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PPBF – The Field

As the snow is melting and temperature’s rising (a bit!), I’ve been enjoying the sight of teams, families and friends heading to the town sports fields near my home, sports gear in tow. As is clear from today’s Perfect Picture Book, this is a sight that’s replicated on fields near and far – even those that are never snow-covered.

the-field-cover-300x233Title: The Field

Written By: Baptiste Paul

Illustrated By: Jacqueline Alcántara

Publisher/date: NorthSouth Books, Inc/March 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: soccer; teamwork; play; St. Lucia (Caribbean); #WNDB; #ReadYourWorld


Vini! Come!

The field calls.

Brief Synopsis: An island field calls a group of children to play a pick-up game of soccer, friend against friend.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about the island of St. Lucia, the unnamed setting of The Field;
  • Match the Creole word to the English word and color the book illustrations in this Activity Sheet;
  • Play soccer, or another sport, with your family or friends;
  • Find more ideas in the Discussion Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

This exuberant debut picture book follows a group of island children as they play a game of pick-up soccer, friend against friend. Not only do the children need to first gather their shoes, ball and goals, but they also must convince the fruit vendor to serve as referee, shoo cows from the field, and decide whether to call the match when the “sky falls” and rain muddies the field.

Paul’s short, poetic text, with many Creole words paired with their English equivalents, coupled with Alcántara’s vivid, mixed-media illustrations make this a book that children and their parents will want to read, and reread.

A Note about Craft:

The word count of The Field is extremely low, with only a few words, at most, appearing on most pages, and with only a few full sentences. The longest sentences I found were a mere five words long! The text, to me, reads as a free-verse poem. With short, staccato phrases and sentences, Paul mimics the action and pacing of a soccer match and helps the reader feel as if s/he is part of the game. As writers, we should consider the subject matter and match the pacing to the subject, as Paul does so well here.

Likewise, in a story about teamwork, Paul (or his editor) chose not to name any characters or attribute any dialogue. I’m presuming this may be because attributing the dialogue would slow the pace. Another result, though, is that this encourages any child reading this story to feel as if s/he is on the field, too, a kind of “Every Child,” effect, if you will.

The two-word title of this book, The Field, captured my attention, and, after I’d read the book, caused me to think back on all of the places I, or my kids, enjoyed playing. Thinking about the many other possible titles this story could have had, makes me realize the importance of just the right title to lure readers in.

Finally, The Field is about universal themes like teamwork and soccer and playing through an obstacle, like rain – things everyone can relate to. But the children playing in this story don’t all wear official soccer gear, or even sneakers, the field is shared with livestock, and no bleachers line its sides. From the illustrations and the inclusion of Creole words, we can guess at its island setting.  From the illustrations, we know a diverse group of kids comprise the players. As author and editor Denene Millner wrote in a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece, children of color “want to read books that engage with their everyday experiences, featuring characters who look like them….White children, too, deserve — and need — to see black characters that revel in the same human experiences that they do.” I’d add to that, that kids who don’t have fancy soccer gear or state-of-the-art fields want to read stories that show kids having fun without those things, too. I think Paul and Alcántara have created a book that fulfills both of these desires.

Among the many reviews, including starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist,  see this interview with Paul in The Brown Bookshelf, Vivian Kirkfield’s PPBF review and interview with Paul, Latinxs in Kid Lit’s interview with Alcántara, and Maria Marshall’s PPBF review and interview with Paul.

This is a double debut picture book. Visit Paul’s website and Alcántara’s website. Alcántara won the inaugural 2016 “We Need Diverse Books” illustration mentorship award.

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 Roses in my Carpets

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is another Canadian import, this one by a prolific Muslim Pakistani-Canadian female author, Rukhsana Khan.



Title: The Roses in my Carpets

Written By: Rukhsana Khan

Illustrated By: Ronald Himler

Publisher/date: Fitzhenry & Whiteside/2004 (first published by Stoddart Kids/1998)

Suitable for Ages: 6-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; Afghanistan; carpet weaving; resilience


It’s always the same. The jets scream overhead. They’ve seen me. I’m running too slowly, dragging my mother and sister behind. The ground is treacherous, pitted with bomb craters. My mother and sister weigh me down. A direct hit. Just as I’m about to die, or sometimes just after, I awake.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy in a refugee camp relives the horrible memories of war in Afghanistan, and lives with the difficulties in the camp, but he dreams of a better life for himself and his family.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Although The Roses in my Carpets deals with serious subjects, war, poverty and life in a refugee camp, the dreams of the young main character left me feeling hopeful that life would improve. Despite losing his father during the war and despite living a bleak hand-to-mouth existence with his mother and sister in a mud hut (he terms washing his face “a useless habit”) supported by the kindness of foreign sponsors, the narrator works hard to learn a craft that he believes will ensure that his “family will never go hungry.” I love the message of resolve and duty to family shown.

I also love that the means to make life better is a traditional art that the narrator uses to cope with the horrors he has experienced. He describes that with his fingers “I create a world the war cannot touch.” He further explains that the colors he uses have “special meaning,” with white being for his father’s shroud, green for life, black for the night sky that hides them from enemies, blue for a sky “free of jets” and red for roses. This usage and symbolism of colors reminded me of When I Coloured in the World, in which the nameless narrator imagines erasing bad things, like war, and coloring in good things, like peace.

Veteran illustrator Himler’s watercolor and pencil drawings bring Khan’s words to life, providing a stark contrast between the dinginess and dirt of the camp and the colorful carpets.

A Note about Craft:

Khan chose first-person POV to tell this story. This helps the reader to experience life in a refugee camp first-hand, something, thankfully, the vast majority of us will never do!

The carpets that the narrator weaves not only are a future means of earning a living but a way to process the horrors of his life and a way to visualize the world he hopes to inhabit. I love how Khan has made one object so central to the meaning of this story, especially as that object is a work of art. I think it’s a useful lesson for authors to find objects to include in their stories that can add meanings on multiple levels, as the carpet does here.

Khan is an #OwnVoices author who was born in Pakistan, the location of the Afghan refugee camp, and moved as a young child to Canada. According to a review from The Toronto Star newspaper reproduced on Khan’s website, the inspiration for the narrator is a foster child whom Khan sponsored.

Visit Rukhsana Khan’s website, where you can learn about The Libraries in Afghanistan Project that she supports and see the Muslim Booklist for kids. Among many other books, Khan is the author of King for a Day, which I reviewed last month.


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!

#50PreciousWords Writing Challenge

I can’t resist entering the #50PreciousWords Writing Challenge over at Vivian Kirkfield’s blog. In honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday this past March 2nd, Vivian challenged herself, and us, to the following:


  1. Write a story appropriate for kids ages 12 or under, using only 50 words…they can all be different words, or you can use some of them over and over…just as long as the total word count of the story is 50 or less.
  2. It can be prose, rhyme, free verse, silly or serious…whatever works for you.
  3. Title is not included in the word count.

If Dr. Seuss could do it, why not try? Sounds simple, right? Not so fast…to write a complete story, ie, beginning, middle & end, in a mere 50 words is no mean feat. But some awesome writers have taken up the challenge – check out all of the entries on Vivian’s blog.

Now, to my humble entry. As we stare down another Nor’easter, I personally am thinking I’d rather do battle with another force of nature, in warmer climes. Enjoy! And stay safe & warm everyone!


Battle at the Beach

(47 words)

Shovel! Scoop! Pile it high.

Whoosh! A wave –

say good-bye.

Scoop! Shovel! Pile again.

Swoosh! New wave –

all gone then.

Shovel! Scoop! Pile third time.

Shush! No waves –

all is fine…


We scoop and shovel,

Ocean erases;

Smooshing our castles,

leaving no traces.


PPBF – The Streets Are Free

As students across the United States mobilize to rally support for gun control legislation, I’ve been encouraged to read books that celebrate social activism among children and young people. I found today’s Perfect Picture Book in Canada, although its first publication was in Venezuela, a country from which I have seen very few picture books. I hope you find it as inspiring as I did!

streetsrevisedTitle: The Streets Are Free

Written By: Kurusa

Illustrated By: Monika Doppert

Translated By: Karen Englander

Publisher/date:  Annick Press Ltd./1995 (originally published by Edicones Ekaré/Banco del Libro as La Calle es Libre/1981)

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: social activism; Venezuela; playground; #ReadYourWorld


Not very long ago, when Carlito’s grandfather was a boy, mountain lions roamed the hills of Venezuela.

One particular mountain was covered with forests and bushes, small creeks and dirt paths. Every morning the mist would reach down and touch the flowers and the butterflies.

Brief Synopsis: When a barrio outside Caracas becomes too congested and there is nowhere for the children to play, the children try convincing the mayor and then they ask the community to work together to build a playground.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Venezuela, the setting of this story;
  • The children in the story work together to design a playground. What would you include in a playground if you were building a new one? Draw a map of your ideal playground;
  • Is there something at home or at your school that you don’t like or think should be changed? Think about how you can convince your teachers or family to do what you’d like done.

Why I Like this Book:

The Streets Are Free is an inspiring story of children who band together to build a playground in the barrio of San José de la Urbina in Caracas, Venezuela. As Caracas grew, open lands and streams disappeared, replaced by busy streets, crowded buildings and sewers that were unfit spaces for the children to play.

When a group of children discovered an unused lot, they discussed the playground among themselves during an after-school library program and then asked the city government to build the playground. When the politicians didn’t follow through on their promises, the children pestered and prodded their families and neighbors to build it themselves without government help.

Facets of the story that I found most interesting to discuss in a classroom or as a family include the role of the media in spurring the mayor to action, initially; the necessity of persistence to finally solve the problem and achieve a goal; the role of community spaces, like libraries, and helpers, like librarians, to facilitate social change; and the differences between the families who live in the barrio and the politicians who have the power to enact the changes.

Lovely watercolor illustrations bring the barrio to life, especially as the bleaker aspects of barrio life appear in black and white illustrations.

A Note about Craft:

Not only is The Streets Are Free based on a true story, but the problem the children face, and solve, is one with kid-centric stakes: a safe place to play. When thinking about writing books about concepts like social activism, I think it’s important to target the activity to something that’s generally something kids can understand. What’s more understandable for kids than the desire for a playground?

As this is an older book, written for a different market, the text is longer than the current norm and the story begins with information about the lost rural lands that have been replaced by the barrio. I think if someone were to rewrite this story today, the opening would focus on the kids and their problem at the outset, and the information in the current first four pages would be condensed into back matter. Interestingly, too, this book is longer than the norm, at 48 pages.

According to a review I read on Vamos A Leer, Kurusa is the pseudonym of a Venezuelan anthropologist and editor.

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 – Malaika’s Costume

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is another one of my Canadian finds, and its story occurs in the Caribbean – truly a pan-American picture book!

7873637_origTitle: Malaika’s Costume

Written By: Nadia L. Hohn

Illustrated By: Irene Luxbacher

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

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: carnival; absent parent; #ReadYourWorld; #WNDB


I close my eyes and dance. I am a beautiful peacock. Each feather shimmers – green, gold, turquoise and brown.

Grandma say, “Girl, I think you is definitely my granddaughter for true.”

Brief Synopsis:

When the money for Malaika’s carnival costume doesn’t arrive from Mummy, Malaika and her grandmother must find another way to create a costume in time for the Carnival parade.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Malaika’s Costume is a marvelous window into Caribbean life and the colorful carnival celebrations that occur on many islands. The story is tinged, though, with the reality of the hardships endured by children left with relatives when a parent migrates abroad to work.

Through Malaika’s eyes, we experience the anticipation of an upcoming Carnival parade in which the children don fancy costumes to dance through the streets. Malaika dreams of strutting like a peacock. But Malaika’s mother is working at a “good job” in Canada, a far-away country that is “cold like an icebox” with snow that looks “like coconut sky juice”. When the money Mummy has promised to send doesn’t arrive, Malaika and her grandmother must improvise, as it seems they, and Mummy, must do on a daily basis. Malaika’s solution demonstrates the resourcefulness she has developed since her mother left for Canada.

I think Malaika’s Costume will appeal to families and teachers wanting to learn about island life and cultural events as well as to those wanting to shed light on the difficulties facing migrants and the children they leave on island.

Luxbacher’s colorful collaged artwork brings Hohn’s empathetic story to life. They helped me feel like I’d enjoyed a virtual visit to the sunny Caribbean. Hand-drawn black-and-white drawings sprinkled throughout the pages are an extra bonus for younger children to find.


Reprinted from Groundwood Books

A Note about Craft:

As is evident from the Opening above, Hohn tells Malaika’s story using first-person point of view. Utilizing this point of view brings immediacy to the story, and it enables not only Malaika, but also the reader, to wonder about her mother and the solitary life she leads in Canada.

Also evident in the Opening is that Hohn uses the Caribbean patois  of the unnamed island that is Malaika’s home. This language adds to the authenticity of Malaika’s voice and could be an interesting discussion topic for teachers using Malaika’s Costume in the classroom.

Visit Hohn’s website here.

Groundwood Books “is an independent Canadian children’s publisher based in Toronto” that is “particularly committed to publishing books for and about children whose experiences of the world are under-represented elsewhere.”

For a list of more children’s books that involve Carnival celebrations, see a recent blog post on Anansesem, a site about Caribbean children’s 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 – The Land Beyond the Wall: An Immigration Story

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is a self-import from Toronto, Canada. I visited there last weekend with my husband to celebrate a colleague’s birthday. Knowing that the independent Canadian children’s publishers often tackle difficult subjects, I couldn’t help but drag my husband to a bookstore – Another Story, where I found sections of the children’s area devoted to topics such as multicultural books, bullying, feelings and many others (the themes of “social justice, equity, and diversity” are highlighted on their website). I heartily recommend spending a few hours there! Interestingly, I also happened to read in a New York Times article a few days ago that a milestone has been reached: the time period since the Berlin Wall fell now exceeds the time period that it stood. As a wall features in today’s Perfect Picture Book, I couldn’t think of a better time to review it!

homegraphic02Title: The Land Beyond the Wall: An Immigration Story

Written & Illustrated By: Veronika Martenova Charles

Publisher/date: Nimbus Publishing/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigration; art; allegory; following dreams; walls


Once, the world was divided by a BIG wall. On one side the sun rarely shone. Fields lay bare, towns and villages were grey, and shops were empty. People spoke in whispers because they were afraid of each other. They could not even trust their friends.


This was where Emma lived.

Brief Synopsis:

After her parents disappear and she is forced to live with an aunt who thinks that art isn’t useful, a young girl escapes her dreary life to resettle as an immigrant in a new land of happiness and colour.

Links to Resources:

  • In an Afterword, Charles recounts her own story of defection from the Eastern Bloc;
  • Learn about the “Iron Curtain” that separated the Communist Eastern Bloc from the free world;
  • Use your brightest crayons or colored pencils to draw a room or area outdoors; then draw the same space without color and without the things that make that room or area colorful. Which do you like better? Why?

Why I Like this Book:

The Land Beyond the Wall has a fairy-tale aspect to it from its beginning, “Once,” to the end. As in fairy tales, Emma has a friend, an old doll that had been her mother’s doll, who comforts and counsels her. Emma journeys on a boat that magically appears and then sails for days across stormy seas to a “land where dreams come true.” But before those dreams come true, she loses something, her voice. Only with perseverance can she find her voice again.

I like Martenova Charles’ analogy of physically losing one’s voice to the experience of immigrants who don’t speak or understand a language in the new land. I think this is a wonderful way to explain to children what it’s like to live in another country, whether by choice or, in the case of refugees, necessity. I also like that Martenova Charles ties the pursuit of art and beauty to freedom.

Martenova Charles’ soft, pastel illustrations help define the two lands, the dreary, more gray and brown area of the land where Emma was born, portrayed with charcoal, and the colorful area beyond the wall. To see an interior spread, look here.

A Note about Craft:

The Land Beyond the Wall is a semi-autobiographical story. Martenova Charles immigrated to Canada in 1970 and spent her first days in the country in a group setting in Nova Scotia, much like the “maze of corridors and halls” she describes in The Land Beyond the Wall. Martenova Charles was a young adult at the time, however, unlike the much younger Emma. I think by decreasing Emma’s age and adding the fairy tale elements, Martenova Charles renders the story much more kid-relatable. For authors who want to write a personal story, I think it’s helpful to remember that it’s the essence of the story, and not the actual details, that’s most important to retain.

I love the opening lines, in which the Wall itself is portrayed almost as a character – the one dividing the two worlds. By opening the story in this way, I think Martenova Charles is able to keep the focus on the difference between the two societies, rather than on the reason they are different, which would be a very difficult subject to try to explain to young children.

Find out more about Veronika Martenova Charles.

Nimbus Publishing “is the largest English-language publisher east of Toronto. Nimbus produces more than thirty new titles a year on a range of subjects relevant to the Atlantic Provinces” of Canada, including children’s 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!

Another Holiday – a Valentiny Contest Submission

To help celebrate the season, and snap us out of our mid-winter doldrums, the wonderful and talented Susanna Hill has conceived of, and orchestrates, the best-ever Valentine’s Day treat for kidlit writers and readers: the Valentiny Writing Contest.

With Hopeful Heart! 

The 3rd Annual Valentiny Writing Contest!!!


Quoting Susanna:

The Contest:  since writing for children is all about “big emotion for little people” (I forget who said that, but someone did so I put it in quotes!) and Valentine’s Day is all about emotion, write a Valentines story appropriate for children (children here defined as ages 12 and under) maximum 214 words in which someone is hopeful!  Your someone can hope for something good or something bad.  Your story can be poetry or prose, sweet, funny, surprising or anything in between, but it will only count for the contest if it includes someone hopeful (can be the main character but doesn’t have to be) and is 214 words (get it? 2/14 for Valentine’s Day). You can go under the word count but not over! (Title is not included in the word count.)

Check out the many fabulous entries at Susanna’s site. And I hope you enjoy my heartfelt entry, coming in at 213 words (and posted on 2/13!), 


“Another holiday? There’s too many holidays in this school,” Aaliyah grumbled.

She remembered the Thanksgiving feast. All of the food disappeared, except Mama’s Baba Ghanoush. She cringed as she recalled the winter concert, and the finger-pointing at Bibi’s abaya.

“What’s wrong?” asked Mama. She read the note Aaliyah held, slowly. Twice.

“It’s cards. For your classmates. You can make them. Here’s paper and your brother’s pens. They’ll be beautiful.”

Mama was right. The Valentines were beautiful, especially the one for Teacher. Aaliyah grinned.

She skipped into school on Valentine’s Day. But then she saw the chocolates on Teacher’s desk and her classmates’ store-bought Valentines. Tears trickled down Aaliyah’s cheeks. The homemade Valentines didn’t look as beautiful now.

She tried to hide the Valentines in her backpack, but Teacher said, “Please drop them in your classmates’ bags.”

“The bags look full,” Aaliyah mumbled.

“There’s space.”

“My tummy hurts,” Aaliyah complained.

“You can visit the nurse’s office, after you hand out the Valentines.”

With trembling hands, Aaliyah held out the last Valentine, for Teacher.

“What a gorgeous Valentine!” Teacher exclaimed. “Did you make it? Will you share your talent, please, and teach us how to draw these swirling letters?”

Aaliyah grinned, wiped her tears and hoped that the next holiday would be like Valentine’s Day.