Category Archives: Uncategorized

PPBF – Sleep Well, Siba & Saba

I’m keeping with the back-to-school theme this week, as I always think of school in September. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that they both start with the letter S, as do the names of the main characters of today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Sleep Well, Siba & Saba

Written By: Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl

Illustrated By: Sandra van Doorn

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing Ltd./2017

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: school, lost possessions, dreams, #ReadYourWorld

Opening:

Siba and Saba lost things. Not a day slipped by when the sisters hadn’t lost something…somewhere.

Brief Synopsis: Two sisters in Uganda dream of items they’ve lost each day, until one day their dreams are of the future.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover Uganda, in central Africa, the setting for this story;
  • Have you ever lost something? What did you do? Describe or draw something you’ve lost. Did you find it? How did you feel?
  • Describe or draw a dream you’ve had.

Why I Like this Book:

With its two loving sisters and snippets of their lives in Uganda, Sleep Well, Siba & Saba acts as a window into a place and lifestyle that many of us probably may never experience. As the story begins, the reader learns that the two sisters constantly are losing things, like scarves and shoes, everything except what really matters: each other. Each night, the sisters dream of the items they’ve lost. Often these dreams incorporate colorful scenes from Uganda, including the savannah and landmarks like Sipi Falls and Ssese Islands.

But one night, the girls’ dreams turn from past lost items to the future, including, for Saba, a new school uniform. In the final spread, the sisters encounter a signpost with several international cities, Mount Everest and the moon featured – as they dream of the future, who knows what they’ll see.

I love the positivity of this story. Incorporating Ugandan phrases and names and utilizing lyrical language, Sleep Well, Siba & Saba transported me into their fantasy-filled world. I especially loved the whimsical and colorful illustrations filled with the fabrics, wildlife and plants native to Uganda. And I think younger children will enjoy finding their pet dog in most scenes. Even she dreams of future treats!

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, Isdahl includes Ugandan phrases, names, and landmarks to place us in the story. Van Doorn furthers this by including sweeping savannahs and colorful fabrics throughout the spreads. By incorporating dreams and fantastical illustrations, I think the author and illustrator heighten the sense that we’re visiting a unique world where dreams, in fact, come true. That a school uniform is part of that dream shows, I think, that education is the way for Siba and Saba, and all readers, to reach their goals – even the moon.

Sleep Well, Siba & Saba is Isdahl’s debut picture book. Isdahl, an American-born writer of Ugandan descent who now lives and works in Africa, is also the author of Sing to the Moon, illustrated by van Doorn. View more of van Doorn’s illustrations at her website.

Lantana Publishing is an independent UK publisher, “an award-winning social enterprise with a mission to see all children reflected in the books they read.”

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

Perfect Pairing – for a Cloudy Day

I found these two new picture books sitting on a shelf near each other in the Children’s Room at the New York Public Library. Perhaps it was a hint that they’d make a perfect pairing?

Lola Shapes the Sky

Author: Wendy Greenley

Illustrator: Paolo Domeniconi

Publisher/Date: Creative Editions/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: clouds, imagination, creativity, weather, acceptance

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A cloud with a mind of her own and a gift for making awe-inspiring shapes encourages her friends to go beyond their practical functions and expand their imaginative horizons.

Read a review by Julie Rowan-Zoch.

Picture the Sky

Author & Illustrator: Barbara Reid

Publisher/Date: Scholastic Canada/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: sky, clouds, environment, emotions, art, weather

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In this companion to the bestselling Picture a Tree, Barbara Reid has us look up . . . way up

Wherever we may be, we share the same sky. But every hour, every day, every season, whether in the city or the forest, it is different. The sky tells many stories: in the weather, in the clouds, in the stars, in the imagination. Renowned artist Barbara Reid brings her unique vision to a new topic – the sky around us. In brilliant Plasticine illustrations, she envisions the sky above and around us in all its moods.

Picture the sky. How do you feel?

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because they both encourage readers to imaginatively look up at the sky, and find magic in the clouds. But while the folks down on the ground are the main characters of Picture the Sky, the clouds, and in particular, Lola, take center stage in Lola Shapes the Sky.

PPBF – Where Are You From?

Who hasn’t heard the question that forms the title of today’s Perfect Picture Book? I have vivid memories of the first weeks at university when this question could be heard in every classroom, corridor and dormitory. I probably asked it myself. But when a classmate mimicked my accent and posed the question, I confess to wondering if I truly belonged and feeling rather hurt. Luckily, today’s Perfect Picture Book exists to help those now facing that question.

Title: Where Are You From?

Written By: Yamile Saied Méndez

Illustrated By: Jaime Kim

Publisher/Date: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: identity, self-acceptance, family, intergenerational, multicultural

Opening:

Where are you from? they ask.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl asks her Abuelo, “Where am I from?”

Links to Resources:

  • Ask older relatives for information about your family history;
  • Create a family tree. Be creative – it doesn’t need to be an actual tree. Our family used flower petals to feature each person in our immediate family. You could use other shapes to highlight features that define each person (sports equipment, animal shapes, etc). Check out some other ideas here or use this printable tree with spaces to include family names and/or pictures.

Why I Like this Book:

In lyrical text, Where Are You From? explores a question that troubles children of mixed heritage who seek to understand why their skin tone or hair or language may be different from those around them. Interestingly, the unnamed narrator asks the question of her Abuelo, not because she notices the differences, but because others ask her, questioning whether she belongs.

I think all children wonder where they’re from, but for children whose features differ in some way from others in their school or community, this is an especially important issue. Thankfully, the young narrator has a wise grandfather who understands his granddaughter’s concerns and reassures her of her family’s love.

Kim’s rich illustrations provide a colorful accompaniment to Méndez’ text, as Abuelo describes the places of origin of the narrator’s ancestors.

A Note about Craft:

In Where Are You From?, Méndez utilizes first person point-of-view, which helps make the story seem more personal. But interestingly, the title and first lines indicate that the narrator reacts to the words of those around her. By using a question as the title and including “you” in that question, Méndez also draws readers into the story and may make them consider their own family or cultural background. It may also help them realize the hurt they cause when they pose this question to someone who differs somehow from the group.

Check out Méndez’ website to see more of her books. See more of Kim’s work at her website. There’s also a Spanish-language version of this picture book.

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

 

PPBF – Out of this World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington

When I read a recent article about the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book and realized that she, like so many other artists, fled Europe and the Nazis during World War II, I knew that I had to find, and review, this new picture book biography.

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Title: Out of this World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington

Written By: Michelle Markel

Illustrated By: Amanda Hall

Publisher/Date: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: biography, female artist, surrealism, refugee

Opening:

Leonora’s parents wanted her to be like every other well-bred English girl.

But she was not.

At the age of four, Leonora started scribbling on the walls, then on paper, and soon the pictures came flooding out….

Brief Synopsis: The biography of Leonora Carrington, an English artist who created colorful, fantasy-filled art featuring strong females.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about surrealism and try creating your own surrealistic artwork;
  • Carrington’s art features strong females. Think of a woman that you consider strong (either someone you know or someone you’ve learned about, like a politician, actor or artist). Use your imagination to think of some objects that remind you of that woman. Draw a picture combining that female and these objects.

Why I Like this Book:

Out of this World combines beautiful text and gorgeous illustrations to tell the life of an artist who defied societal norms to follow her imagination. Markel shares that Leonora found inspiration in nature, in the legends told by her Irish grandmother, and in fantastic tales. Leonora drew from a young age, even scribbling on walls at age 4, and kept drawing, letting her imagination spill forth, throughout her life.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that she was the youngest and only female in a group of Surrealist artists in Paris early in her career. But after fleeing the Nazis and settling in Mexico, she became friends with a fellow female artist, and went on to create fantastic artwork featuring strong females. As Markel concludes, art “was a way to love the universe and understand it.”  It was also a way to share her perception that “women have special gifts; they can do things beyond anybody’s wildest dreams”, which, as Markel notes, “is marvelous, and it’s powerful, and it’s true.” I think young artists and young feminists will be inspired by this biography to follow their imaginations, wherever they may lead.

Hall’s colorful watercolor inks and gouache illustrations are filled with images that evoke those that Leonora herself created. Many are two-page spreads that act as a window into Leonora’s imagination and art.

A Note about Craft:

Markel uses words such as imagination, dreaminess, magic, fantastic, and mystical throughout the text. These terms could also be used to describe the artwork Leonora created. It makes me think that Markel viewed Leonora’s work, jotted down words that came to mind, and then used them to describe her life. Doing so helps the reader understand Leonora’s life and work better, too, and is a technique writers can use, I think, when writing non-fiction.

For an informative recent interview with Hall about the creation of Out of this World including its genesis and the challenges of depicting the life of someone whose artwork is still protected by copyright, see Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating.

Markel and Hall also collaborated on The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers/2012).

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

Perfect Pairing – a Triple Treat!

It’s a special week! Not just because we celebrate a national holiday on Thursday, fire crackers and all, and not just because my music-loving son celebrates a birthday, but because for the first and maybe only time, I’m “pairing” three picture books! Strike up the band – you’re in for a triple treat!

 

God Bless America: The Story of an Immigrant Named Irving Berlin

Author: Adah Nuchi

Illustrator: Rob Polivka

Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, composer, refugee, immigrant, patriotism, music, singing, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

An inspiring portrait of an immigrant and the gift he gave his new home.
Persecuted as Jews, Izzy Baline and his family emigrated from Russia to New York, where he fell in love with his new country. He heard music everywhere and was full to bursting with his own. Izzy’s thump-two-three, ting-a-ling, whee tunes soon brought him acclaim as the sought-after songwriter Irving Berlin. He ignited the imaginations of fellow countrymen and women with his Broadway and Hollywood numbers, crafting tunes that have become classics we still sing today.
But when darker times came and the nation went to war, it was time for Irving to compose a new kind of song:
boom-rah-rah song.
A big brass belter.
A loud heart-melter.
A song for America.
And so “God Bless America” was born, the heart swelling standard that Americans have returned to again and again after its 1918 composition.
This is the tale of how a former refugee gave America one of its most celebrated patriotic songs. With stirring, rhythmic text by Adah Nuchi and delightful, energetic art by Rob Polivka, readers will be ready to hum along to this exuberant picturebook.

Read a review in The Jewish Book Council.

Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing

Author: Nancy Churnin

Illustrator: James Rey Sanchez

Publisher/Date: Creston Books/2018

Ages: 7-12

Themes: biography, composer, refugee, immigrant, patriotism, music, singing, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Irving Berlin came to the United States as a refugee from Tsarist Russia, escaping a pogrom that destroyed his village. Growing up on the streets of the lower East Side, the rhythms of jazz and blues inspired his own song-writing career. Starting with his first big hit, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” Berlin created the soundtrack for American life with his catchy tunes and irresistible lyrics. With “God Bless America,” he sang his thanks to the country which had given him a home and a chance to express his creative vision.

Read my review.

Write On, Irving Berlin!

Author: Leslie Kimmelman

Illustrator: David C. Gardner

Publisher/Date: Sleeping Bear Press/2018

Ages: 6-9

Themes: biography, composer, immigrant, patriotism, music, singing, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

2019 Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Younger Readers 2018 Eureka! California Reading Association Honor Book Award
Escaping persecution for being Jewish, the Baline family fled Russia and arrived by ship in New York City harbor in September 1893. Little Israel Isidore Baline is only five years old. After arriving at Ellis Island, the first stop for all immigrants, Israel and his family are ready to begin a new life in America. His family settles in the Lower East Side and soon Israel (now nicknamed Izzy) starts school. And while he learns English, he is not a very good student. According to his teachers he daydreams and sings in class. But while these may not be traits that are helpful in the classroom, these are wonderful tools for a budding singer and composer. And by the time that Izzy (now known as Irving) is a young man, he is well on his way to becoming one of the most well-known composers in America. This vivid picture-book biography examines the life of Irving Berlin, the distinguished artist whose songs, including “God Bless America,” continue to be popular today.

Read a review in The Jewish Book Council.

I “paired” these books because they recount the life and music of the composer of “God Bless America”. Although all are “cradle-to-grave” biographies, and although they feature the iconic Berlin song, I loved reading the three together, as I appreciated the various nuances: Nuchi utilizes onomatopoeia to achieve musicality in the text; Churnin begins her exploration as Berlin and his family are sailing away from Russia and towards America and references Berlin’s inclusion of Jewish prayer in the melody; and Kimmelman, who also introduces the tragic scene in Russia at the outset, repeats the phrase, “God bless America” throughout the text.

And while the reason for three picture book biographies published virtually simultaneously may be the 100th anniversary of Berlin’s composition, I think it’s important to consider other aspects of Berlin’s life that resonate today, such as his status as refugee and immigrant and the important role his Jewish faith played in life and music.

I am indebted to Maria Marshall, who reviews picture books and interviews authors and illustrators at The Picture Book Buzz, for alerting me to the existence of these three biographies and for her fabulous interview with the three authors. See a wonderful review of these books by Marjorie Ingall in The Tablet.

Perfect Pairing Loves Lemonade

I saw this display at a garden center recently, and I suddenly grew thirsty for lemonade. How about you?

The Lemonade Club

Author & Illustrator: Patricia Polacco

Publisher/Date: Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group/2007

Ages: 6-9

Themes: lemonade, friendship, cancer, teacher, making the best of a bad situation

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Everyone loves Miss Wichelman’s fifth-grade class, especially best friends Traci and Marilyn. That’s where they learn that when life hands you lemons, make lemonade! They are having a great year until Traci begins to notice some changes in Marilyn. She’s losing weight, and seems tired all the time. She has leukemia, and a tough road of chemotherapy ahead. It is not only Traci and Miss Wichelman who stand up for her, but in a surprising and unexpected turn, the whole fifth-grade class, who figures out a way to say we’re with you. In true Polacco fashion, this book turns lemons into lemonade and celebrates amazing life itself.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree

Author: Jamie L.B. Deenihan

Illustrator: Lorraine Rocha

Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books/2019

Ages: 3-7

Themes: birthday, gifts, intergenerational, gardening, making the best of a bad situation

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When Grandma gives you a lemon tree, definitely don’t make a face! Care for the tree, and you might be surprised at how new things, and new ideas, bloom. 

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” In this imaginative take on that popular saying, a child is surprised (and disappointed) to receive a lemon tree from Grandma for her birthday. After all, she DID ask for a new gadget! But when she follows the narrator’s careful—and funny—instructions, she discovers that the tree might be exactly what she wanted after all. This clever story, complete with a recipe for lemonade, celebrates the pleasures of patience, hard work, nature, community . . . and putting down the electronic devices just for a while.

Read a review at Jilanne Hoffmann’s blog.

I paired these books because both refer to that old saying, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. On the surface, these are very different picture books. Based on a true story, The Lemonade Club deals head on with a very difficult topic: cancer. In contrast, When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree is humorous fiction with the “bad situation” being the receipt of an unusual birthday gift, a lemon tree. But both books feature main characters who grow and show empathy, and both feature surprise endings. Also, in a note at the beginning of When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree, debut author Deenihan reveals that as she was writing and revising, her family was dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, all is well now.

 

 

 

Perfect Pairing Celebrates Earth Day

As we celebrate Earth Day this week, I’m sharing two thought-provoking picture books that help us consider our roles in this world.

Carl and the Meaning of Life

Author & Illustrator: Deborah Freedman

Publisher/Date: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers/2019

Ages: 3 & up

Themes: earthworms; curiosity; environmentalism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Carl is an earthworm. He spends his days happily tunneling in the soil until a field mouse asks him a simple question that stops him short: “Why?” Carl’s quest takes him on an adventure to meet all the animals of the forest, each of whom seems to know exactly what they were put on this earth to do, unlike the curious Carl. But it’s not until the world around him has changed that Carl begins to realize everyone, no matter how small, makes a big difference just by being themselves.

Read a review in The Horn Book.

I Am Henry Finch

Author: Alexis Deacon

Illustrator: Viviane Schwartz

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2016 (originally published in the UK by Walker Books)

Ages: 5-8

Themes: Finches, thinking for yourself, individuality, greatness, social movements, philosophy

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This is a book about Henry Finch who strives for greatness, gets it all a bit wrong, then makes it right again in a very surprising way – truly becoming great. Henry Finch is a total inspiration. This is an inspirational book. It is also very funny. I Am Henry Finch is a book for everyone – from the very young to the very old. It is for dreamers, philosophers, artists, the foolish and the enlightened. And anyone with a big bright idea. Vegetarians will love it too.

Read my review.

I paired these books because both feature small creatures that we often may not think much about, and both include subtle environmental themes. With childlike simplicity, Carl questions the other animals to find out why he burrows through the earth, “turning hard dirt into fluffy soil”. Only when the soil becomes hard as rock does he understand that his actions are essential to the ecosystem. Thinking great thoughts and seeking “greatness”, Henry attacks a large beast that threatens his species. He convinces it to be aware of its actions on the other birds and animals and to change its behavior. With their philosophical questions and reasoning, I think both picture books will spur lively discussion about our roles on this earth and our duty to it.

Looking for similar reads?

See a recent list of children’s books for Earth Day at Pragmatic Mom.