimbus Publishing/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigration; art; allegory; following dreams; walls


Once, the world was divided by a BIG wall. On one side the sun rarely shone. Fields lay bare, towns and villages were grey, and shops were empty. People spoke in whispers because they were afraid of each other. They could not even trust their friends.


This was where Emma lived.

Brief Synopsis:

After her parents disappear and she is forced to live with an aunt who thinks that art isn’t useful, a young girl escapes her dreary life to resettle as an immigrant in a new land of happiness and colour.

Links to Resources:

  • In an Afterword, Charles recounts her own story of defection from the Eastern Bloc;
  • Learn about the “Iron Curtain” that separated the Communist Eastern Bloc from the free world;
  • Use your brightest crayons or colored pencils to draw a room or area outdoors; then draw the same space without color and without the things that make that room or area colorful. Which do you like better? Why?

Why I Like this Book:

The Land Beyond the Wall has a fairy-tale aspect to it from its beginning, “Once,” to the end. As in fairy tales, Emma has a friend, an old doll that had been her mother’s doll, who comforts and counsels her. Emma journeys on a boat that magically appears and then sails for days across stormy seas to a “land where dreams come true.” But before those dreams come true, she loses something, her voice. Only with perseverance can she find her voice again.

I like Martenova Charles’ analogy of physically losing one’s voice to the experience of immigrants who don’t speak or understand a language in the new land. I think this is a wonderful way to explain to children what it’s like to live in another country, whether by choice or, in the case of refugees, necessity. I also like that Martenova Charles ties the pursuit of art and beauty to freedom.

Martenova Charles’ soft, pastel illustrations help define the two lands, the dreary, more gray and brown area of the land where Emma was born, portrayed with charcoal, and the colorful area beyond the wall. To see an interior spread, look here.

A Note about Craft:

The Land Beyond the Wall is a semi-autobiographical story. Martenova Charles immigrated to Canada in 1970 and spent her first days in the country in a group setting in Nova Scotia, much like the “maze of corridors and halls” she describes in The Land Beyond the Wall. Martenova Charles was a young adult at the time, however, unlike the much younger Emma. I think by decreasing Emma’s age and adding the fairy tale elements, Martenova Charles renders the story much more kid-relatable. For authors who want to write a personal story, I think it’s helpful to remember that it’s the essence of the story, and not the actual details, that’s most important to retain.

I love the opening lines, in which the Wall itself is portrayed almost as a character – the one dividing the two worlds. By opening the story in this way, I think Martenova Charles is able to keep the focus on the difference between the two societies, rather than on the reason they are different, which would be a very difficult subject to try to explain to young children.

Find out more about Veronika Martenova Charles.

Nimbus Publishing “is the largest English-language publisher east of Toronto. Nimbus produces more than thirty new titles a year on a range of subjects relevant to the Atlantic Provinces” of Canada, including children’s picture books.

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

PPBF – Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad

As the cold temperatures and stormy weather continue across the northeastern US, many kids, I’m sure, are busy with indoor activities, including arts and crafts. I believe the joy of creation is universal, even, as in today’s Perfect Picture Book, in times and regions of war.

covers011Title: Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad

Written & Illustrated By: James Rumford

Publisher/date: Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press/2008

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (or older)

Themes/Topics: calligraphy; war; coping mechanisms


My name is Ali. I live in Baghdad.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy in Baghdad loves the art of calligraphy and finds solace in the art as war rages across his city.

Links to Resources:

  • Try calligraphy and learn more about this ancient art, including from the Author’s Note;
  • Learn about Iraq, the setting of today’s story;
  • Ali loves to write and when he’s scared, he does it to calm himself. What do you do when you are scared or upset?

Why I Like this Book:

Silent Music provides a window into the arts and everyday life in Baghdad in the early twenty-first century, when much of the country was a war zone. I think older kids, especially, will relate to the main character, Ali, who likes and does the things that so many children enjoy: sports, friends, “parent-rattling music” and dancing. I think they’ll also appreciate the many analogies that Rumford utilizes to explain the art of calligraphy: the ink “dancing to the silent music in my head”; a sentence like a “soccer player in slow motion”; “masts” that become “tangled knots of ink”. And, as in real life, peace is difficult to write. While Ali’s pen “glides down” the letters that form the word for war, he must practice writing peace until, he hopes, the word “flows freely from my pen”.

Rumford is an illustrator/author who has learned the art of calligraphy. The gorgeous artwork in Silent Music is a combination of computer-enhanced pencil and charcoal drawings collaged together and combined with calligraphy, examples of which appear on almost every page. Rumford explains on his website how he generated the illustrations using Photoshop.


Reprinted from Rumford’s website

I’d not recommend Silent Music for younger children. It is, however, as Rumford intended, a reminder for school-aged kids that art exists, and is a form of solace, even in war-torn regions or regions affected by natural or other human-made disasters.

A Note about Craft:

In his acceptance speech for the Jane Addams Award for Silent Music that is reprinted on his website, Rumford explains how, in 2003, in the midst of the devastation of the Iraq War, he wanted to “write something positive about its culture.” At first, he explains, he desired to write about a 13th century calligrapher who lived and worked in Baghdad as the Mongols invaded. But as he struggled to craft the story, he realized that the story should be set in modern-day Iraq, with a contemporary main character. He also realized, however, how controversial the subject was and wondered whether the story would be published.

As we know now, not only was Silent Music published five years after Rumford conceived the story, but it also was an award winner. For authors and illustrators wanting to tackle difficult subjects in picture books, I think Rumford’s persistence, and Neal Porter’s willingness to publish a picture book set in a war zone, should inspire us to persevere, too.

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

PPBF – King for a Day

It’s Spring…somewhere! As we cross our fingers in the frosty northern regions of the US that a certain groundhog will not see his (or her) shadow today, I can’t help thinking about places where spring already has arrived and the celebrations that herald that arrival. Today’s Perfect Picture Book features a celebration of spring’s arrival from Pakistan:

main_largeTitle: King for a Day

Written By:  Rukhsana Khan

Illustrated By: Christiane Krömer

Publisher/date: Lee & Low Books/2014

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes/Topics: spring festivals; kites; Pakistan; physical challenges; #ReadYourWorld


Basant is the most exciting day of the year! With feasts and music and parties, people celebrate the arrival of spring. And many will make their way to the rooftops of Lahore to test their skills in kite-flying battles.

Brief Synopsis: A young Pakistani boy battles with his kite to snag other kites and become the winner, the king, of the spring festival, Basant.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Pakistan;
  • Celebrate Basant, a festival to mark the arrival of spring, and learn how it is celebrated in Pakistan;
  • Make and fly a kite;
  • Check out more ideas in the Teacher’s Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

King for a Day is a wonderfully diverse book, featuring not just a colorful spring festival about which most of us know little, a glimpse into a city, Lahore, Pakistan, which most of us will never visit, but also a wheelchair-bound main character. With his one kite and plucky spirit, kids will root for Malik as his kite, Falcon, like a great bird of prey, circles and slices the string of the neighboring bully’s kite, Goliath. I think kids will also feel satisfied at the ending when Malik shares a special something with a young girl who is crying.

Krömer’s vivid, collaged illustrations bring Lahore and the story to life. I especially enjoyed the many kites depicted in the middle of the story – so vibrant and reminiscent of a perfect spring day.


Reprinted from Krömer’s website

A Note about Craft:

King for a Day is an interesting glimpse into a Pakistani city and festival, that features a boy in a wheelchair. Featuring a physically-challenged main character adds a rich layer to an already culturally diverse story. Interestingly, Malik’s physical condition is not mentioned in the text; rather, we know he’s in a wheelchair only because of the illustrations. In this way, Krömer broadens the appeal of the book and expands the potential audience.

Khan is an #OwnVoices author, but Krömer admits in a fascinating interview with Khan, that she knew nothing about Lahore before starting the project, and the first images she saw were of violence and a male-dominated festival. Anyone who sees King for a Day will be astonished by this revelation. So how did Krömer come to understand the setting and story? In the interview and a behind-the-art look at her process on Lee & Low’s site, she recounts how she viewed a Mughal art exhibit and incorporated the style of the Mughal architecture into her collages, how she visited Pakistani neighborhoods and came to understand the dominant colors to incorporate, and how she purchased Pakistani cloth in the garment district of Manhattan to use in the collages. In a word, I’d say she immersed herself virtually and as physically as possible without actually visiting Lahore. I think those of us who are non-#OwnVoices illustrators or authors can learn from Krömer’s dedication to detail and process as we incorporate characters, scenes, or cultural events about which we may not be all that familiar in our own writing.

Check out Khan’s website, which includes not only information about her own books, but a listing of books about Muslims.

View more illustrations from King for a Day at Krömer’s website.

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

PPBF – The Little Black Fish

Susanna Hill asked on Facebook the other day what everyone was reading on a snowy winter’s day. I thought about what’s been on my nightstand, and what would be a good, longer story for parents and children to share. Today’s Perfect Picture Book came to mind, especially as we acknowledge the one-year anniversary of the current administration in the US, and think about what we tell kids about questioning authority, respecting others, and being receptive to those who are different from us.

9781910328194Title: The Little Black Fish

Written By: Samad Behrangi

Illustrated By: Farshid Mesghali

Translated By: Azita Rassi

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd./2016 (first published in Persian, Kanoun Parvaresh Fekri, Iran/1968)

Suitable for Ages: 7 and up

Themes/Topics: daring to be different; curiosity; exploration; death; #ReadYourWorld


As the nights grew longer and the year turned towards winter once more, an old fish settled herself to tell a story. She was telling the story to her twelve thousand grandchildren fishes. It was an exciting story full of danger and some sadness, but it was a story that also carried wisdom. The old fish wanted her grandchildren to learn from Little Black Fish’s story without them having to go into the dangers and sadnesses of life themselves.

Brief Synopsis:

The Little Black Fish dreams of a world beyond the stream. He ventures forth to learn what lies downstream, and in so doing, he encounters many wonderful things, and overcomes, many, but not all, dangers.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover more about Iran, where the author lived and the illustrator still lives;
  • Learn about rivers and streams;
  • Explore a new place or see what’s beyond the next hill or up the next street. Draw a picture of something new that you discover.

Why I Like this Book:

Although the word count is high in this story within a story, the many layers of The Little Black Fish make it well worth reading. I think even very young kids will relate to the Little Black Fish and his desire to see the world and meet other, different creatures. Behrangi captured the boredom, questioning and curiosity of young children in this spunky fish, and perceptive children will view it as a mirror into their own behavior.

I also like that this fish states clearly what many dreamers, social activists, and others have only thought: “I don’t want to spend my life swimming up and down and around, and then grumbling that there isn’t anything more to life. Perhaps there is more to life, and perhaps the world is more than our stream!”

Mesghali’s graphic illustrations date to 1968, but seem fresh and contemporary. Young children will enjoy picking out the distinctive Little Black Fish as he is depicted on his journey.

In “About the Book”, the editors reveal that the Shah’s government in Iran banned The Little Black Fish in 1968 when it first was published as it “was written and read as an allegory for a nation in which it was dangerous to dare to be politically different.” Even today, the story of a fish who dares to be different, to mingle with creatures of different species (or we could substitute race/religion/nationality/class), question his elders and leave the protective stream (or we could substitute home/neighborhood/school/country) to see the world will resonate with children, and adults, of all ages, I think.

A Note about Craft:

I mentioned above that The Little Black Fish is a story within a story. This works well, as it allows for a happy ending, even though, spoiler alert, the black fish dies at the end of his story. Interestingly, one of the 12,000 grandchildren listening to the story kept thinking about the Little Black Fish, the stream and the wonderful creatures described. That little red fish was female – a good reminder that curiosity is not gender-restricted.

Death figures prominently in this story. Not only does the Little Black Fish die, but he accuses his mother of killing his friend, a snail, the Fish encounters a doe wounded by a hunter, a crab munches on a frog, and pelicans devour small fish. Although death and the circle of life are depicted in American picture books, I found Behrangi’s depictions to be less sugar-coated than that of most contemporary writers for young children. As author Matt de la Peña asked in a recent article in Time, however, is the role of the writer to expose children to difficult topics, “to tell the truth or preserve innocence?” I think by reading books like The Little Black Fish, we can learn how authors from different cultures and/or times handle this question and learn from these approaches.

Azita Rassi translated The Little Black Fish into English for this edition, which is very helpful for those of us who don’t read Persian. Translations such as this are essential for those hoping to #ReadYourWorld and learn about important works and traditions from other cultures.

Discover more books published by Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd, “an independent publishing company committed to producing beautiful, original books for children”, founded on the “belief that stories act as bridges – providing pathways to new experiences whilst connecting us to here and there” and publishing a number of books by Iranian authors and illustrators.

According to his website, Meshghali continues to create art today in his Tehran studio. He has been awarded the first Graphic Prize, Sixth International Children Books’ Fair in Bologna, for The Little Black Fish
 in 1968, an Honorary Diploma, Bratislava Biannual, Czechoslovakia, for The Little Black Fish in 1971, and the “Hans Christian Anderson Award” for his contribution to children’s books illustration in 1974.

While not currently available in US book shops, The Little Black Fish is available through the Book Depository which ships for free to the US.

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