PPBF – It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way

Every time I sit down to write either a book review or a Perfect Pairing post, I am so grateful to the interlibrary loan system that enabled me to find so many wonderful picture books, and to my local library, that allowed me to check them out for the duration of the current closure. I truly don’t know how I’d be coping now if I didn’t have these books at hand as well as the many wonderful picture books I’ve been fortunate to have purchased in the past. And I’m grateful, too, to those who have created these treasures, including the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way

Written By: Kyo Maclear

Illustrated By: Julie Morstad

Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Children’s Books/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Japanese-American, biography, women’s history, illustration, artist, diversity, trailblazer

Opening:

It began with a page, bright and beckoning.

Brief Synopsis: The biography of Gyo Fujikawa, a Japanese-American female illustrator who produced picture books filled with young children of all races in the early 1960s.

Links to Resources:

  • Find a page, “bright and beckoning” and draw a picture. What did you draw? How did it feel to create your picture?
  • Gyo visited Japan to study art, including wood block printing. Try this woodblock printing art project;
  • Gyo’s family, although not Gyo herself, were interned in a camp for people of Japanese descent during World War II. Learn about these internment camps.

Why I Like this Book:

From her discovery of the magic of drawing as a five-year old to the creation of the first of her ground-breaking picture books fifty years later, It Began With a Page recounts the life and passion of trailblazing children’s book creator, Gyo Fujikawa. A woman pursuing a field dominated by men, a Japanese American who did not see herself, or others like her, in books for young children, Gyo made her living as a commercial artist and illustrator at a time when the stereotypical American woman was a housewife and mother. Perhaps because she existed outside these norms, Gyo noticed the lack of diversity in children’s picture books.

Realizing that a book “can be anything that anyone imagines it to be”, Gyo set out to write and illustrate a picture book featuring babies of all colors interacting. In the early 1960s in America, the publishers did not believe such a book could sell. But Gyo kept pressuring until they relented. After the first book launched successfully, Gyo continued publishing children’s picture books, creating over fifty books for children in her lifetime.

I confess to having no knowledge of Gyo before reading this biography, although I’m sure I must have read some of her books, either as a young child or as a parent. I appreciated learning about her persistence, about her desire to create art, and most especially about her need to see herself in picture books.

In back matter, the author and illustrator explain that they both loved Gyo’s work and “were full of questions” about her. I think this picture book answers these questions, for the creators and readers.

Morstad’s illustrations hearken back to the eras when Gyo was creating art. Although most of the spreads are full color, those dealing with the internment of Gyo’s family in the 1940s and the social unrest of the early 1960s are in black and white or with a limited, dark palette, lending gravity to those periods of Gyo’s life.

A Note about Craft:

Rather than focusing on one or two scenes from Gyo’s fascinating life, Maclear starts the narrative with a scene featuring Gyo drawing at an early age and continues the narrative through the publication of Gyo’s first children’s books as an author/illustrator. I think this long timeline shows readers how Gyo honed her craft, enables readers to empathize with Gyo’s sense of existing outside the mainstream American narrative, and helps focus our attention on Gyo’s persistence.

Gyo did not experience internment firsthand. But it’s clear that this deeply affected her worldview and made her sympathetic to the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. Adding information about the internment adds another layer to this fascinating biography, I think, and it helps to explain why a successful artist and illustrator would persevere to create inclusive books for children.

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

Perfect Pairing Stays Home

Week six, and counting, at least in my neck of the woods. How’s everyone holding up? Or should I write “holing up”, as we all hole-up in our respective homes? Luckily, before the library closed, I stocked up on quite a few picture books, including the two I’m pairing today about, you guessed it, different houses. Enjoy!

The Full House and the Empty House

Author & Illustrator: LK James

Publisher/Date: Ripple Grove Press/2019

Ages: 4-7

Themes: houses, belongings, differences, inequality, friendship

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The Full House and the Empty House are very good friends— when they dance they admire in each other the qualities they lack within themselves. Even though the houses are different on the inside, it doesn’t reflect how they feel on the outside. The bathroom of the full house
was full of many bathroom-y things. There was a big bathtub with gold clawed feet, a sink shaped like a seashell, a hairbrush and comb made of bone, and cakes of lilac soap. In the bathroom of the empty house was just a toilet and a sink. In the evening when the two houses
grew tired of dancing, they would rest on the hillside and look out at the world together.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews and one by Betsy Bird at School Library Journal.

The One Day House

Author: Julia Durango

Illustrator: Bianca Diaz

Publisher/date: Charlesbridge/2017

Ages: 3-7

Themes: intergenerational, house, beautifying, volunteerism, neighbors

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Wilson dreams of all the ways he can help improve his friend Gigi’s house so that she’ll be warm, comfortable, and happy.
One day, friends and neighbors from all over come to help make Wilson’s plans come true. Everyone volunteers to pitch in to make Gigi’s house safe, clean, and pretty.
Inspired by a friend’s volunteerism, author Julia Durango tells a story of community and togetherness, showing that by helping others we help ourselves. Further information about Labor of Love, United Way, and Habitat for Humanity is included at the end of the book.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because they both explore houses. In The Full House and the Empty House, the houses themselves are the main characters, and, despite their differences, find joy and friendship with each other. By contrast, in The One Day House, young Wilson dreams of how he can fix up his elderly neighbor’s once majestic home and restore its former beauty. Both books provide glimpses into how we inhabit homes, an apt topic as we currently spend so much time in them.

Looking for similar reads? See my recent pairing of Home in the Woods and Home is a Window.

PPBF – The Mess That We Made

Although in-person beach clean-ups and other activities to show our concern about the world are on hold at the moment, I hope you and yours were able to participate in some of the many virtual events held for Earth Day 2020. One important way we can stay involved is by reading about the problems of pollution and how we can help, in books such as today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: The Mess That We Made

Written By: Michelle Lord

Illustrated By: Julia Blattman

Publisher/Date: Flashlight Press/2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: environment, pollution, oceans, plastic, garbage, activism, rhyming

Opening:

THIS is the mess that we made.

Brief Synopsis: A rhyming, cumulative tale that recounts the impact that trash has on our oceans and marine life, and what we can do about it.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the informative back matter that explains ocean pollution and includes many ideas to take action;
  • We may be sheltering at home now, but we can still take action by starting a home garden, by looking for items around the house that we can reuse, or by writing to corporations and/or legislators to keep our waters clean and safe for everyone;
  • Watch the book trailer.

Why I Like this Book:

With its cumulative rhyming text and bright underwater scenes, The Mess That We Made is a wonderful call to action to safeguard our oceans and marine life. I love that children are at the center of the cover illustration and evident on each spread – all of our actions are important, whether we’re young or old. And unlike many books that focus on either the problem side or the solution side, The Mess That We Made makes clear that even though we got our world into the mess, we also have the means to get us out of it.

The Mess That We Made is a wonderful addition to ecology literature, particularly well-suited for younger classrooms and homes.

A Note about Craft:

Saving the earth is a huge, and daunting topic. How many of us have asked the questions, “What can I do?” “How can my actions make a difference?” By relating this daunting topic in lilting rhyme, that builds to a dismal scenario but then reverses to a hopeful one, and by wrapping the story in bright illustrations with children central to the action, the author and illustrator, I think, leave the reader with a feeling of hope and a desire to take action. That they provide many ways to do so without sounding preachy adds to this book’s appeal.

Flashlight Press publishes children’s books that “explore and illuminate the touching and humorous moments of family situations and social interactions through captivating writing and outstanding illustrations.”

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

Perfect Pairing is Abuzz about Bee Books

It’s Earth Day tomorrow and a month when flowers blossom and insects reappear near my house. To celebrate, I’m pairing two recent non-fiction picture books that focus on a very important creature in our world: the honeybee.

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera

Author: Candace Fleming

Illustrator: Eric Rohmann

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Holiday House Publishing/2020

Ages: 6-9

Themes: honeybees, nature, nonfiction

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Get up close and personal with Apis, one honeybee, as she embarks on her journey through life, complete with exquisitely detailed illustrations.

Beginning at birth, the honeybee emerges through the wax cap of her cell and is driven to protect and take care of her hive. She cleans the nursery and feeds the larvae and the queen. But is she strong enough to fly? Not yet!

She builds wax comb to store honey, and transfers pollen from other bees into the storage. She defends the hive from invaders. Apis accomplishes all of this before beginning her life outdoors as an adventurer, seeking nectar to bring back to her hive.

Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann describe the life cycle of the hard-working honeybee in this poetically written, thoroughly researched picture book, similar in form and concept to the Sibert and Orbis Pictus award book Giant Squid, complete with stunning gatefold and an essay on the plight of honeybees.

Read a review at The Picture Book Buzz and another by Jilanne Hoffmann.

 

The Honeybee

Author: Kirsten Hall

Illustrator: Isabelle Arsenault

Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster/2018

Ages: 3-7

Themes: honeybees, nonfiction, nature, rhyming

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Buzz from flower to flower with a sweet honeybee in this timely, clever, and breathtakingly gorgeous picture book from critically acclaimed author Kirsten Hall and award-winning illustrator Isabelle Arsenault.

Bzzz…

What’s that?
Do you hear it?
You’re near it.
It’s closer,
it’s coming,
it’s buzzing,
it’s humming…

A BEE!

With zooming, vibrant verse by Kirsten Hall and buzzy, beautiful illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault, this celebration of the critically important honeybee is a honey-sweet treasure of a picture book.

Read a review at Julie Rowan-Zoch’s blog.

I paired these books because they explore the same topic in different ways. In Honeybee, Fleming and Rohmann get up close to one honeybee and recount her life in minute detail. This reader, and reviewers, have noted that it feels like you’re inhabiting the hive with Apis as the tension builds to the day Apis flies. In contrast, The Honeybee is a rhyming picture book, suitable for younger readers, that encourages readers to follow along with a flying honeybee, as she zooms through fields, pollinating as she flies, and then returns to her hive. Both books contain back matter, useful for further research about these fascinating and important insects.

 

 

 

PPBF – Numenia and the Hurricane: Inspired by a True Migration Story

As families everywhere hunker down and shelter in place, it’s a true treat to read a story that involves a journey. When that journey is affected by a life-threatening hurricane, something arguably made more severe by climate change, I think this story is especially timely as we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day. I hope you enjoy some armchair traveling via today’s Perfect Picture Book!

Title: Numenia and the Hurricane: Inspired by a True Migration Story

Written & Illustrated By: Fiona Halliday

Publisher/Date: Page Street Kids/2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: migration, birds, hurricanes, separation, reunion, determination, rhyming

Opening:

Three sisters born/ By arctic shore/ On bare, cold rock/ As spring winds roar.

Bandit-eyed,/ They slip unseen/ Through beckoning moors/ Of tangled green.

Hunting bugs in/ Thawing creeks./ Spearing, gobbling,/ Growing beaks.

Five weeks old,/ They’ve reached the sky!/ “Curlee, curlee,/ Curloo,” they cry.

Brief Synopsis:

A brave, young whimbrel migrates from the Arctic to the Caribbean, but when a hurricane separates her from her flock, she must persevere to reach her destination.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

In gentle, rhyming text, Numenia and the Hurricane recounts the story of a young whimbrel, a small, Artic bird, from her birth through her first migration to the Virgin Islands, in the Caribbean. But as readers learn, this isn’t just any continent-spanning migration. Instead, Numenia and her flock encounter a hurricane. During the storm, the poor bird is separated from her family and the flock. How will she survive to complete her journey and reunite with her sisters? You’ll have to read this gorgeous picture book to find out! But rest assured, since it’s geared to young children, this story has a happy ending.

But before we reach that ending, readers are in for a treat with Halliday’s lyrical imagery, including two of my favorites: a “great stampede” of “ten thousand hissing raindrops”, and “storm-tossed birds like ragged ghosts”.

Halliday’s illustrations in soft tones of blues, golds, greens, ivory and gray drew me into this story. If only I could have joined Numenia at her final destination!

Numenia and the Hurricane is based on a true story, which Halliday shares in an Author’s Note, along with information about this fascinating species.

A Note about Craft:

A non-fiction picture book about Hope, the inspiration for Numenia, would have been an interesting story. But Halliday ups the stakes by including fictional elements, most especially the inclusion of Numenia’s sisters. What child isn’t  interested in a creature who has not only lost her way, but also her family?

Fictionalizing this story also enables Halliday to anthropomorphize Numenia, again enabling children to more readily identify with her reactions to her problem and to learn from her hope and determination.

The use of rhyme quickens the pace, I think, which is perfect for a story about a bird, and it suits the lyrical images Halliday utilizes. And in the Author’s Note, we learn that the name, Numenia, is a derivation of Numenius phaeopus, the Latin name for whimbrels. What great attention to detail!

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

Perfect Pairing – of Dog Rescue Books

As the mother of a rescue pup, Sadie, and the grandmother to rescue pup, Gracie (who I haven’t even met in person yet), I know how much these pups are loved and needed, especially during this prolonged period of stay-at-home mandates. I also know how much we all enjoy reading heartwarming fur-ever home tales, like the ones I’m pairing here!

 

Mr. Scruff 

Author & Illustrator: Simon James

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2019

Ages: 5-8

Themes: dogs; rescue; names; pets; companionship

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A sweetly silly story of a little boy and a dog who make an unlikely (but perhaps perfect) pair.

Everyone knows that owners and their dogs belong together in a unique way. Polly belongs to Molly, Eric belongs to Derek, Berry belongs to Terry. But poor Mr. Scruff, alone in the rescue shelter, doesn’t belong to anyone. Then a boy named Jim walks in, and they seem to get along. Jim and Mr. Scruff don’t look anything alike, and their names certainly don’t rhyme, but they may end up belonging to each other just the same. From author-illustrator Simon James comes a warm, winning story about friendship and finding a home.

Read a review at Julie Rowan-Zoch’s blog.

Toby

Author & Illustrator: Hazel Mitchell

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2016

Ages: 4-6

Themes: dogs; rescue; moving house; pets

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A heartwarming story about the growing bond between a child and a new pet—inspired by the author’s experience with a rescue dog of the same name.

When a young boy and his father move from one house to another, they decide to adopt a dog from the local rescue shelter. But their chosen dog, Toby, is having a tough time adjusting to his new life outside the shelter—howling all night, hiding fearfully from his new humans, forgetting where to go to the bathroom, and chasing a ball through the flower bed. The boy has promised to train his new companion, and he’s trying his best, but Dad is starting to get exasperated. Will Toby ever feel comfortable with his new family and settle into his forever home, or will Dad decide he’s not the right dog for them after all?

Read a review at Children’s Books Heal.

I paired these books because both involve bringing a new dog into the family and figuring out how that dog and its boy belong together. In sweet rhyming text, Mr. Scruff shows how one young boy and one older dog may be the perfect match. In Toby, it’s clear that a new puppy is just what one lonely little boy needs to help settle into his new home.

Looking for similar reads?

See my Rescue Dog Perfect Pairing from 2019; Found. (Jeff Newman & Larry Day, 2018); and The Story of Moose: How a Big Dog on a Little Island Found Love…After Nearly 5 Years in a Shelter (Laurie Damron, 2016).

 

PPBF – Boundless Sky

In these days of staying at home, I think many of us are reading more to escape confinement. And when I find a book that involves travel, and especially one, like today’s featured picture book, that involves a great journey through the skies, I know that it must be a Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Boundless Sky

Written By: Amanda Addison

Illustrated By: Manuela Adreani

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing/2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-6

Themes/Topics: migration, birds, refugees, welcoming, friendship

Opening:

Nobody knew, nobody dreamed, nobody even considered the possibility that a bird which fits in your hand might fly halfway round the world—and back again.

Brief Synopsis:

A tiny swallow migrates from the United Kingdom to southern Africa, and back, as a young girl leaves her African home to flee to safety in the United Kingdom.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about English swallows, the bird featured in this story;
  • Swallows fly great distances in an annual migration. What other animals migrate? Why do you think certain animals migrate? Draw a picture of an animal that migrates;
  • Check out the Teaching Resources (link near bottom of the page).

Why I Like this Book:

In Boundless Sky, author Amanda Addison reminds readers that one sky unites birds, animals, and people across this vast world. The initial focus is on Bird, a small English swallow that is about to embark on a journey from the northern part of the northern hemisphere across vast and varied landmasses and waters to arrive, and winter, in the southern part of the southern hemisphere in Africa.

Midway through her flight, as she was crossing a great desert, “the hardest part of the journey”, Bird reached an oasis, a place of refuge where Leila, a young girl, welcomed her with a drink of life-giving water.

But on the return journey, Bird discovers that Leila has disappeared. Thirsty, Bird flew on, to fly, once more, across vast waters, now stormy, and landmasses, to return home. There, she discovers that a familiar friend has also crossed stormy seas and found a new home.

I think even young children will enjoy following along on Bird’s journey, even if they don’t understand that Boundless Sky is the story of parallel journeys. Older children can delve deeper into the topic of migration – of birds, other animals, and people, like Leila, who risk all to seek safety and friendship in a new home.

I found Adreani’s soft pencil palette of blues and beiges to be calming and peaceful, the perfect accompaniment to this story of hope and friendship.

A Note about Craft:

Regular readers know that I’ve read, and reviewed, many picture books about refugees. Although many of these end on a welcoming note, I’m not sure any draw the parallel between animal or bird migration and human migration. Drawing this parallel enables Boundless Sky to function on multiple layers and to be of interest to children older than the target age range.

In addition to the parallel journey recounted in Boundless Sky, I found the choice of Leila’s original home, an oasis, to be particularly poignant. I think most of us think of an oasis as a life-giving island in a sea of desert. But here, the oasis presumably has not protected Leila, which, I think, adds a further layer to this story.

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!