PPBF – Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad

As the cold temperatures and stormy weather continue across the northeastern US, many kids, I’m sure, are busy with indoor activities, including arts and crafts. I believe the joy of creation is universal, even, as in today’s Perfect Picture Book, in times and regions of war.

covers011Title: Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad

Written & Illustrated By: James Rumford

Publisher/date: Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press/2008

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (or older)

Themes/Topics: calligraphy; war; coping mechanisms


My name is Ali. I live in Baghdad.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy in Baghdad loves the art of calligraphy and finds solace in the art as war rages across his city.

Links to Resources:

  • Try calligraphy and learn more about this ancient art, including from the Author’s Note;
  • Learn about Iraq, the setting of today’s story;
  • Ali loves to write and when he’s scared, he does it to calm himself. What do you do when you are scared or upset?

Why I Like this Book:

Silent Music provides a window into the arts and everyday life in Baghdad in the early twenty-first century, when much of the country was a war zone. I think older kids, especially, will relate to the main character, Ali, who likes and does the things that so many children enjoy: sports, friends, “parent-rattling music” and dancing. I think they’ll also appreciate the many analogies that Rumford utilizes to explain the art of calligraphy: the ink “dancing to the silent music in my head”; a sentence like a “soccer player in slow motion”; “masts” that become “tangled knots of ink”. And, as in real life, peace is difficult to write. While Ali’s pen “glides down” the letters that form the word for war, he must practice writing peace until, he hopes, the word “flows freely from my pen”.

Rumford is an illustrator/author who has learned the art of calligraphy. The gorgeous artwork in Silent Music is a combination of computer-enhanced pencil and charcoal drawings collaged together and combined with calligraphy, examples of which appear on almost every page. Rumford explains on his website how he generated the illustrations using Photoshop.


Reprinted from Rumford’s website

I’d not recommend Silent Music for younger children. It is, however, as Rumford intended, a reminder for school-aged kids that art exists, and is a form of solace, even in war-torn regions or regions affected by natural or other human-made disasters.

A Note about Craft:

In his acceptance speech for the Jane Addams Award for Silent Music that is reprinted on his website, Rumford explains how, in 2003, in the midst of the devastation of the Iraq War, he wanted to “write something positive about its culture.” At first, he explains, he desired to write about a 13th century calligrapher who lived and worked in Baghdad as the Mongols invaded. But as he struggled to craft the story, he realized that the story should be set in modern-day Iraq, with a contemporary main character. He also realized, however, how controversial the subject was and wondered whether the story would be published.

As we know now, not only was Silent Music published five years after Rumford conceived the story, but it also was an award winner. For authors and illustrators wanting to tackle difficult subjects in picture books, I think Rumford’s persistence, and Neal Porter’s willingness to publish a picture book set in a war zone, should inspire us to persevere, too.

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 – King for a Day

It’s Spring…somewhere! As we cross our fingers in the frosty northern regions of the US that a certain groundhog will not see his (or her) shadow today, I can’t help thinking about places where spring already has arrived and the celebrations that herald that arrival. Today’s Perfect Picture Book features a celebration of spring’s arrival from Pakistan:

main_largeTitle: King for a Day

Written By:  Rukhsana Khan

Illustrated By: Christiane Krömer

Publisher/date: Lee & Low Books/2014

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes/Topics: spring festivals; kites; Pakistan; physical challenges; #ReadYourWorld


Basant is the most exciting day of the year! With feasts and music and parties, people celebrate the arrival of spring. And many will make their way to the rooftops of Lahore to test their skills in kite-flying battles.

Brief Synopsis: A young Pakistani boy battles with his kite to snag other kites and become the winner, the king, of the spring festival, Basant.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Pakistan;
  • Celebrate Basant, a festival to mark the arrival of spring, and learn how it is celebrated in Pakistan;
  • Make and fly a kite;
  • Check out more ideas in the Teacher’s Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

King for a Day is a wonderfully diverse book, featuring not just a colorful spring festival about which most of us know little, a glimpse into a city, Lahore, Pakistan, which most of us will never visit, but also a wheelchair-bound main character. With his one kite and plucky spirit, kids will root for Malik as his kite, Falcon, like a great bird of prey, circles and slices the string of the neighboring bully’s kite, Goliath. I think kids will also feel satisfied at the ending when Malik shares a special something with a young girl who is crying.

Krömer’s vivid, collaged illustrations bring Lahore and the story to life. I especially enjoyed the many kites depicted in the middle of the story – so vibrant and reminiscent of a perfect spring day.


Reprinted from Krömer’s website

A Note about Craft:

King for a Day is an interesting glimpse into a Pakistani city and festival, that features a boy in a wheelchair. Featuring a physically-challenged main character adds a rich layer to an already culturally diverse story. Interestingly, Malik’s physical condition is not mentioned in the text; rather, we know he’s in a wheelchair only because of the illustrations. In this way, Krömer broadens the appeal of the book and expands the potential audience.

Khan is an #OwnVoices author, but Krömer admits in a fascinating interview with Khan, that she knew nothing about Lahore before starting the project, and the first images she saw were of violence and a male-dominated festival. Anyone who sees King for a Day will be astonished by this revelation. So how did Krömer come to understand the setting and story? In the interview and a behind-the-art look at her process on Lee & Low’s site, she recounts how she viewed a Mughal art exhibit and incorporated the style of the Mughal architecture into her collages, how she visited Pakistani neighborhoods and came to understand the dominant colors to incorporate, and how she purchased Pakistani cloth in the garment district of Manhattan to use in the collages. In a word, I’d say she immersed herself virtually and as physically as possible without actually visiting Lahore. I think those of us who are non-#OwnVoices illustrators or authors can learn from Krömer’s dedication to detail and process as we incorporate characters, scenes, or cultural events about which we may not be all that familiar in our own writing.

Check out Khan’s website, which includes not only information about her own books, but a listing of books about Muslims.

View more illustrations from King for a Day at Krömer’s 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!

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2018 – Katie Woo: We Love You!

Today I’m posting a special book review of a soon-to-be-released chapter book as part of the Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2018 celebration.  blogger button

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2018 (1/27/18) is in its 5th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.  Learn more about our sponsors, twitter party, and free items below. And please follow us on twitter, @MCChildsBookDay, and help us spread the word to #ReadYourWorld.

9781515822776Title: Katie Woo: We Love You!

Written By: Fran Manushkin

Illustrated By: Tammie Lyon

Publisher/date: Picture Window Books, a Capstone imprint/2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-7

Themes/Topics: friendship; team work; #ReadYourWorld


Katie was talking to JoJo. She said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to be in a club?”

“For sure!” said JoJo. “It would be the best!”

Brief Synopsis:

Katie Woo, a young Japanese-American girl, starts a club, hosts a sleep-over, learns about volcanoes, and attends a father-daughter dance with her friends and family.

Links to Resources:

  • Make peanut butter and jelly sushi using the recipe found in the book;
  • Katie has a lucky kimono. View and color a kimono;
  • Learn about and make a volcano, like Katie and her friends do;
  • Katie and her father attend a daddy-daughter dance. Explore some kids’ dances and activities.

Why I Like this Book:

In four short, brightly-illustrated stories that are the perfect length for beginning readers, Katie Woo and her friends start a club, enjoy a spooky sleep-over, work together as a team to build a volcano, and attend a father-daughter dance. Katie Woo: We Love You! is the 10th book in this popular chapter-book series.

In “The Best Club,” Sophie, one of Katie’s classmates, starts a club that will be the “best”. But when no one measures up to Sophie’s definition of “best,” Katie and her friends rebuke Sophie for her mean attitude and exclusionary actions and form their own club, that they then allow Sophie to join. By showing readers how to confront and overcome discriminatory attitudes and actions, I think this story will help readers overcome these attitudes in their own classrooms. I also think this is a great discussion starter about what it means to be the “best” at something, thereby helping bolster kids’ self-esteem.

In “Katie’s Spooky Sleepover” a new friend, Janie, is scared by a spooky story and borrows Katie’s favorite lucky kimono to calm herself. I like that an object from Katie’s heritage is appreciated by her friend. This could also give rise to a discussion about different objects or cultural traditions that people use as comforts or as lucky omens.

Team building and a science lesson are the themes of “Katie Blows her Top,” as Katie learns to control her anger and her friends learn to take turns as they build a volcano together.

Finally, in “Daddy Can’t Dance,” Katie tries to teach her clumsy father to dance and shares a trick to keep her toes safe while they dance. Although I was surprised that it was a Daddy-Daughter dance instead of a parent-child dance, one of Katie’s friends attended with an uncle and another with a grandfather, thereby including kids who may not have a father at home.

A Note about Craft:

The Katie Woo books feature culturally-diverse characters that encounter situations and overcome problems that could affect any child. The characters seem oblivious to skin color and ethnicity. And by featuring a number of different cultures, Asian, Muslim, African-American, and Latino, Manushkin is able to focus on the similarities that unite us in everyday experiences, thereby offering a mirror for children from many backgrounds.

Find out more about Fran Manushkin and her other chapter and picture books.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Capstone Publishing’s mission is to help “children develop a love of reading and learning, no matter their ability level”. In addition to the Katie Woo chapter book series and many other titles, Capstone published the award-winning A Different Pond, that I reviewed in December. Capstone provided an advance copy of Katie Woo! We Love You! in exchange for a fair and honest review.

And, as promised above, see the list of MCBD 2018 sponsors and learn more about this amazing celebration of Multicultural Children’s Books!

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2018 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board.

2018 MCBD Medallion Sponsors

HONORARY: Children’s Book Council, Junior Library Guild

PLATINUM:Scholastic Book Clubs

GOLD:Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Loving Lion Books, Second Story Press, Star Bright Books, Worldwide Buddies

SILVER:Capstone Publishing, Author Charlotte Riggle, Child’s Play USA, KidLit TV, Pack-n-Go Girls, Plum Street Press

BRONZE: Barefoot Books, Carole P. Roman, Charlesbridge Publishing, Dr. Crystal BoweGokul! World, Green Kids Club, Gwen Jackson, Jacqueline Woodson, Juan J. Guerra, Language Lizard, Lee & Low Books, RhymeTime Storybooks, Sanya Whittaker Gragg, TimTimTom Books, WaterBrook & Multnomah, Wisdom Tales Press

2018 Author Sponsors

Honorary Author Sponsors: Author/Illustrator Aram Kim and Author/Illustrator Juana Medina

Author Janet Balletta, Author Susan BernardoAuthor Carmen Bernier-Grand, Author Tasheba Berry-McLaren and Space2Launch, Bollywood Groove Books, Author Anne BroylesAuthor Kathleen Burkinshaw, Author Eugenia Chu, Author Lesa Cline-Ransome, Author Medeia Cohan and Shade 7 Publishing, Desi Babies, Author Dani Dixon and Tumble Creek Press, Author Judy Dodge Cummings, Author D.G. Driver, Author Nicole Fenner and Sister Girl Publishing, Debbi Michiko Florence, Author Josh Funk, Author Maria Gianferrari, Author Daphnie Glenn, Globe Smart Kids, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Author Quentin Holmes, Author Esther Iverem, Jennifer Joseph: Alphabet Oddities, Author Kizzie Jones, Author Faith L Justice , Author P.J. LaRue and MysticPrincesses.com, Author Karen Leggett Abouraya, Author Sylvia Liu, Author Sherri Maret, Author Melissa Martin Ph.D., Author Lesli Mitchell, Pinky Mukhi and We Are One, Author Miranda Paul, Author Carlotta Penn, Real Dads Read, Greg Ransom, Author Sandra L. Richards, RealMVPKids Author Andrea Scott, Alva Sachs and Three Wishes Publishing, Shelly Bean the Sports QueenAuthor Sarah Stevenson, Author Gayle H. Swift Author Elsa Takaoka, Author Christine Taylor-Butler, Nicholette Thomas and  MFL Publishing  Author Andrea Y. Wang, Author Jane Whittingham  Author Natasha Yim

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Scholastic Book Clubs: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/27/18 at 9:00pm.

Join the conversation and win one of 12-5 book bundles and one Grand Prize Book Bundle (12 books) that will be given away at the party! http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/twitter-party-great-conversations-fun-prizes-chance-readyourworld-1-27-18/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teacher-classroom-empathy-kit/

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

This entry is being linked to the Multicultural Children’s Book Day list. Check out the other great #ReadYourWorld books and blogs featured there!


PPBF – The Little Black Fish

Susanna Hill asked on Facebook the other day what everyone was reading on a snowy winter’s day. I thought about what’s been on my nightstand, and what would be a good, longer story for parents and children to share. Today’s Perfect Picture Book came to mind, especially as we acknowledge the one-year anniversary of the current administration in the US, and think about what we tell kids about questioning authority, respecting others, and being receptive to those who are different from us.

9781910328194Title: The Little Black Fish

Written By: Samad Behrangi

Illustrated By: Farshid Mesghali

Translated By: Azita Rassi

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd./2016 (first published in Persian, Kanoun Parvaresh Fekri, Iran/1968)

Suitable for Ages: 7 and up

Themes/Topics: daring to be different; curiosity; exploration; death; #ReadYourWorld


As the nights grew longer and the year turned towards winter once more, an old fish settled herself to tell a story. She was telling the story to her twelve thousand grandchildren fishes. It was an exciting story full of danger and some sadness, but it was a story that also carried wisdom. The old fish wanted her grandchildren to learn from Little Black Fish’s story without them having to go into the dangers and sadnesses of life themselves.

Brief Synopsis:

The Little Black Fish dreams of a world beyond the stream. He ventures forth to learn what lies downstream, and in so doing, he encounters many wonderful things, and overcomes, many, but not all, dangers.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover more about Iran, where the author lived and the illustrator still lives;
  • Learn about rivers and streams;
  • Explore a new place or see what’s beyond the next hill or up the next street. Draw a picture of something new that you discover.

Why I Like this Book:

Although the word count is high in this story within a story, the many layers of The Little Black Fish make it well worth reading. I think even very young kids will relate to the Little Black Fish and his desire to see the world and meet other, different creatures. Behrangi captured the boredom, questioning and curiosity of young children in this spunky fish, and perceptive children will view it as a mirror into their own behavior.

I also like that this fish states clearly what many dreamers, social activists, and others have only thought: “I don’t want to spend my life swimming up and down and around, and then grumbling that there isn’t anything more to life. Perhaps there is more to life, and perhaps the world is more than our stream!”

Mesghali’s graphic illustrations date to 1968, but seem fresh and contemporary. Young children will enjoy picking out the distinctive Little Black Fish as he is depicted on his journey.

In “About the Book”, the editors reveal that the Shah’s government in Iran banned The Little Black Fish in 1968 when it first was published as it “was written and read as an allegory for a nation in which it was dangerous to dare to be politically different.” Even today, the story of a fish who dares to be different, to mingle with creatures of different species (or we could substitute race/religion/nationality/class), question his elders and leave the protective stream (or we could substitute home/neighborhood/school/country) to see the world will resonate with children, and adults, of all ages, I think.

A Note about Craft:

I mentioned above that The Little Black Fish is a story within a story. This works well, as it allows for a happy ending, even though, spoiler alert, the black fish dies at the end of his story. Interestingly, one of the 12,000 grandchildren listening to the story kept thinking about the Little Black Fish, the stream and the wonderful creatures described. That little red fish was female – a good reminder that curiosity is not gender-restricted.

Death figures prominently in this story. Not only does the Little Black Fish die, but he accuses his mother of killing his friend, a snail, the Fish encounters a doe wounded by a hunter, a crab munches on a frog, and pelicans devour small fish. Although death and the circle of life are depicted in American picture books, I found Behrangi’s depictions to be less sugar-coated than that of most contemporary writers for young children. As author Matt de la Peña asked in a recent article in Time, however, is the role of the writer to expose children to difficult topics, “to tell the truth or preserve innocence?” I think by reading books like The Little Black Fish, we can learn how authors from different cultures and/or times handle this question and learn from these approaches.

Azita Rassi translated The Little Black Fish into English for this edition, which is very helpful for those of us who don’t read Persian. Translations such as this are essential for those hoping to #ReadYourWorld and learn about important works and traditions from other cultures.

Discover more books published by Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd, “an independent publishing company committed to producing beautiful, original books for children”, founded on the “belief that stories act as bridges – providing pathways to new experiences whilst connecting us to here and there” and publishing a number of books by Iranian authors and illustrators.

According to his website, Meshghali continues to create art today in his Tehran studio. He has been awarded the first Graphic Prize, Sixth International Children Books’ Fair in Bologna, for The Little Black Fish
 in 1968, an Honorary Diploma, Bratislava Biannual, Czechoslovakia, for The Little Black Fish in 1971, and the “Hans Christian Anderson Award” for his contribution to children’s books illustration in 1974.

While not currently available in US book shops, The Little Black Fish is available through the Book Depository which ships for free to the US.

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 – Papi’s Gift

I chose today’s Perfect Picture Book before I knew what the big news story would be this week. Sadly, the United States continues to grapple with the issue of who should, or should not, be allowed to move here from outside our borders, either temporarily or permanently, alone or with their families.

Books like today’s Perfect Picture Book put a human face to the issues and will, I hope, foster empathy for those who make difficult choices, whether to stay with family or migrate in hopes of a better life.

9781590784228_1Title: Papi’s Gift

Written By: Karen Stanton

Illustrated By: René King Moreno

Publisher/date: Boyds Mills Press (an imprint of Highlights)/2007

Suitable for Ages: 7-9

Themes/Topics: family; migrant; Guatemala; disappointment


It is hot and dry on the day that Papi tells me about the box.

“Graciela,” he says, “I have sent you a box—a big box full of wonderful things for my girl on her seventh birthday.”

Brief Synopsis:

Graciela’s father, who has left their Guatemalan home to pick crops in California, promised to send a big box of birthday presents to Graciela. Disappointed when the box doesn’t arrive in time, Graciela recognizes that she is not the only one longing to be together.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Guatemala;
  • Did you ever expect a package to arrive and it didn’t? How did you feel? What did you do?
  • When you realize that someone else is sad, what can you do to help them feel better?
  • Have you ever shared something that you love to make someone else feel better?

Why I Like this Book:

Papi’s Gift is a sensitive story about the effects of migration on a Guatemalan family whose father is forced to seek work in the US because of a long drought that ruins the family’s crops. Told from the perspective of young Graciela, the reader experiences her sadness and anger that her father isn’t there to celebrate her birthday, and that even his promised package does not arrive. But hearing him cry on the telephone helps her, and the reader, realize that separation is difficult for both those left behind and those who leave.

Particularly poignant is a scene in which young Graciela asks her mother to share wedding photos with her; Papi “has been gone so long that I am forgetting his face.” Papi’s Gift puts a human face to migration and family separation and, hopefully, will foster empathy in young readers for migrants and immigrants who toil alone in the US in hopes of improving the lives of those in their home countries.

Moreno’s soft, pastel illustrations evoke the desert setting, as the family awaits the rains that will allow Papi to return to the family.

A Note about Craft:

Although neither Stanton nor Moreno appear to be Own Voice authors, it’s clear from the text and illustrations that the pair have traveled to Guatemala and understand the plight of families separated by migration.

While the central feeling of Papi’s Gift primarily is sadness and longing for a loved one’s return, Graciela also becomes angry when her father’s promised gift does not arrive for her birthday and sulks for the entire day. By including these emotions, I think Stanton presents Graciela as a complete child, not just a “poster child” for the children of migrants. I think this makes her more relatable to other children who, perhaps, have reacted similarly when things haven’t gone their way.

Finally, I love the dual meaning of the title, Papi’s Gift, as it could refer either to the gift sent by Papi, that doesn’t arrive, or a gift given to Papi. Which is it? You’ll have to read Papi’s Gift to decide for yourself!

Visit Karen Stanton’s website and view more of René King Moreno’s illustrations here.

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 – Alfredito Flies Home

Happy New Year! It’s amazing to think that the holidays are “done and dusted”, as many of my English friends say. Did you travel over the holidays? Our family journeyed to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – my first, but hopefully not last, visit to Brazil and South America. In addition to sightseeing and enjoying sun and warm temperatures, we celebrated our daughter’s recent marriage to a Brazilian with his family and friends. Like the main character in today’s Perfect Picture Book, I’m sure my son-in-law anticipated the trip with much excitement. Hopefully, too, he also feels that New York, although much, much colder than Rio, is now a home where he belongs.

9780888995858_1024x1024Title: Alfredito Flies Home

Written By: Jorge Argueta

Illustrated By: Luis Garay

Translated By: Elisa Amado

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

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes/Topics: El Salvador; immigrants; home


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

Brief Synopsis:

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

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about El Salvador, the country from which Alfredito’s family fled and to which they journey back;
  • Alfredito and his family enjoy many native dishes when they visit their family, including pupusas, corn tortillas with a filling. Make pupusas y su curtido (filled corn tortillas with pickled cabbage);
  • Describe in words or pictures a visit to family or friends. How did you feel before the journey? How did you feel when it was time to go back home?
  • Alfredito knows he is close to home when he spies Quezaltepec, a beloved volcano in El Salvador. Learn about volcanoes.

Why I Like this Book:

Although the word count is high by today’s standards, Alfredito Flies Home is a heart-warming story about refugees who journey back for a visit to their home country several years later. I found it particularly interesting that Alfredito’s family fled initially overland with the aid of smugglers, but journeyed back via plane. I think it’s also important for kids, both those who fled and those learning about refugees, to see that, as in Alfredito’s case, only part of his family left El Salvador. Upon his return, he was able to see his older sister for the first time in four years, see cousins and meet some who were born while he was in the US, visit the grave of a grandmother whose funeral they could not attend, and reunite with a beloved pet dog. Most importantly, by journey’s end, Alfredito comes to the realization that he has not one, but two homes, one in El Salvador and one in San Francisco.

Garay’s colorful acrylic on canvas paintings complement Argueta’s descriptions of Alfredito’s life in San Francisco and El Salvador.

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, Alfredito Flies Home has a much higher word count than many picture books published today. A native El Salvadoran and Pipil Nahua Indian, Jorge Argueta is an Own Voices poet and children’s author who inserts many details into the story that someone less familiar with El Salvador may have overlooked, such as how Alfredito’s family home looks, including the parakeets in the hibiscus bush that squawk to welcome the family back. Luis Garay is of Nicaraguan descent, and has also lived in Canada. That both men know what it’s like to leave one country and straddle cultures adds to the authenticity of Alfredito Flies Home.

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 – Grandma’s Gift

I couldn’t think of a better holiday book to feature this year, as I’ve been focusing on the stories of refugees, migrants, and generally those making journeys from areas of conflict or poverty and trying to navigate new lives. I look forward to continuing to focus on picture books dealing with these themes in 2018.

This is the last post of 2017, as I journey to South America later today to spend the holidays in Brazil with our son-in-law’s family and friends. Happy holidays dear readers. I hope you receive a special gift this season, too!

GGcoverTitle: Grandma’s Gift

Written & Illustrated By: Eric Velasquez

Publisher/date: Bloomsbury Children’s Books/2013 (originally published, Walker & Company, 2010)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Puerto Rico; intergenerational; art; holiday foods; journeys


“Feliz Navidad, Eric!” My teacher walked me to the classroom door, where my grandmother was waiting to take me back to her apartment for my winter break. I used to spend all my school vacations with her so she could take care of me while my parents worked.

Brief Synopsis: Eric helps his grandmother prepare a special Puerto Rican food for Christmas, and she accompanies him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to complete a school project.

Links to Resources:

  • A Teacher’s Guide provides several ideas, including identifying gifts or other items kids value and describing and discussing them;
  • The narrator’s Grandma hailed from Puerto Rico. Find out more about this US territory;
  • Eric and his grandmother visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they viewed Diego Velázquez’ portrait of Juan de Pareja. Try drawing a portrait or self-portait;
  • Grandma makes pasteles, a traditional Puerto Rican dish. Try making pasteles using Velasquez’ recipe and/or make a holiday food that is important in your family or culture.

Why I Like this Book:

I love the many layers of this holiday picture book. Not only does Grandma’s Gift include heartwarming intergenerational interactions, but it also features two journeys of discovery: Grandma shares La Marqueta with Eric, and he helps her navigate a trip out of El Barrio to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There, they discover a famous painting that Grandma remembered from her Puerto Rican school days and that Eric realizes was “painted by someone we might see walking around El Barrio.”

Velasquez is an illustrator-author and his realistic, detailed paintings bring the words to life. Particularly poignant is a double-page spread showing Grandma and Eric starting up the grand steps to the Museum while men who clearly are more comfortable there face them, arms folded, as if to indicate that Grandma and Eric are not welcome to enter. I think this spread could generate some wonderful classroom discussions about how our body language makes others feel and how someone entering an unfamiliar institution may feel.

A Note about Craft:

Grandma’s Gift was published seven years ago, and it’s interesting to note a few differences from works published today. While there is inclusion of Spanish text, in italics, the text is much longer than much of what is included today, and the translations appear in parentheses directly afterwards. The word count generally is higher than that of today’s picture books, too.

Grandma’s Gift would pair well with Last Stop on Market Street (Matt de la Peña/Christian Robinson, 2016).

Visit Eric Velasquez’ website to see more of his books and illustrations. Grandma’s Gift was awarded the Pura Belpré Medal for illustration in 2011. I reviewed Grandma’s Records last week. These two would pair nicely for classroom discussion, too.

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!