Category Archives: Perfect Picture Books

PPBF: Multicultural Children’s Book Day – The Journey of York

It’s Multicultural Children’s Book Day, an annual event to celebrate new, inclusive children’s books. See below to find out more about the many sponsors, participating reviewers, and events.

Title: The Journey of York: The Unsung Hero of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Written By: Hasan Davis

Illustrated By: Alleanna Harris

Publisher/Date: Capstone Editions, a Capstone imprint/2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes/Topics: slavery; Lewis & Clark Expedition; American history; explorers; African-American explorers

Opening:

Long before Thomas Jefferson became America’s third president, he dreamed of western exploration….

In May 1804 Captain Lewis, Captain Clark, and twenty-eight men set out from St. Louis, Missouri, in three boats with the goal of reaching the Pacific Ocean. All but one of those men were volunteers. This is his story.

Brief Synopsis: The true tale of York, a slave belonging to Captain William Clark, who participated in the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the western continent from the American frontier to the Pacific Ocean in the early 19th century.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about the Lewis & Clark Expedition;
  • Follow the trail of the Expedition and visit National Park Service sites associated with it;
  • Visit the Statue of York in Louisville, Kentucky;
  • An Author’s Note recounts the story after the Expedition ends and the group returns to civilization;
  • Be an Explorer! Plan an expedition to discover a new destination in your neighborhood. Who will you ask to join you? What will you bring? How will you measure how far you travel and map your route?

Why I Like this Book:

In short, diary-like entries, York, a slave, recounts the travels of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and shares his perspectives on this history-making journey across the unexplored western territories of the United States. Although York left no actual diaries and his thoughts and feelings are extrapolations from other sources, adding his “voice” to the history enriches the story and results in a more accurate account of the events.

I think young explorers will enjoy this more-inclusive perspective on American history, and I think teachers will appreciate the questions it raises about the interactions of African-Americans and Native Americans, about other contributions of African-Americans to our history, and about how slavery in frontier areas differed from slavery in the “civilized” regions of our early nation. Of particular interest, I think, is the fact that York voted, with the other Expedition members, on the location of a winter camp in Oregon, but his name did not appear on the official Expedition roster, he “received no pay, no land, and no recognition for his sacrifice”, nor did he receive his freedom upon return to “civilization”.

Harris’ color-filled, rich tableaux feature many natural scenes that brought to mind nineteenth-century American landscape paintings. Several also depicted York at the edges of the scenes to, I think, highlight the divide between the others’ freedom and York’s enslavement.

A Note about Craft:

In a publisher’s note, we learn that The Journey of York “is based on the author’s extensive research” and that “[e]very effort has been made to tell York’s story with historical accuracy, but the author has taken some creative license in filling in the gaps, especially regarding the thoughts and feelings of York, for which little to no historical documentation exists.” For those writing picture book biographies, especially about persons from marginalized groups who may have left no first-person written records, it’s a difficult task to recreate their stories. It’s especially difficult to write that biography utilizing first-person point-of-view and include that person’s thoughts and feelings, as Davis has done here. Despite the risk, though, the reward of a better, more inclusive history is high, when done well, as Davis has done, and when the author and/or publisher warns readers of the “creative license”.

Note the double meaning of the word “journey” in the title: as both the actual journey York and the Expedition members undertook and York’s journey of discovering how the Native Americans revered him as “Big Medicine” and how his strength, and vote, mattered when the Corps was traversing the wilderness.

Learn more about Hasan Davis and his work with children. Visit Alleanna Harris’ website to view more of her artwork and children’s book illustrations.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest 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!

And now, more about Multicultural Children’s Book Day:

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2019 (1/25/19) is in its 6th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

MCBD 2019 is honored to have the following Medallion Sponsors on board:

*View our 2019 Medallion Sponsors here:https://wp.me/P5tVud-

*View our 2019 MCBD Author Sponsors here: https://wp.me/P5tVud-2eN

Medallion Level Sponsors: 

Honorary: Children’s Book CouncilThe Junior Library GuildTheConsciousKid.org

Super Platinum: Make A Way Media

GOLD: Bharat BabiesCandlewick PressChickasaw Press, Juan Guerra and The Little Doctor / El doctorcito</a, KidLitTVLerner Publishing GroupPlum Street Press

SILVER: Capstone PublishingCarole P. RomanAuthor Charlotte RiggleHuda EssaThe Pack-n-Go Girls

BRONZE: Charlesbridge PublishingJudy Dodge CummingsAuthor Gwen JacksonKitaab WorldLanguage Lizard – Bilingual & Multicultural Resources in 50+ LanguagesLee & Low BooksMiranda Paul and Baptiste Paul,RedfinAuthor Gayle H. SwiftT.A. Debonis-Monkey King’s DaughterTimTimTom BooksLin ThomasSleeping Bear PressDow PhumirukVivian Kirkfield

MCBD 2019 is honored to have the following Author Sponsors on board:

Honorary: Julie FlettMehrdokht Amini,Author Janet BallettaAuthor Kathleen BurkinshawAuthor Josh FunkChitra SoundarOne Globe Kids – Friendship StoriesSociosights Press and Almost a MinyanKaren LeggettAuthor Eugenia ChuCultureGroove BooksPhelicia Lang and Me On The PageL.L. WaltersAuthor Sarah StevensonAuthor Kimberly Gordon BiddleHayley BarrettSonia PanigrahAuthor Carolyn Wilhelm, Alva Sachs and Dancing DreidelsAuthor Susan Bernardo, Milind Makwana and A Day in the Life of a Hindu KidTara WilliamsVeronica AppletonAuthor Crystal BoweDr. Claudia MayAuthor/Illustrator Aram KimAuthor Sandra L. RichardsErin DealeyAuthor Sanya Whittaker GraggAuthor Elsa TakaokaEvelyn Sanchez-ToledoAnita BadhwarAuthor Sylvia LiuFeyi Fay AdventuresAuthor Ann MorrisAuthor Jacqueline JulesCeCe & Roxy BooksSandra Neil Wallace and Rich WallaceLEUYEN PHAMPadma VenkatramanPatricia Newman and Lightswitch LearningShoumi SenValerie Williams-Sanchez and Valorena Publishing, Traci SorellShereen Rahming,Blythe StanfelChristina MatulaJulie RubiniPaula ChaseErin TwamleyAfsaneh MoradianLori DeMonia, Claudia Schwam,Terri Birnbaum/ RealGirls RevolutionSoulful SydneyQueen Girls Publications, LLC

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 ArabAgatha Rodi BooksAll Done MonkeyBarefoot MommyBiracial BookwormsBooks My Kids Read, Crafty Moms Share, Colours of Us, Discovering the World Through My Son’s Eyes, Descendant of Poseidon ReadsEducators Spin on it Growing Book by BookHere Wee Read, Joy Sun Bear/ Shearin LeeJump Into a BookImagination Soup,Jenny Ward’s ClassKid World CitizenKristi’s Book NookThe LogonautsMama SmilesMiss Panda ChineseMulticultural Kid BlogsRaising Race Conscious ChildrenShoumi SenSpanish Playground

TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Make A Way Media:

MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual @McChildsBookDay Twitter Party will be held 1/25/19 at 9:00pm.E.S.T. TONS of prizes and book bundles will be given away during the party ( a prize every 5 minutes!). GO HERE for more details

FREE RESOURCES From MCBD:

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teacher-classroom-empathy-kit/

Don’t forget to connect with us on social media! Look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld!

PPBF – The Wall in the Middle of the Book

When I saw the cover of today’s Perfect Picture Book and then read a review (thank you, Julie Rowan-Zoch!), I knew I had to read and review it. And with a certain wall in the news so much these days, I thought now is the right time to focus on a different type of wall:

Title: The Wall in the Middle of the Book

Written & Illustrated By: Jon Agee

Publisher/Date: Dial Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: misperceptions; wall; ogres; fear; knight

Opening:

There’s a wall in the middle of the book.

And it’s a good thing.

Brief Synopsis:

A knight on one side of a wall fears the wild animals and ogre on the other side of the wall until he learns that maybe his side of the wall isn’t as safe as he’d imagined.

Links to Resources:

  • Play 20 Questions, Charades, or another guessing game;
  • The “dangerous” animals in The Wall in the Middle of the Book are afraid of a tiny mouse. Think of other small animals or insects that scare you or other larger animals or people. Why do you think these creatures are scary?
  • Build a wall or fort out of building blocks, empty boxes or other stackable things you can find in your home. And then have fun tearing it down;
  • Watch the book trailer.

Why I Like this Book:

Sometimes you read a book and you laugh aloud because of the humorous situation described. But then you realize that while the book may be humorous, the author is making a serious point about human nature, misperceptions, and judging others based on looks or pre-conceptions.

In The Wall in the Middle of the Book, the knight on one side of the wall uses short, declarative sentences perfect for young listeners to explain how he is safe because of the wall between him and the wild animals and ogre on the other side. Shown only in the illustrations, though, it’s clear to readers (especially observant young children), that the knight’s safety is illusory only: real danger lurks on his side of the wall. I think even the youngest of children will love watching the danger progress even as the knight talks on and on about the safety of his side of the book. And I think adult readers will love that young listeners are realizing a valuable lesson about jumping to conclusions and judging others based on appearance or other biases, especially as this is such a fun book for reading aloud.

Set against a white background, the red brick wall provides a stark division between the action occurring on the two sides. And the large, easily-identifiable animals and ogre and the friendly-faced knight are wonderful for young listeners who, I think, will follow this story easily and beg adults to read it again and again.

A Note about Craft:

Agee uses primarily first-person POV and straightforward sentences as the knight tells readers how safe he is on his side of the wall. Readers and listeners, though, can see both sides of the wall and the looming danger on the seemingly-safe side. This set up, I think, ramps up the humor and enables readers to reach the conclusion that all is not what the knight sees or thinks.

The Wall inhabits the gutter of the book, thus utilizing the “whole book” to tell the story. I think The Wall in the Middle of the Book would be a wonderful choice for Meghan Dowd Lambert’s whole book approach to story time, as so much of the story is evident only from the illustrations, and Agee utilizes the space and proportions of characters to great effect.

Finally, Agee uses humor and suspense to encourage young children to realize that preconceived beliefs can be incorrect – a truth that sometimes adults don’t heed.

Visit Agee’s website to discover more of his picture books, and read an interview with Agee about creating The Wall in the Middle of the Book.

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 – I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon

I’m so happy to share a soon-to-be-released picture book biography that I’ve had on my radar for a while. Insightful and inspirational – this is one you won’t want to miss!

Title: I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon

Written By: Baptiste & Miranda Paul

Illustrated By: Elizabeth Zunon

Publisher/Date: Millbrook Press (an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group)/5 February 2019

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Themes/Topics: environmentalism; Cameroon; farming; clean water; intergenerational; social activism; biography

Opening:

This is northwestern Cameroon. Green. Wet. Alive. The rainy season has begun.

Brief Synopsis:

A young boy in West Africa who loves to garden becomes a farmer and founds a grassroots, not-for-profit organization to protect the environment via sustainable farming and clean water projects.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover the West African country of the Republic of Cameroon, where Farmer Tantoh lives and works;
  • Try some kid-friendly gardening activities, including inside activities that you can do in your home or classroom;
  • Learn about the Save Your Future Association, a grassroots, not-for-profit organization in Cameroon that Farmer Tantoh founded in 2005 to protect the environment, including sustainable landscaping and ensuring clean water to rural communities in northwestern Cameroon, to build community, and to promote education about environmental issues;
  • Watch the book trailer and learn more about Farmer Tantoh and Cameroon in the Authors’ Note, Glossary and Pronunciation Guide (which helpfully includes words for water), and Proverbs.

Why I Like this Book:

I Am Farmer is an inspirational, true story that shows young and old alike that one person with passion and persistence can make a difference in his or her home community and the world. In this picture book biography, the Pauls introduce young readers to Farmer Tantoh, who has a life-long love of gardening inherited from his grandmother and father, who has pursued his passion to become a farmer, and who works to bring clean water and organic farming to his home country of Cameroon. Whether reading I Am Farmer at home or in the classroom, I think young environmentalists will chuckle at Tantoh’s first attempts to grow onions without soil or water and marvel at his persistence to become a farmer despite his classmates’ jeers, his older brother’s pleading that Tantoh not pursue this low-paying occupation, and a water-borne illness that left Tantoh ill for several years.

I Am Farmer is a fascinating story about Farmer Tantoh’s life and work, and it’s a wonderful introduction to life in rural Cameroon in West Africa, a place most of us are unlikely to visit. This picture book biography also introduces children to important science topics including horticulture, sustainable agriculture, and the need for clean water.

Zunon’s colorful collage illustrations bring Farmer Tantoh’s world to life. The inclusion of photographs on the endpapers, including of Farmer Tantoh, of his grandmother and other family members, and of Cameroon, is an added bonus.

A Note about Craft:

Picture book biographies are popular now, but who is a good subject to feature? I think Farmer Tantoh is a wonderful choice because he became interested in his life’s work as a child, he’s overcome several challenges, including physical and economic, his work helps others, and growing food and obtaining clean water are issues that kids can relate to and understand. That there are few picture books set in Cameroon and that Farmer Tantoh’s grandmother inspired and helped him grow his passion add interest and layers to this inspiring biography.

The Pauls sprinkle gardening and water-related terms and phrases throughout I Am Farmer. I think this will help readers better enjoy the story and understand and discuss the issues raised. For instance, as a student, “Tantoh drinks up facts and figures faster than his teacher can pour them onto the chalkboard.” Zunon helpfully includes environmental, water, and horticultural terms on the classroom chalkboard. Likewise, a “stream of hands” work together to bring fresh water to villages, where a “trickle of hope” grows, and a “crop” of young people are “digging in, planting ideas, and growing a movement”.

Visit Baptiste Paul’s website and Miranda Paul’s website to learn more about their other picture books. To view more of Elizabeth Zunon’s artwork, visit her website here.

The authors provided a digital copy of I Am Farmer 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 – Imagine

As a new year dawns, imagine the possibilities that await!

Title: Imagine

Written By: Juan Felipe Herrera

Illustrated By: Lauren Castillo

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes/Topics: migrant; dreams; poetry

Opening:

If I picked chamomile flowers/ as a child/ in the windy fields and whispered/ to their fuzzy faces,/ imagine

Brief Synopsis: A young boy invites readers to imagine what they could do, as they learn about the varied experiences of his life.

Links to Resources:

  • Try writing a poem like Herrera has, by starting a sentence, “If I”, and ending with “imagine”;
  • Have you ever slept outside under the stars? Draw a picture of what you saw or heard;
  • Have you ever spoken or sang in front of a large audience? Describe how you felt;
  • Herrera’s family were migrant farm workers, who moved from place to place to find work. Have you ever moved? How did you feel?

Why I Like this Book:

Imagine is a quiet, poetic picture book that gently encourages children to imagine what they can do, what they can become. Sharing scenes from his childhood in a migrant farming family, former US Poet Laureate Herrera ends most scenes with the term “imagine”, inviting children to think about childhood experiences that probably differ from their own and to empathize with the child narrator. He also addresses readers directly at a few points in the poem and asks them to “imagine what you could do…”

Imagine’s peaceful, contemplative text will soothe listeners at bedtime and could also be a powerful classroom tool to help build empathy for others. In a classroom setting, I can envision teachers questioning students in particular about Herrera’s entry to a new, English-speaking school, even though he didn’t know “how to read or speak in English”, and contrasting that with a scene “in front of my familia and many more”, as he read as an adult from his poetry book on the “high steps” of the Library of Congress as Poet Laureate.

Castillo’s earth-toned, pen and monoprint illustrations further the dreamy, contemplative feel of the text, providing further encouragement to listeners to imagine the young poet’s life and their own possibilities.

A Note about Craft:

At its core, Imagine is a memoir targeted to young readers/listeners. By using poetic language, by relating the story using first-person point-of-view, and by addressing the reader/listener directly, Herrera stretches it much further, rendering his life story a gentle lesson for readers of all ages, reminding us that we, too, can dream and achieve our goals.

It’s always a fine line between adding descriptive adjectives in a picture book, that risk not leaving room for the illustrations to tell part of the story, and leaving them out. Herrera, though, chooses carefully, entering “my classroom’s wooden door” –  which could be any size, shape or color, and climbing “high steps” to the Library of Congress – how high and what color and material are left to the illustrator to show. I especially liked the image of “gooey and sticky ink pens” that the young poet used to grab “a handful/ of words” and sprinkle “them over a paragraph/ so I could write/ a magnificent story,/ imagine”.

Learn more about Herrera’s life and works at poets.org. See more of Castillo’s artwork 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 – Polar Bear Island

As my last Perfect Picture Book post of 2018, I wanted to feature a new picture book that I first learned about from two friends who had interviewed the author and reviewed the book, that concerns welcoming others in a very kid-friendly way, and that is full of wintry fun. I think I’ve succeeded! And, as it’s my last post of 2018, I want to wish all who celebrate a blessed Christmas and everyone a wonderful New Year! See you in 2019!

Title: Polar Bear Island

Written By: Lindsay Bonilla

Illustrated By: Cinta Villalobos

Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books/2018

Suitable for Ages: 3 and up

Themes/Topics: inclusivity; polar bears; penguins; differences; immigration; welcoming others

Opening:

POLAR BEAR ISLAND was peaceful and predictable. Parker, the mayor, planned to keep it that way.

But Kirby waddled where the wind blew, and today she was floating toward paradise.

Brief Synopsis:

When a penguin lands on Polar Bear Island, shares new items and ideas, and then her family joins her, the polar bears are happy to try the newcomers’ treats, except Mayor Parker, at least at first.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the maze, word search, and other activities in the Activity Kit;
  • Become an AmBEARssador and welcome newcomers, learn about other countries, and much more;
  • Check out the Discussion Guide for more ways to explore the themes in Polar Bear Island;
  • Enjoy some wintry fun: sledding, skiing, ice skating, hot cocoa, and maybe even a snow cone or two. Like Kirby and the penguins, you even could design your own wintry gear.

Why I Like this Book:

Polar Bear Island is a fun book to read and reread, but it contains an important message about welcoming others, too. Kids, like young polar bears, are often open to new ideas and new friends. But narrow-minded adults, or polar bear mayors, may have other ideas and try to keep things always the same or to themselves. But when the newcomers come to the rescue, even a grumpy old bear can’t resist.

Among the many picture books about immigration and welcoming newcomers I’ve read (and regular readers know that is many), I think Polar Bear Island is one of the better ones for younger children to help build empathy for newcomers, as it provides concrete examples of how newcomers enrich communities, and it shows how ridiculous and wrong grumpy old bears (and people) can be. I think kids especially will enjoy reading about the penguins’  inventions that are fun to say and try to picture (or even make). Who doesn’t love “Flipper Slippers”? Or a sled that’s a bed?

Villalobos’ illustrations are equally fun and child-friendly. And although the setting is a white snow-covered island set in a blue sea inhabited by, you guessed it, white polar bears, Villalobos manages to include many bright and colorful details, like the bright Flipper Slippers and hats on every penguin.

A Note about Craft:

In Polar Bear Island, Bonilla makes difficult subjects, immigration and welcoming “others”, accessible to young children. How does she do it? First, she introduces readers to Parker, the mayor, who is a caricature of a character: the proverbial grumpy old bear who even underlines “other” in the sign that states they are not welcome. Bonilla then sets up an absurd situation: a penguin, normally found in the Antarctic, travels by boat (suitcase in flipper) to the Artic. As the pair, and others, interact, Bonilla slips in playful language, like Flipper Slippers, my all-time favorite. Finally, Bonilla and the team at Sterling created an awesome Activity Kit, a Discussion Guide for teachers, parents and librarians, and even an AmBEARssadors Program – sign me up!

Visit Bonilla’s website to learn more about this storyteller and children’s author; see also an interview and review of Polar Bear Island at Maria Marshall’s The Picture Book Buzz, and an interview and review by Kathy Halsey at the Grog.

Villalobos is a Spanish illustrator. See more of her work at her 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 – A Drop of the Sea

From the sea as a Blue Road, as in last week’s Perfect Picture Book (Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea) to the sea as a dreamed-of destination, I’ve been enjoying quite a few “sea” stories lately. Here’s the latest!

Title: A Drop of the Sea

Written By: Ingrid Chabbert

Illustrated By: Raúl Nieto Guridi

Publisher/Date: Kids Can Press/2018 (originally published in France as Un bout de mer, Éditions Frimousse/2017)

Suitable for Ages: 4-7 (and older)

Themes/Topics: sea; desert; dreams; gift; kindness; intergenerational; aging; book in translation; #ReadYourWorld.

Opening:

Ali lives at the edge of the desert, not far from a hundred-year-old palm tree. He likes climbing it to snack on fresh dates. He never forgets to pick a few for his great-grandmother, too.

Brief Synopsis: Ali’s aging great-grandmother has always wanted to visit the sea. With bucket in hand, Ali journeys to the sea and and back to share the sea with her.

Links to Resources:

  • Fill a bucket with water. Try not to spill any! How far can you carry it? Why is a bucket full of water heavier than an empty bucket?
  • What place do you dream about? Draw a picture or write a description of that place;
  • Think of good deeds you can do for a family member or friend;
  • This story takes place in a desert, where there is little water. Learn about water scarcity and what you can do to help.

Why I Like this Book:

What would you do for someone you love? This question is at the heart of A Drop of the Sea. When Ali learns that his aging great-grandmother has always wanted to visit the sea but is no longer physically able to journey there, he sets off on a two-day journey to the coast, bucket in hand, to bring the sea to her: if she can’t journey there, he’ll bring the sea to her. But carrying a bucket brimming with sea water for two days is no easy task, especially in the hot sun and dry air of North Africa, the setting of the story.

As is evident from the title, Ali delivers mere drops of the sea. And the result? The elderly woman “starts to cry,” not because she is sad or upset, but because “this is one of the most beautiful days of my life!” And Ali? His “heart soars.”

Focused as it is on Ali’s kindness, the grandmother’s dreams, the “failed” attempt, and the reactions, I think A Drop of the Sea is a thought-provoking reminder of what it means to give and receive, to fail and succeed, to grow more infirm or stronger, and of the importance of actions & experiences over objects. In the midst of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Green Monday and SALE signs accosting us everywhere, perhaps we’d do well to remember that a drop of the sea is all that we, and the children in our lives, need.

Like the text and the setting, Gurudi’s digitally-rendered gouache and pencil illustrations are sparse and evocative. Much of the time, the sand appears more like lined-paper than actual sand, and in one spread, the route of the journey appears as a map underfoot. Is Guridi implying that this story is, in fact, a fairy tale or fable, set down here to make us think about timeless issues of aging, water-scarcity, dreams, and gifts? While I don’t know the answer, I believe the illustrations add an additional layer to discuss after reading  A Drop of the Sea.

A Note about Craft:

As noted above, the title, A Drop of the Sea, almost reveals the outcome of the story. It also, though, is very intriguing, especially when combined with the overwhelmingly simple and beige cover illustration. As authors or editors, we know that we need to weigh the pros and cons of revealing too much or not enough with a title. In this case, I think they made the right choice.

A Drop of the Sea is a simple, straightforward story, with only two characters depicted and little indication of time period, contemporary or historical, or place (we know only that it’s a vast desert, a two-day walk from a sea coast, and we presume it’s North Africa). Clearly Ali does not live alone with his great-grandmother in a vast desert with no other family, friends or neighbors anywhere near. But as these other characters are not essential to the story, the author and illustrator haven’t cluttered the story with them. By leaving others out, I think the author and illustrator have enabled readers to focus better on the issues that matter, namely, the great-grandmother’s dream, Ali’s attempt to fulfill it, and the outcome. What clutters your story, and what can you strip away to enable readers to experience its heart?

Per the book jacket, French author Chabbert has published “dozens” of books, including several picture book collaborations with Guridi. Spanish illustrator Guridi is an “award-winning illustrator of many children’s books”.

Read an insightful review of A Drop of the Sea in CM: Canadian Review of Materials.

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 – Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea

Those of you who read my Perfect Pairing post this past Tuesday may notice a theme this week: the color blue. And those of you who regularly read my Perfect Picture Book reviews no doubt will be thinking that there must be a refugee or migrant, or a few, among the poems in this anthology.

Title: Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea

Collected By: Lee Bennett Hopkins

Illustrated By: Bob Hansman & Jovan Hansman

Publisher/Date: Seagrass Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc./2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes/Topics: poetry; sea travel; history; non-fiction; migration; slavery

Opening (from the Introduction by Hopkins:

Standing on a balcony during a recent Caribbean cruise, I gazed across endless miles of water. The sea – awesome, breathtaking, frightening, filled with wonder – has always beckoned dreamers from shore to shore who have, as Rebecca Kai Dotlich phrases it in her poem “Sea,” “traveled away from,/traveled toward…” The sea has also carried less willing travelers across its wide expanses, both those compelled by hard circumstances to brave its blue distances and those captured into bondage to make bleak, terrifying crossings.

Brief Synopsis: A collection of 14 poems, penned by 14 different poets, about sea journeys from the 15th through the 21st century, including those undertaken by choice and those undertaken under duress.

Links to Resources:

  • Back matter includes Notes about each journey and information About the Poets;
  • Have you ever visited an ocean or sea or taken a sea journey? Describe the water or the journey;
  • Write a poem about the sea, a journey or a sea journey.

Why I Like this Book:

In Traveling the Blue Road, Hopkins encourages readers to think of the sea not just as a wide expanse, but also as a road, a route from here to there, along which travelers have journeyed for millennia. Arranged chronologically from the journey of Columbus and his crew in the late 15th century to the present-day journeys of refugees and the lives of itinerant fishermen on houseboats in the Philippines, these poems encourage readers to reflect on both the promise and perils of sea journeys, to gain greater insight into the bravery and fears of the travelers, and to empathize with the willing, and most especially the unwilling, voyagers.

In Voyage, a poem about Columbus’ journey, for instance, Paul B. Janeczko notes “[f]ear growing like a thunderhead”, “flea bites as common as rain”, and the weary sailors’ offering of “a prayer of thanks” when land draws near. In With Fearless Faith and Everything to Lose, Allan Wolf recounts the journey of the Pilgrims, “hopeful souls” who “huddle in the hold” of a ship that is a mere “fragile fleck” as “heathen winds harass and scold”.

Utilizing first-person point-of-view, Marilyn Nelson helps readers feel the fear of enslaved Africans in Kidnapped by Aliens about the 18th century middle passage of slaves. From the notion of the slave traders as “aliens” to the idea of lying “curled around terror, facing the blue unknown”, Nelson creates images that long will linger.

In a pair of poems about the voyages of MS St. Louis in 1939, Jane Yolen captures the hope of the “[b]lue road” in Blue the Color of Hope: On the Ship St. Louis. She then recounts the dashing of hope in Return to the Reich: On the Ship St. Louis, as first Cuba, then the US deny entry to the Jewish passengers, and “[w]e were sent back home/To a place where murderers waited.” And in Mediterranean Blue about 21st century migrants, Naomi Shihab Nye reminds readers, “[t]hey are the bravest people on earth right now,/don’t dare look down on them.”

Evoking, as they do, so many thought-provoking images, the poems in Traveling the Blue Road are targeted to the older end of the picture book range, and, I believe, are a wonderful resource for classrooms and homes, to be read as a set, or individually.

Beginning with archival images, and utilizing a predominantly blue and gray palette, the Hansmans’ pastel, charcoal, pencil, crayon, marker and cut paper illustrations evoke the past and are often, themselves, poetic and abstract, furthering the emotional impact of the poems they accompany.

A Note about Craft:

I read Traveling the Blue Road a few weeks ago because it’s a nominee for a Cybils Award, in the poetry category, for which I’m serving as a first-round panelist. The haunting poems have stayed with me, and I chose to review it here because, I believe, the historical perspective the collection offers will help children, and adults, understand better the hopes and fears of today’s desperate sea travelers – the refugees and migrants. I also believe that with its ability to evoke images and convey emotions, poetry is a wonderful medium to tackle tough subjects, such as those raised here. I invite writers to consider whether a difficult story you’re writing may work better as a rhymed or free verse poem, a series of poems, or a novel in verse.

Visit Hopkins’ website to learn more about this prolific and award-winning author, poet and children’s poetry anthologist.

Per the book jacket, St. Louis-based father-son artists Bob Hansman and Jovan Hansman first met at City Faces, a program whose “mission is to create and provide a safe haven and strong peer-based environment for all children living in Clinton-Peabody public housing”. Bob taught art classes at City Faces, and later adopted Jovan, an active participant as a young teen, who now runs the program.

An imprint of Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc., Seagrass Press “aims to nurture young readers as they grow by offering a range of informative and entertaining titles.”

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!