Category Archives: Uncategorized

Perfect Pairing – Reflections on the Last Days of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday next Monday, almost fifty years after the assassination that cut short his life far too soon, two new picture books recount the last weeks of his life, one in a series of poems, the other in a combination of snapshot-like prose and poetry.

 

Martin Rising: Requiem for a King

Author: Andrea Davis Pinkney

Illustrator: Brian Pinkney

Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press/2018

Ages: 8+

Themes: Martin Luther King Jr.; Civil Rights; protest

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In a rich embroidery of visions, musical cadence, and deep emotion, Andrea and Brian Pinkney convey the final months of Martin Luther King’s life — and of his assassination — through metaphor, spirituality, and multilayers of meaning.
Andrea’s stunning poetic requiem, illustrated with Brian’s lyrical and colorful artwork, brings a fresh perspective to Martin Luther King, the Gandhi-like, peace-loving activist whose dream of equality — and whose courage to make it happen — changed the course of American history. And even in his death, he continues to transform and inspire all of us who share his dream.
Wonderful classroom plays of Martin Rising can be performed by using the “Now Is the Time” history and the 1968 timeline at the back of the book as narration — and adding selected poems to tell the story!

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968

Author: Alice Faye Duncan

Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie

Publisher/Date: Calkins Creek (an imprint of Highlights)/2018

Ages: 9-12

Themes: Martin Luther King Jr.; Civil Rights; protest

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This historical fiction picture book presents the story of nine-year-old Lorraine Jackson, who in 1968 witnessed the Memphis sanitation strike–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final stand for justice before his assassination–when her father, a sanitation worker, participated in the protest.
In February 1968, two African American sanitation workers were killed by unsafe equipment in Memphis, Tennessee. Outraged at the city’s refusal to recognize a labor union that would fight for higher pay and safer working conditions, sanitation workers went on strike. The strike lasted two months, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was called to help with the protests. While his presence was greatly inspiring to the community, this unfortunately would be his last stand for justice. He was assassinated in his Memphis hotel the day after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon in Mason Temple Church. Inspired by the memories of a teacher who participated in the strike as a child, author Alice Faye Duncan reveals the story of the Memphis sanitation strike from the perspective of a young girl with a riveting combination of poetry and prose.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because I believe that reading them together will help children gain a more complete picture of this epic era and the legacy of Dr. King and his dreams. In Martin Rising, Andrea Pinkney crafts a series of “docu-poems” (her term) using religious and folkloric imagery combined with Brian Pinkney’s abstract visuals to recount the last months of the sainted icon of the Civil Rights movement. She also sought to “honor the lives and spirits of the sanitation workers” whose fight Dr. King took up (quotations from the Author’s Reflections). In Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, Duncan “mined” history books and the “memories of a Memphis teacher” who had marched as a young girl and whose father was a striking sanitation worker. Duncan also tells the story in short, poetic vignettes (quotations from Introduction). Both texts include wonderful back matter to further readers’ experiences, and both remind readers of the centrality of economic equality to Dr. King’s dream.

Looking for similar reads?

See, I Have a Dream, the words of Dr. King’s well-known speech paired with paintings by Kadir Nelson (2012).

PPBF – I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon

I’m so happy to share a soon-to-be-released picture book biography that I’ve had on my radar for a while. Insightful and inspirational – this is one you won’t want to miss!

Title: I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon

Written By: Baptiste & Miranda Paul

Illustrated By: Elizabeth Zunon

Publisher/Date: Millbrook Press (an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group)/5 February 2019

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Themes/Topics: environmentalism; Cameroon; farming; clean water; intergenerational; social activism; biography

Opening:

This is northwestern Cameroon. Green. Wet. Alive. The rainy season has begun.

Brief Synopsis:

A young boy in West Africa who loves to garden becomes a farmer and founds a grassroots, not-for-profit organization to protect the environment via sustainable farming and clean water projects.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover the West African country of the Republic of Cameroon, where Farmer Tantoh lives and works;
  • Try some kid-friendly gardening activities, including inside activities that you can do in your home or classroom;
  • Learn about the Save Your Future Association, a grassroots, not-for-profit organization in Cameroon that Farmer Tantoh founded in 2005 to protect the environment, including sustainable landscaping and ensuring clean water to rural communities in northwestern Cameroon, to build community, and to promote education about environmental issues;
  • Watch the book trailer and learn more about Farmer Tantoh and Cameroon in the Authors’ Note, Glossary and Pronunciation Guide (which helpfully includes words for water), and Proverbs.

Why I Like this Book:

I Am Farmer is an inspirational, true story that shows young and old alike that one person with passion and persistence can make a difference in his or her home community and the world. In this picture book biography, the Pauls introduce young readers to Farmer Tantoh, who has a life-long love of gardening inherited from his grandmother and father, who has pursued his passion to become a farmer, and who works to bring clean water and organic farming to his home country of Cameroon. Whether reading I Am Farmer at home or in the classroom, I think young environmentalists will chuckle at Tantoh’s first attempts to grow onions without soil or water and marvel at his persistence to become a farmer despite his classmates’ jeers, his older brother’s pleading that Tantoh not pursue this low-paying occupation, and a water-borne illness that left Tantoh ill for several years.

I Am Farmer is a fascinating story about Farmer Tantoh’s life and work, and it’s a wonderful introduction to life in rural Cameroon in West Africa, a place most of us are unlikely to visit. This picture book biography also introduces children to important science topics including horticulture, sustainable agriculture, and the need for clean water.

Zunon’s colorful collage illustrations bring Farmer Tantoh’s world to life. The inclusion of photographs on the endpapers, including of Farmer Tantoh, of his grandmother and other family members, and of Cameroon, is an added bonus.

A Note about Craft:

Picture book biographies are popular now, but who is a good subject to feature? I think Farmer Tantoh is a wonderful choice because he became interested in his life’s work as a child, he’s overcome several challenges, including physical and economic, his work helps others, and growing food and obtaining clean water are issues that kids can relate to and understand. That there are few picture books set in Cameroon and that Farmer Tantoh’s grandmother inspired and helped him grow his passion add interest and layers to this inspiring biography.

The Pauls sprinkle gardening and water-related terms and phrases throughout I Am Farmer. I think this will help readers better enjoy the story and understand and discuss the issues raised. For instance, as a student, “Tantoh drinks up facts and figures faster than his teacher can pour them onto the chalkboard.” Zunon helpfully includes environmental, water, and horticultural terms on the classroom chalkboard. Likewise, a “stream of hands” work together to bring fresh water to villages, where a “trickle of hope” grows, and a “crop” of young people are “digging in, planting ideas, and growing a movement”.

Visit Baptiste Paul’s website and Miranda Paul’s website to learn more about their other picture books. To view more of Elizabeth Zunon’s artwork, visit her website here.

The authors provided a digital copy of I Am Farmer in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

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!

2018: A Year of Writing Success

Children’s author Julie Hedlund, challenged participants of her 12 Days of Christmas for Writers series to post SUCCESSES (rather than resolutions) on our blogs this year. She believes the way New Year’s resolutions are traditionally made come from a place of negativity – what DIDN’T get done or achieved in the previous year.  Instead, she suggests we set goals for the New Year that BUILD on our achievements from the previous one. I decided to participate in this Anti-Resolution Revolution!

But before I share my list, I’d like to think back to this time last year. I rang out 2017 on a beach in Rio de Janeiro, celebrating with our new son-in-law’s family and friends.

Since the August 2017 wedding and reception (not far from our home), I had written almost nothing and barely kept up with my critique group and picture book reviews. Early in September, my husband had left his job at a boarding school to run a start-up. We had to move fairly quickly from school housing and from a too-small condo near NYC (2 separate moves!), and then consolidate/downsize in a new place, also in metro-New York. Moving coordination became a full-time pursuit! Midway through move #1, my 96-year-old mother peacefully passed away; between moves, one of my son’s best friends tragically left us all too soon. As 2018 began, I wondered if/whether I’d ever get my writing “career” back on track or even find my desk under the stacks of boxes that filled our new home.

With this background in mind, I’m amazed to realize that I did enjoy writing success in 2018 and to share these with you:

  1. I participated in Tara Lazar’s fabulous StoryStorm in January, discovered 30+ ideas in my muddled brain, and completed a new manuscript from one of those ideas.
  2. I rejoined 12×12 as a Gold member. I didn’t complete anywhere near 12 drafts (nor was it ever my intention to do so), BUT I completed 4 new manuscripts and polished up several others, attended several inspirational and helpful webinars, met new friends and critique partners via the forum and submitted to nine 12×12 agents.
  3. I attended the New Jersey SCBWI conference in June and the NJ SCBWI Fall Craft Day. Although I’m an off-the-charts introvert, I socialized and volunteered at the June conference to facilitate networking.
  4. In October, I participated in Marcie Colleen’s fabulous Study Hall, where I critiqued the works of 5 fellow picture book writers and received critiques from them and Marcie on 4 of my manuscripts. I also discovered that I liked the discipline of setting aside specific set times daily to write, something I intend to carry forward into 2019.
  5. I submitted a manuscript to the Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference, and my submission was accepted. Not only was this a huge confidence builder, but I received helpful comments on my manuscript from an editor who kindly offered to look at a revised draft (he has that now).
  6. In addition to the 12×12 agents, I submitted to a handful of agents and editors I met at conferences or whom I learned were open to submissions. I also started tracking submissions and agents/publishers of interest better than I had in the past.
  7. Since early 2016, I’ve been reviewing picture books weekly as part of Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Friday. I posted 50 reviews this year of picture books with a focus on international authors and illustrators, stories from around the world, and social justice themes, including immigration, In September, I expanded my focus and now post a “Perfect Pairing” of two additional picture books each Tuesday. As a result of this expansion and better social media efforts, blog readership has increased, as has my picture book reading. I even managed to score a few pre-publication review copies and meet a few authors and publishers.
  8. Trying to stretch myself further and give back to our kidlit community, I volunteered to be a Cybils judge. Although I generally read picture books only, I agreed to serve as a Round One judge in the poetry section: reading a total of 49 books ranging from picture book anthologies to YA novels in verse over the course of 2 months. I discovered that I truly enjoyed reading many of the YA and MG novels in verse and that writing in verse, especially using first-person point-of-view, is a wonderful way to tackle difficult subjects. I also became a well-known face at my local library and visited other libraries in the region.
  9. Sifting through a dusty moving box filled with grad school notes and papers, I stumbled upon research I had done 20+ years ago about people and events during the Progressive Era in America (late 19th century and early 20th century). Not only was I surprised to find several subjects worthy of picture book biographies, but I also realized I was excited to pursue writing a picture book biography. With that in mind, I’ve been busy reading as many picture book biographies as I can find and researching my subject further. To spur progress, I signed up for a Highlights non-fiction master class next summer. First draft here I come!
  10. I participated in Vivian Kirkfield’s 50 Precious Words Contest last spring and Susanna Hill’s wonderful contests, including the recent holiday contest. Finishing the year with a tie for 4th in that contest was a further confidence booster, and I have plans to revise and expand that story.

As 2018 ends and a new year beckons, I’m excited to offer this glimpse into my writing journey. I look forward to looking back on this post next December and updating/expanding the writing successes!

Happy New Year! May you find success and happiness in whatever you pursue!

PPBF – Polar Bear Island

As my last Perfect Picture Book post of 2018, I wanted to feature a new picture book that I first learned about from two friends who had interviewed the author and reviewed the book, that concerns welcoming others in a very kid-friendly way, and that is full of wintry fun. I think I’ve succeeded! And, as it’s my last post of 2018, I want to wish all who celebrate a blessed Christmas and everyone a wonderful New Year! See you in 2019!

Title: Polar Bear Island

Written By: Lindsay Bonilla

Illustrated By: Cinta Villalobos

Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books/2018

Suitable for Ages: 3 and up

Themes/Topics: inclusivity; polar bears; penguins; differences; immigration; welcoming others

Opening:

POLAR BEAR ISLAND was peaceful and predictable. Parker, the mayor, planned to keep it that way.

But Kirby waddled where the wind blew, and today she was floating toward paradise.

Brief Synopsis:

When a penguin lands on Polar Bear Island, shares new items and ideas, and then her family joins her, the polar bears are happy to try the newcomers’ treats, except Mayor Parker, at least at first.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the maze, word search, and other activities in the Activity Kit;
  • Become an AmBEARssador and welcome newcomers, learn about other countries, and much more;
  • Check out the Discussion Guide for more ways to explore the themes in Polar Bear Island;
  • Enjoy some wintry fun: sledding, skiing, ice skating, hot cocoa, and maybe even a snow cone or two. Like Kirby and the penguins, you even could design your own wintry gear.

Why I Like this Book:

Polar Bear Island is a fun book to read and reread, but it contains an important message about welcoming others, too. Kids, like young polar bears, are often open to new ideas and new friends. But narrow-minded adults, or polar bear mayors, may have other ideas and try to keep things always the same or to themselves. But when the newcomers come to the rescue, even a grumpy old bear can’t resist.

Among the many picture books about immigration and welcoming newcomers I’ve read (and regular readers know that is many), I think Polar Bear Island is one of the better ones for younger children to help build empathy for newcomers, as it provides concrete examples of how newcomers enrich communities, and it shows how ridiculous and wrong grumpy old bears (and people) can be. I think kids especially will enjoy reading about the penguins’  inventions that are fun to say and try to picture (or even make). Who doesn’t love “Flipper Slippers”? Or a sled that’s a bed?

Villalobos’ illustrations are equally fun and child-friendly. And although the setting is a white snow-covered island set in a blue sea inhabited by, you guessed it, white polar bears, Villalobos manages to include many bright and colorful details, like the bright Flipper Slippers and hats on every penguin.

A Note about Craft:

In Polar Bear Island, Bonilla makes difficult subjects, immigration and welcoming “others”, accessible to young children. How does she do it? First, she introduces readers to Parker, the mayor, who is a caricature of a character: the proverbial grumpy old bear who even underlines “other” in the sign that states they are not welcome. Bonilla then sets up an absurd situation: a penguin, normally found in the Antarctic, travels by boat (suitcase in flipper) to the Artic. As the pair, and others, interact, Bonilla slips in playful language, like Flipper Slippers, my all-time favorite. Finally, Bonilla and the team at Sterling created an awesome Activity Kit, a Discussion Guide for teachers, parents and librarians, and even an AmBEARssadors Program – sign me up!

Visit Bonilla’s website to learn more about this storyteller and children’s author; see also an interview and review of Polar Bear Island at Maria Marshall’s The Picture Book Buzz, and an interview and review by Kathy Halsey at the Grog.

Villalobos is a Spanish illustrator. See more of her work at her 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!

Perfect Pairing: Christmas is for the Birds (Count)

I think I mentioned at the outset of this blog series that one of my goals is to pair two different books that complement each other because of theme, common author and/or illustrator, or for some other reason. One of today’s books is non-fiction, and the other book is fiction, but they converge on one topic: the Christmas bird count. I think it’s a perfect time to feature these books, as readers can participate in the count now, regardless of whether you live in the country, the city or somewhere in between.

Happy counting, happy holidays to those celebrating Christmas next week, and happy New Year’s to all! As both of the next two Tuesdays are holidays in the US, I’ll be back with my next perfect pairing in January. 

Counting Birds: The Idea that Helped Save our Feathered Friends

Author: Heidi E.Y. Stemple

Illustrator: Clover Robin

Publisher/Date: Sea Grass Press (an imprint of The Quarto Group)/2018

Ages: 3-7

Themes: non-fiction; biography; birds; citizen science; Christmas bird count

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Every day kids learn how they can help protect bird species, near and far, with Counting Birds—the real-life story of bird counting and watching.

What can you do to help endangered animals and make a positive change in our environment? Get counting! Counting Birds is a beautifully illustrated book that introduces kids to the idea of bird counts and bird watches. Along the way, they will learn about Frank Chapman, who used his bird knowledge and magazine Bird-Lore to found the first annual bird count.
 
Bird counting helps professional researchers collect data, share expertise, and spread valuable information to help all kinds of birds around the world, from condors to hawks to kestrels and more.
 
Counting Birds introduces kids to a whole feathered world that will fascinate and inspire them to get involved in conservation and become citizen scientists.

Read a review and an interviewwith Heidi E.Y. Stemple at Picture BookBuzz.

Finding a Dove for Gramps

Author: Lisa J. Amstutz

Illustrator: Maria Luisa Di Gravio

Publisher/Date: Albert Whitman and Company/2018

Ages: 5-7

Themes: Christmas bird count; intergenerational; family; loss

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A boy and his mom continue the family tradition of participating in the annual bird count. Since Gramps went South for the winter, the boy hopes to spot Gramps’s favorite bird for him—a dove! But with so many different birds in the nature preserve, will he be able to spot one? This heart-warming family story about nature celebrates a holiday census that was first started in 1900 and happens every year.

Read a review and an interview with Lisa Amstutz at Picture Book Buzz.

Hawk seen in park across Hudson River from New York City

I paired these books because readers can learn the history of the Christmas bird count in the non-fiction Counting Birds and see its importance to one boy and his family in the fictional story, Finding a Dove for Gramps. Utilizing the information in the back matter of both books, readers then can participate in the bird count themselves.

Looking for similar reads?

See, Owl Moon, Jane Yolen (1987) (the daughter in the story is the author of Counting Birds) and Crow Not Crow, Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple (2018).

Hester Saves Christmas – Susanna Hill’s 8th Annual Holiday Contest

Dust off the decorations. Strike up the band. Bake, bake, bake and bake some more (especially if it’s chocolate). It’s time for

Susanna Hill’s 8th Annual Holiday Contest!

The Contest:  Write a children’s holiday story (children here defined as age 12 and under) about A Holiday Hero!  Your hero’s act of heroism can be on a grand scale or a small one – from saving Christmas to leaving a fresh-baked loaf of Challah bread for a homeless person to something like Gift Of The Magi where two people give up the thing most important to them to be sure someone they love has a good holiday.  Your hero can be obvious or unlikely.  Your story may be poetry or prose, silly or serious or sweet, religious or not, based on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate, but is not to exceed 250 words.  Entries are posted, or linked to, Susanna’s post. Grab some cocoa, scurry over & enjoy some wonderful holiday stories! You’ll be glad you did (and so will the writers, if you leave comments).

And now, for my 246-word entry…

Hester Saves Christmas

Hester loved jingling bells, the scent of sparkling pine trees, and the promise of present-filled stockings hung by Farmer O’Neill’s chimney. She especially loved stories of Santa and his reindeer.

“Mama, can I can pull Santa’s sleigh next year?” Hester asked.

“Flying reindeer pull Santa’s sleigh, Hester. And everyone knows Highland Cows can’t fly.”

But I can dream, thought Hester. And practice.

She hopped over heather and thistles.

“Ouch!”

She jumped across rocky streams…almost.

            SPLASH!

She trotted uphill, leapt, and…

tumbled down a steep slope.

            Moooo…

Hester kept trying…

and trying…

and trying…

but not quite succeeding.

As Christmas drew near, Hester turned her nose from pine trees and looked away from the chimney. She hung her shaggy head. Large tears fell, freezing like a glistening beard.

“A blizzard,” sighed Farmer O’Neill on Christmas Eve.  “No presents tomorrow. Santa’s reindeer can’t fly through this mess. Into the barn, girls.”

All but one shuffled into the warm barn.

Hester trudged through deep snowdrifts. She shivered in the blustery wind and slipped on icy paths until…

She heard a faint jingle-jingle. She scrambled and spied…

Santa in his sleigh with eight grounded reindeer stuck in a snow pile.

Hester pulled, tugged and led the reindeer, sleigh and Santa along the snowy trail.

The next morning, presents filled stockings.  Laughter rang like jingling bells across the farm.

“Merry Christmas, Hester,” Farmer O’Neill said.  “Wake up! Somehow Santa came!”

Hester yawned and wondered,

Can a cow hide Easter eggs?

 

 

Perfect Pairing – Travels Wordlessly through the World

As the biggest holiday in the United States looms and as many of you dear readers may be jostling through airports, cramming into trains or sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, take a deep breath and imagine journeys that are much more pleasant, like the ones paired today. Happy Thanksgiving! 

Chalk Eagle

Author & Illustrator: Nazli Tahvili

Publisher/Date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: imagination; flight; adventure; wordless

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A young boy living in the heart of a busy city spots an eagle swooping overhead. He dreams of what it would be like to fly away from the noise and soar over mountains and rivers. Climbing onto the roof, he uses chalk to draw his own eagle – and then himself – into existence. The two fly away together and embark on a wonderful adventure of the boy’s imagination.

Read my review.

 

Door

Author & Illustrator: JiHyeon Lee

Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books/2018 (originally published in South Korea, Iyagikot Publishing Co/2017)

Ages: 3-5

Themes: imagination; friendship; adventure; wordless

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

What’s on the other side of the door? There’s only one way to find out: You’ll have to go through it.

JiHyeon Lee’s debut book, Pool, was lauded as a wordless masterpiece. Here she takes readers on another journey into an unexpected world. Delicate drawings transform from grays to vivid color as a curious child goes through a mysterious door and discovers that open-mindedness is the key to adventure and friendship.

Read a review at Brainpickings.

I paired these books because they are wordless picture books involving imaginative journeys. In Chalk Eagle, a young boy views an eagle and draws an eagle and himself with chalk to experience the joys of flying over serene, forested mountains. With a palate of blues and greens, Tahvili evokes vast mountains and sky, leaving many details to the readers’ imaginations. In Door, a young boy finds a key to a locked garden, enters, and discovers a colorful, exuberant world filled with welcoming creatures on the other side. Leaving the black and white reality of frowning adults, the boy enters the colorful, detail-filled garden to frolic with a cast of merry characters. While both main characters undertake imaginative journeys, the look and feel of these journeys differ, perhaps because Tahvili and Lee hail from different parts of the world: Iran and South Korea.

Looking for similar reads?

See Circle, Jeannie Baker (2016) or the Journey series by Aaron Becker.