Category Archives: Perfect Picture Books

PPBF – Sleep Well, Siba & Saba

I’m keeping with the back-to-school theme this week, as I always think of school in September. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that they both start with the letter S, as do the names of the main characters of today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Sleep Well, Siba & Saba

Written By: Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl

Illustrated By: Sandra van Doorn

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing Ltd./2017

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: school, lost possessions, dreams, #ReadYourWorld

Opening:

Siba and Saba lost things. Not a day slipped by when the sisters hadn’t lost something…somewhere.

Brief Synopsis: Two sisters in Uganda dream of items they’ve lost each day, until one day their dreams are of the future.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover Uganda, in central Africa, the setting for this story;
  • Have you ever lost something? What did you do? Describe or draw something you’ve lost. Did you find it? How did you feel?
  • Describe or draw a dream you’ve had.

Why I Like this Book:

With its two loving sisters and snippets of their lives in Uganda, Sleep Well, Siba & Saba acts as a window into a place and lifestyle that many of us probably may never experience. As the story begins, the reader learns that the two sisters constantly are losing things, like scarves and shoes, everything except what really matters: each other. Each night, the sisters dream of the items they’ve lost. Often these dreams incorporate colorful scenes from Uganda, including the savannah and landmarks like Sipi Falls and Ssese Islands.

But one night, the girls’ dreams turn from past lost items to the future, including, for Saba, a new school uniform. In the final spread, the sisters encounter a signpost with several international cities, Mount Everest and the moon featured – as they dream of the future, who knows what they’ll see.

I love the positivity of this story. Incorporating Ugandan phrases and names and utilizing lyrical language, Sleep Well, Siba & Saba transported me into their fantasy-filled world. I especially loved the whimsical and colorful illustrations filled with the fabrics, wildlife and plants native to Uganda. And I think younger children will enjoy finding their pet dog in most scenes. Even she dreams of future treats!

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, Isdahl includes Ugandan phrases, names, and landmarks to place us in the story. Van Doorn furthers this by including sweeping savannahs and colorful fabrics throughout the spreads. By incorporating dreams and fantastical illustrations, I think the author and illustrator heighten the sense that we’re visiting a unique world where dreams, in fact, come true. That a school uniform is part of that dream shows, I think, that education is the way for Siba and Saba, and all readers, to reach their goals – even the moon.

Sleep Well, Siba & Saba is Isdahl’s debut picture book. Isdahl, an American-born writer of Ugandan descent who now lives and works in Africa, is also the author of Sing to the Moon, illustrated by van Doorn. View more of van Doorn’s illustrations at her website.

Lantana Publishing is an independent UK publisher, “an award-winning social enterprise with a mission to see all children reflected in the books they read.”

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 – Neema’s Reason to Smile

I was fortunate to win today’s Perfect Picture Book in a giveaway late last year from Pragmatic Mom. It was reviewed for Children’s Multicultural Book Day this past January by my friend, Vivian Kirkfield, so I wanted to wait until just the right time to review it, too. Because so many kids are returning to school this month, I think today is the perfect time. I hope you agree!

Title: Neema’s Reason to Smile

Written By: Patricia Newman

Illustrated By: Mehrdokht Amini

Publisher/Date: Lightswitch Learning, a Sussman Education company/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: school, Africa, poverty, dreams

Opening:

Mama and I climb the hill to our favorite rock overlooking the savanna. We dream of the future while elephant take mud baths in the fading light.

Brief Synopsis:

Young Neema dreams of attending school to better her life, and, with her Mama, works hard to fill the Dream Basket to collect money for school fees.

Links to Resources:

  • Create your own Dream Basket, by following the instructions in the book. What will you do with the money you collect? Buy something for yourself, a family member or friend? Donate to a favorite cause?
  • Neema walks to and from school each day. How do you get to school? Describe in words or pictures your route to school;
  • Describe in words or pictures something that makes you smile;
  • Learn about the real school on which Neema’s school is based, the Jambo Jipya School in Mtwapa, Kenya, and see how you might support its work through the reason2smile organization.

Why I Like this Book:

As children in much of the world head back to school this month, I think this is a perfect book to explore how much education means to so many in this world. Set in an unnamed African village, Neema’s Reason to Smile follows young Neema as she dreams of attending school. But attending school in her region costs money, for school fees, supplies, and a uniform. So Neema helps by selling fruit that she carries on her head to the village, and Mama sews to add, slowly, to the Dream Basket of coins.

Just as Neema worries that they’ll never earn enough to pay for school, they learn that maybe the Basket holds enough after all (I won’t spoil the ending by sharing any details).

Newman peppers the story with references to local characters and comparisons to animals found in the savannah, like the lion, gazelle, egret, and zebra.

Amini’s vibrant and colorful illustrations made me feel like I was journeying with Neema to the village and school.

Whether you read this at home with your school-aged child or in a classroom setting, I think kids and adults will enjoy learning about how one girl dreams of a better future and how she works hard to achieve that goal. Included are Discussion Questions, Activities, a Group Activity, Author’s Note and Glossary to further your knowledge.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Newman informs readers that the idea for Neema’s Reason to Smile arose from a phone call with a librarian in New York City who wanted to share the story of a real school in Kenya, on which Neema’s school is based. After many telephone calls with the school’s founders and teachers and after viewing many videos of the school and students, Newman wrote this fictional story which highlights the desire for learning exhibited by the real students and their perseverance to attend school. Creating a fictional main character and story while remaining true to the experiences of actual students enables Newman to draw a more complete picture of the school, I think, and better incorporate universal themes into the story.

Visit Newman’s website to see more of her books that “empower young readers to act”.

Amini was born in Iran but currently lives in England. Visit her website to see more of her work.

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 – Tahmineh’s Beautiful Bird

As we near the “unofficial” end of summer with September looming and kids heading back to school, I want to feature a Perfect Picture Book that captures the joy and beauty of summer landscapes. I think today’s choice does just that.

Title: Tahmineh’s Beautiful Bird

Written and Illustrated By: Parviz Kalantari

Publisher/Date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd./2015 (originally published in Persian, Chekkeh Publisher, Tehran, Iran/2012)

Translated By: Azita Rassi

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Iran, nature, handicrafts, memory, #ReadYourWorld

Opening:

It was summer, and Tahmineh’s tribe were living with their animals on the grassy high pastures. When winter came they would pack everything up, and move down to the lower plains. But Tahmineh liked the summer pastures best.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl tries to preserve the lovely sounds of a beautiful bird of summer using her artistic skills.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

In this vibrantly illustrated picture book, Kalantari introduces readers to a little-known people, the nomadic Qahqai tribespeople, while exploring a universal theme, the desire to capture beauty, but doing so in a way that doesn’t harm the natural world. Like the main character, Tahmineh, I think children will be charmed by the appearance of a beautiful songbird that shares its gorgeous melody. I think, too, that they will be intrigued by the idea of capturing the “memory” of the bird and by Tahmineh’s method of doing so.

Although capturing the memory as Tahmineh does may not occur to many young readers, they will understand the need to keep the memory, while allowing the bird to remain free. And the magical ending is sure to please young and old readers alike.

A Note about Craft:

While focusing on the lives and traditional crafts of a little-known nomadic tribe, Kalantari manages to explore a universal issue, too: enjoying nature without harming it. I think Kalantari manages this duality well: I was intrigued to learn more about Tahmineh and her tribal culture, and I was so happy to learn that she and her family care about something that I care about. I think that by showing how we are similar to Tahmineh and her fellow Qahqai tribespeople, it encourages readers to want to learn more about them.

Per the publisher, Kalantari is a prominent Iranian writer, illustrator and painter who focuses on the “everyday life of nomad tribes, desert people, and those living by the sea.”

Tiny Owl Publishing is a UK-based independent publisher of beautiful and thought-provoking picture books, many of them by Iranian authors and/or illustrators.

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 – Caribbean Canvas

I found today’s Perfect Picture Book in my local library, and I was excited to see that it’s illustrated by a favorite artist who has long painted this beautiful part of the world.

Title: Caribbean Canvas

Written  & Illustrated By: Frané Lessac

Publisher/Date: J.B. Lippincott, a division of Macmillan Publishers/1987

Suitable for Ages: all

Themes/Topics: poetry, Caribbean islands, multicultural

Opening:

The Song of the Banana Man

Up in de hills, where the streams are cool,/ Where mullet an’ janga swim in de pool,/ I have ten acres of mountain side,/ An’ a dainty-foot donkey dat I ride,/ Four Gros Michel, an’ four Lacatan,/ Some coconut trees, and some hills of yam,/ An’ I pasture on dat very same lan’/ Five she-goats an’ a big black ram. (Evan Jones)

Brief Synopsis: A series of poems and proverbs featuring Caribbean stories and culture and accompanied by paintings by Lessac.

Links to Resources:

  • Draw a picture of a place you enjoy living or visiting;
  • Learn more about the many varied islands of the Caribbean region.

Why I Like this Book:

In this classic collection of 19 poems written by various Caribbean-based poets and a few proverbs paired with her colorfully-detailed, folk-art paintings, Lessac introduces several Caribbean islands to young readers. I love how the various cultures are shared through the words and pictures, depicting a multicultural world of villages, farms and market squares, and the sea.

In Una Marson’s poem, Kinky Hair Blues, the poet shares that she “don’t envy gals/What got dose locks so fair” and instead prefers her own “kinky hair”.  I love the empowering self-acceptance! Similar to the story of the Big Bad Wolf, a West Indian proverb notes that you don’t need to worry about a hurricane if you’ve prepared and live in a cement house. And a few poets discuss their hesitation to leave small islands via emigration or death.

Although the vernacular poetry is at times difficult to read aloud (see the opening, above), I appreciate that it includes the rhythms and vocabulary of island speakers. I also was pleased to discover a celebration of the multicultural aspects of this region, published over 30 years ago.

A Note about Craft:

More anthology than picture book per se, Lessac’s exploration of the Caribbean islands truly is a “canvas” of this varied region. By pairing her own vibrant paintings with the words of native poets, I think she offers a celebration for those who call or called the Caribbean islands “home” and an introduction for those not familiar with the region.

Visit Lessac’s website to view more of her artwork and books.

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 – Seven Pablos

I’ve wanted to read, and review, today’s Perfect Picture Book from the first day that I learned about it. I put in a hold request at my local library, and there it sat, unfilled for months, until it arrived…when I was traveling! Imagine my surprise when the book magically appeared on the New Books shelf late last week: maybe a staff member read it and decided that my little library needed a copy of its own perhaps?

Title: Seven Pablos

Written By: Jorge Luján

Illustrated By: Chiara Carrer

Translated from Spanish By: Mara Lethem

Publisher/Date: Enchanted Lion Books/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: names, South America, immigrants, multicultural

Opening:

Pablo is eight years old and lives in Chile. His father works in a copper mine, where he spends his days drilling into the rock half a mile underground It is cold down there, but he sweats nonstop.

Brief Synopsis: Short vignettes featuring seven different boys named Pablo leading different lives across the Americas, but sharing similarities.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about the countries in South America where many of the Pablos live;
  • Do you share a name with someone? How are you the same or different?
  • Ask a parent or caregiver about the meaning of your name and why they chose that name for you.

Why I Like this Book:

In Seven Pablos, Luján provides glimpses into the lives of seven young boys living in Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, New York City, and Peru. All face economic and other hardships. Pablo in Brazil rummages through garbage in a favela in Rio de Janeiro. He doesn’t attend school, because he lacks paper, a pencil, and shoes. One Pablo in Mexico is a refugee from the Argentinian dictatorship and lost several relatives during that regime. Another Pablo in Mexico is attempting to cross the border to follow his parents into the US.  Pablo in New York City is the son of immigrants from Guyana, living in one room with his parents for half of each day, while cousins occupy the room for the other half. The Pablos in Chile, Ecuador and Peru also face hardships.

Despite these hardships, the Pablos share not only their names but also loving families, even when the families consist of a single parent only or are in a different location. And it’s clear that these Pablos share dreams of a better life – whether in the United States, in school in Brazil, or in an Ecuadoran village listening to the music of traveling musicians. As Luján notes at the end, Inside of each is a heart that beats with the same rhythm as the ocean’s waves and the rotations of the planet.

Although there is little story line and only snippets of information about each Pablo, I think Seven Pablos is a timely and important book for classroom and family discussion as issues of immigration and race feature on the news each night. With its message of hope and inclusion at the end, and Carrer’s child-like color and graphite illustrations, I found Seven Pablos to be a haunting read, whose glimpses into these varied lives will linger.

A Note about Craft:

Luján uses one name to tie the stories of seven different South and Central American children together. Although he could have focused on just one of the children, by featuring seven, I think he brings breadth to the issues facing children in economically-challenged households in a way that focusing on one child may not have done.

Luján is an Argentinian poet, novelist and musician living in Mexico.

Carrer is an award-winning Italian illustrator.

Enchanted Lion Books is an independent children’s book publisher based in Brooklyn, New York, that publishes “illustrated books from around the world”.

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!

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Under the Same Sky

 

Regular readers know that I often feature picture books dealing with tougher topics. But this week, I needed to read a hopeful book that focuses on community, how aspects we share unite us, regardless of species. When I picked up today’s Perfect Picture Book in the Children’s Room of the New York Public Library, I knew I found that book.

Title: Under the Same Sky

Written & Illustrated By: Britta Teckentrup

Publisher/Date: Tiger Tales/2018 (originally published in Great Britain, Caterpillar Books/2017)

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: rhyming, shared hopes, shared dreams, community, animals, imagination

Opening:

We live under the same sky…in lands near and far. We live under the same sky…wherever we are.

Brief Synopsis: A lyrical celebration of the bonds that unite us all.

Links to Resources:

  • Think of some of the ways that you are the same as a family member, friend, someone you pass on a playground;
  • The sun shines during all seasons, all over the world. Draw pictures showing the sun shining on a snowy day, in the desert, on a lake or ocean, by your own home.

Why I Like this Book:

In short, poetic text, using lovely illustrations of different animal species, Teckentrup celebrates the many natural elements that unite the world. A quiet book, Under the Same Sky will be a reassuring bedtime favorite for families with younger children. I especially liked the last spread, showing all of the animals together under a full moon and starlit sky and its message of unity. What a wonderful way to fall asleep, reminded that our hopes and dreams unite us.

The collaged illustrations in soft, pastel hues provide soothing accompaniments to the gentle text. I think kids will enjoy the cut outs, as they follow along on this exploration of community.

A Note about Craft:

Teckentrup uses animals as the main characters in Under the Same Sky. I think this will appeal to young children, especially as many young animals are depicted.

Cut outs are used in the pages to great effect, as phrases, such as that shown above, appear on one page and then after the page turn to emphasize text.

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 – Refugees and Migrants

This topics of today’s Perfect Picture Book continues to dominate the news, so a resource for parents and teachers to discuss them will be welcome, I’m sure!

Title: Refugees and Migrants, part of the Children in Our World series

Written By: Ceri Roberts

Illustrated By: Hanane Kai

Publisher/Date: Wayland, an imprint of Hachette Children’s Books/2018

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: refugees, migrants, non-fiction

Opening:

  • Our home is the place where we spend time with the people we love, eat our favourite food, play with toys, and sleep in a warm bed.

Brief Synopsis: An exploration of refugees and migrants

Links to Resources:

  • Refugees and migrants travel in many different ways from their home country to a new country. Draw a picture showing one or more ways to travel.
  • Learn more about the refugee experience with materials from Amnesty International;
  • Choose three favorite toys or books that you’d bring on a journey;
  • Explore animal migration; a great place to start is Circle, reviewed here in 2016, and including several migration-related activitivities.

Why I Like this Book:

With straightforward, age-appropriate text, Roberts handles questions that many adults have trouble answering about who the refugees and migrants are, where they come from and where they journey to, why they make these journeys, and what it means to seek, and be granted, asylum. Perhaps most importantly, Roberts includes some ideas on what kids can do to help refugees.

Kai’s soft, muted illustrations provide a sensitive glimpse into the difficult lives of refugees and migrants and will, I think, help children empathize with them.

With Index, Glossary, and Find Out More sections, I think Refugees and Migrants would be a terrific addition to school and home libraries. Refugees and Migrants is part of a series that also addresses global conflict, poverty and hunger, and racism and intolerance.

A Note about Craft:

Refugees and Migrants is a straight-forward, non-fiction picture book targeted to the upper range of the picture book audience. By not focusing on a single person with a unique set of circumstances, I think Roberts enables children to think about the problem as a whole, rather than a problem that only affects a few children from one or two locations.

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!