Category Archives: Uncategorized

PPBF – My Two Border Towns

A few weeks ago, I shared Yuyi Morales’ latest picture book, Bright Star, about the Sonoran borderlands between Mexico and the United States. Today’s Perfect Picture Book showcases the similarities, and differences, of two communities in a more urban area of the borderlands.

Title: My Two Border Towns

Written By: David Bowles

Illustrated By: Erika Meza

Publisher/Date: Kokila, an imprint of Penguin Random House/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: US-Mexico border, immigration, family, community

Opening:

Every other Saturday, my dad wakes me up early. “Come on, m’ijo,” he says. “Vamos al Otro Lado.”

Brief Synopsis: The narrator and his father cross from the US into Mexico to run errands.

Links to Resources:

  • Do you ever run errands with a parent? Where do you usually go and what do you do or purchase there?
  • Have you ever traveled across a border? Describe in words or pictures how you felt crossing from one state or country to another, and what seemed the same or different;
  • Check out the Teacher’s Guide for more ideas.

Why I Like this Book:

In My Two Border Towns, Bowles showcases the fluidity of the US-Mexican border for families with ties to both sides of the border, while offering a glimpse into the difficulties faced by those who find themselves unable to cross that border.

As the story opens, readers meet the young narrator and his father who, every other Saturday, cross the border to run errands in a sister town. Brightly colored and detailed illustrations show the similarities and differences between the two towns. The text, in English with Spanish terms sprinkled through, further indicates that this is one metropolitan area, with a border in the middle. As the narrator remarks about the Mexican town, it’s “a twin of the one where I live, with Spanish spoken everywhere just the same, but English mostly missing till it pops up like grains of sugar on a chili pepper.”

Breakfast in a favorite restaurant is followed by a trip to visit relatives in their jewelry store, a pick-up soccer match with primos (cousins), and icy treats from a paletero. All of this, and more, will show young readers that life on one side of the border or the other may not differ much – in so many ways, people everywhere are the same.

But from the beginning, there are clues to another reality: With the right passports, the narrator and his father are able to cross the border whenever they desire. Others, including friends the narrator has met during his frequent crossings, are not as fortunate. For these friends, the narrator purchases candies, and he shares beloved comics. Sadly, the friend’s “hair is longer than when we first met, almost six months back”, and the friend’s family relies on the generosity of people like the narrator and his father for necessities like food and medicine.

With its showcasing of these two realities, I think My Two Border Towns is a wonderful mixture of celebrating the richness of cultures in border communities while introducing the complexities of the border crisis.

A Note about Craft:

As noted above, Spanish terms are sprinkled throughout the text, which, I think, is further evidence of the close relationship among residents of these border communities.

Starting with the cover with its mirror images of the narrator sitting in front of the main shopping streets of these towns, Meza’s illustrations highlight many similarities and differences of these twin cities, and, I think, brilliantly capture the conflicting emotions that many people with ties to both sides of the border must feel.

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 – A Song of Frutas

Today is the last day of Hispanic Heritage month. I think you’ll agree that today’s Perfect Picture Book selection is a wonderful way to celebrate!

Title: A Song of Frutas

Written By: Margarita Engle

Illustrated By: Sara Palacios

Publisher/Date: Athenium Books for Young Readers/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: intergenerational, multicultural, Cuba

Opening:

When we visit Abuelo, I help him sell frutas. We sing the names of each fruit as we walk, our footsteps like drumbeats, our hands like maracas, shaking bright food shapes while we chant with a rhythm:

Mango limón coco melon naranja tononja plátano piña.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl visits her grandfather in Cuba and helps him sell fruit.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Cuba, the setting of this story;
  • What’s your favorite fruit? Why? Find out more about your favorite fruit, learn how to say the name of that fruit in Spanish or another language, and/or sing a song about your favorite fruit;
  • In Cuba and many other Spanish-speaking regions, people traditionally eat 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and make one wish per month for the coming year. Do you have a tradition in your family to celebrate the new year? Describe in words or pictures things you wish for – either for yourself, your family and friends, or the world;
  • Check out the Curriculum Guide for many more activity ideas.

Why I Like this Book:

With its rhythmic prose and detailed, colorful illustrations, A Song of Frutas is a delightful glimpse into the life of a Cuban fruit vendor and his young Cuban-American granddaughter. For those who have never encountered an open-air market or vendors who stroll the streets with fresh foods and other treats, this is a reminder that food doesn’t need to arrive shrink wrapped on large grocery shelves or bundled into bags on your doorstep. It’s also a reminder of the importance and dignity of the people who provide our nourishment, and the happiness that results when others view these vendors as important members of our community.

Engle’s lyrical text sprinkles in Spanish words seamlessly, much like a family with roots in one culture might continue to use those words or phrases when they move to a new land where another language is spoken. With the English phrase or word often following the Spanish one, or with the Spanish words next to illustrations of the items they identify, both of which happens here, Engle provides a wonderful opportunity for younger children to learn some Spanish.

In the story, the unnamed young narrator is visiting her beloved Abuelo and helping him sell frutas. I love that she finds pleasure in working with him and meeting all of the other vendors and customers. Not surprisingly, her favorite is “la ducera, a woman with the voice of an angel, who croons so sweetly in praise of los caramelos”. The love of chocolate and candies just may be universal!

While much of the story takes place during the visit in Cuba, Engle also reminds readers that travel between Cuba and the United States has not always been possible due to political reasons. A New Year’s Eve “wish is always friendship between countries, so that we can visit mi abuelo more often” and that he, perhaps, can visit the United States, too.

Rather than ending on this more somber note, Engle shows the young narrator and her abuelo exchanging letters, singing “rhymes back and forth…all our hopeful poems flying like songbirds who glide and soar through wild sky” sending hugs to each other until their next meeting.

With its Author’s Note that explains the Spanglish used in the text, to a brief explanation of travel restrictions, and an exploration of the singing vendors of Cuba and Cuban New Year’s eve traditions, A Song of Frutas is a wonderful resource for libraries and classrooms. It’s also a joyful read for families, especially for those that blend multiple cultures.

A Note about Craft:

As is evident from the opening lines, Engle’s use of lyrical language enables the text to sing, much like the narrator and her abluelo sing the fruit names.

A Song of Frutas is a work of fiction, but it’s clear that Engle, who is a Cuban American, clearly understands Cuban society and culture and draws on memories of her visits there to add rich details 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!

PPBF – Child of the Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua

Monday is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a day when we celebrate the first inhabitants of these lands. I can’t think of a more Perfect Picture Book to read this weekend.

Title: Child of the Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua

Written By: Gloria Amescua

Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2021

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes/Topics: indigenous peoples, Nahua, Mexico, art, biography

Opening:

A girl stared at the stars sprinkling the hammock of sky. Like many other nights she listened to the whisperings of the ancient Aztecs in the wind. She heard their xochicuicatl, their flower-song. She listened as the elders repeated tales their grandfathers had told. Tales their grandfathers’ grandfathers had told: how sacred streams and mountains protect them, how the Nahua lost their land to Cortés, the conqueror, and to the Spaniards who followed him.

She was Luz Jiménez, child of the flower-song people, the powerful Aztecs, who called themselves Nahua—who lost their land, but who did not disappear.

Brief Synopsis: A biography of Luz Jiménez, a Nahua girl in Mexico, who became a model for several important artists and a teacher, and who thereby helped preserve her people’s culture.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about the Aztecs, from whom the Nahua people descend;
  • Luz Jiménez served as a model for many artists, including Diego Rivera, a Mexican artist known especially for his murals. Try recreating a mural by Diego Rivera;
  • Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day;
  • Check out the rich back matter, with its Author’s Note, Artist’s Note, Timeline, Glossary, Notes and Bibliography.

Why I Like this Book:

In this rich biography, readers learn the story of Luz Jiménez, a little-known indigenous woman who became the face of the Nahua people by serving as a model for many artists. She also realized her dream of becoming a teacher, by sharing the stories of her youth, native crafts, and the Nahuatl language with anthropologists and university students. I love that readers learn so much about traditional Nahua life and culture in this book. From the legends Luz grew up listening to, to the skills she learned as a girl, including grinding corn, twisting yarn, and weaving, readers experience Luz’s life in the early twentieth century.

Readers also experience this culture through Tonatiuh’s detailed and signature-style artwork that features side-profile humans and glimpses of Nahua legends in the landscape. He also shared in the Artist’s Note that he found inspiration in the “works of art for which Luz Jiménez modeled”.

We also learn, though, that the Mexican government required Nahua children to learn Spanish in school, as “the descendants of the Spanish who ruled the country” sought “to turn the native children into modern ones”. I found this tragically similar to the stories about residential schools for indigenous children in Canada and the United States.

In addition to learning so much about the Nahua peoples and their history in Mexico, readers also discover how young Luz had a dream, a dream to attend school and become a teacher. Although the school she attended was not one that included lessons about her native culture, and although she never taught children in her beloved home village, she did become a teacher – a guide to her culture and a university instructor sharing the Nahuatl language. I love how this shows young readers to hang on to their dreams, and to adapt them to life’s circumstances when necessary.

I also love how Luz broke with tradition, becoming a model for artists, to help preserve her native culture and traditions. In the Author’s Note, Amescua shares that Luz “never told her mother about her modeling work” as it “wasn’t something that Nahua women typically did.” Only by breaking norms did she preserve them – what an important action to discuss with kids.

I believe that Child of the Flower-Song People is a wonderful resource for classroom discussions. Note that it includes a reference to the death of Luz’s father at the hands of government soldiers, it has a fairly large word count, and it includes more historical details than many picture books. It clearly is targeted to the upper end of the picture book market.

A Note about Craft:

In the Author’s Note, Amescua shares that she first learned of Luz’s story in a pamphlet announcing a symposium about her at the University of Texas. Although Amescua missed attending that symposium, the story stayed with her, and years later, she researched and wrote this picture book biography.

“Flower-song”, part of the title and an image that runs through the book, derives from the Nahuatl word for poetry, xochicuicatl, “the flower and the song”. In the Author’s Note, Amescua shares that she uses “the term ‘flower-song’ to represent the Nahua spirit in Luz and the Nahua people.”

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 – Bright Star

A favorite author/illustrator released an eagerly-awaited, new picture book earlier this month. With its focus on the borderlands, an area much in the news recently, I think this is a Perfect Picture Book. I hope you agree!

Title: Bright Star

Written & Illustrated By: Yuyi Morales

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Holiday House/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: borderlands, wildlife, family, barriers, connections, empowerment

Opening:

Child, you are awake!

Breathe in, then breathe out, hermosa creatura.

You are ALIVE!

You are a bright star inside our hearts.

Brief Synopsis: A fawn born in the borderlands desert takes its first exploratory steps, and, faced with a barrier, learns to make its voice heard.

Links to Resources:

  • When we think of borders and/or barriers between countries or regions, we generally think about the people who are prevented from crossing. Why do you think Morales focuses on a fawn that confronts a border wall?
  • Learn about the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert;
  • View a video in which Morales discusses the making of Bright Star;
  • Check out the Educators Guide for discussion questions and more, and the Event Kit for activity ideas.

Why I Like this Book:

With gorgeous mixed-media artwork and limited text using both English and Spanish, Morales transports readers to the Sonoran desert borderlands. There, readers witness the birth of a curious white-tailed fawn. We experience the sense of wonder it feels exploring this seemingly austere, desert landscape that is filled with cacti, other desert plants, and many native animals, birds, and insects.

When the fawn encounters a huge wall that precludes further progress on its journey to find water, it lets the world know how it feels by shouting out, “NO!” Thankfully, the earth protects the young fawn and the other creatures with a soothing rain shower, enabling it to “imagine a new story” of “the most beautiful world.” This world is filled with young children of a variety of soft brown hues, wearing colorful clothing that references the desert creatures.

An omniscient voice, like a caring mother, prods the fawn to explore, to overcome fear, and to listen to the surrounding silence. I love the gentle tone of the text and the reassurance this narrator imparts to the story.

In an afterword, Morales explains why she made the book. First in the list, “I made this book because you and I are connected”. These connections are very apparent throughout the text and most especially in the illustrations. The details, including the use of woven and embroidered cloth and a photograph of the arm of a young child at the border “used for the color and texture of the children’s skin” in the book, show the care, and love, Morales is sharing with the children at the borderlands and with us, the readers.

With its detailed illustrations, low word count, and message of community and caring for each other, Bright Star is a wonderful picture book to share with younger children. Because it raises so many questions about how we treat others, including the natural world, at the borderlands, I think this is also a wonderful choice for classroom and home discussion with older children.

A Note about Craft:

In another of the statements about why she created Bright Star, Morales stated that she “made this book knowing that children everywhere, but especially migrant children at the borderlands, have experienced things that they should never have to endure.” But rather than concentrating solely on these atrocities, which would be a difficult topic for young children to read about, Morales introduces readers to the beauty of the borderlands, the diverse flora and fauna, and the beautiful faces of young children. And while the wall that divides the borderlands plays a prominent role in the story, the young fawn uses its voice to shout “NO!” and then listens to the wisdom of the soothing silence. In the end, Morales leaves readers hopeful that communities will use their voices to reunite the peoples and natural world of the borderland.

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 – Anita and the Dragons

Regular readers know that I love stories that feature moving house, especially when they involve international moves. I recently read a new picture book about a move from the Dominican Republic to the United States that I think you’ll agree is a Perfect Picture Book!  

Title: Anita and the Dragons

Written By: Hannah Carmona

Illustrated By: Anna Cunha

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing/2021

Suitable for Ages: 3+

Themes/Topics: emigration, imagination, bravery, moving

Opening:

Today is the day I will meet the dragons – large winged beasts who will carry me away. For years, I have watched the dragons high above me as I play, hopping from one cement roof to another. Their snarls shake the gravel roads.

But being the valiant princesa I am, I never let them scare me!

Brief Synopsis: Anita, a young girl with a vivid imagination, prepares to emigrate from her native Dominican Republic.

Links to Resources:

  • Anita and her family live in the Dominican Republic. Learn more about this Caribbean country;
  • Anita describes airplanes as dragons. How are airplanes like dragons? How are they different? Draw a picture of an airplane, a dragon, or a dragon airplane;
  • Reread the opening lines, “Today is the day I will…” What will you do today to overcome a fear, complete a task, or fulfill a dream?
  • Check out a few other activities and coloring sheets here.

Why I Like this Book:

With courage and imagination, Anita, a young Dominican princesa, prepares to enter the belly of a dragon with her family and fly to a new home. I love how Anita portrays the airplanes that fly overhead as dragons, dragons that she will conquer. I think kids will relate to her worldview and plucky spirit. Those with siblings will enjoy how she dismisses her brother for questioning that they live in a palace, stating simply that she would never allow “a toad like you inside my walls”.

Those who have faced new situations will understand the physical manifestations of fear, the sweat, the clenched stomach, clammy hands, and a “rock the size of my fist” landing “with a plunk in the empty pit of my stomach.” Despite this fear, despite the necessity of saying goodbye to beloved family members and their island home, Anita and her family bravely “stand strong”, entering the beast’s belly to journey towards “new adventures”.

I love how the focus of Anita and the Dragons is on the courage and strength Anita displays as she and her family leave the beloved familiar and journey into the great unknown. Because Anita is such a strong character, I felt no doubt by story’s end that she would conquer her new homeland and establish a new palace there, one befitting a true princesa.

The beautiful pastel illustrations evoke Anita’s island homeland while a stylized illustration of an airplane makes clear that the family is journeying to the United States.

Anita and the Dragons is a wonderful choice for classroom and family reading with its many opportunities to discuss the differences between island life and life in an American city and ways we can overcome our fears to embrace new adventures.

A Note about Craft:

From the assertive first line, “Today is the day I will meet the dragons”, to the hopeful ending with its promise of “new adventures,” Carmona has crafted a picture book that showcases a strong main character overcoming her fears. I think by analogizing the airplanes to dragons, an image I think many kids will relate to, and by characterizing Anita as a brave princesa, a character I think many kids will want to emulate, Carmona shows readers that they, too, can adapt to change, even a major change like an international move. I also think it’s refreshing that Carmona highlights the positives of Anita’s life in the Dominican Republic and some things that await them in the United States. Finally, Carmona includes a scene in which Anita vows that she will return to “my island”, that she “will see you again.” I think this accurately reflects the experience of those who emigrate but hold their place of origin in their hearts and, when able, return home, even if simply to visit.

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 – Mexique: A Refugee Story from the Spanish Civil War

A month ago, I, like many in the world, watched in disbelief and horror as scenes of refugees fleeing Afghanistan unfolded across our television screens, social media feeds, and in newspaper articles. One article, in particular, caught my attention: a few of the major US newspapers turned to what I thought was an unlikely source for help in evacuating Afghan coworkers: the Mexican government. And then I remembered this Perfect Picture Book sitting on my nightstand, waiting for me to reread and review it. It turns out that Mexico has a history of helping those from afar seeking refuge.

Title: Mexique: A Refugee Story from the Spanish Civil War

Written By: María José Ferrada

Illustrated By: Ana Penyas

Translated By: Elisa Amado

Publisher/Date: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers/2020, originally published in Spanish by Alboroto Ediciones, Mexico/2018

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: refugees, Spanish Civil War, hope, resilience

Opening:

At night I close my eyes and feel the waves beating. I think they are saying something to the ship. Mexique. That’s what it is called. Do the waves know that? Does the sea keep the names of all the ships?

Brief Synopsis: The story of one ship filled with 457 children of Spanish Republicans in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about the Spanish Civil War;
  • Have you ever traveled anywhere without your parents or siblings? How did you feel?
  • Learn about Spain and Mexico;
  • Learn more about the Mexique and the Spanish Civil War in the Afterword.

Why I Like this Book:

In sparse, poetic language, told from the viewpoint of one of the children on the boat, Ferrada relays the story of the departure of the refugee ship Mexique from Europe and its arrival in Mexico.

The children aboard were the offspring of Spanish Republicans who sought a place of safety for them to wait out the few months of a war about which many of us know little, if anything. But that war, readers learn in the Afterword, lasted longer than a few months. General Franco and his followers won that war, Spain was left hungry and in ruins, and the Spanish Republicans were persecuted by the victors. World War II quickly followed the Spanish Civil War. Afterwards, General Franco continued to rule with an iron fist until the 1970s. Many of the Mexique’s passengers never returned to Spain.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Thankfully, this picture book ends with the arrival of the children in Mexico, a place, as I mentioned above, that many of us in the United States generally don’t view as a place of refuge. During the journey, older girls befriended younger children, becoming the “sisters we didn’t have before.” The children sang, played at being soldiers, cried, and imagined where they were going. White handkerchiefs that looked “like stars or flowers” waving in the wind greeted the children. The children brought “the war in our suitcases”. But the story ends on a hopeful note, with those children still believing it would be only three or four months until their return to their families in Spain, like “summer vacation, only longer.”

Many of Penyas’ primarily black-and-white illustrations appear as panels, graphic-novel style, often across wordless two-page spreads. Several of the more difficult scenes, like leaving family and friends, scenes of war, and scenes of the difficult crossing, appear only in the illustrations.

Because Mexique ends on a hopeful note, because it illuminates a war and a period of history about which many of us know little, and because it highlights the generosity of our neighbors to the south and offers a new perspective for many about Mexico, I think this is an important picture book for classroom and home reading.

A Note about Craft:

The story of over 400 children leaving their homes and relatives behind is a difficult topic to share with children. But by focusing on the passengers of one ship and by using first person point-of-view, I think Ferrado helps readers empathize with the young refugees and eperience the hope they felt when they reached Mexico.

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 – Grandpa Across the Ocean

This Sunday, we celebrate Grandparents Day in the United States. I think today’s Perfect Picture Book is a wonderful way to celebrate the bonds that unite grandparents and grandchildren, wherever they live. I hope you agree!

Title: Grandpa Across the Ocean

Written & Illustrated By: Hyewon Yum

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: intergenerational, Asian-Americans, Korea, grandparents

Opening:

My Grandpa lives on the other side of the ocean. Where Grandpa lives, it smells strange. It sounds strange.

Brief Synopsis: There might be many differences between a Grandpa and his grandson who speak different languages and live on opposite sides of an ocean, but many things unite them, too.

Links to Resources:

  • Cook a meal with an elderly relative or family friend that includes a favorite dish of theirs and yours;
  • Celebrate Grandparents Day with these fun activities;
  • Learn about South Korea, the setting for this story.

Why I Like this Book:

In Grandpa Across the Ocean, Yum uses kid-relatable examples to show the differences between the Korean grandpa and his visiting American grandson. In addition to the language barrier, readers learn that Grandpa eats yucky foods, watches news programs instead of cartoons, and “naps all the time in his chair”. And the only toy in the house, a ball, ends up crashing into Grandpa’s potted plants, causing a big mess. What child can’t relate to that?

Like the unnamed grandchild, young readers will expect Grandpa to react with sorrow and anger. My guess is that many adults will share that expectation. But instead, this mishap leads to greater understanding between Grandpa and the boy of the similarities that unite them. I love that many of these occur in nature.

Yum’s colorful colored pencil illustrations complement and further the text. I particularly enjoyed a two-page spread featuring Grandpa and the boy, in matching hats at the beach, accompanied by the perceptive text, “We watch the waves come and go. They look just like the waves on the other side of the ocean.” How true! And certainly something we all should remember, whether we’re thinking about barriers separating family members or even separating strangers.  

A Note about Craft:

On the jacket flap, readers learn that Yum was born and raised in South Korea, but now resides in New York. Like the mother in this story, she spends part of each summer in South Korea with her own children so that they can spend time with their grandparents. Clearly she has mined these experiences to craft 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!

PPBF – 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag

I’m happy to be sharing a recently published picture book that I had the good fortune to win from the wonderful crew at Kidlit 411 earlier this summer.* I knew when it arrived in the mail that I wanted to save my review of it until now, as we reflect on the events of September 11th, on its 20th anniversary.

Title: 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag

Written By: Amanda Davis

Illustrated By: Sally Wern Comport

Publisher/Date: WorthKids, an imprint of Hachette Book Group/2021

Suitable for Ages: 5-8+

Themes/Topics: 9/11, American flag, hope, community, healing, non-fiction

Opening:

On September 11, 2001, New York City was attacked. Two planes were flown into the World Trade Center. The Twin Towers collapsed, and thousands of people lost their lives.

It was a tragic day in America’s history.

Brief Synopsis:

The story of an American flag that flew at Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11, that became tattered and torn, and that was repaired by people coming together in a journey through all 50 states.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Back Matter, including a link to the national 911 flag website;
  • For the 20th anniversary of 9/11, 30,000 Stitches embarked on a tour of many of the places where the 9/11 Flag was stitched. Click on reflections from some of the many people who helped repair the Flag in this Voices from the Flag Tour;
  • Learn more about the American Flag.

Why I Like this Book:

It’s not easy writing a feel-good, hope-filled story about a tragedy, but this is exactly what Amanda Davis has done in 30,000 Stitches.

Although the story begins on that fateful day 20 years ago, readers’ attention quickly is drawn to the flag that construction workers hung over Ground Zero in the aftermath of the bombing. From there, readers learn that the flag became “Torn. Tattered. Tired.” It was stored away, where it languished until a tornado destroyed a town in Kansas several years later.

A team from New York volunteered to help rebuild that town, and town residents asked that they bring along something from the World Trade Center for a new memorial park. But instead of placing the ragged flag in the park, the residents repaired the 9/11 Flag.

As Davis notes, “a grand idea was born.” The Flag would journey to all 50 states, where in ceremonies, new stitches and new pieces of fabric would join together to fully restore the flag. From World War II veterans in Hawaii, to members of Martin Luther King Jr.’s family in Georgia, and many places in between, the flag and a team of volunteers crisscrossed the nation as the fabric of America united to commemorate the victims of 9/11 and showcase the strength, hope, and unity of our nation.

I love how Davis weaves sewing terms throughout the text. And in her collaged illustrations, Comport includes stitches that bring to mind the 30,000 stitches that Americans in each of the 50 states used to restore the Flag. One two-page spread tracks the journey across a multi-colored map of the US, with the journey indicated by stitches and the locations of the restoration ceremonies indicated by Xs. A single sentence accompanies the map: “The flag wove its way across America—crisscrossing borders, cross-stitching lives.” I love the image those words convey.

I think children and their adults reading 30,000 Stitches will gain not only a greater understanding of the postscript to the 9/11 tragedy, but a better appreciation of the importance of national symbols, like our Flag, and of communities rallying to overcome tragedy.

A Note about Craft:

As Davis relates in an Author’s Note, she first learned about the 9/11 Flag and its journey to rebirth while searching for an art project for her high school students to commemorate “the lives lost on that tragic day” and that “also focused on the strength and unity that America displayed” afterwards. She discovered the National 9/11 Flag, and its story wouldn’t leave her. In addition to basing an art lesson on it, she crafted this story, weaving in many sewing terms and a refrain-like tag line, “The fabric of America…” In the end, readers learn, “The fabric of America endures.”

*I received a copy of 30,000 Stitches in a contest, with no expectation, nor requirement, of reviewing it. The opinions expressed are purely my own, and they are not predicated on receiving a copy 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 – This Very Tree

I think most adults can tell you where they were twenty years ago on 11 September 2001. I was living in upstate New York at the time, but my first career, in the mid and late 1980s, was on Wall Street in lower Manhattan. My husband and I commuted by train from suburban New Jersey, arriving each morning to the bowels of the Trade Center, riding a long escalator to ground level, and then walking to our offices.

On 9/11, I thought back to our neighbors and friends who commuted with us, some of whom brought babies and toddlers to a wonderful day care center in the area. Many of our former colleagues still worked in the area (thankfully, no one we knew was in the Towers that day, although some witnessed the tragedy first hand). So when I saw this new picture book, I knew I had to read and review it.

Title: This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth

Written & Illustrated By: Sean Rubin

Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: 9/11, World Trade Center, New York City, Survivor Tree, resilience, tragedy

Opening:

In New York City there once stood two towers. For a time, they were the tallest buildings in the world. Below the towers was a busy plaza.

That’s where I was planted.

Brief Synopsis: A pear tree that had lived on the plaza between the twin towers of the World Trade Center describes 9/11 and lives to experience the rebirth that followed.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about the history of the World Trade Center, 9/11, and the Survivor Tree in the back matter;
  • Read E.B. White’s lines quoted from Here is New York (1949) about This Very Tree that must be saved (appears as a foreword). Why do you think E.B. White thought a particular willow tree was worthy of saving? Why do you think the pear tree from the World Trade Center plaza was worth saving?
  • Do you have a favorite tree or other plant? What is it about that plant that you like? Draw a picture of that tree or plant.

Why I Like this Book:

Told from the point-of-view of a Callery pear tree, This Very Tree recounts the story of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City and the rebirth of the surrounding area afterwards. Because of the large loss of life, the horror of the circumstances, and the feelings of vulnerability and distrust that followed, the 9/11 attacks are perhaps the most difficult of topics for a picture book. But by focusing on a tree, a tree that survived the attacks, thrived afterwards, and returned to the very plaza to offer solace and hope, I think Rubin has rendered this tragedy accessible to kids.

I love how Rubin includes so many natural features in the illustrations. Birds flit in and out of many spreads, including a dove that nested in the tree’s branches that first spring after the attacks. I also love how Rubin juxtaposes the regrowth of the tree with the building of the Freedom Tower. And when the tree returns to the newly rebuilt plaza, it isn’t the only tree gracing the concrete plaza. Rather, it’s surrounded by a forest of other trees, there to help this tree feel stronger and less afraid.

By sharing the tree’s thoughts and fears, Rubin casts the tree in the role of a trauma survivor. It voices the emotions that all of us feel when we think about 9/11, which, I think, will help adults who experienced this tragedy discuss it with children. That the story ends with the reminder that the tree’s blossoms signal spring’s arrival enables us to feel hopeful, that a tragedy like this never occurs again.

A Note about Craft:

As someone who reviews many picture books dealing with difficult topics, I’m always interested to figure out how authors and illustrators depict tragic events without terrifying children or leaving them feeling hopeless. By focusing on a tree that survived the destruction of the towers and still graces the plaza at the new 9/11 Memorial, I think Rubin manages to turn this story of a tragedy to one focused on rebirth and hope.

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 – Be A Tree!

The end of summer is nearing, at least in my neck of the woods. Although the temperatures remain high, the sunflowers are past their prime. School buses search out new routes, and my inbox is filled with “Back to School” promotions. Before we turn the corner to fall, I think it’s the perfect time to be out exploring the natural world, or reading about it, don’t you?

Title: Be A Tree!

Written By: Maria Gianferrari

Illustrated By: Felicita Sala

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 and up

Themes/Topics: trees, community, strength, free verse poetry, environment, cooperation

Opening:

Be a tree!

Stand tall.

Stretch your branches to the sun.

Brief Synopsis: A comparison of trees and people, showing our strengths and need for community.

Links to Resources:

  • If you were a tree, what type would you like to be? Draw a picture of your favorite type of tree;
  • Take a walk and check out the different species of trees that grow in your community;
  • Check out the Back Matter that includes an author’s note, five ways you can help save trees, how you can help in your community, anatomy of a tree, and further resources.

Why I Like this Book:

Using lyrical language, Gianferrari explores the similarities between people and trees. Like trees, we have an outer layer. Our spines are a trunk, giving us shape. At our tops, we have crowns of leaves or hair.

Like people, readers learn, trees communicate and help each other “share food, store water, divide resources, alert each other to danger.” Trees create, as it were, a “wood wide web of information”.

Gianferrari shows that both people and trees are stronger when they live in communities. A fold out spread shows diverse groups of people and various animals enjoying the shade of many different types of trees. A final spread featuring people of different races, ethnicities, ages, and abilities drives home the point that when we live in harmony with one another, as trees do, we are stronger, like a forest.

I really love how Gianferrari’s sparse language encourages kids, and their adults, to draw similarities between ourselves and such an important part of our natural surroundings. I also love the overarching message that we’re all better off when we take care of each other.

Sala’s watercolor, goache, and colored pencil illustrations include sweeping vistas of many types of trees and forests, and anatomical close-ups.

Be A Tree! is an engaging read-aloud and fact-filled book for school and home libraries.

A Note about Craft:

In Be A Tree! Gianferrari uses strong verbs to exhort readers, whom she addresses directly, to picture themselves as trees, to act as trees, and to live in a community that includes humans and nature. I love the analogies between tree and human anatomy. I also love the metaphor of people being part of a forest, a community that is better together.

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!