Category Archives: Perfect Picture Books

PPBF – Ariba: An Old Tale About New Shoes

This holiday weekend marks the start of the summer travel season in many places. But for most of us, travels may be out of the question, if not for the entire summer, at least for now. So, I thought I’d share a Perfect Picture Book that includes travel, adventure, and maybe even some ideas to enjoy our time at home.

Title: Ariba: An Old Tale About New Shoes (Based on a story that has traveled around the world)

Written & Illustrated By: Masha Manapov

Publisher/Date: Enchanted Lion Books/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: favorite shoes, storytelling, intergenerational, multicultural

Opening:

From the moment Marcus put on his new shoes, he couldn’t stop moving. He bounced all the way from the living room to the kitchen, circled the house 3 times and the shed 3 times more, climbed the tree in Billy’s backyard, ran up and down the 19 steps to his front door, and accidentally stepped on Carlo’s tail.

Brief Synopsis:

When Marcus tells his grandpa about his new shoes, his grandpa shares an old tale about a pair of shoes, discarded by their owner, that keep returning to him.

Links to Resources:

  • Do you have a favorite possession? Why is it a favorite of yours? Draw a picture of it;
  • In his new shoes, Marcus moves all about his house and yard. Create an obstacle course around your house for your family to enjoy;
  • Marcus’ grandpa tells an old tale about new shoes. Ask an older relative to share a tale with you, either from their own childhood, or a tale they remember hearing when they were young;
  • Ask older relatives to tell you about favorite toys or outfits from when they were young.

Why I Like this Book:

In this quirky tale within a tale, young Marcus’ grandpa transports Marcus, and readers, to a village that seems to be in Africa. There, we meet Ariba, a youth similar in age to Marcus, who, like Marcus, has just been gifted a new pair of shoes. As this tale proceeds, the reader journeys with Ariba, wearing the shoes, of course, to a big city. Here the shoes seem out-of-place. Ariba replaces them, or at least tries to do so. Because every time he tries to donate or discard them, some kindly person remembers how much Ariba valued those shoes and thoughtfully returns them.

I think kids will enjoy guessing how the shoes return each time. I think adults will value the opportunity to discuss how we value our possessions and why we should strive to be our own person, even if our sense of fashion, or our family’s ability to “buy the newest thing”, isn’t the same as everyone else’s.

I won’t spoil the ending, but trust that everything comes together as the story circles back to Marcus and his beloved grandpa.

This is Manapov’s debut as an author/illustrator. The brightly-colored, collaged illustrations lend an air of fantasy to this story-within-a-story.

A Note about Craft:

I mentioned above that this is a story within a story. The tag line notes that it’s “based on a story that has traveled around the world.” I confess that I don’t recognize the folktale, but Ariba’s story certainly feels like one that could have been around, in some form or another, for ages.

Note that for much of the story, Ariba is an adult. So is the storyteller, Marcus’ grandpa. But Ariba and grandpa both exhibit child-like qualities and, perhaps more importantly, the story begins, and ends, with Marcus, a child.

Enchanted Lion Books “is an independent children’s book publisher based in Brooklyn, New York. We publish illustrated books from around the world, convinced by the power of cultural exchange to inspire curiosity, awareness, and wonder in children everywhere. We reach across time and oceans to find new authors and old treasures to share with a new generation of readers.”

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 – Wherever I Go

I’m always so happy when I’m able to feature a new picture book by a debut author, especially when I’ve had the pleasure of meeting that author and discussing the book before it was published (or even under contract for publication). I know you’ll agree that my selection today truly is a Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Wherever I Go

Written By: Mary Wagley Copp

Illustrated By: Munir D. Mohammed

Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Children, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Publishing/2020

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: refugee, resilience, imagination, resettlement

Opening:

I AM QUEEN ABIA of the Shimelba Camp. Of all my friends, I have been here the longest—seven years, four months, and sixteen days. That’s what Papa says.

“Too long,” he adds.

I think it’s the perfect amount of time to become a queen.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl recounts her experiences as queen of a refugee camp, sharing the skills she’s acquired that will help her settle in a new country and home.

Links to Resources:

  • Try one or more of the 20 Simple Acts to learn about refugees or help one or more of them feel welcome in your school or community (for Refugee Week 2020, 15-21 June, the listed activities can be done at home);
  • Are you a queen or king? Make a crown from a paper plate, or make a real or paper daisy crown;
  • Queen Abia balances a large pail of water on her head. Try placing a book or a container of water on your head (you might want to do this outside!), and then try walking while balancing it there. How does doing this make you feel?
  • Queen Abia helps her mother to prepare fufu, a traditional African food. Try making fufu;
  • Learn more about the refugee experience in the Note from the Author and in the books for young readers listed.

Why I Like this Book:

In Wherever I Go, the imaginative, young Abia introduces readers to her life in a refugee camp. We learn how she marches with friends, pumps and carries water to her mother, helps prepare meals, watches her young cousin, drums while waiting for food distributions, howls at hyenas, and sleeps on a prickly mat. She even wears a crown because she is Queen Abia, who has remained in the camp longer than any of her friends. And when she and her family leave the camp to resettle in a new country and home, she will bring the stories of her reign and the many skills she has learned, because she’ll still be a queen.

In young Abia, Wagley Copp has created a narrator who is imaginative, brave, and resilient. Neither Wagley Copp nor Abia sugarcoat life in the camp. But Wagley Copp reminds readers that refugees, like Abia, are survivors who will thrive and enrich any community where they settle. For they are not victims but authors of their own destinies, who will still be queens or kings wherever they go.

Mohammed’s acrylic paintings transported me to Africa where much of this story takes place. Paired with Wagley Copp’s lyrical text, this debut picture book that tackles the difficult subjects of life in a refugee camp and resettlement afterwards is a must have for schools, libraries, and the homes of everyone who cares about those displaced by war or anhy other reason.

A Note about Craft:

As with many of the picture books about the refugee experience, Wagley Copp uses first-person point-of-view to bring immediacy to the story, to enable readers to experience life in the refugee camp from Abia’s perspective. I think this helps build reader empathy and greater understanding of the refugee experience.

In the Note from the Author, Wagley Copp explains that she never has been a refugee. She has, however, visited a refugee camp and met resettled refugees in her role as a documentary filmmaker. This first-hand knowledge helps bring authenticity to the story, as does the inclusion of small details, like the number of years, months, and days the family has been in the camp and the type of tree branches that form Abia’s crown.

Visit Wagley Copp’s website to learn more about this debut author and read an interview with her on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog.

The author provided a digital copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

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 New Neighbours

You may not have “new” neighbors right now. But if, like me, you’re staying at home most of the time, you may be noticing your neighbors more, and maybe you’re even annoyed by some of their behaviors. If so, this is  just the Perfect Picture Book for you!

Title: The New Neighbours

Written & Illustrated By: Sarah McIntyre

Publisher/Date: David Fickling Books/2018 (republished in the US as The New Neighbors, Penguin Workshop, an imprint of Penguin Random House/2019)

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: preconceptions, prejudice, neighbors, gossip

Opening:

High on the roof, above the city, Mr. Pigeon had the latest news.

“You’ve got rats in your flats!” he burbled with glee. “They moved in today on the ground floor.”

Brief Synopsis: When rats move into an apartment building, the other animals react with dread, fearing the worst from these rodents.

Links to Resources:

  • Has someone new moved into your neighborhood recently? Draw a picture to help them feel welcome;
  • Think of 3 things that make your neighborhood special. Why are these places or activities important to you?
  • The new neighbors in this story are rats. Learn about them here. Why do you think McIntyre features rats in this story?
  • Download activity sheets from McIntyre’s website.

Why I Like this Book:

With hopping, and trotting, and tottering, a variety of animal neighbors rush to the ground floor of their apartment building to meet their new neighbors: rats. And as each neighbor joins the group, they share preconceptions about these new neighbors.

Using traits that kids will understand and relate to, the animal residents reveal that rats are messy, smelly, steal food, and more. With short sentences and loads of active verbs, the misconceptions and mayhem grow until everyone tumbles to the rats’ front door. I won’t spoil the ending, but as you can imagine, the reality does not match the escalating fear.

I think kids will enjoy this fast-paced and humorous story with its bright color palette and expressive animal characters. The New Neighbours also is a great introduction to a classroom or family discussion about prejudice, gossiping, and what it means to be a good neighbor or friend.

A Note about Craft:

McIntyre sets her story in an apartment building, where new neighbors, with new preconceptions, join a parade-like group that grows floor by floor. I think using this cumulative format helps build tension leading up to the encounter with the rats. I also love the expressive and kid-friendly language that quickens the pace and makes the text especially appropriate for younger children.

Discover more of McIntyre’s work at 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 – It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way

Every time I sit down to write either a book review or a Perfect Pairing post, I am so grateful to the interlibrary loan system that enabled me to find so many wonderful picture books, and to my local library, that allowed me to check them out for the duration of the current closure. I truly don’t know how I’d be coping now if I didn’t have these books at hand as well as the many wonderful picture books I’ve been fortunate to have purchased in the past. And I’m grateful, too, to those who have created these treasures, including the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way

Written By: Kyo Maclear

Illustrated By: Julie Morstad

Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Children’s Books/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Japanese-American, biography, women’s history, illustration, artist, diversity, trailblazer

Opening:

It began with a page, bright and beckoning.

Brief Synopsis: The biography of Gyo Fujikawa, a Japanese-American female illustrator who produced picture books filled with young children of all races in the early 1960s.

Links to Resources:

  • Find a page, “bright and beckoning” and draw a picture. What did you draw? How did it feel to create your picture?
  • Gyo visited Japan to study art, including wood block printing. Try this woodblock printing art project;
  • Gyo’s family, although not Gyo herself, were interned in a camp for people of Japanese descent during World War II. Learn about these internment camps.

Why I Like this Book:

From her discovery of the magic of drawing as a five-year old to the creation of the first of her ground-breaking picture books fifty years later, It Began With a Page recounts the life and passion of trailblazing children’s book creator, Gyo Fujikawa. A woman pursuing a field dominated by men, a Japanese American who did not see herself, or others like her, in books for young children, Gyo made her living as a commercial artist and illustrator at a time when the stereotypical American woman was a housewife and mother. Perhaps because she existed outside these norms, Gyo noticed the lack of diversity in children’s picture books.

Realizing that a book “can be anything that anyone imagines it to be”, Gyo set out to write and illustrate a picture book featuring babies of all colors interacting. In the early 1960s in America, the publishers did not believe such a book could sell. But Gyo kept pressuring until they relented. After the first book launched successfully, Gyo continued publishing children’s picture books, creating over fifty books for children in her lifetime.

I confess to having no knowledge of Gyo before reading this biography, although I’m sure I must have read some of her books, either as a young child or as a parent. I appreciated learning about her persistence, about her desire to create art, and most especially about her need to see herself in picture books.

In back matter, the author and illustrator explain that they both loved Gyo’s work and “were full of questions” about her. I think this picture book answers these questions, for the creators and readers.

Morstad’s illustrations hearken back to the eras when Gyo was creating art. Although most of the spreads are full color, those dealing with the internment of Gyo’s family in the 1940s and the social unrest of the early 1960s are in black and white or with a limited, dark palette, lending gravity to those periods of Gyo’s life.

A Note about Craft:

Rather than focusing on one or two scenes from Gyo’s fascinating life, Maclear starts the narrative with a scene featuring Gyo drawing at an early age and continues the narrative through the publication of Gyo’s first children’s books as an author/illustrator. I think this long timeline shows readers how Gyo honed her craft, enables readers to empathize with Gyo’s sense of existing outside the mainstream American narrative, and helps focus our attention on Gyo’s persistence.

Gyo did not experience internment firsthand. But it’s clear that this deeply affected her worldview and made her sympathetic to the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. Adding information about the internment adds another layer to this fascinating biography, I think, and it helps to explain why a successful artist and illustrator would persevere to create inclusive books for children.

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 Mess That We Made

Although in-person beach clean-ups and other activities to show our concern about the world are on hold at the moment, I hope you and yours were able to participate in some of the many virtual events held for Earth Day 2020. One important way we can stay involved is by reading about the problems of pollution and how we can help, in books such as today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: The Mess That We Made

Written By: Michelle Lord

Illustrated By: Julia Blattman

Publisher/Date: Flashlight Press/2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: environment, pollution, oceans, plastic, garbage, activism, rhyming

Opening:

THIS is the mess that we made.

Brief Synopsis: A rhyming, cumulative tale that recounts the impact that trash has on our oceans and marine life, and what we can do about it.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the informative back matter that explains ocean pollution and includes many ideas to take action;
  • We may be sheltering at home now, but we can still take action by starting a home garden, by looking for items around the house that we can reuse, or by writing to corporations and/or legislators to keep our waters clean and safe for everyone;
  • Watch the book trailer.

Why I Like this Book:

With its cumulative rhyming text and bright underwater scenes, The Mess That We Made is a wonderful call to action to safeguard our oceans and marine life. I love that children are at the center of the cover illustration and evident on each spread – all of our actions are important, whether we’re young or old. And unlike many books that focus on either the problem side or the solution side, The Mess That We Made makes clear that even though we got our world into the mess, we also have the means to get us out of it.

The Mess That We Made is a wonderful addition to ecology literature, particularly well-suited for younger classrooms and homes.

A Note about Craft:

Saving the earth is a huge, and daunting topic. How many of us have asked the questions, “What can I do?” “How can my actions make a difference?” By relating this daunting topic in lilting rhyme, that builds to a dismal scenario but then reverses to a hopeful one, and by wrapping the story in bright illustrations with children central to the action, the author and illustrator, I think, leave the reader with a feeling of hope and a desire to take action. That they provide many ways to do so without sounding preachy adds to this book’s appeal.

Flashlight Press publishes children’s books that “explore and illuminate the touching and humorous moments of family situations and social interactions through captivating writing and outstanding illustrations.”

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 – Numenia and the Hurricane: Inspired by a True Migration Story

As families everywhere hunker down and shelter in place, it’s a true treat to read a story that involves a journey. When that journey is affected by a life-threatening hurricane, something arguably made more severe by climate change, I think this story is especially timely as we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day. I hope you enjoy some armchair traveling via today’s Perfect Picture Book!

Title: Numenia and the Hurricane: Inspired by a True Migration Story

Written & Illustrated By: Fiona Halliday

Publisher/Date: Page Street Kids/2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: migration, birds, hurricanes, separation, reunion, determination, rhyming

Opening:

Three sisters born/ By arctic shore/ On bare, cold rock/ As spring winds roar.

Bandit-eyed,/ They slip unseen/ Through beckoning moors/ Of tangled green.

Hunting bugs in/ Thawing creeks./ Spearing, gobbling,/ Growing beaks.

Five weeks old,/ They’ve reached the sky!/ “Curlee, curlee,/ Curloo,” they cry.

Brief Synopsis:

A brave, young whimbrel migrates from the Arctic to the Caribbean, but when a hurricane separates her from her flock, she must persevere to reach her destination.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

In gentle, rhyming text, Numenia and the Hurricane recounts the story of a young whimbrel, a small, Artic bird, from her birth through her first migration to the Virgin Islands, in the Caribbean. But as readers learn, this isn’t just any continent-spanning migration. Instead, Numenia and her flock encounter a hurricane. During the storm, the poor bird is separated from her family and the flock. How will she survive to complete her journey and reunite with her sisters? You’ll have to read this gorgeous picture book to find out! But rest assured, since it’s geared to young children, this story has a happy ending.

But before we reach that ending, readers are in for a treat with Halliday’s lyrical imagery, including two of my favorites: a “great stampede” of “ten thousand hissing raindrops”, and “storm-tossed birds like ragged ghosts”.

Halliday’s illustrations in soft tones of blues, golds, greens, ivory and gray drew me into this story. If only I could have joined Numenia at her final destination!

Numenia and the Hurricane is based on a true story, which Halliday shares in an Author’s Note, along with information about this fascinating species.

A Note about Craft:

A non-fiction picture book about Hope, the inspiration for Numenia, would have been an interesting story. But Halliday ups the stakes by including fictional elements, most especially the inclusion of Numenia’s sisters. What child isn’t  interested in a creature who has not only lost her way, but also her family?

Fictionalizing this story also enables Halliday to anthropomorphize Numenia, again enabling children to more readily identify with her reactions to her problem and to learn from her hope and determination.

The use of rhyme quickens the pace, I think, which is perfect for a story about a bird, and it suits the lyrical images Halliday utilizes. And in the Author’s Note, we learn that the name, Numenia, is a derivation of Numenius phaeopus, the Latin name for whimbrels. What great attention to detail!

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 – Boundless Sky

In these days of staying at home, I think many of us are reading more to escape confinement. And when I find a book that involves travel, and especially one, like today’s featured picture book, that involves a great journey through the skies, I know that it must be a Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Boundless Sky

Written By: Amanda Addison

Illustrated By: Manuela Adreani

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing/2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-6

Themes/Topics: migration, birds, refugees, welcoming, friendship

Opening:

Nobody knew, nobody dreamed, nobody even considered the possibility that a bird which fits in your hand might fly halfway round the world—and back again.

Brief Synopsis:

A tiny swallow migrates from the United Kingdom to southern Africa, and back, as a young girl leaves her African home to flee to safety in the United Kingdom.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about English swallows, the bird featured in this story;
  • Swallows fly great distances in an annual migration. What other animals migrate? Why do you think certain animals migrate? Draw a picture of an animal that migrates;
  • Check out the Teaching Resources (link near bottom of the page).

Why I Like this Book:

In Boundless Sky, author Amanda Addison reminds readers that one sky unites birds, animals, and people across this vast world. The initial focus is on Bird, a small English swallow that is about to embark on a journey from the northern part of the northern hemisphere across vast and varied landmasses and waters to arrive, and winter, in the southern part of the southern hemisphere in Africa.

Midway through her flight, as she was crossing a great desert, “the hardest part of the journey”, Bird reached an oasis, a place of refuge where Leila, a young girl, welcomed her with a drink of life-giving water.

But on the return journey, Bird discovers that Leila has disappeared. Thirsty, Bird flew on, to fly, once more, across vast waters, now stormy, and landmasses, to return home. There, she discovers that a familiar friend has also crossed stormy seas and found a new home.

I think even young children will enjoy following along on Bird’s journey, even if they don’t understand that Boundless Sky is the story of parallel journeys. Older children can delve deeper into the topic of migration – of birds, other animals, and people, like Leila, who risk all to seek safety and friendship in a new home.

I found Adreani’s soft pencil palette of blues and beiges to be calming and peaceful, the perfect accompaniment to this story of hope and friendship.

A Note about Craft:

Regular readers know that I’ve read, and reviewed, many picture books about refugees. Although many of these end on a welcoming note, I’m not sure any draw the parallel between animal or bird migration and human migration. Drawing this parallel enables Boundless Sky to function on multiple layers and to be of interest to children older than the target age range.

In addition to the parallel journey recounted in Boundless Sky, I found the choice of Leila’s original home, an oasis, to be particularly poignant. I think most of us think of an oasis as a life-giving island in a sea of desert. But here, the oasis presumably has not protected Leila, which, I think, adds a further layer to this story.

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!