PPBF – Yo Soy Muslim

 

I pre-ordered today’s Perfect Picture Book after reading about it in one of the recent lists of multicultural books. The title drew me in and the idea of a celebration of multicultural identities intrigued me. We are all special, and a picture book that celebrates the unique traits that make us special is, in my mind, a Perfect Picture Book:

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Title: Yo Soy Muslim: A Father’s Letter to his Daughter

Written By: Mark Gonzales

Illustrated By: Mehrdokht Amini

Publisher/date: Salaam Reads, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/August 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: diversity, Muslims, Latinas, multicultural identities

Opening:

It has been said, if you climb a tree to the very top and laugh,

your smile will touch the sky.

Brief Synopsis:

A Muslim Latino father writes a letter to his daughter celebrating their multicultural identity.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Islam;
  • Although Muslims make up a small percentage of the Mexican population (less than 1% as of 2009), there is a long history of Muslims in Mexico, dating back to Spanish colonization, although they were not allowed to openly practice their religion in colonial times; see Islam in Mexico (an article written for adults);
  • Create Mexican Amate folk-art paintings , featuring natural images (plants and animals) from brown paper bags;
  • Try creating Islamic tiles;
  • Yo soy means I am. What are you? Show what makes you unique and special by completing the sentence: I am…

Why I Like this Book:

In sparse, lyrical text, Gonzales breaks down stereotypes as a father’s words inspire a young Latina Muslim to be strong and proud of her diverse heritage. Respecting history, Gonzales conjures images of “Mayan pyramids that too lived amongst the heavens” like modern skyscrapers do today. From the heavens, Gonzalez returns to earth, asking what it means to be human, and preparing the daughter for questions that will be asked of her, “What are you?” “and where are you from?”  He acknowledges that some people “will not smile at” her, but assures her that she will do amazing things, as her ancestors did. In my favorite passage, Gonzalez writes:

No matter what they say, know you are wondrous. A child of crescent moons, a builder of mosques, a descendant of brilliance, an ancestor in training.

To be an ancestor in training, to be one revered by future generations, is something we can wish for all children, and especially for one whose faith and ethnic heritages place her among not one but two peoples who face discrimination within certain sectors today.

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I love that Amini, who grew up in Iran but now lives in England, was chosen to illustrate Yo Soy Muslim. Her jewel-toned illustrations combine imagery from rural Mexico with images from Islam, such as mosques and the crescent moon, and highlight the rich heritage of both cultures.

A Note about Craft:

Yo Soy Muslim is not a traditional children’s story with a named main character who faces a problem and experiences growth. Rather, it is presented as a lyrical letter with the father showing his daughter her history and future, and exhorting her to be proud, even when others disagree.

A few Spanish words are used in the text, but very few. Interestingly, though, the author, or possibly the publisher, chose to use Spanish words in the title. By placing the Spanish terms with Muslim, the reader is alerted right away that the two belong together.

Like Tiny Owl Publishing that built bridges by pairing an Iranian illustrator with a British author in A Bottle of Happiness, Salaam Reads furthered a Latino Muslim’s text by pairing it with the images of an Iranian illustrator. I think this adds another rich layer to the book.

Check out more of Mehrdokht Amini’s art on her website.

Learn more about Salaam Reads, “an imprint that aims to introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works.”

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Amelia’s Road

I’m enjoying the late summer bounty at local farmers’ markets, reveling in the many fruits and vegetables available. My favorite market is at an orchard where late-harvest peaches, a variety of plums, and early apples can be picked now. I have many fond memories of apple picking with my children when they were young, and I even remember picking grapes as a child for my father’s attempts to make “wine.” It was hard work, but it was once a year, for a few hours only, and we kept what we picked.

Today’s Perfect Picture Book also involves picking fruits and vegetables, but as a job, not for fun, and by families who follow the harvests, who mark time, not in calendar months or days, but by harvest cycles.

9781880000274_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Amelia’s Road

Written By: Linda Jacobs Altman

Illustrated By: Enrique O. Sanchez

Publisher/date: Lee & Low Books/1993

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: migrant farm workers; Latina; home; #WNDB

Opening:

Amelia Luisa Martinez hated roads. Straight roads. Curved roads. Dirt roads. Paved roads. Roads leading to all manner of strange places, and roads leading to nowhere at all. Amelia hated roads so much that she cried every time her father took out the map.

Brief Synopsis: Amelia, the daughter of migrant farm workers, dreams of a permanent home.

Links to Resources:

  • Draw your home, or a place you’d like to live;
  • Amelia doesn’t like maps, because they are a sign the family is moving again; maps can be fun, though, especially when you learn mapping skills
  • Find a small box (shoe boxes work well); decorate the outside of the box with pictures of things you like; fill the box with things that are important to you;
  • Check out the Teacher’s Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

Amelia’s Road is a realistic look at the lives of migrant farm families, who move from place to place following the harvests. Despite the difficulty of the topic matter, Altman imbues the story with a note of hope, in the form of a sympathetic teacher who welcomes Amelia into her classroom, bothers to learn her name and praises the drawing of something Amelia holds most dear: a white house with blue shutters with a large tree in the yard. I think this shows the impact an act of kindness can have to better the life of another. I also loved that Amelia stumbled upon a large tree in a field, at the end of a path-like, “accidental” road, a place where Amelia could feel at home, where she buried a treasure box, as a sign that she would return to this place she belonged.

Sanchez’ acrylic on canvas illustrations work well with the rural setting and difficult lives of the migrant farm workers.

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A Note about Craft:

Altman’s opening provides clues about the issues of the story and piques the reader’s interest. She uses Amelia’s full name, thus letting us know that Amelia is a Latina. We also learn that Amelia hates roads, leaving us to wonder why. Finally, Altman provides a subtle clue: Amelia cries when her father takes out a map. Could it be that Amelia’s family is on the road too much? If so, is that why the book is entitled Amelia’s Road? Could a road be both a problem and provide a solution? I, for one, wanted to read on & find out.

Even without looking at its publication date, it’s clear from the longer text, almost 1,100 words, that Amelia’s Road is an older picture book. Despite its length and slower pacing, however, I think its subject matter, migrant farm workers, and themes, including the desire for home and community, a sense of “belonging”, make it relevant for today’s readers. By addressing multiple themes, ie, adding layers, I think Altman has lengthened the shelf life of Amelia’s Road.

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books https://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/list provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – A Bottle of Happiness

 

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is another self-import. As regular readers may recall, I reviewed When I Coloured in the World in April. Ehsan Abdollahi is the illustrator of that hauntingly gorgeous picture book as well, and I had intended to purchase today’s Perfect Picture Book on my next trip to London. When Abdollahi’s visa to visit the United Kingdom and attend events in London and the Edinburgh Book Festival was denied (see the details here), I joined the social media outcry and promptly moved up my timeline to purchase today’s book to show support. Like many others, I was thrilled when the denial was reversed.

The book arrived late last week, and I read it with visions of Charlottesville and social discord filling my twitter and news feeds. Oh that we could bottle happiness & learn to share our resources! Hopefully, the children who read today’s Perfect Picture Book will be emboldened to find a way.

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Title: A Bottle of Happiness

Written By:  Pippa Goodhart

Illustrated By: Ehsan Abdollahi

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes/Topics: fable; sharing; happiness; true wealth; #ReadYourWorld

Opening:

There was once a big mountain.

The people on one side of the mountain caught fish and mined jewels and grew crops.

They were rich, and they worked hard at getting richer. They had a big market where they sold things to each other.

Brief Synopsis: Pim, a young boy living on the poor side of a big mountain, journeys to find a new story. He finds, instead, a wealthy society that lacks the one thing that’s abundant in his community: happiness.

Links to Resources:

  • Pim collects laughter, music and love in a bottle to share. What happy things or thoughts would you include in a Bottle of Happiness?
  • The bright, patchwork illustrations were inspired by “the environment, fabrics and clothes” of southern Iran. Find out more about Iran and its rich cultural heritage
  • Try creating a Persian “carpet”.

Why I Like this Book:

I love the positive message and vibrant illustrations of A Bottle of Happiness.

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Republished from Tiny Owl’s website

When Pim sets forth from his impoverished community to find new stories, he finds, instead, a wealthy community that lacks happiness. Despite having more to eat, and working “hard at getting richer”, the people on the other side of the mountain look less happy than those in Pim’s homeland. As in a popular song from those rather famous Liverpool philosophers, this child hero of A Bottle of Happiness realizes that worldly riches, money, “can’t buy me love” or happiness, and that happiness is something Pim’s community can share.

I also love Pim’s response to the request to bring some happiness, and his pivot when only silence and nothingness flow out of the bottle.  As in all good stories, Goodhart circles back to the beginning, and the tale ends with Pim sharing a story with both communities.

Abdollahi’s unique illustrations impart a timeless feel to this fable. By setting the multi-coloured figures against brightly-hued backgrounds (Abdollahi used orange backgrounds for happy scenes, gray for sad ones, and red to show love and sharing), A Bottle of Happiness could be taking place anywhere at any time, somewhat like the land of Oz.

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Republished from Tiny Owl’s website

A Note about Craft:

Goodhart utilizes a journey and a child hero to tell this tale. Setting off on a journey seeking stories, Pim instead discovers what is good about his home, shares with those who lack that happiness, and ends up creating a new story.

While Goodhart juxtaposes two “peoples” or communities, I think older children and adults can read A Bottle of Happiness as describing two ways of life, countries, or even continents. I like the vagueness as I think it lends itself to differing interpretations and renders it more understandable for younger children.

Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd, is an independent publishing company in the UK “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. The Tiny Owl editors deliberately paired Goodhart and Abdollahi as part of a new “Intercultural Bridge project”, “where a British author collaborates with an Iranian illustrator (or vice versa) to develop a picture book, see the story from their own cultural angles and reflect them in the book.” A Bottle of Happiness is a gorgeous addition to children’s literature. I look forward to reading further intercultural collaborations.

Read interviews with Goodhart and Abdollahi, and visit Goodhart’s blog post about building bridges through picture books.  See reviews of A Bottle of Happiness here and here.

While not currently available in US book shops, A Bottle of Happiness is available through the Book Depository, which ships for free to the US.

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story

When our daughters were young, they loved to dress up as princesses and “marry” princes. Tomorrow, our daughter will marry her “prince”, who hails from South America and speaks Portuguese and Spanish. I couldn’t resist reviewing a book set south of the US border, sprinkled with Spanish phrases and with the happy ending we all know and love!

9781417735105_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story

Written & Illustrated By: Tomie dePaola

Publisher/date: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers)/2002

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: fairy tale retelling; Mexico; folklore

Opening:

Hace mucho tiempo – a long time ago- in a village in Mexico, there lived a merchant named Francisco and his beautiful young wife, Adela.

Brief Synopsis: This retelling of the Cinderella tale features a young Mexican orphan living with a stepmother and two stepsisters, a young rancher seeking love, a doting nurse, and a fiesta.

Links to Resources:

  • Host a fiesta with Mexican-inspired foods and crafts;
  • Discover more about the lovely traditional clothing and Rebozos (shawls) that play a role in this retelling;
  • Try your hand at creating some Mexican folk art of your own;
  • Compare this Cinderella retelling with the “Disney” version so many of us know: what’s the same? What’s different? Why do you think dePaola kept what he did and changed other aspects of the story?

Why I Like this Book:

Adelita is a classic dePaola offering: lovely, detailed illustrations framed by vibrant Mexican tilework and a story with just enough elements from a familiar fairytale combined with new details to satisfy any fairytale lover. I especially appreciate the inclusion of Spanish phrases throughout the text, especially as a dictionary with pronunciation guide is provided.

Although Adelita is an older book and the text is longer than many picture books published in today’s market, I think the story stands the test of time and kids today will enjoy meeting this Mexican Cinderella.

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reproduced from dePaola’s website

A Note about Craft:

How has dePaola made the classic Cinderella story his own, and what can writers learn from what he kept or changed?

  • The folkart Rebozo that Adelita wore to the Fiesta is at the heart of the story and replaces the glass slippers. dePaola picked an item that is found in Mexico and honors its artistic traditions. Additionally, we learn that the Reboza belonged to Adelita’s mother – another break with the “original” Cinderella story where the shoes appear magically;
  • The prince becomes a rancher in dePaola’s tale, a person with stature in the community, but one that is more believably from the region;
  • The magical elements of other versions are absent from Abelita. Instead, the kindness of a loving older woman enables Abelita to attend the Fiesta; and
  • Rather than being named Cinderella, Abelita references the fairytale when she is at the Fiesta, and bids her “prince” to “Just call me Cenicienta – Cinderella.”

dePaola published insights about his Mexican Cinderella story on his website .

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books https://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/list provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF- A Place Where Sunflowers Grow

Regular readers of this blog know that for the past several months, I’ve focused on picture books about refugees, migrants and areas affected by immigration bans – stories set in those regions and/or by authors and illustrators hailing from those regions. Today’s choice may seem at first blush to be a deviation from this focus. I’d argue, though, that the themes in today’s Perfect Picture Book, in particular forced relocation and finding hope through art, are illuminating to those trying to understand, convey to children or write about these difficult current issues. It’s also a lovely book about a difficult topic rarely addressed in picture books.

main_largeTitle: A Place Where Sunflowers Grow

Written By: Amy Lee-Tai

Illustrated By: Felicia Hoshino

Japanese Translation By: Marc Akio Lee

Publisher/date: Children’s Book Press (an imprint of Lee & Low Books)/2006

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: Japanese internment; World War II; historical fiction; relocation; bilingual; art; #WNDB

Opening:

Mari stared at the ground. It had only been a week since she and her mother had planted a handful of sunflower seeds outside their new home. Mari asked Mama, “Will these flowers grow as tall and strong and beautiful as the ones in our old backyard?”

Brief Synopsis: When Mari, a young Japanese-American girl, and her family are relocated to an internment camp during World War II, art and gardening help Mari adjust to the unfamiliar and harsh conditions.

Links to Resources:

  • For background about the Japanese internment, see Lee-Tai’s Introduction about the experiences of her mother and grandparents at the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah;
  • See the comprehensive Teacher’s Guide;
  • The Topaz Museum opened last month and displays examples of artwork from the Center on its site. Lee-Tan attended the opening and blogged about it here.

Why I Like this Book:

This is the first picture book I’ve read about the experiences of Japanese-American children in the internment centers. Although I knew that the relocations and life in the camps were difficult, I had no idea of the efforts of Japanese-American artists to continue creating and sharing art with fellow internees, including the children. And although the internment is a difficult topic to explore with children, I love the resilience and hopefulness that are evident in this story.

The text is in English and Japanese, a fitting tribute to those Japanese-Americans whose first language was Japanese. Hoshino studied the artworks of Lee-Tai’s grandmother, Hisako Hibi, and she based some of her watercolor, ink, tissue paper and acrylic illustrations on Hibi’s work.

A Note about Craft:

At first blush, the title, A Place Where Sunflowers Grow, may seem a bit misplaced: this picture book is about Japanese internment during World War II, not gardening. But by utilizing this natural, floral motif, Lee-Tai enables the reader to hope, like Mari, that sunflowers, like those that grew in the backyard she misses, will bloom in the desert and peace will return to the world.

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow is a work of fiction, but it is based on the experiences of Lee-Tai’s mother and family during World War II. Both of Lee-Tai’s grandparents were artists and produced artwork while at the Center. Her grandfather ran the Topaz art school for part of the war, and her mother and uncle attended art classes there. With these many experiences to draw upon, why did Lee-Tai choose to write a work of historical fiction? And, for writers, why may we make the same choice? In an interview, Lee-Tai stated,

By creating a character that readers might relate to or feel empathy for, I hope this book will plant some seeds in readers: to steer clear of racial and ethnic targeting in their individual interactions with others, and to work towards a world that will not commit other atrocities targeting entire races or ethnicities.

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow  won the 2007 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award for younger children.

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Migrant

I first saw today’s Perfect Picture Book at a small independent bookstore that displayed it among a group of immigration-related children’s books. Cloth-bound with a scene from the illustrations on paper inset on the front cover, and differing in dimension from the majority of picture books, it immediately caught my eye. I’m so glad it did, as today’s Perfect Picture Book is a unique one:

 

9781419709579_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Migrant

Written By: José Manuel Mateo

Illustrated By: Javier Martínez Pedro

Translated By: Emmy Smith Ready

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/ 2014 (Mexican edition: Ediciones Tecolote/2011)

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes/Topics: bilingual, Codex, migrant, immigration

Opening:

I used to play among the roosters and the pigs. The animals roamed free, because in the village there were no pens, nor walls between the houses. On one side of the village were the mountains; on the other side, the sea.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy recounts his journey with his mother and sister from a small village in Mexico to Los Angeles, after the men of the village, including his father, are forced to move to find work.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about amate paper, a type of paper created from tree bark in parts of Mesoamerica (Mexico and Central America) and utilized for the illustrations in Migrant;
  • The illustrations in Migrant form a Codex, a long sheet of amate paper gathered into an “accordion” fold; try writing your own Codex book;
  • Learn more about Mexico.

Why I Like this Book:

Migrant is not just the story of one family’s journey from Mexico. Through its unique storytelling format, it relates a cultural tale, too.

Told as a codex, with text accompanying the very detailed pen and ink illustrations that spread in accordion-fashion as a seamless picture vertically down the page, Migrant enables us to experience the storytelling techniques of the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the region, the Mayans and Aztecs. We do so while learning in this fictional account why the parents in a representative family decide to leave their home, what difficulties the mother and children encounter on the journey and what awaits them in Los Angeles – the City of Angels, where the child narrator, his sister and mother anticipate working as house cleaners and hope to find their father, who had journeyed earlier to find work.

Migrant is written for older children and an information sheet accompanying the book indicates that it is not recommended for children under 8.

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A Note about Craft:

Mateo and Pedro utilize a storytelling technique suggested by the original editor (per a 2014 interview with Mateo in Literary Kids) that honors the rich history and cultural traditions of the main character and his fellow villagers.  By drawing on these techniques, the author and illustrator help readers understand the context of the villagers’ situation and the choices they make. As authors and/or illustrators, we similarly can utilize culturally-empathetic techniques to ground and enrich our storytelling.

Mateo employs first-person point of view to draw his readers into this story. Doing so brings immediacy to the situation.

Finally, Mateo adds what at first blush seems like an unimportant detail: Gazul, the narrator’s pet dog and one of the few named characters, spoils games of hide-n-seek by giving away the narrator’s hiding places. Hiding plays a role later in the story, as the narrator and his family evade police to avoid detection. Mateo circles back to Gazul at the end of the story, too, this time as the narrator thinks about “my poor dog”, who “doesn’t like to be alone”.  Adding Gazul to the story enables Mateo to show the positive and relatable aspects of the narrator’s life before he migrates and what he and his family give up in Los Angeles. Inclusion of a pet also builds empathy for the narrator and his situation and can help readers relate to this difficult situation, as many kids can understand the distress their pets feel when left alone.

Migrant received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly.

For other perspectives on the migrant/immigration experience from Mexico and Central America, see:

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Leaving My Homeland: A Refugee’s Journey from Syria

I discovered today’s Perfect Picture Book in my local library. I’m so happy that our children’s librarian acquires such timely titles!

9780778731849_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Leaving My Homeland: A Refugee’s Journey from Syria

Written & Illustrated By: Helen Mason

Publisher/date: Crabtree Publishing Company/2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-11

Themes/Topics: Syria, refugees

Opening:

Leaving Syria: A terrible civil war has been fought in Syria since March 2011. The war is between the Syrian government and rebel fighters. The rebels are fighting for democracy.

Brief Synopsis: Pimarily a non-fiction, encyclopedic account about Syria, its civil war, and the refugee crisis, interspersed with the facts is the fictional account of Roj, a young boy who flees Aleppo with his family to seek safety in Germany.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the ways “You Can Help!”, including making newcomers feel welcome and learning welcoming words in other languages;
  • A Glossary and Learning More sections help spur further study.

Why I Like this Book:

Leaving My Homeland is a hybrid of non-fiction facts that provide background information and context to the Syrian conflict and the refugee crisis, and the fictional account of one child and his family fleeing Syria. This picture-book sized book is divided into chapters, each of which is a mixture of text, colorful text boxes, photographs and other graphics. For instance, A “Syria’s Story in Numbers” graphic is repeated in several chapters and highlights that people have lived in Damascus for 11,000 years, that almost every child in Syria attended school before the war, but that now 2.8 million lack access to education, and that more than 420,000 Syrian refugees arrived in Germany in 2015. This quick-facts format is visually engaging and will enable kids to gain greater understanding of the enormity of the Syrian refugee crisis and what they can do to help.

I particularly like that Leaving My Homeland includes information about the UN Rights of the Child, as this information can help readers understand the rights and privileges they enjoy and that refugees seek.

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reprinted from the Crabtree Publishing Company website

A Note about Craft:

Leaving My Homeland is part of a “curriculum-specific book series” created and published by Crabtree Books. I have not yet read the others in the series; however, the cover art looks similar for all 10 titles, and I imagine they follow a similar format. This will make them particularly valuable for classrooms and libraries. For non-fiction writers, thinking about similar topics that could form a series and addressing those topics using identical formats are ways to increase your publication potential.

Interspersing factual sections with a fictional story helps kids relate to the issues presented and build empathy for refugees, such as the fictional Roj, whose story appears here.

Finally, especially in books written with older children in mind, a mixture of illustration types and breaking the information up into “sound-bites” are important to focus attention on these important details. I think all authors and illustrators profit from thinking in this kid-focused way.

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!