Perfect Pairing – of Soccer Stories

The children’s soccer leagues restarted for the season at the sports fields near my home recently. To mark their return, I’m featuring two diverse soccer stories today.

The Field

Author: Baptiste Paul

Illustrator: Jacqueline Alcántara

Publisher/Date: North-South Books/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: soccer, teamwork, play, St. Lucia (Caribbean), #WNDB, #ReadYourWorld

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Vini! Come! The field calls!” cries a girl as she and her younger brother rouse their community—family, friends, and the local fruit vendor—for a pickup soccer (futbol) game. Boys and girls, young and old, players and spectators come running—bearing balls, shoes, goals, and a love of the sport.

“Friends versus friends” teams are formed, the field is cleared of cows, and the game begins! But will a tropical rainstorm threaten their plans?

Read my review.

 

Pelé: King of Soccer (El rey del fútbol)

Author: Monica Brown

Illustrator: Rudy Gutiérrez

Publisher/Date: Rayo, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers/2009

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, dual-language (English & Spanish), soccer, #WNDB, #ReadYourWorld

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Monica Brown and Rudy Gutierrez team up to deliver what Kirkus called, in a starred review, an “inspiring blend of art and story,” about the most famous soccer star in the world, Pelé. This bilingual picture book will inspire, teach, and amaze readers as they learn about the man who revolutionized the sport of soccer.

Do you know how a poor boy from Brazil who loved fútbol more than anything else became the biggest soccer star the world has ever known? This is the true story of Pelé, King of Soccer, the first man in the history of the sport to score a thousand goals and become a living legend. Rudy Gutierrez’s dynamic illustrations make award-winning author Monica Brown’s story of this remarkable sports hero come alive!

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because soccer is the main subject of both. Although The Field is fiction and Pelé is a biography, both feature language that made me feel the motion and emotion of a soccer match. Both also feature children who play soccer on improvised fields, in Pelé’s case using a grapefruit or “an old sock with newspapers”.  I love how the fictional players found happiness playing soccer in The Field  and how the real Pelé loved soccer and found success playing it.

For more soccer books, see Pragmatic Mom’s recent #OwnVoices Diversity Soccer Books for Kids list.

PPBF – The Book Tree

Earlier this week, people across the globe marked World Book and Copyright Day, “a celebration to promote the enjoyment of books and reading. Each year, on 23 April, celebrations take place all over the world to recognize the magical power of books – a link between the past and the future, a bridge between generations and across cultures.”

When I read today’s Perfect Picture Book, I thought it would be perfect to feature this week – I hope you agree!

Title: The Book Tree

Written By: Paul Czajak

Illustrated By: Rashin Kheiriyeh

Publisher/Date: Barefoot Books/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes/Topics: books; reading; power of words; activism

Opening:

Nestled in the branches of a tree, Arlo opened his book and breathed in.

Beginnings were always the best part. They smelled as if anything were possible.

Brief Synopsis: When Arlo’s book falls and hits the mayor in the head, the mayor destroys all of the books, but books, like ideas, have a way of reemerging.

Links to Resources:

  • Dress up as a favorite picture book character – see some ideas here;
  • Discover many times and places to read books in this “Share a Story Reading Star” challenge; Where else, and with whom, do you enjoy reading?
  • Create a character (is s/he big or small, short or tall, an alien, beast or child?) and write or draw a picture about that character;
  • Create a  book garden by planting flowers, fruits or vegetables featured in  books that you love;
  • Share your favorite book with family, friends or classmates.

Why I Like this Book:

Czajak uses humor and fantasy to explore in a child-relatable way a very serious topic: The desctruction and banning of books. What happens when books disappear in a society? Per Czajak, recipes aren’t in cookbooks, so food becomes bland and boring, story time at school becomes nap time, the theaters close without plays to perform, and kids become bored. Adults know many other things happen, too, but these examples are things that kids can understand.

I like Czajak’s very visual way of showing children how ideas spread and how our actions can produce change. As the mayor observes, books “act like seeds, which grow into ideas, and ideas turn into questions.” And as Arlo shows, the opposite is also true. He turns his ideas into stories which nourishes the book tree and helps it grow. In the end, even the mayor can’t resist the allure of books and reading.

Kheiriyeh’s fanciful, brightly-colored collage and painted illustrations further the whimsical tone of The Book Tree. I especially enjoyed the inclusion of book blossoms with text in multiple languages that highlights the importance of books from around the world.

A Note about Craft:

Czajak’s text is rich with gardening imagery, including smells. A book page reminds Arlo of “a dandelion seed drifting on a wish.” A writer is a “book gardener”. Books spread “like pollen in the wind”, and, as the book tree flourishes, “the town blossomed.” Including this imagery draws readers into the story and helps us believe in the possibility of a book-bearing tree.

Visit Czajak’s website to see more of his books. Iranian-born, US-based Rashin Kheiriyeh is an illustrator of numerous children’s books including Two Parrots, Ramadan, and Saffron Ice Cream, her debut as author-illustrator.

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 Celebrates Earth Day

As we celebrate Earth Day this week, I’m sharing two thought-provoking picture books that help us consider our roles in this world.

Carl and the Meaning of Life

Author & Illustrator: Deborah Freedman

Publisher/Date: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers/2019

Ages: 3 & up

Themes: earthworms; curiosity; environmentalism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Carl is an earthworm. He spends his days happily tunneling in the soil until a field mouse asks him a simple question that stops him short: “Why?” Carl’s quest takes him on an adventure to meet all the animals of the forest, each of whom seems to know exactly what they were put on this earth to do, unlike the curious Carl. But it’s not until the world around him has changed that Carl begins to realize everyone, no matter how small, makes a big difference just by being themselves.

Read a review in The Horn Book.

I Am Henry Finch

Author: Alexis Deacon

Illustrator: Viviane Schwartz

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2016 (originally published in the UK by Walker Books)

Ages: 5-8

Themes: Finches, thinking for yourself, individuality, greatness, social movements, philosophy

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This is a book about Henry Finch who strives for greatness, gets it all a bit wrong, then makes it right again in a very surprising way – truly becoming great. Henry Finch is a total inspiration. This is an inspirational book. It is also very funny. I Am Henry Finch is a book for everyone – from the very young to the very old. It is for dreamers, philosophers, artists, the foolish and the enlightened. And anyone with a big bright idea. Vegetarians will love it too.

Read my review.

I paired these books because both feature small creatures that we often may not think much about, and both include subtle environmental themes. With childlike simplicity, Carl questions the other animals to find out why he burrows through the earth, “turning hard dirt into fluffy soil”. Only when the soil becomes hard as rock does he understand that his actions are essential to the ecosystem. Thinking great thoughts and seeking “greatness”, Henry attacks a large beast that threatens his species. He convinces it to be aware of its actions on the other birds and animals and to change its behavior. With their philosophical questions and reasoning, I think both picture books will spur lively discussion about our roles on this earth and our duty to it.

Looking for similar reads?

See a recent list of children’s books for Earth Day at Pragmatic Mom.

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Renato and the Lion

I’ve had today’s Perfect Picture Book on my “to review” shelf for a while. Hearing the news about Notre Dame Cathedral made me think of it, and review it today.

Title: Renato and the Lion

Written & Illustrated By: Barbara DiLorenzo

Publisher/Date: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group/2017

Suitable for Ages: 5-7

Themes/Topics: war; art; national treasures; refugee; imagination; intergenerational story

Opening:

Renato loved his home in Florence, Italy. He loved the people there. And the food there. But he especially loved the art there. It was everywhere.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy worries about the fate of a stone lion in his hometown of Florence, Italy, as the Nazis invade during World War II, and he and his family must flee to America.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the coloring pages with background information about Renato and the Lion;
  • Visit a museum or sculpture garden;
  • Create your own sculpture.

Why I Like this Book:

In Renato and the Lion, DiLorenzo tells a gentle story that deals with difficult topics in a child-friendly way. Set in Florence, Italy during World War II, the story features young Renato and the stone lion sculpture in the Piazza della Signoria that he loves. Although readers see soldiers patrolling the streets and although Renato’s father vocalizes his fears, the focus is on Renato, his love for the lion, and the steps he, and his father, take to protect the lion from harm.

Including a glimpse into the many Renaissance treasures of Florence, a dream-like, magical journey through Florence at night, young Renato’s journey to America as a war refugee, and his journey back to Florence years later, Renato and the Lion touches on many themes that will appeal to children. These themes also make it a valuable addition to art and social studies curricula.

DiLorenzo’s soft, watercolor illustrations bring Florence and Renato’s story to life, and further the feeling of love and hope that run through the story.

A Note about Craft:

At its heart, Renato and the Lion is the story of a relationship between a boy and his beloved sculpture. But there are so many layers to this story! Readers discover Florentine artwork and learn about sculpture restoration. We learn how Italians protected precious art during World War II. We experience the fear and dread of leaving one’s home and venturing to a large, new city. We also accompany Renato and his granddaughter back to Florence decades later and are left with a feeling of hope that all ends well. These layers not only add up to a well-told story, but they help make a central problem of the story, war, more child friendly.

In an Author’s Note, DiLorenzo recounts the backstory that includes a family trip to Florence and a documentary about protecting artistic treasures during World War II. What inspires your stories?

Visit DiLorenzo’s website to see more of her award-winning artwork.

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 Moonstruck

With the fiftieth anniversary of the first lunar landing approaching, there’s been increased interest in stories about our relationship with the moon. I recently read two new picture books that had me moonstruck, too.

A Kite for Moon

Authors: Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple

Illustrator: Matt Phelan

Publisher/Date: Zonderkidz/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: moon; historical fiction; space exploration; friendship

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A Kite for Moon, written by New York Times bestselling author of How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? Jane Yolen and her daughter, Heidi E. Y. Stemple, tells a heartfelt story about a young boy’s fascination and unlikely friendship with the moon. With whimsical illustrations by award-winning artist Matt Phelan, the story begins when the little boy, who is flying his kite, notices a sad Moon. He sends up kites to her, even writing notes to Moon promising he will come see her someday. This promise propels him through years and years of studying, learning, and training to be an astronaut! Dedicated to Neil Armstrong, and a perfect children’s book to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first United States moon landing, the cover of this book will captivate readers with eye-catching spot UV, foil, and embossing.

Read a review and an interview with Yolen and Stemple at Writing for Kids (While Raising Them).

Music for Mister Moon

Author: Philip C. Stead

Illustrator: Erin E. Stead

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books (Holiday House Publishing, Inc.)/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: moon; shyness; friendship; music; courage; imagination

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

What if you threw your teacup out your window…and what if it accidentally knocked the moon out of the sky? 
A girl named Harriet longs to play her cello alone in her room. But when a noisy owl disrupts her solitude, Harriet throws her teacup out the window and accidentally knocks the moon out of the sky in frustration. Over the course of an evening, Harriet and the moon become fast friends. Worried that he’ll catch a chill, Harriet buys the moon a soft woolen hat, then takes him on a boat ride across a glistening lake, something he’s only dreamed of. But can she work up the courage to play her music for the moon?

Read a review at The Picture Book Buzz.

I paired these books because they are dreamy, lyrical books, perfect for bedtime, that personify the moon and treat it as a character (a her, in A Kite for Moon and a him, in Music for Mister Moon). Interestingly, the moon is envisioned as lonely in both books, and friendship is a strong theme in both. As the unnamed boy in A Kite for Moon works hard to realize his dream to visit the moon as an adult, shy Hank works hard to overcome her fear of performing as she plays her cello on the moon in Music for Mister Moon. Both books thus show children that dreams are attainable.

Looking for similar reads?

To find out more about our quest to reach the moon, see Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon by Suzanne Slade/Thomas Gonzalez (Peachtree Publishers/2018), and a “galaxy” of fiction and non-fiction children’s books about space exploration in a recent post in Publishers Weekly.

PPBF – Martin & Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank

I remember as a child being inspired by the words of the subjects of today’s Perfect Picture Book. As a child, and even as an adult who has taken more than my fair share of history courses, I didn’t grasp the parallels in their lives. I’m so glad that the author of today’s Perfect Picture Book saw these parallels, and wrote this book.

Title: Martin & Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank

Written By: Nancy Churnin

Illustrated By: Yevgenia Nayberg

Publisher/Date: Creston Books/2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-14

Themes/Topics: biography; the power of words; kindness; hope

Opening:

In 1929, two babies were born on opposite sides of the ocean. They never met. They didn’t even speak the same language. But their hearts beat with the same hope.

Brief Synopsis: The biographies of Anne Frank and Martin Luther King, Jr., both born in 1929, and the parallels of their lives and legacies.

Links to Resources:

  • Think of someone who shares your birthday or who was born in the year you were born. How are your lives the same? How do they differ?
  • Anne Frank is known to many because of her diary. Try writing (or drawing) a diary for a week, a month, a year, or forever!
  • One of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most well-known speeches begins, “I have a dream”. Do you have a dream? Describe your dream in words or pictures.
  • Participate in The Kindred Spirits Project, which encourages children and class rooms to discover and share what they have in common with children from other regions, schools or countries.
  • Find more suggestions in the Curriculum/Discussion Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

Utilizing parallel structure, Churnin explores the lives of two well-known historical figures born in 1929: Anne Frank and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Although the two never met, they shared life features, such as being born into loving families but facing hatred at an early age. For King, it was being shunned and being barred from “Whites Only” spaces because of his skin color. For Frank, it was being shunned and being barred from school, first in Germany, from which her family fled, and then in Holland, because of her Jewish faith and heritage. Both King and Frank found their voices as teenagers, King as an orator who spoke of “black and white children playing together in harmony”, and Frank as a diarist who reflected on “how light could brighten the deepest darkness”. Despite the challenges they faced, both remained hopeful of a better world. Frank believed in people’s innate goodness, and King believed in the power of peaceful protest to bring about justice for all.

Churnin traces the lives of these peace builders through to their untimely deaths. But rather than dwelling on their early deaths, she leaves readers with hope, as “no one could kill the way Martin inspired others”, and “Anne’s words will never die”.

Many children’s books have been written about the lives and legacies of Martin and Anne. By pointing out the parallels in their lives and in their hopes in the face of hatred, I think Churnin has brought a new perspective to both of their legacies that will empower children to view their own circumstances with hope and treat others with kindness and love.

Because Martin & Anne involves two storylines in distinct locations an ocean apart, the illustrations play an important role in bringing a sense of unity to the whole. Nayberg’s soft, earth-toned, stylized art works well to convey the worlds of both of these historical figures. Her inclusion of a brighter palette towards the end of the book left me feeling hopeful that King’s and Frank’s legacies will endure.

A Note about Craft:

Although children’s biographies of both King and Frank exist, Churnin brings new life to their legacies by showing the parallels in their lives. For those of us writing picture book biographies, this illustrates that finding a fresh way into a story, even if that way involves combining two biographies into one book, enables authors to explore even well-known figures and contribute to our understanding of them.

Visit Churnin’s website to read more about the inspiration behind Martin & Anne and see her other works.

Visit Nayberg’s website to see more of her artwork.

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 Friendly Ships

During the recent Reading for Research month, I saw the first book featured here in a post about quiet books. When I read that book, it brought to mind another book I’d read, and reviewed, a few years ago. I think you’ll understand why when you read these books together.

The Antlered Ship

Author: Dashka Slater

Illustrator: The Fan Brothers

Publisher/Date: Beach Lane Books/2017

Ages: 4-8

Themes: Curiosity, adventure, animals, and friendship.

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

An inquisitive fox sets off on a seafaring voyage with a crew of deer and pigeons in this enchanting tale of friendship and adventure.
Marco the fox has a lot of questions, like: how deep does the sun go when it sinks into the sea? And why do birds have such lizardy feet? But none of the other foxes share his curiosity. So when a magnificent ship adorned with antlers and with a deer for a captain arrives at the dock looking for a crew, Marco volunteers, hoping to find foxes who are as inquisitive as he is that can answer his questions. The crew finds adventure and intrigue on their journey. And, at last, Marco finds the answer to his most important question of all: What’s the best way to find a friend you can talk to?

Read a review at The Picture Book Buzz.

The Friend Ship

Author: Kat Yeh

Illustrator: Chuck Groenink

Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion/2016

Ages: 3-5

Themes: friendship; journey; hedgehogs; loneliness

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Little Hedgehog is very lonely. But then she overhears passersby talking about something that gives her hope-something called a Friend Ship!
Hedgehog imagines a ship filled with friends of all kinds, and soon she’s ready to hit the open seas in a boat of her own to track it down. Along the way, she meets other lonely animals eager to join her quest.
They search north. They search south. They search east. But Hedgehog and her new friends can’t find the Ship anywhere! Until she realizes she knows just where the Friend Ship is. . .
This heartwarming tale by Kat Yeh, with charming illustrations by Chuck Groenink, proves that sometimes, what you’re searching for is right in front of you.

Read my review.

I paired these books because they involve animal characters seeking something and embarking on journeys. In The Antlered Ship, the deer seek an island with tasty food, the pigeons seek adventure, and Marco the fox seeks answers to his many questions. In The Friend Ship, Hedgehog undertakes a journey to find friendship and ends up finding it on a ship filled with friends. Both books feature imaginative journeys that aren’t quite what the travelers, and the readers, expect at the outset.