Category Archives: Uncategorized

Perfect Pairing is Sharing Memories

I love how small treasures are often at the heart of family get-togethers. Whether it’s a tattered photo, a battered object, or a collection of keepsakes, the item often sparks a story and memories pass from generation to generation.

Nanna’s Button Tin

Author: Dianne Wolfer

Illustrator: Heather Potter

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018 (originally published in Australia, Walker Books/2017)

Ages: 4-6

Themes: intergenerational; family history

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

I love nanna’s button tin. It is full of stories.
Nanna’s button tin is very special. It has buttons of all shapes and sizes and they all have a different story to tell. But today, one button in particular is needed. A button for teddy. A beautiful story about memories and the stories that shape a family.

Read a review at Reading Time.

 

The Matchbook Diary

Author: Paul Fleischman

Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2013

Ages: 6-9

Themes: Intergenerational; family history; diary

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Newbery Medalist Paul Fleischman and Bagram Ibatoulline tell a breathtaking immigration tale with appeal across generations.
“Pick whatever you like most. Then I’ll tell you its story.” 
When a little girl visits her great-grandfather at his curio-filled home, she chooses an unusual object to learn about: an old cigar box. What she finds inside surprises her: a collection of matchboxes making up her great-grandfather’s diary, harboring objects she can hold in her hand, each one evoking a memory. Together they tell of his journey from Italy to a new country, before he could read and write — the olive pit his mother gave him to suck on when there wasn’t enough food; a bottle cap he saw on his way to the boat; a ticket still retaining the thrill of his first baseball game. With a narrative entirely in dialogue, Paul Fleischman makes immediate the two characters’ foray into the past. With warmth and an uncanny eye for detail, Bagram Ibatoulline gives expressive life to their journey through time — and toward each other.

Read my review.

I paired these books because they are intergenerational and feature the sharing of family history. In Nanna’s Button Tin, the unnamed narrator and her Nanna search through the button tin for a “perfect brown button for a perfect brown bear”, but also remember family stories about other buttons they find. In The Matchbook Diary, the great-grandfather purposely used matchboxes as a diary, and the focus of the conversation is his life and journey to America. In both, small “treasures” are the lens for sharing family history – what might you see and share when you visit a grandparent or great-grandparent?

Looking for similar reads? See The Remember Balloons (Jessie Oliverios, 2018) and Grandad’s Island (Benji Davies, 2016).

 

 

PPBF – Marwan’s Journey

With the scent of holidays in the air, November always reminds me of journeys – those taken, to visit family and friends, and those yet to come. But as I reflect on these generally happy journeys in my own life, I can’t help but think of those people undertaking difficult journeys for other reasons, whether fleeing from violence or poverty or seeking a better life in some new location. Today’s Perfect Picture Book recounts the journey of one such child.mne_DE_Marwan's Journey_Cov_z_Layout 1

Title: Marwan’s Journey

Written By: Patricia de Arias

Illustrated By: Laura Borràs

Publisher/Date: minedition (Michael Neugebauer Publishing, Ltd)/2018 (first published in Spanish as El Camino de Marwan, Amanuta, Chile/2016)

Suitable for Ages: 5-7 (or older)

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; courage; hope

Opening:

I take giant steps even though I am small. One, two, three…crossing the desert.

Brief Synopsis: When the cold darkness of war arrives at Marwan’s house, he flees on foot, joining a caravan of refugees, but always remembering happy times with his family and dreaming of a peaceful future, of returning to his homeland.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about the refugee experience with materials from Amnesty International;
  • If you were going on a journey, what would you bring? Choose three favorite toys or books that you’d bring along;
  • Marwan travels mainly on foot. Think of other ways that people travel, and draw a picture of your favorite way to travel.

Why I Like this Book:

With its young, named main character traveling by foot to escape war, Marwan’s Journey is a haunting window into the refugee experience. Although the setting is not named, the reader learns that Marwan crosses a desert and reaches a border with the sea. And although he seemingly travels without parents or other relatives, it’s clear that Marwan is one of many undertaking this journey.

Told in sparse, lyrical prose, Marwan’s Journey enables the reader to walk along with Marwan, as he places one foot in front of the other, “one, two, three,” a “line of humans like ants crossing the desert”. He doesn’t look back, but he knows that, without hesitation, one day, he will return to “plant a garden with my hands, full of flowers and hope.”

With its glimpses of happy memories, its focus on the act of traveling, and its promise of a hopeful future, I think de Arias presents a believable portrait of a child refugee while not focusing too much on issues that would be difficult for children.

Borràs’ ink and color-washed illustrations have a child-like quality, at times seeming even surrealistic. Utilizing primarily sepia tones as Marwan crosses the desert, she adds pops of color as he remembers life before the war and as he looks forward to a life back in his homeland and prays “that the night never, never, never goes so dark again.”

A Note about Craft:

Like most of the refugee picture books, de Arias utilizes first-person point-of-view which renders the narrator’s experience more immediate. Unlike refugee stories such as Francesca Sanna’s The Journey or Nicola Davies’ The Day War Came, de Arias names the narrator, choosing a male name of Arabic origin that means “flint stone,” a stone used to start fires.

Interestingly, de Arias includes a flashback to life before the conflict which, while providing relief from the tedium of the long march, may be difficult for younger children to follow and is not a technique usually found in picture books.

Per the jacket cover, de Arias is a Spaniard currently residing in Brazil, where she has published a number of children’s books.

Borràs is an “internationally acclaimed illustrator who has published numerous books in many countries”.

minedition publishes picture books of the highest quality that “open the door to the world” for children….After 10 years with the Swiss Nord Sud Publishing, minedition – michael neugebauer edition – was founded 2004, first as an imprint with Penguin and now independent and distributed in North America by IPG.”

Marwan’s Journey received a Special Mention at the Bologna Ragazzi Awards in 2017 and a starred review in Kirkus.

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!

Perfect Pairing is Hands On

There are so many ways to think about what we do and how we do things. Today’s perfectly paired Picture Books look at one important tool that we all share: our hands!

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Whose Hands Are These? A Community Helper Guessing Book

Author: Miranda Paul

Illustrator: Luciana Navarra Powell

Publisher/Date: Lerner Publishing Group/2016

Ages: 4-9

Themes: hands; rhyming; concept book; helping occupations; non-fiction

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

If your hands can mix and mash, what job might you have? What if your hands reach, wrench, yank, and crank? The hands in this book–and the people attached to them–do all sorts of helpful work. And together, these helpers make their community a safe and fun place to live. As you read, keep an eye out for community members who make repeat appearances! Can you guess all the jobs based on the actions of these busy hands?

Read a review at The Grog.

 

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With My Hands: Poems About Making Things

Author: Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

Illustrators: Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson 

Publisher/Date: Clarion Books/2018

Ages: 4-7

Themes: hands; poetry; art; creativity

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

For young makers and artists, brief, lively poems illustrated by a NYT bestselling duo celebrate the pleasures of working with your hands.
Building, baking, folding, drawing, shaping . . . making something with your own hands is a special, personal experience. Taking an idea from your imagination and turning it into something real is satisfying and makes the maker proud.
With My Hands is an inspiring invitation to tap into creativity and enjoy the hands-on energy that comes from making things.

Read a review at Enjoy and Embrace Learning.

I paired these books because…Who knows the answer? Hands up! Yep, the hands have it! Looking at their hands, Paul explores community helpers in a question-and-answer format that will engage young readers. VanDerwater encourages creativity in With My Hands, a collection of 26 poems that celebrate the joy of being a maker and making such things as a birdhouse or boat. How will you use your hands to help others and be a creator?

PPBF – The Dress and the Girl

I first learned of today’s Perfect Picture Book from a New York Times review this past August. The title intrigued me, and I knew I had to find and review this picture book. As I’m traveling as this review posts, and as we’re entering into a season when many of us journey to celebrate holidays, I thought it was a Perfect Picture Book for today.

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Title: The Dress and the Girl

Written By: Camille Andros

Illustrated By: Julie Morstad

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigration; memory; journeys

Opening:

Back when time seemed slower and life simpler, there was a dress. A dress much like many others, made for a girl by her mother.

Brief Synopsis:

When a young girl and her family journey from Greece to America, the young girl loses her favorite dress.

Links to Resources:

  • Have you ever moved from one house, town, city or country to another place? Draw or describe something that you remember from the place you left;
  • In the story, the dress and the girl rode in a wagon and sailed in a boat. What types of vehicles have you used to travel?
  • Do you have a favorite outfit that you like to wear or a favorite toy or stuffed animal with whom you do everything? Describe or draw that outfit or object;
  • The young girl and her family arrive to the US at Ellis Island. Learn more about Ellis Island and US immigration;
  • Read the Author’s Note about the inspiration for this book and her hopes for immigrants and refugees today.

Why I Like this Book:

The Dress and the Girl is a gentle, lyrical immigration story, that will appeal to younger and older children. Unlike many immigration stories that focus on the terrors a refugee or family faces or others that focus solely on one aspect of the refugee or immigration experience, The Dress and the Girl provides glimpses into a bucolic life prior to the journey, describes the journey with kid-centric details, and offers hope that the girl, and her beloved dress, settle into their new country at long last.

Parted at Ellis Island, when the dress is placed in a trunk that the girl and her family fail to retrieve, the story follows the dress’ quest to reunite with her beloved girl. As the dress “traveled the world – searching”, days, weeks, months and years passed, and, in illustrations, the reader sees the young girl become a woman and mother. I won’t spoil the ending, but trust me, it’s extraordinary.

Morstad’s soft palette suits the story well. I particularly enjoyed the scenes at Ellis Island, where, utilizing two wordless spreads, Morstad shows first the hubbub of the arrivals hall and then the loneliness of the lost dress.

A Note about Craft:

As is evident from the title, The Dress and the Girl, a beloved object sewn by the girl’s mother takes center stage in this immigration story. Like a stuffed animal or pet, the dress accompanies the girl everywhere until they are parted. By focusing on the dress, instead of the girl, I think Andros is able to summarize the girl’s settlement process more quickly and show how she thrives in her new environment, even as she retains memories shared with the dress.

Andros repeats a series of activities four times: riding in a wagon, sailing in a boat, going to school, jumping rope and playing tag. In the first instance, Andros sets the “life before the journey” scene, showing the reader what the dress and girl did before leaving Greece. The next instance recounts the journey. The dress then embarks on her own journey, where she does some of these activities, but all are mentioned. And, finally, the pair remember these activities together. Although for a picture book this may seem like a lot of repetition, the refrain-like repetition and subtle changes act, in my mind, as a framework that ties the story together.

Monica Edinger reviewed The Dress and the Girl along with other immigration and refugee books in the New York Times earlier this year. Visit Andros’ website to learn more about her and The Dress and the Girl. Visit Morstad’s website to see more of her illustrations.

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!

Perfect Pairing: There’s a What???

Did you ever wonder what would happen if a wild animal suddenly appeared? As adults, it’s often difficult to set reality aside and consider the possibilities. But kids, and picture book creators who think like kids, can do so, as these fun picture books show!

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 There’s a Tiger in the Garden

 Author & Illustrator: Lizzy Stewart

Publisher/Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/2018 (originally published, Francis Lincoln Children’s Books/2016)

Ages: 4-7

Themes: imagination; intergenerational

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When Grandma says she’s seen a tiger in the garden, Nora doesn’t believe her. She’s too old to play Grandma’s silly games! Everyone knows that tigers live in jungles, not gardens.
So even when Nora sees butterflies with wings as big as her arm, and plants that try and eat her toy giraffe, and a polar bear that likes fishing, she knows there’s absolutely, DEFINITELY no way there could be a tiger in the garden . . .
Could there?

Read a review at Book Share Time.

 

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There’s a Walrus in My Bed!

Author & Illustrator: Ciara Flood

Publisher/Date: Andersen Press USA/2017

Ages: 4-8

Themes: bedtime; imagination; humor

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Flynn has longed for his first big boy bed, but now that it’s here, there’s one rather large problem: a walrus!

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because they are humorous examples of imaginative picture books that deal with kid-relatable life situations, and both have fun twist endings. In There’s a Tiger in the Garden, it’s Grandma who first mentions the possibility of the tiger, as well as other unusual creatures, in the garden to her bored granddaughter. Nora then meets these other creatures and this tiger – or is it a real tiger? In There’s a Walrus in My Bed, Flynn’s parents believe he is imagining the walrus to avoid sleeping in a new bed for the first time – until they don’t think so. I think kids and adults will enjoy the twist endings of both books. What unusual creatures are lurking in your home?

Looking for similar reads?

See There’s a Bear on My Chair (Ross Collins, 2016); There’s an Alligator under my Bed (Mercer Meyer, 1987).

Shiver Me Timbers – a Halloweensie Tale

It’s that time of year when I break from my usual routine of picture book reviews and perfect pairings and *gasp* treat you to a snippet of my own creativity (or maybe it’s a trick, to lure you to my blog). Without further ado, except a hearty thank you to Susanna Hill, our awesome contest host, and a quick recounting of rules, may I present

THE 8TH ANNUAL

HALLOWEENSIE CONTEST!!!

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~ FOR CHILDREN’S WRITERS ~

The Contest: write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (children here defined as 12 and under) (title not included in the 100 words), using the words shiver, cauldron, and howl.  Your story can be scary, funny, sweet, or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words and is 100 words (you can go under, but not over!)  Get it?  Halloweensie – because it’s not very long and it’s for little people 🙂

And now, my humble entry, at a mere 99 words:

Shiver Me Timbers

 

Howling winds rattled the windows. “Shiver me timbers!” cried Pirate Ann. “How can we trick-or-treat in this frightful weather?”

“Merlin, cast a spell!”

“Alakazam! Stormy weather please SCRAM!”

Thunder rumbled!

“Spider-Man, weave a cloud-catching web!”

Lightning flashed!

“Cat-Woman, Super-Girl, Batman: Help, please!”

Crash! Bang! Boom!

“Glinda, conjure a potion!”

Glinda stirred a steaming cauldron and chanted, “There’s no place like home.”

“Ahoy, mateys!” commanded Pirate Ann. “Abandon plans! No porch planks tonight! This crew can

~Dive for apple treasures;

~Carve pumpkins with cutlasses;

~Trick foolhardy souls who dare enter;

~Plunder sweet treats;

~Swig witch’s brew; and

~Celebrate Halloween…

                        INSIDE!”

 

 

 

PPBF – Sing to the Moon

I’ve reviewed a few books set in Africa, including, most recently, Cinderella of the Nile, but none set in Uganda – until today. The cover illustration beckoned. The gently rhyming text paired with detail-filled illustrations kept me reading, and re-reading. I hope you enjoy this Perfect Picture Book as much as I do!

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Title: Sing to the Moon

Written By: Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl

Illustrated By: Sandra van Doorn

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing/October 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: wishes; rainy day; intergenerational story; #ReadYourWorld; rhyming; family.

Opening:

If I had one wish, I would reach the stars, then ride a supernova straight to Mars! Jjajja tells me, “Sing to the moon,” and perhaps my wish will be granted soon.

Brief Synopsis:

On a rainy day in Uganda, a grandfather shares memories and stories with his grandson.

Links to Resources:

  • This story occurs in Uganda, a country in Africa; learn more about Africa and Uganda;
  • If you had one wish, what would you wish? Describe or draw a picture of what you wished;
  • In a note to readers, Isdahl asks if you’ve “ever been stuck at home on a rainy day.” Discover some rainy day activities;
  • The narrator’s grandfather in Sing to the Moon shares stories from his childhood. Ask a grandparent or an elderly relative, neighbor or family friend about her or his childhood.

Why I Like this Book:

Sing to the Moon is a heart-warming, intergenerational picture book that provides a window into life in Uganda, a country I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting. Told in gentle rhyme, Sing to the Moon begins with the young, unnamed narrator wishing for intergalactic adventure only to awaken to another dreary, rainy day. But is it? Not if Jjajja, the narrator’s grandfather, has his way. As the pair undertake mundane, everyday tasks, Jjajja recounts stories from his childhood. And as the day ends, “night adventures” begin. Jjajja reads stories of adventure, treasure, fables, and “African kingdoms.” But Jjajja keeps the best to last: His own storytelling followed by the stories of nature that surround us.

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Photograph of interior page from Sing to the Moon

Isdahl fills our journey through this rainy day with details of Ugandan life, and van Doorn’s soft, pastel illustrations contain further glimpses of Uganda, including local produce, vegetation and scenery. With soft blues throughout, sprinkled with flecks of night stars and splashes of bright color, van Doorn transports readers to Uganda and into the narrator’s dreams and his grandfather’s stories. Throughout, a small white dog appears on most every spread, a small detail that younger listeners, in particular, will enjoy spotting.

A Note about Craft:

Isdahl utilizes first-person point-of-view to relate the story, which brings an immediacy to the day’s events. Sharing first his fantastical wishes and then his disappointment at the reality of “the patter of rain”, clouds spreading “like a charcoal stain” and “hours with nothing to do”, the narrator sets the reader up for the “aha” moment, “[b]ut then” he hears Jjajja, his grandfather. The “meat” of the story follows: A shared romp through Jjajja’s memories and stories that transport the narrator far from the rainy day.

As mentioned above, Isdahl uses gentle rhyme to tell her story. Not only does the rhyming text provide momentum to transport the reader through this quiet day, but it’s also lulling, perfect for a bedtime read.

The title of Sing to the Moon appears twice in the text, once in the beginning and once at the end, as bookends to the day. We learn from the context that singing to the moon is a means of ensuring that wishes come true. I love that Isdahl chose this presumably Ugandan practice as her title – similar to the “wishing upon a star” with which I’m familiar, but rooted in the place where this story occurs.

Per the book jacket, Isdahl “was born in the US to Ugandan parents and works in international development in East and Southern Africa.” See interviews with her at the Brown Bookshelf and Mater Mea following the release of her debut picture book, Sleep Well, Siba and Saba (Lantana Publishing, UK/2017, US/2018), also set in Uganda and illustrated by French-native van Doorn, who lives and works in Australia. See more of van Doorn’s illustrations on her website.

UK-based Lantana Publishing “is a young, independent publishing house producing inclusive picture books for children.” Lantana’s books are distributed in the US and Canada by Lerner Publisher Services.

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! And I’ll be linking this post to a new, #ReadYourWorld initiative coming soon, Kids Read the World: Africa.