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PPBF – I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness

The weather tells me it’s summer in the northern hemisphere – a time of relaxation and rejuvenation for many. But the news feed is anything but relaxing, as we – adults and children, learn of families being torn apart, young children housed with strangers, and long-time allies acting and speaking more like enemies than friends.

The past few weeks I’ve reviewed multicultural fairy tales, as, I believe, we can uncover truths, make sense of the bad in the world, and gain empathy for others through these ancient, ever-evolving tales.

Today, I’m reviewing a book that’s written and illustrated in the US and doesn’t deal directly with refugees, war, or regions of the world affected by travel bans. But hopefully you’ll agree that, like fairy tales, this Perfect Picture Book will help you deal with the bad in the world and find and share peace.

9781419727016_s2Title: I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness

Written By: Susan Verde

Illustrated By: Peter H. Reynolds

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8, and older

Themes/Topics: mindfulness; meditation; self-care; peace

Opening:

There are times when I worry about what might happen next and what happened before.

Brief Synopsis: A young child expresses feelings of being worried and upset, and shows readers how to find peace.

Links to Resources:

  • Try the Guided Meditation that appears as an Afterword or is downloadable here;
  • Draw a peaceful scene. What colors do you use? Picture yourself in that place – why does it help you feel calm and happy?
  • Find, print, and photograph yourself or friends with downloadable peace signs.

Why I Like this Book:

A lyrical monologue, I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness is a “how to” guide to mindfulness, to “being fully engaged in the present moment,” experiencing our surroundings and feelings “without judgment, but with kindness and curiosity.” The nameless, genderless main character starts as a sad-faced worrier with thoughts rushing like water in a boat “being carried away.” But s/he pauses, reflects, steadies him or herself to focus on the “here” and “now.” As s/he finds peace, s/he is able to share kindness and make a difference.

I Am Peace is a quiet book that, I think, will appeal to kids and adults needing to calm down – whether from a tantrum, a hectic day at child care, camp or school, or from the news bombarding us constantly. I think its message of peace for oneself and for others is an important one, too. How often do we hear that we’ve done something wrong when, instead, the message should be “It’s alright”? So even if no one else says it, say it to yourself, let those worries go and be at peace.

Set against white backgrounds, Reynolds’ expressive illustrations show kids how they can make a difference, whether by feeding birds or by planting a tree. I especially love how they incorporate peaceful symbols. Per the copyright page, they were created with “ink, gouache, watercolor, and tea.”

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, Verde crafted her meditative text as a first-person monologue. I think this point of view promotes immediacy and lets the narrator, and reader, focus on his or her own feelings, without interruption from other characters.

The symbols in Reynolds’ illustrations include doves and peace signs worn on a necklace and hat. The peace signs, in particular, combined with the narrator’s style of dress, reminded me of the 1960s and the protest movements prevalent in my youth. This helped solidify the connection in my mind between promoting inner peace and peace in the world.

See a lovely review of I Am Peace by Patricia Tilton at Children’s Books Heal.

Visit Verde’s website to see more of her books, including The Water Princess, a collaboration with Reynolds, which I reviewed last year, and her upcoming collaboration with Reynolds, I Am Human: A Book of Empathy (Abrams Books for Young Readers, October 2018).

Read Reynolds’ blog post about I Am Peace and see more of his art on his website.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – La Princesa and the Pea

I’m keeping with the theme of fairy tales and princesses this week. Today’s Perfect Picture Book is a retelling that celebrates Peruvian handicrafts with a sprinkling of Spanish text. Enjoy!

9780399251566Title: La Princesa and the Pea

Written By: Susan Middleton Elya

Illustrated By: Juana Martinez-Neal

Publisher/date: GP Putnam’s Sons (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: bilingual (English/Spanish); rhyming; fairy tale

Opening:

There once was a prince who wanted a wife.

But not any niña would do in his life.

Brief Synopsis:

When a young princess arrives in a kingdom where a prince seeks a wife, his mother, the queen, tests her by placing a pea underneath several mattresses.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Glossary at the front of the book and then find the Spanish terms in this Word Puzzle;
  • In a Note from the Illustrator, Martinez-Neal explains that the textiles in the illustrations were inspired by the weaving & embroidery of indigenous people of Peru. Learn more about the Andean communities where alpaca wool is woven into blankets and clothing;
  • Add patterns and color to el Principé’s blankets;
  • Find more coloring and activity pages on Martinez-Neal’s website.

Why I Like this Book:

La Princesa and the Pea is a delightful retelling of this classic fairy tale, with a fun twist at the end. With Spanish terms scattered throughout, this rhyming text is fun to read, and reread.

Martinez-Neal’s warm, colorful illustrations that draw on Peruvian weaving and embroidery designs further the Latino feel of this retelling. I think kids will love looking for and counting the small animals on every page, including two alpacas, several guinea pigs, and most notably, a very grumpy-looking cat.

A Note about Craft:

Rhyming well in one language is difficult. Sprinkling Spanish text into the rhyme makes it that much more challenging, but such fun to read. Elya manages this feat well, and I’d argue, this is a story that benefits from the addition of rhyme.

Elya added the Spanish text to the story, but Martinez-Neal chose the distinct setting: an Andean kingdom. As Martinez-Neal explains in the Note from the Illustrator, the indigenous peoples of Peru practice different types of handicrafts, so she was able to clothe the prince and his mother in fuzzy, alpaca wool clothing, while the princess appears in lighter, embroidered clothing. I love how a fairy tale with a visitor from outside the kingdom lends itself to this adaptation, and how we, as readers, can learn a bit about the distinct native cultures still evident in Peru.

Finally, as Dora M. Guzmán pointed out in a review at Latinx in Kid Lit, the mother-son dynamic evident in Latinx culture works well with this fairy tale of a mother wanting nothing but the best for her son.

La Princesa and the Pea was the 2018 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award winner. See more of the illustrations and links to starred reviews on Juana Martinez-Neal’s website. You can also see more of her art by following her on Instagram.

Visit Susan Middleton Elya’s website to see some of her other bilingual picture books.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Cinderella of the Nile

Many of us in the US are heading out for the start of the summer holidays this weekend. And what better thing to pack than a good book, especially if that book transports us to a land far away and to a time long, long ago…

cinderellacover350Title: Cinderella of the Nile

Written By: Beverley Naidoo

Illustrated By: Marjan Vafaeian

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 or older

Themes/Topics: fairy tale; #ReadYourWorld; #OneStoryManyVoices; kindness; love

Opening:

Long, long ago when pirates roamed the seas around Greece, a beautiful baby girl was born in a village to the north. She had eyes like sapphires and fine red curls. The happy parents, who had waited many years for this child, called her ‘Rhodopis’ because her cheeks were so rosy.

Brief Synopsis:

In this retelling of an early Greek version of the Cinderella story, a kind-hearted young girl is transported to a land far from home. There she toils as a slave, until a new owner treats her as a daughter and gifts her red slippers, and a wife-seeking pharaoh falls in love with her.

Links to Resources:

  • Rhodopis traveled from northern Greece, to an island, to Egypt along the Nile River. Trace her journey on a map of the eastern Mediterranean Sea;
  • Read one or more of the Cinderella stories listed below. How are they the same? What’s different?
  • In a forward, One Story, Many Voices, Naidoo writes that “tales change when they are told and retold” as that is the “freedom of the storyteller.” Write your own Cinderella story.

Why I Like this Book:

Like many other young and not-so-young readers, I love fairy tales. I especially love seeing how versions differ across regions and eras, even as the story themes remain the same.

In Cinderella of the Nile, I found several aspects of the storyline that differed from the popular version of my youth. For instance, this story lacks an evil stepmother and a fairy godmother. Instead, Rhodopis begins life with loving parents in a simple village in northern Greece where she herds goats. Then, pirates kidnap her and she enters a life where slave traders and owners determine her fate. Interestingly, she starts life in Europe and ends up as a slave in Africa – opposite to the slave route that most slaves endured, and opposite to the route that many refugees and migrants now travel. The inclusion of piracy, slavery and the reversal of this route will, I think, lead to thought-provoking discussions, especially with older children.

In lieu of a fairy godmother, Naidoo includes a well-known storyteller/philosopher, Aesop, who befriends Rhodopis and counsels her to “bend, not break” when faced with difficulties. That and her kindness to various creatures lead to her meeting, and union with, the princely pharaoh.

The themes of Cinderella, the power of kindness, adapting to one’s circumstances, and love, shine through in Cinderella of the Nile. I think children also will enjoy seeing how this tale features characters of varying skin tones and ethnicities, how a noted storyteller, Aesop, plays a role in the outcome, and how kindness to all creatures benefits Cinderella, even without the flick of a magic wand or the transformation of a pumpkin into a carriage.

Vafaeian’s colorfully rich illustrations not only complement but complete Naidoo’s retelling. With her “fine red curls,” Rhodopis is a focal point of every illustration, standing out even among the vibrant flora and fauna that fill every page.

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Interior spread, reprinted from Tiny Owl’s website

I also love that Cinderella and her pharaoh are an interracial couple, as shown in the last gorgeous spread.

19-1024x587

Interior spread, reprinted from Tiny Owl’s website

A Note about Craft:

Cinderella of the Nile is the first of Tiny Owl Publishing’s One Story, Many Voices series, which showcases the universality of fairy tale themes as evident in many similar stories told by “voices from around the world” that reflect the circumstances of particular times and places. How would you rewrite the Cinderella story, or some other favorite fairy tale, to reflect where and when you live or to better include people like yourself?

Learn more about Carnegie Award-winning author Beverley Naidoo at her website and in this article about Cinderella of the Nile.

Iranian illustrator Marjan Vafaeian also illustrated The Parrot and the Merchant and Bijan & Manije.

Cinderella of the Nile was named one of 10 picture books that promote empathy by book reviewer Mamma Filz. A reviewer in The Telegraph noted how this Cinderella overcame adversity “without a fairy godmother or a fancy frock.”

Read Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story and Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella to see how this story changes at differing times and places, even as its themes remain universal.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – The Day War Came

As regular readers know, I’ve reviewed many picture books about the refugee experience published in the past few years. For World Refugee Day earlier this week, I posted about some of the picture books I’ve reviewed about the refugee and migrant experience in the Americas. Because in some countries, refugee-focused events span an entire week (see Refugee Week 2018), I couldn’t help but continue the theme and post a newly-published book about a refugee, that is, in my mind, a Perfect Picture Book:

9781406376326Title: The Day War Came

Written By: Nicola Davies

Illustrated By: Rebecca Cobb

Publisher/date: Walker Books/June 2018

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; empathy; social activism; free verse poetry

Opening:

The day war came there were flowers on the window sill and my father sang my baby brother back to sleep.

My mother made my breakfast, kissed my nose and walked with me to school.

Brief Synopsis:

When war arrives in the unnamed narrator’s town, she flees alone, but feels surrounded by war while a refugee, until the kindness of children enables her to experience some peace at last.

Links to Resources:

  • Draw a chair, perhaps like a favorite one from home or school. Does your picture have anyone sitting in the chair? Which do you like better – a picture of an empty chair or one with a friend or relative sitting in it?
  • The children in the narrator’s old and new schools are studying volcanos. Build a volcano;
  • The children in the narrator’s old and new schools draw birds. Why do you think birds are an important part of this story? Draw a favorite bird;
  • Try one or more of the 20 Simple Acts to learn more about refugees or to help them feel welcome in your school or community.

Why I Like this Book:

I don’t just like this book, I love it, as, in my mind, it captures the young refugee experience in its entirety. [Spoiler alert: despite reading many picture books about refugees, I cried when reading this one!]

In sparse, lyrical language, Davies captures a child’s heartbreak of being alone, of utter despair and desolation, not just as disaster strikes and rends life into a before and after, but as the young narrator searches for a new life in an unfamiliar land. Davies ends on a note of hope, not as the narrator arrives in this new country, but only when, at long last, she feels welcome there.

Several recent picture books capture the sense of loss when leaving a beloved homeland, like The Map of Good Memories. Others enable the reader to walk in the footsteps of those in flight, most notably The Journey and Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey. All end with hope of a new life, as in My Beautiful Birds.

What is hauntingly different with The Day War Came, is that the narrator is completely alone in her journey, with no parent, sibling, or even friend to cling to. We meet her as war obliterates her life in an instant: “war took everything, war took everyone.” We journey with her to what should be a safe place where, we’d like to believe, she will start to rebuild her life. Instead, though, she journeys and finds “war was in the way that doors shut when I came down the street.” Finding a school, she yearns to enter, but an unsmiling teacher explains,

There is no room for you, you see. There is no chair for you to sit on.

Linking the narrator’s experiences as war strikes to the hatred she encounters as a refugee will, I believe, cause readers to think how their actions affect refugees who may relocate to their communities and schools. This makes The Day War Came an important and timely book for classroom, church and family discussion.

Cobb’s illustrations are often two-page spreads, and they incorporate many grays depicting war and despair, interspersed with splashes of color. Like Davies’ text, the scenes are not geographically specific, which supports the sense of universality. They also appear, at times, to be drawn by a child, furthering Davies’ storytelling from the narrator’s point of view.9781406376326_INS_3-1024x430

A Note about Craft:

In many ways, war is almost a character in The Day War Came. I think Davies accomplishes this because, except in two instances late in the story, war appears without an article preceding it. Similar to death entering a home in Cry Heart, But Never Break, war accompanies the unnamed narrator on her journey, following her, invading her dreams, taking “possession of my heart.” That the story is told from first-person point of view and as the narrator is unnamed, bringing an “Everyman” feel to it, I think this encourages readers to think: how do my actions perpetuate war and hatred in the world? This hopefully encourages us to take the next step: to counter that hatred.

Davies utilizes several visual symbols that enable Cobb to expand on the story. In her old school, pictures of volcanos line the windows. In the new school, the children also learn about them. When war erupts, the fires in the city mimic volcanic explosions. The children at both schools draw birds – a symbol of flight. And the absence of a chair, like “no room at the inn,” resonates and provides a strong visual reminder of one step even a young child can take to welcome others. Check out the endpapers – a stunningly visual reminder of what one small action can accomplish.

Nicola Davies, an award-winning children’s author, originally published a version of The Day War Came in 2016 as a free verse poem in The Guardian newspaper, in reaction to the British government’s decision to turn 3,000 unaccompanied children away. See Davies’ blog post about writing the poem, publishing it, and the outpouring of illustrations of empty chairs that became the #3000chairs project on Twitter.

See more of Rebecca Cobb’s work here, and read an insightful interview with Cobb about the process of illustrating The Day War Came at Library Mice.

Walker Books is donating one pound from the sale of each book to helprefugees.org.

If you live in the US, The Day War Came is available now via The Book Depository, or Candlewick Press is publishing it in the US in September 2018.

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Picture Books that Explore the Refugee and Migrant Experience in the Americas for World Refugee Day 2018

In honor of #WorldRefugeeDay2018 and in solidarity with the “20 people [who] leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror” every minute (according to the United Nations), I’m posting this list of several Picture Books that I’ve reviewed in the past few years that illuminate the plight of those who flee their homes to seek refuge and that give voice to children separated from their parents due to immigration issues.

The refugee crisis is global, and several empathy-building Picture Books explore the refugee experience. This list focuses primarily on the Americas, however, as the events on the US border are uppermost today on my mind, and, I believe, on the minds of many parents, teachers and children trying to make sense of a senseless situation. Note: all links are to my reviews, which include resources to explore and discuss these issues further.

Please share in the comments other picture books that you’re reading about the refugee and migrant experience.

9780525428091_p0_v1_s192x300Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation

Written By: Edwidge Danticat

Illustrated By: Leslie Staub

Publisher/date: Penguin Young Readers Group/2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Opening: “When Mama first goes away, what I miss most is the sound of her voice.”

Brief Synopsis: When Mama is arrested and held in a women’s correctional facility because she lacks the correct immigration papers, young Saya misses her terribly. Mama records stories from her native Haiti for Saya while Papa writes letters to politicians and the media without success. Saya also writes a story that Papa sends to the local media, and that leads, ultimately, to the resolution of the problem.

9781554988501_1024x1024Somos como las nubes, We Are Like the Clouds
Written By:
 Jorge Argueta

Pictures ByAlfonso Ruano

Translated By: Elisa Amado

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Opening:

Somos como las nubes

Elefantes, caballos, vaca, cuches,/ flores,/ballenas,/ pericos.

Somos como las nubes.

We Are Like the Clouds

Elephants, horses, cows, pigs,/ flowers,/ whales,/ parakeets.

We are like the clouds.

Brief Synopsis:

In this bilingual (Spanish and English) poetry collection, Argueta explores the hopes and fears that cause young people to leave Central America, the perils of the journey, and the arrival to the United States.

 

9781419709579_p0_v1_s192x300Migrant

Written By: José Manuel Mateo

Illustrated ByJavier Martínez Pedro

Translated By: Emmy Smith Ready

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/ 2014 (Mexican edition: Ediciones Tecolote/2011)

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Opening:

I used to play among the roosters and the pigs. The animals roamed free, because in the village there were no pens, nor walls between the houses. On one side of the village were the mountains; on the other side, the sea.

Brief SynopsisIn this bilingual (Spanish and English) picture book, a young boy recounts his journey with his mother and sister from a small village in Mexico to Los Angeles, after the men of the village, including his father, are forced to move to find work.

 

9781419705830_p0_v2_s192x300Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Opening:

One spring the rains did not come and the crops could not grow. So Papá Rabbit, Señor Ram, and other animals from the rancho set out north to find work in the great carrot and lettuce fields. There they could earn money for their families.

Brief Synopsis:

When Pancho Rabbit’s father is delayed on his return from the north, Pancho sets out to find him, “helped” by a coyote who befriends and guides him, until the food runs out.

 

9780888999757_p0_v1_s118x184Migrant

Written By: Maxine Trottier

Illustrated ByIsabelle Arsenault

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2011

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes/Topics: Mennonites, Canada, Mexico, farming, migrant

Opening:

            There are times when Anna feels like a bird. It is the birds, after all, that fly north in the spring and south every fall, chasing the sun, following the warmth.

            Her family is a flock of geese eating its way there and back again.

Brief SynopsisMigrant is the story of Anna and her family, Mennonite farmers, who journey each summer to Canada to supplement their income by harvesting produce.

 

9780888995858_1024x1024Alfredito Flies Home

Written By: Jorge Argueta

Illustrated ByLuis Garay

Translated By:Elisa Amado

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2007

Suitable for Ages:4-9

Opening:

My name is Alfredo, just like my father, but everyone calls me Alfredito. I am as happy as a bird today because I’m going back home. Finally, after four whole years in San Francisco, my mother, Adela, my father, my grandmother Serve and I are going to climb on a plane tomorrow and fly back to El Salvador.

Brief Synopsis:

A young boy and his family who fled their home in El Salvador journey back to visit relatives and friends.

 

9781554987412_p0_v1_s192x300Two White Rabbits

Written By: Jairo Buitrago

Illustrated By: Rafael Yockteng

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-7 (per the publisher)

Opening:

When we travel, I count what I see. Five cows, four hens and one chucho, as my dad calls them.

Brief Synopsis: Like the two white rabbits of the title, a young girl and her father journey together trying to find a way to, and across, a border.

 

9781554518951_p0_v3_s192x300Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

Written By: Mary Beth Leatherdale

Illustrated ByEleanor Shakespeare

Publisher/date: Annick Press Ltd/2017

Suitable for Ages: 10-12

Opening:

At last, Ruth was free. She breathed a sigh of relief as she walked up the gangplank of the SS St. Louis. After trying to get out of Germany for two years, her family had finally secured passage on a ship headed to Havana, Cuba.

Brief SynopsisStormy Seas is a collection of five true stories about young people who fled their homelands by boat from World War II until today.

 

PPBF – Saffron Ice Cream

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is perfect in so many ways as we head into summer and as Muslims across the world celebrate Eid Al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan (the holy month of fasting).

saffron-ice-cream_1340_cTitle: Saffron Ice Cream

Written & Illustrated By: Rashin Kheiriyeh

Publisher/date: Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc./June 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigrant; moving home; summer; beach; ice cream; customs; friendship

Opening:

My name is Rashin. And this is my first trip to the beach!

Brief Synopsis:

A young girl remembers beach visits with her friend in Iran, as she and her family visit a beach in America for the first time, and she learns that while some things may differ in her new home, some pleasures remain the same.

Links to Resources:

  • Make and eat saffron ice cream;
  • Saffron is part of the saffron crocus (crocus sativus) and is the world’s most expensive spice. Discover other edible flowers;
  • Discover Iran, the birthplace of Rashin;
  • Visit a beach! Make a list of how it’s the same as or different from the beaches shown in Saffron Ice Cream.

Why I Like this Book:

The subject of Saffron Ice Cream, a family beach outing, can’t help but make anyone who reads it smile, especially as Rashin’s colorful illustrations are so joyful. Whether it’s a first beach day or the last of the summer, what child doesn’t love going to the beach and eating ice cream?

But Saffron Ice Cream is not just a romp at the beach. It’s also a window into life in Iran, an insightful exploration of cultural differences, and a story of how one act of kindness to welcome a stranger can lead to friendship.

Through her vibrant oil and acrylic illustrations, Rashin brings this story to life, making it one that families will want to read and reread.

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Reprinted from Rashin’s website

A Note about Craft:

Rashin focuses on a very kid-friendly topic, a favorite ice cream flavor, and uses that as a lens to explore universal themes: missing one’s homeland, cultural differences, welcoming newcomers, and friendship. I think food is a great lens to explore these themes, especially as saffron ice cream seems exotic to at least this reader.

Visit Rashin’s website to view more of her art. Kathy Temean interviewed Rashin on Illustrator Saturday in February 2017. Saffron Ice Cream is Rashin’s debut as author/illustrator in English. See my reviews of two of the many picture books that Rashin illustrated, Ramadan and Two Parrots.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World)

I first became aware of today’s Perfect Picture Book when I read a wonderful and thought-provoking review by Maria Popova in her online newsletter, Brain Pickings. Based on her review, I knew this was a book I had to read, and share with you!

9781592702206Title: Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World)

Written By: Henriqueta Cristina

Illustrated By: Yara Kono

Translated By: Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Publisher/date: Enchanted Lion Books/2017 (originally published in Portugal as Com 3 Novelos (O Mundo Dá Muitas Voltas) by Planeta Tangerina/2015)

Suitable for Ages: 3-9 (and older)

Themes/Topics: conformity; freedom of expression; refugees; creativity

Opening:

When I was eight years old, I lived in a warm, sunny country. It was also one where few children went to school.

My parents worried so much that lines appeared on their foreheads. They said words I didn’t understand. Words they whispered to each other, like: “Ignorance.” “Fear.” “War.” “Prison.”

One day I heard them say, “Exile.” The line on my father’s forehead deepened. The next day we left before dawn.

Brief Synopsis:

A family flees their homeland when life in a dictatorship becomes dangerous. They reach a country in which creativity and freedom of expression are non-existent, until they arrive and provide an example of how to combat conformity.

Links to Resources:

  • Try a kid-friendly type of knitting: finger knitting;
  • In search of freedom, the family in Three Balls of Wool travels from Portugal, to France, Algeria, Romania, and finally to Prague, in Czechoslvakia (today the Czech Republic). Trace their route on a map of Europe;
  • Learn in the Foreword about Amnesty International USA, which partnered with the publisher on Three Balls of Wool, learn the 20th century history of Portugal and the backstory of Three Balls of Wool in an Afterword, and view The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in an Afterword.

Why I Like this Book:

Through simple, kid-relatable words and images, Cristina and Kono bring understanding to the situations of refugees before and after they flee their homelands. In Three Balls of Wool, the young narrator notes some of the reasons the family left their home, including lack of education and worry expressed by parents through “lines” on foreheads and whispers about war and prison. But not only was their new home different, with a different language, it also was gray, cold and drab. All of the children wore only gray, green or orange sweaters, and “followed each other in an orderly way, almost as silent as the street lamps.”

While it’s the mother in Three Balls of Wool who conceived of a way to counter the drabness and conformity, she was inspired by the narrator’s braids, and the narrator and her brothers bravely wore the new sweaters to the park where initially a “strange silence” and everyone “staring” greeted them. But the narrator’s “voice grew stronger,” and in the final scene we learn that others followed the mother’s and children’s lead to express their individuality.

3_miolo23

reprinted from Planeta Tangeria

I think this very visual exploration of how to integrate some of one’s old life into a new situation and how to celebrate creativity over conformity will resonate with kids and give rise to interesting discussions about how newcomers integrate into a society, how their skills and creativity enrich their new homes, and how small steps can lead to positive change.

A Note about Craft:

Color and pattern are integral to Three Balls of Wool and its message of “being the change.” Cristina’s focus on a visual metaphor is an important reminder to focus on a kid-relatable element such as the monotone versus patterned pullovers. I also love that the metaphor of choice highlights the mother’s creativity and serves also as a subliminal metaphor for integration. Finally, Three Balls of Wool is based, per the Afterword, on the experiences of a family who fled Portugal during its dictatorship with its lack of education and inequality and settled in egalitarian, Communist Czechoslovakia. The imagery is a stark reminder that there was a price for this equality, but through creativity, change was possible there, too.

Per the book jacket, Cristina is a teacher who “likes to share stories” in her native Portugal. Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Kono is an award-winning illustrator and graphic designer at Planeta Tangerina, the original publisher of Three Balls of Wool. Enchanted Lion Books is “an independent, family-owned children’s book publisher based in Brooklyn, New York.”

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!