Category Archives: Uncategorized

PPBF – Ayobami and the Names of the Animals

I saw this picture book last fall on a “best illustrated” list, and the title and cover intrigued me. Thankfully, my local library has a copy, and I’m able to share it with you.

Title: Ayobami and the Names of the Animals

Written By: Pilar López Ávila

Illustrated By: Mar Azabal

Translated By: Jon Brokenbrow

Publisher/Date: Cento de Luz SL/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: education; literacy; overcoming danger; persistence; war; jungle animals

Opening:

When the war finally came to an end, the teacher went from house to house, telling everyone that the children could go back to school the next day.

Brief Synopsis: When a young African girl, Ayobami, becomes lost on her way to school, she promises the animals she meets in the jungle that she will write their names for them, if they let her pass.

Links to Resources:

  • Ayobami meets several jungle animals on her walk to school. Learn about African jungle animals;
  • What jungle animal do you resemble most? Take this fun quiz to find out;
  • Ayobami was happy to return to school to learn to read and write. What makes you happy at school? What subject do you most want to learn?
  • Compare your journey to school with Ayobami’s journey. How are they the same? How are they different?

Why I Like this Book:

In fable-like prose, complete with talking animals who long to learn their names, Ayobami and the Names of the Animals features a determined young girl who convinces the dangerous jungle animals she encounters that she will write down their names for them if they allow her to pass. Not only will young children learn the names of several African jungle animals, such as crocodile, snake, and mosquito, but I think they will appreciate Ayobami’s tenacity as she negotiates with each animal in turn to reach her goal of learning to read and write. Even young children will be able to follow along as they identify different animals and search the illustrations for the many hidden letters.

I love that Ayobami kept her promises and shared the literacy she gained with the animals by naming them – a sign of dignity or perhaps order that indicates the power of education to bring peace and stability to the world. I especially love López Ávila’s description of how Ayobami learned to read and write by learning “the letters of the alphabet”, learning “how to put them together to make sounds”, joining “the sounds to make words”, and mixing “the words together to make sentences.” The result? “And she heard the music that comes from making words.”

Azabal’s colorful illustrations include letters sprinkled throughout most of the illustrations. And don’t miss the lined yellow endpapers that include the cursive alphabets that many of us might remember from our school days.

A Note about Craft:

You’ll note from the Opening above that the main character does not appear in the first lines. In fact, she doesn’t appear until page three. I think López Ávila does this to give context to Ayobami’s story, to show how the education of one girl can restore order after the cessation of war.

Per the publisher’s website, López Ávila is a Spanish author and doctor of veterinary medicine.

Visit Azabal’s website to see more of her work. Ayobami and the Names of the Animals was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of 2018.

Cuento de Luz  is an independent publisher based in Spain that “publishes stories that take the imagination on a journey, help care for our planet, respect differences and promote peace.” It’s a certified B corporation, which means that it uses its business as a source for good, including by printing its books using special “stone paper”.

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!

Valentiny Contest: The Snurrple

It’s that time of year again when I and many other children’s writers (perhaps we’ll top 214 this year?) sharpen our pencils to share our love & creativity for…

Susanna Hill’s 4TH ANNUAL PRETTY MUCH

WORLD FAMOUS VALENTINY WRITING CONTEST!!!

valentiny writing contest 2019!

~ FOR CHILDREN’S WRITERS~

The Contest (copied from Susanna’s site):  since writing for children is all about “big emotion for little people” (I forget who said that, but someone did so I put it in quotes!) and Valentines Day is all about emotion, write a Valentines story appropriate for children (children here defined as ages 12 and under) maximum 214 words in which someone feels guilty!  Your someone can feel guilty themselves or make someone else feel guilty.  They may feel guilty for good reason, or just because they think they should!  Your story can be poetry or prose, sweet, funny, surprising or anything in between, but it will only count for the contest if it includes someone guilty (can be the main character but doesn’t have to be) and is 214 words (get it? 2/14 for Valentines Day 🙂  You can go under the word count but not over! (Title is not included in the word count.)

And so, I present, my humble but heart-felt entry, at 204 words (including the poem in the self-made “illustration”)…

The SNURRPLE

“Ta da! Finished! Fifteen shimmering, glimmering Valentines! Oh no! I forgot that pesky new boy, José! What’ll I do? I know. I’ll write a quick poem and scribble a picture. He should be happy I’m even making him a Valentine.”

“Brilliant! He’ll think Snurrple’s a real thing, some English word he hasn’t heard. Should keep him wondering for hours. Maybe he’ll stop pestering me, stop asking “what’s this” and “how do you say that in English….’”

*****

Guess I wasn’t the only one to forget about José. His pile’s SO small. He’s holding my Valentine. He’s smiling. Grinning. Looking right at me. He’s turning it around. Staring at the words. Looking confused. Spelling it out:

S-N-U-R-R-P-L-E

“Hey, José! You don’t know the mighty Snurrple? Why everyone knows that.”

“Right, everybody?”

Everyone’s laughing! Except José. At José! His eyes look so big. His face is bright red. He’s blinking. Is that a tear?

“Hey! José! It’s a joke.”

“I made up the Snurrple to…”

“Ummm…”

“I thought…”

“Maybe…”

“Hey, José! Want to come to my house after school? We can draw Snurrples and create other crazy creatures. Together.”

“Hey, José! Amigos?”

******

Text of the POEM, for those who couldn’t read it:

Roses are red,

Violets are purple,

I hope you like

This bright blue Snurrple.

Happy Valentine’s Day! And check out the other entries – a great way to bring smiles to the faces of your loved ones & spread love to those who shared their creativity.

PPBF – Alma and How She Got Her Name

What’s in a name? A lot, if you ask most kids, and even some adults. I’m one of those adults who still wonders about my Irish first name since neither I, nor the parents who adopted me as an infant, are Irish (although I do have a March birthday and like spring green). I also chose names for my own children that aren’t immediately shortened into nicknames nor readily identifiable as a particular nationality. But they all have a middle name from a grandparent, in a nod to family history. Because isn’t family what it’s all about?

Title: Alma and How She Got Her Name

Written & Illustrated By: Juana Martinez-Neal

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: name; identity; family history; Latinx; multicultural; Caldecott honor

Opening:

Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela had a long name—too long, if you asked her.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl unhappy with her long name learns the story of each of the relatives whose names she bears and learns to embrace her history and her future.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Alma and How She Got Her Name is such a sweet, kid-relatable story with such heart. I immediately fell in love with Alma and her story-telling father. Through the introduction of Alma’s ancestors, readers meet the strong family that came before her, and learn about Alma’s heritage. We also see how each of their many attributes come together to form a new, unique person, Alma, who is ready to tell her own story.

I love the message of celebrating each person’s unique talents while cherishing what we have in common with family members. I also love how the story ends on a forward-looking note as Alma prepares to write her story. In an Author’s Note, Martinez-Neal asks readers about the story of their names and asks what story they’d like to tell.

Alma and How She Got Her Name is a 2019 Caldecott Honor Book – not surprisingly. An illustrator-author, Martinez-Neal shows so much of the story in the graphite, colored pencil and print transfer illustrations. For instance, nowhere in the text does it mention Peru as the country from which Alma’s ancestors hail, but the bookshelves contain many references to Peru, including a piggy bank with PERU on its flank, perhaps to collect coins to save for a trip to visit family. The books gracing many of the pages bear titles in
Spanish, and other items, like dolls and toys, are South American folk art pieces. For curious young listeners, a small bird appears somewhere in almost every spread – I loved watching it accompany Alma and her father on her journey of discovery.

A Note about Craft:

In the Author’s Note, Martinez-Neal shares that she, too, has a too-long name that she felt was “the most old-fashioned, harsh, ugly, and way-too-Spanish name in all of Lima, Peru”. Alma, then, is somewhat autobiographical. I think it’s a wonderful lesson to authors to mine their own past to write stories that show universal themes.

At its most basic, Alma’s story is one conversation that occurs in one room. But by showing Alma interacting with her ancestors and at times mimicking their actions, the illustrations caused at least this reader to feel as if I’d undertaken a journey – both in time and distance.

Learn more about Martinez-Neal and her other work, including La Princesa and the Pea, the winner of the 2018 Pura Belpré Medal for Illustration, by visiting 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: 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!

Perfect Pairing – Reflections on the Last Days of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday next Monday, almost fifty years after the assassination that cut short his life far too soon, two new picture books recount the last weeks of his life, one in a series of poems, the other in a combination of snapshot-like prose and poetry.

 

Martin Rising: Requiem for a King

Author: Andrea Davis Pinkney

Illustrator: Brian Pinkney

Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press/2018

Ages: 8+

Themes: Martin Luther King Jr.; Civil Rights; protest

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In a rich embroidery of visions, musical cadence, and deep emotion, Andrea and Brian Pinkney convey the final months of Martin Luther King’s life — and of his assassination — through metaphor, spirituality, and multilayers of meaning.
Andrea’s stunning poetic requiem, illustrated with Brian’s lyrical and colorful artwork, brings a fresh perspective to Martin Luther King, the Gandhi-like, peace-loving activist whose dream of equality — and whose courage to make it happen — changed the course of American history. And even in his death, he continues to transform and inspire all of us who share his dream.
Wonderful classroom plays of Martin Rising can be performed by using the “Now Is the Time” history and the 1968 timeline at the back of the book as narration — and adding selected poems to tell the story!

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968

Author: Alice Faye Duncan

Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie

Publisher/Date: Calkins Creek (an imprint of Highlights)/2018

Ages: 9-12

Themes: Martin Luther King Jr.; Civil Rights; protest

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This historical fiction picture book presents the story of nine-year-old Lorraine Jackson, who in 1968 witnessed the Memphis sanitation strike–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final stand for justice before his assassination–when her father, a sanitation worker, participated in the protest.
In February 1968, two African American sanitation workers were killed by unsafe equipment in Memphis, Tennessee. Outraged at the city’s refusal to recognize a labor union that would fight for higher pay and safer working conditions, sanitation workers went on strike. The strike lasted two months, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was called to help with the protests. While his presence was greatly inspiring to the community, this unfortunately would be his last stand for justice. He was assassinated in his Memphis hotel the day after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon in Mason Temple Church. Inspired by the memories of a teacher who participated in the strike as a child, author Alice Faye Duncan reveals the story of the Memphis sanitation strike from the perspective of a young girl with a riveting combination of poetry and prose.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because I believe that reading them together will help children gain a more complete picture of this epic era and the legacy of Dr. King and his dreams. In Martin Rising, Andrea Pinkney crafts a series of “docu-poems” (her term) using religious and folkloric imagery combined with Brian Pinkney’s abstract visuals to recount the last months of the sainted icon of the Civil Rights movement. She also sought to “honor the lives and spirits of the sanitation workers” whose fight Dr. King took up (quotations from the Author’s Reflections). In Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, Duncan “mined” history books and the “memories of a Memphis teacher” who had marched as a young girl and whose father was a striking sanitation worker. Duncan also tells the story in short, poetic vignettes (quotations from Introduction). Both texts include wonderful back matter to further readers’ experiences, and both remind readers of the centrality of economic equality to Dr. King’s dream.

Looking for similar reads?

See, I Have a Dream, the words of Dr. King’s well-known speech paired with paintings by Kadir Nelson (2012).

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!