Category Archives: Uncategorized

PPBF – The Refuge

With Mars and space exploration in the news right now, I thought this was a perfect time to feature a picture book that features a friendship born out of a shared love of astronomy.

Title: The Refuge

Written By: Sandra le Guen

Illustrated By: Stéphane Nicolet

Translated By: Danial Hahn

Publisher/Date: Amazon Crossing Kids/2020 (originally published in French, Éditions les P’tits Bérets/2019)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: refugee, astronomy, friendship

Opening:

When Jeannette got home from school that day, she dropped her bag on the floor. She didn’t bother to take off her shoes, and she didn’t bother to have her afternoon snack.

When Jeannette got home from school that day, she hurried into her mom’s office. She opened the window wide. She pointed the telescope toward the sky and brought her eye up close.

Brief Synopsis: When a new girl, Iliana, who doesn’t speak the language arrives at Jeannette’s school, Jeannette and Iliana become friends, bonding over a shared love of the night sky.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover activities to learn about space with NASA;
  • Because Iliana doesn’t know the language in her new school yet, she uses hand motions and draws pictures of her home country and her journey to her new home and school. Try telling a story using only gestures and/or pictures;
  • Think about ways you could help a new student in your class or new neighbor feel welcome, especially if you and she don’t speak the same language.

Why I Like this Book:

In The Refuge, a French picture book translated into English, two young girls bond over a shared love of astronomy. I love that this book not only builds empathy for refugees from an unnamed war-torn country, but that it features two science-loving girls who bond over their shared passion.

I also love that Jeannette’s mother keeps a telescope in her office, and that she encourages Jeannette to use it. Similarly, Iliana’s mother calms Iliana during the perilous sea journey by encouraging her to focus on the stars in the sky and by reminding her that the sky “belonged to everybody”.

In many refugee books, a child seeks to teach a newcomer the language spoken at the new home. That happens in The Refuge, but, in addition, Jeannette also seeks to learn Iliana’s language. I love the mutuality shown, and I think kids and adults will enjoy seeing the English and Arabic words side-by-side.

Although le Guen doesn’t shy away from letting readers know that Iliana’s family has fled a war and experienced a life-threatening journey to reach Europe, the focus on a shared passion and friendship makes this a hope-filled book, perfect to help explain the refugee experience to children.

Nicolet’s expressive and fanciful illustrations transport readers to the young girls’ star-filled world.

A Note about Craft:

In The Refuge, a sky that knows no borders, that belongs to everybody, is the passion that unites two astronomy-loving friends. By focusing on the sky, le Guen shows, I think, how everyone is united, how these two friends, who speak different languages, can find a shared language over which to bond.

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

PPBF-The Day Saida Arrived

Since it’s still Valentine’s Day week, I thought it was the perfect time to feature a picture book about friendship. Enjoy!

Title: The Day Saida Arrived

Written By: Susana Gómez Redondo

Illustrated By: Sonja Wimmer

Translated By: Lawrence Schimel

Publisher/Date: Blue Dot Kids Press/2020 (originally published in Spain, El día que Saída Ilegó, Takatuka SL/2012)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: friendship, immigration, language, empathy, respect

Opening:

The day Saida arrived, it seemed to me that she had lost all her words. So, I tried to look for them in every nook cranny corner drawer seam to see if, between them and me, we might get rid of her tears and throw away her silence.

Brief Synopsis: When a new girl, Saida, arrives at the narrator’s school, the two become friends as the narrator shares English words with Saida and learns words in Saida’s native Arabic.

Links to Resources:

  • Try to learn some words in another language from a relative, friend, or neighbor;
  • Saida has traveled to her new school from Morocco. Discover Morocco here;
  • Saida speaks Arabic and teaches the narrator some Arabic words. Check out the activities at A Crafty Arab to learn more Arabic words and discover Arabic culture;
  • Discover other ideas in the Teacher’s Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

With lyrical language and effective repetition, The Day Saida Arrived recounts the journey undertaken by the narrator and her new friend, Saida, as they explore each other’s language. I love that the narrator welcomes the young immigrant, Saida, and that she seeks to help her learn the language spoken at her new school. But rather than heading down a one-way street to teach her new friend this new-to-her language, the narrator seeks to bridge the language divide by learning Saida’s language, Arabic. Together, the girls forge a friendship by sharing both languages, learning about each other’s culture, and dreaming of a day when they can visit Saida’s home country of Morocco together.

With Arabic words and pronunciations sprinkled throughout the text, and English and Arabic alphabets set side by side at the end, I think The Day Saida Arrived is a wonderful introduction to Arabic language and culture. I also think it’s a good reminder that children, and adults, can welcome newcomers to their country by sharing their culture and by being open to learning about the immigrants’ culture. That way, everyone can learn a “world of new words.”

With its dreamy, surrealistic illustrations, The Day Saida Arrived is a gorgeous picture book. The inclusion of words in English and Arabic, with pronunciations, scattered within the illustrations makes this a book that I think kids and adults will want to reread numerous times.

A Note about Craft:

In The Day Saida Arrived, Redondo utilizes first-person point-of-view, telling the story of Saida’s arrival from the perspective of the young girl who befriends the newcomer. I think this perspective is particularly effective because it provides a roadmap to readers showing how they can welcome newcomers to their schools or neighborhoods.

Intrigued by the newcomer and wanting to help her, the narrator tells her parents all about Saida that evening. I love how Mama finds Morocco on a globe and how Papa explains that perhaps Saida doesn’t want to speak because she’s aware her words are different, just as the narrator’s words would be different and wouldn’t work in Morocco. Including these sympathetic adults, I think, strengthens the story because it shows the importance of supportive adults to expand children’s horizons.

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!

A Valentiny Story: Stella & Sparky and the Last Valentine

Today’s a very special day. It’s the day when we celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birth and Lunar New Year 2021. It’s the Friday before the long-awaited Presidents’ Day Weekend, and it’s one day closer to spring. But most especially, it’s the day when children’s writers around the world submit a story to…  

The 6th Annual Valentiny Writing Contest

Now for those very few of you who may not be familiar with this special contest, you’re in for a real treat. Each and every one of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of the maximum 214-word stories for children (ages 12 and under) features a character who is feeling BRAVE!

To read these fabulous stories, hop on over to Susanna Hill’s blog. It’s free and pairs perfectly with hot cocoa, cookies, candy from your sweetheart, or your treat of choice. And if you leave a comment on a story you enjoy, you’ll warm the heart of its creator.

As to my entry, I’ve taken this opportunity to feature two characters who have been roaming around in my brain for quite some time: Stella, a miniature horse, and Sparky, a small but spirited pup. They’re based on real therapy animals who live and train at a ranch in Montana. Without further ado, may I present…

Stella & Sparky and the Last Valentine

(213 words)

Stella and Sparky delivered Valentines to the library Ready Readers, to young patients at Cancer Care, and to wounded soldiers at the Veterans Hospital. When they finished, one card remained.

“Let’s give it to Mrs. Stinkenblum.”

“That grump never smiles!”

“That’s why she needs it!”

“But she lives on the other side of the valley.”

“Easy-peasy! I’ll nudge the paddock gate open. You sniff out the trail. We’ll cross the snowy fields, tiptoe past the wolf’s den, and be there in no time!”

“Maybe…”

“What’s that noise, like the snorting of…”

“BISON! RUN!”

“Whew! That was close! But the rest should be easy-peasy.”

“Once I dig out of this snowbank.”

“What’s that noise, like the rumbling of…”

“AVALANCHE! RUN!”

“Whew! That was close! But the rest should be easy-peasy.”

“Once we scale these boulders.”

“What’s that noise, like the growling of…”

“THE WOLF! RUN!”

“Whew! That was too close!”

“I. Give. Up!”

“But we’re so close. Be brave!”

“Look! Mrs. Stinkenblum’s house!”

“Happy Valentine’s Day!”

“What’s that noise?”

“Snorting? Rumbling? Growling?”

“With hairy arms!”

“Slimy red nose!”

 “Gaping mouth!”

“MONSTER! RUN!”

“Stella! Sparky! It’s me, Mrs. Stinkenblum, in my furry robe, with such a bad cold. Ahhh-choo!

But this lovely Valentine is the perfect medicine. Thank you!”

Wide smiles spread across everyone’s faces.

PPBF – The Paper Kingdom

I read this newish picture book late last year, and it struck me how few picture books tackle income inequality and the difficulties that unskilled workers and their children face. Then when I read the Author’s Note and learned that this picture book is based on the author’s own childhood, you know that I had to review it!

Title: The Paper Kingdom

Written By: Helena Ku Rhee

Illustrated By: Pascal Campion

Publisher/Date: Penguin Random House/2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: imagination, cleaners, night shift, family, #OwnVoices

Opening:

Mama and Papa were night janitors. While they got ready for work, Daniel got ready for sleep.

Brief Synopsis: When the babysitter cancels, Daniel accompanies his parents to their job as nighttime office cleaners.

Links to Resources:

  • Daniel’s parents imagine that a king rules over a large office and that small dragons have been messy. Imagine a creature that creates a mess and draw a picture of it or tell a story about it;
  • Imagine a creature that battles messiness, dust, and dirt. How is this creature different from the messy creature?
  • Use household items, like a broom, vacuum cleaner, or an empty box to create your own kingdom;
  • Explore more ideas in the Reader’s Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

In The Paper Kingdom, Rhee presents a difficult situation, a young child who has to accompany his parents to clean in an “angry” looking building in the middle of the night, and shows how, with imagination, it can be turned into a hope-filled story. Although it’s clear at the outset that the parents are also tired and most likely aren’t looking forward to cleaning messy office space in the middle of the night, the parents don’t complain. Instead, they turn their chores into a game for Daniel, as he searches for the king, the queen, and the messy dragons. And as Daniel sits on the throne at the end of the story, he, and the readers, imagine a world when the dragons pick up “their litter” so that people like his parents don’t need to do so.

I think The Paper Kingdom is a picture book that can help raise awareness about the dignity of work, and how people, including children, can ease burdens for those who keep our schools and other public areas clean and safe. Despite his age, Daniel noticed that papers were strewn about the conference room and that the cafeteria was a total mess with items like banana peels left on the floor. Hopefully, after reading this story, kids will become more aware of the impact their action, or inaction, has on others.

Campion’s detailed illustrations complete the picture of this hard-working family. At the outset, readers see that Daniel sleeps in a bed in the kitchen, that Mama cooks on what seems to be a hotplate, but that a flower-filled vase and houseplant cheer the surroundings while books appear on a shelf and Papa reads a book at the small kitchen table. It’s clear that these hardworking parents have dreams to better their lives, and Daniel’s.

A Note about Craft:

Per the Author’s Note, The Paper Kingdom is based on Rhee’s experiences accompanying her own parents to work as night janitors in an office building. I think this experience has enabled Rhee to be particularly empathetic to kids in this situation and renders this fictional story more relatable.

Interestingly, the ethnic and even racial heritage of Daniel and his parents have been kept vague. I think that’s a good choice, as it will enable more children to see themselves in Daniel, and it may prevent readers from stereotyping that people from a particular ethnic or racial background are more likely to work as cleaners.

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

PPBF and Multicultural Children’s Book Day, 21 Cousins

Today, for Multicultural Children’s Book Day, I have the pleasure to review a soon-to-be-released picture book that celebrates family and mestizo heritage.

New to Multicultural Children’s Book Day? Learn more about this special day at the end of this post.

Title: 21 Cousins

Written By: Diane de Anda

Illustrated By: Isabel Muñoz

Publisher/Date: Star Bright Books/1 April 2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: family, cousins, Latin Americans, mestizo heritage

Opening:

This is our family photo album, filled with the faces of grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and 21 cousins. Our mom and dad each have a brother and two sisters, and they have children too. This makes us all cousins.

Brief Synopsis: Two cousins in a large Latinx family describe their many cousins, as the family gathers to celebrate a special event.

Links to Resources:

  • Plan a visit, or a virtual visit, with one or more extended family members;
  • Create a family tree to help learn about your family history;
  • Do you have cousins (or close family friends that you call cousins)? How is each cousin the same as or different than you? What makes each cousin special?

Why I Like this Book:

21 Cousins is a celebratory exploration of family and mestizo heritage. Readers meet each cousin in this loving family in turn, making it a perfect book to explore how we are the same and different. I love that physical attributes, skills, and passions are highlighted – I think readers may find someone who is just like them (or like one of their own family members).

Spanish terms are sprinkled throughout and are either defined in the text or clear from the illustrations. As de Ande explains in the first spread, this is a mestizo family, meaning “that we share a mixture of the different people and cultures in Mexico: Indian, Spanish, French, and others. This is the reason people in our family look different in many ways. But we are still one family, our familia.”

Muñoz’s bright illustrations bring each cousin to life. I love how the details she provides to each vignette-like spread capture each cousin in turn. Along with de Ande’s descriptive text, these detailed illustrations invite readers to pause and explore each cousin’s world more fully. I think this makes 21 Cousins a wonderful read-aloud for classrooms and families as readers and listeners can discuss how they know from the surrounding items the passions and skills of each cousin.

Whether you’re from a large mestizo family looking to read about a family like your own, or whether you want to introduce your kids to a large, loving family with members of different physical attributes, including skin tone, and interests, I think you’ll enjoy 21 Cousins.

A Note about Craft:

Diane de Anda introduces readers to the 21 cousins one by one, focusing on aspects that make each person unique and special, and also on how they are the same. By including such a large number of cousins, de Anda is able to showcase many different activities enjoyed by kids, kids in different age groups, and different physical attributes. By including a child with Down Syndrome and one in a wheelchair, I think she expands the focus and celebratory message of 21 Cousins by showing how differently-abled relatives bring joy to and experience happiness within families.

21 Cousins will be available in Spanish as 21 primos.

Star Bright Books is “an independent publishing company dedicated to producing the highest quality books for children.” In business since 1994, this Massachusetts publisher endeavors “to include children of all colors, nationalities, and abilities” in its books, which are published in 29 languages.

From the publisher:

Diane de Anda is a professor emerita of social welfare at UCLA and a community voice on violence prevention and stress management among adolescents. She has written eight children’s books and edited four books on multicultural social work. Her work focuses on empowering Latino youth. Diane lives in Playa del Rey, California. 21 Cousins is her first book with Star Bright Books. https://deandabookshop.com/

Isabel Muñoz is a lifelong artist and children’s book illustrator. She studied fine arts at the Complutense University in Madrid, Spain. Isabel loves to dwell on the details of children’s stories that cannot be seen with the naked eye. She lives in Spain. 21 Cousins is her first book with Star Bright Books. https://thebrightagency.com/us/publishing/artists/isabel-munoz

I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an 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!

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2021 (1/29/21) is in its 8th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.

Eight years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues. Read about our Mission & History HERE.

MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Medallion Sponsors!

FOUNDER’S CIRCLE: Mia Wenjen (Prgamaticmom) and Valarie Budayr’s (Audreypress.com)

Platinum Sponsors: Language Lizard Bilingual Books in 50+ Languages, Author Deedee Cummings and Make A Way Media

Gold Sponsors: Barefoot Books, Candlewick Press, CapstoneHoopoe Books,  KidLitTV, Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

Silver Sponsors: Charlotte Riggle, Connecticut Association of School Librarians, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Pack-N-Go Girls

Bronze Sponsors: Agatha Rodi and AMELIE is IMPRESSED!, Barnes Brothers Books, Create and Educate Solutions, LLC, Dreambuilt Books, Dyesha and Triesha McCants/McCants Squared, Redfin Real Estate, Snowflake Stories, Star Bright Books, TimTimTom Bilingual Personalized Books, Author Vivian Kirkfield, Wisdom Tales Press, My Well Read Child 

MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Author Sponsors!

Poster Artist: Nat Iwata

Authors: Author Afsaneh Moradian, Author Alva Sachs & Three Wishes Publishing Company, Author Angeliki Stamatopoulou-Pedersen, Author Anna Olswanger, Author Casey Bell , Author Claudine Norden, Author Debbie Dadey, Author Diana Huang & IntrepidsAuthor Eugenia Chu & Brandon goes to Beijing, Green Kids Club,  Author Gwen Jackson, Author Janet Balletta, Author Josh Funk, Author Julia Inserro, Karter Johnson & Popcorn and Books, Author Kathleen Burkinshaw & The Last Cherry Blossom, Author Keila Dawson, Maya/Neel Adventures with Culture Groove, Author Mia Wenjen, Michael Genhart, Nancy Tupper Ling, Author Natalie Murray, Natalie McDonald-Perkins, Author Natasha Yim, Author Phe Lang and Me On The Page Publishing, Sandra Elaine Scott, Author Shoumi Sen & From The Toddler Diaries, SISSY GOES TINY by Rebecca Flansburg and B.A. Norrgard, Susan Schaefer Bernardo & Illustrator Courtenay FletcherTales of the Five Enchanted Mermaids, Author Theresa Mackiewicz, Tonya Duncan and the Sophie Washington Book Series, Author Toshia Stelivan, Valerie Williams-Sanchez & The Cocoa Kids Collection Books©, Author Vanessa Womack, MBA, Author Veronica Appleton & the Journey to Appleville book series

MCBD 2021 is Honored to be Supported by our CoHosts and Global CoHosts!

MCBD 2021 is Honored to be Supported by these Media Partners!

Check out MCBD’s Multicultural Books for Kids Pinterest Board!

FREE RESOURCES from Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Diversity Book Lists & Activities for Teachers and Parents

Homeschool Diverse Kidlit Booklist & Activity Kit

FREE Teacher Classroom Activism and Activists Kit

FREE Teacher Classroom Empathy Kit

FREE Teacher Classroom Kindness Kit

FREE Teacher Classroom Physical and Developmental Challenges Kit

FREE Teacher Classroom Poverty Kit

Gallery of Our Free Posters

FREE Diversity Book for Classrooms Program

TWITTER PARTY! Register here!

PPBF – Francesco Tirelli’s Ice Cream Shop

I had meant to post this review in December, the month when people of Jewish heritage around the world celebrated Hanukkah in 2020. But somehow, I didn’t manage to post this then. Rather than waiting another year, I thought I’d keep the spirit of the season alive and post it now.

Title: Francesco Tirelli’s Ice Cream Shop

Written By: Tamar Meir

Illustrated By: Yael Albert

Translated By: Noga Appelbaum

Publisher/Date: Kar-Ben Publishing/2019

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes/Topics: Holocaust, Hungary, ice cream, immigrant

Opening:

Francesco Tirelli loved ice cream so much that at least once a day he would find an excuse to pass by Carlo Tirelli’s ice cream cart. Uncle Carlo was very fond of his nephew.

Brief Synopsis: When an ice cream-loving boy grew up, he opened his own ice cream parlor in a new city and country, and he used that shop to hide his Jewish friends and neighbors during a long, dark winter.

Links to Resources:

  • Do you have a favorite ice cream flavor? Draw a picture of an ice cream sundae, being sure to include your favorite flavors;
  • Try making homemade ice cream;
  • Discover Budapest, Hungary, where much of this story takes place;
  • Learn about the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.

Why I Like this Book:

Translated from Hebrew, Francesco Tirelli’s Ice Cream Shop is based on a true story told by the author’s father-in-law, a boy, Peter, whose life was saved by Francesco’s kindness.  I think kids and their adults will appreciate learning how one ice cream-loving Italian boy grew up to become an ice-cream vendor far from his native land and how he helped his Jewish friends and neighbors hide from the Nazis in World War II Budapest. One person can truly make a difference, readers learn.

And not only does Francesco, an immigrant in Hungary, save several Jewish friends and neighbors, but young Peter finds a way to celebrate Hanukkah even as the group hides in the darkness of the closed ice cream shop.

Although the Holocaust plays a central role in the story, Meir’s focus on ice cream helps temper this difficult subject.

Albert’s softly expressive illustrations helped transport me back to this historical time period.

A Note about Craft:

Meir pens a story that spans several generations, something not generally done in picture books, and that handles a very difficult subject, the Holocaust. So how does she pull it off? Meir begins this hope-filled story with scenes from Francesco’s Italian childhood, and she doesn’t end it until young Peter is an older man with grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. A love of ice cream threads through this long time span, tying together Francesco’s Italian childhood in the early 20th century, through the main action of the story, during World War II, and through to the late 20th century. By focusing on a kid-friendly element, ice cream, and most particularly by repeating beloved flavors (“Hazelnut or berry?/ Cinnamon or cherry?/ Coffee or toffee?”) at three key points, I think Meir relieves the tension of the tough subject matter, ties the generations together, and leaves the reader believing that one person’s actions can make a difference.

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

PPBF – Butterflies Belong Here: A Story of One Idea, Thirty Kids, and a World of Butterflies

I always love picture books that relay facts, encourage kids to take action, and include a compelling story line. I think you’ll agree that today’s Perfect Picture Book is just such a book!

Title: Butterflies Belong Here: A Story of One Idea, Thirty Kids, and a World of Butterflies

Written By: Deborah Hopkinson

Illustrated By: Meilo So

Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books/2020

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: butterflies, environment, migration, immigrant

Opening:

Spring

Last spring, we took a class picture./ That’s me in the back./ I was a little like a caterpillar then:/ quiet and almost invisible./ I didn’t like to stand out or be noticed.

Brief Synopsis: The narrator, a new immigrant, loves butterflies and becomes more self-assured in her new school as she researches Monarch Butterflies and helps organize a schoolyard monarch way station.

Links to Resources:

Check out the fabulous back matter, including Author’s Note, Quick Guide to Making a Schoolyard Monarch Way Station, Miscellaneous Monarch Facts, and lists of books and internet resources for children and adults.

Why I Like this Book:

Butterflies Belong Here is an empowering picture book that shows how one passionate child can make a difference in our world. That the child is a recent immigrant adds to the story. I love how she finds her voice through sharing her knowledge and passion about monarch butterflies. I also love that her classmates rally to join her in a class project to help  build a way station for migrating monarch butterflies to recharge and refresh themselves on plants such as milkweed.

I think Butterflies Belong Here will appeal to nature lovers and to children wanting to learn about ways they can better their world. Filled with interesting monarch butterfly facts and concrete ways to help these lovely creatures, Butterflies Belong Here is a marvelous addition to classrooms and home libraries.

So’s detailed illustrations beautifully capture the worlds of the two travelers, the young narrator and the monarch butterflies she loves.

A Note about Craft:

The unnamed narrator of Butterflies Belong Here is a new immigrant, struggling to learn English. By choosing this narrator as the main character and main impetus for the monarch butterfly project, Hopkinson reminds readers that new immigrants have valuable ideas and talents to share and that stepping outside oneself and embracing a cause is a terrific way to adapt to a new land. Interestingly, both the narrator and the butterflies have migrated and changed by the story’s end.

Hopkinson shares many facts about monarch butterflies within the text. But rather than weaving them into the story or separating them completely in side boxes, these facts appear as “book pages” (ie, text being read by the narrator) on 4 double spreads. If you’re reading to a younger audience, these pages could be skipped to accommodate shorter attention spans. Older listeners, especially nature lovers, will find much to learn there, though.

Hopkinson and So also teamed up on Follow the Moon Home: A Tale of One Idea, Twenty Kids, and a Hundred Sea Turtles.

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

PPBF – Salma the Syrian Chef

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve been cooking, and eating, way too much these past few holiday weeks. But while I was visiting my daughter recently, I perused her copy of The Immigrant Cookbook, which has inspired me to try some healthy, new-to-me recipes. After reading today’s Perfect Picture Book, I think I’ve found another new recipe to ring in the new decade, too.

Title: Salma the Syrian Chef

Written By: Danny Ramadan

Illustrated By: Anna Bron

Publisher/Date: Annick Press/2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: cooking, recipe, Syria, refugees, home

Opening:

Salma watches the Vancouver rain from her apartment window in the Welcome Center. It’s different than the sunny days back in Syria.

She still can’t pronounce “Vancouver,” but her friends tell her that her ways of saying it are more fun.

Brief Synopsis: To cheer up her mother, Salma, a young Syrian refugee living in Vancouver, Canada, decides to make a beloved Syrian dish with the help of friends from the Welcome Center.

Links to Resources:

  • Do you have a favorite food that reminds you of a special place or person? With the help of an adult, try preparing it for family or friends;
  • Salma prepares foul shami (pronounced “fool shammy”), fava beans prepared in the style eaten in Damascus, Syria. Check out the recipe;
  • Salma originally lived in Damascus, Syria; learn more about this ancient city.

Why I Like this Book:

In Salma the Syrian Chef, Salma, a young Syrian refugee, notices that her mother has stopped smiling. After numerous attempts to cheer her mother up and make their adopted city of Vancouver feel more like home, including drawing pictures, telling jokes, and jumping out from a hiding spot to surprise Mama, Salma thinks about what may be making her Mama sad: they no longer are in their home, and Papa isn’t with them. Salma realizes that she can’t change either of those by herself, but she can make Mama a favorite food from home.

I love how Salma realizes that her Mama is sad, that she determines to cheer her up, and that she understands that a favorite food from home can brighten someone’s day. As a young child, though, Salma isn’t able to shop and cook by herself. Other adults and children at an immigrant Welcome Center rally to help her, showing how important a new community can be to help refugees and other immigrants resettle.

I think children reading Salma the Syrian Chef will enjoy this story, will empathize with children, like Salma, who are struggling to resettle in a foreign land, and will learn that small actions, like cooking a favorite recipe or helping someone else do so, will, like raindrops in a puddle, spread through a community to cheer everyone.

Bron’s soft palette of beiges and browns from the Syrian desert and the grays and blues of often-rainy Vancouver effectively show the dichotomy of these two places. I especially enjoyed the tiled frames that appear on most spreads.

A Note about Craft:

In Salma the Syrian Chef, Ramadan presents a classic, kid-friendly problem for the main character, Salma: cheering up her mother who is sad to be away from home and so far from Salma’s Papa. The solution, cooking her Mama’s favorite dish, isn’t something that Salma can do by herself, however, as she needs help finding the recipe, sourcing some of the ingredients, and chopping vegetables. Although a picture book main character should solve her or his own problem, by presenting a solution that requires community involvement, I think Ramadan adds an important layer to this story and strengthens its impact.

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

PPBF – Story Boat

I love the work of both the author and illustrator of today’s Perfect Picture Book. And as we journey towards a new year ahead, what could be better than a story about a journey towards a new home.

Title: Story Boat

Written By: Kyo Maclear

Illustrated By: Rashin Kheiriyeh

Publisher/Date: Tundra Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House/2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: refugees, migration, journey, imagination

Opening:

Here we are.

What’s that? Well, here is…

Here is just here.

Brief Synopsis:

A young girl creates a story from everyday objects for her younger brother as they and their family journey to a new home.

Links to Resources:

  • The unnamed narrator and her brother have left their home to journey to another one. What would you bring with you if you had to leave your home?
  • Find a few common objects in your home, like a bowl or plate, a blanket or pillow, or a book. What else could these things be or become? Perhaps a flying saucer? A billowing cloud? A bird that takes flight?
  • Check out the Educator’s Guide for more activity ideas.

Why I Like this Book:

In lyrical language and soft illustrations, two children journey with their family from an unnamed home to a new land. In trying to answer her younger brother’s questions about where they are, where they are going, and where “home” is, the narrator weaves a story from everyday objects that accompany them – the cup from which they drink is a boat to carry them towards their destination. A soft blanket covers them at night and acts as a sail for their boat. A bright light becomes a lighthouse, illuminating their journey. And a story helps buoy them as they await the journey’s end and the promise of a new home.

With its focus on imaginative storytelling and everyday objects, Story Boat is a hope-filled addition to the picture books portraying the refugee experience. There’s no mention of the horrors that the family left, and no sense of an unwelcoming reception at their new home. This story is filled with objects and community scenes that will resonate with young children, and that, I think, will help readers empathize with these young refugees.

A Note about Craft:

Maclear uses first-person point of view to tell this story, which helps readers journey along with the children and empathize with them. Who hasn’t wondered at some point where they are and what being “here” really means?

But while the point of view draws the reader into the story, the focus on the children’s storytelling and imagination helps keep the story hope-filled. It also adds an element of fantasy that renders this difficult topic more kid-friendly.

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!

Star – a Holiday Helper Story

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, because, dear friends, Susanna Hill is hosting her world-famous 10th Annual Holiday Contest! Take a break from the hustle and bustle of holiday prep. Don cozy slippers, grab cocoa and cookies, and savor the best children’s holiday stories over at her blog. And just think – you can do all of this while social distancing from the comfort of your own home!

The rules? Create a kid-friendly story in 250 words or less (not including the title), featuring a Holiday Helper. Without further ado, may I present my 249-word entry:

STAR

Star dreamt of becoming a star of the circus, the rodeo, or the theater.

But Star was a miniature horse. Not big enough to jump through hoops or hold riders. Not fast enough for the rodeo. And who needs a tiny horse on the stage?

“I’ll never be a star,” she sighed.

“Star, you’re a therapy horse,” Misty said. “Your gentle nature brings comfort and joy to the injured, lonely, sick, and sad. You listen when others don’t notice or are too busy to care.”

 “But I want to DO something. Run! Jump! Feel that I matter.”

“You do matter, Star. Every day, in so many ways. But if you want to try the theater, the children’s nativity play needs live animals. You’re just the right size!”

Star loved every moment of rehearsals. She practiced prancing onto the stage and bowing to the babe.

Everything was perfect, until Joey, playing Joseph, broke his leg. He was recast as a shepherd, stuck on crutches at the back of the flock.

As the curtain rose, Star’s eyes shone under the bright stage lights. Her big moment had arrived!

But Star could think only about the tears in Joey’s eyes, his soft sobs, and his pain.

On cue, Star pranced and bowed to the babe. She then disappeared behind the flock. There, she nuzzled Joey, felt his warm tears on her neck, and listened as his sobs ceased.

“Thank you,” he whispered. “You’re my star!”

Star glowed like a star, with happiness.