Perfect Pairing: Christmas is for the Birds (Count)

I think I mentioned at the outset of this blog series that one of my goals is to pair two different books that complement each other because of theme, common author and/or illustrator, or for some other reason. One of today’s books is non-fiction, and the other book is fiction, but they converge on one topic: the Christmas bird count. I think it’s a perfect time to feature these books, as readers can participate in the count now, regardless of whether you live in the country, the city or somewhere in between.

Happy counting, happy holidays to those celebrating Christmas next week, and happy New Year’s to all! As both of the next two Tuesdays are holidays in the US, I’ll be back with my next perfect pairing in January. 

Counting Birds: The Idea that Helped Save our Feathered Friends

Author: Heidi E.Y. Stemple

Illustrator: Clover Robin

Publisher/Date: Sea Grass Press (an imprint of The Quarto Group)/2018

Ages: 3-7

Themes: non-fiction; biography; birds; citizen science; Christmas bird count

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Every day kids learn how they can help protect bird species, near and far, with Counting Birds—the real-life story of bird counting and watching.

What can you do to help endangered animals and make a positive change in our environment? Get counting! Counting Birds is a beautifully illustrated book that introduces kids to the idea of bird counts and bird watches. Along the way, they will learn about Frank Chapman, who used his bird knowledge and magazine Bird-Lore to found the first annual bird count.
 
Bird counting helps professional researchers collect data, share expertise, and spread valuable information to help all kinds of birds around the world, from condors to hawks to kestrels and more.
 
Counting Birds introduces kids to a whole feathered world that will fascinate and inspire them to get involved in conservation and become citizen scientists.

Read a review and an interviewwith Heidi E.Y. Stemple at Picture BookBuzz.

Finding a Dove for Gramps

Author: Lisa J. Amstutz

Illustrator: Maria Luisa Di Gravio

Publisher/Date: Albert Whitman and Company/2018

Ages: 5-7

Themes: Christmas bird count; intergenerational; family; loss

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A boy and his mom continue the family tradition of participating in the annual bird count. Since Gramps went South for the winter, the boy hopes to spot Gramps’s favorite bird for him—a dove! But with so many different birds in the nature preserve, will he be able to spot one? This heart-warming family story about nature celebrates a holiday census that was first started in 1900 and happens every year.

Read a review and an interview with Lisa Amstutz at Picture Book Buzz.

Hawk seen in park across Hudson River from New York City

I paired these books because readers can learn the history of the Christmas bird count in the non-fiction Counting Birds and see its importance to one boy and his family in the fictional story, Finding a Dove for Gramps. Utilizing the information in the back matter of both books, readers then can participate in the bird count themselves.

Looking for similar reads?

See, Owl Moon, Jane Yolen (1987) (the daughter in the story is the author of Counting Birds) and Crow Not Crow, Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple (2018).

PPBF – A Drop of the Sea

From the sea as a Blue Road, as in last week’s Perfect Picture Book (Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea) to the sea as a dreamed-of destination, I’ve been enjoying quite a few “sea” stories lately. Here’s the latest!

Title: A Drop of the Sea

Written By: Ingrid Chabbert

Illustrated By: Raúl Nieto Guridi

Publisher/Date: Kids Can Press/2018 (originally published in France as Un bout de mer, Éditions Frimousse/2017)

Suitable for Ages: 4-7 (and older)

Themes/Topics: sea; desert; dreams; gift; kindness; intergenerational; aging; book in translation; #ReadYourWorld.

Opening:

Ali lives at the edge of the desert, not far from a hundred-year-old palm tree. He likes climbing it to snack on fresh dates. He never forgets to pick a few for his great-grandmother, too.

Brief Synopsis: Ali’s aging great-grandmother has always wanted to visit the sea. With bucket in hand, Ali journeys to the sea and and back to share the sea with her.

Links to Resources:

  • Fill a bucket with water. Try not to spill any! How far can you carry it? Why is a bucket full of water heavier than an empty bucket?
  • What place do you dream about? Draw a picture or write a description of that place;
  • Think of good deeds you can do for a family member or friend;
  • This story takes place in a desert, where there is little water. Learn about water scarcity and what you can do to help.

Why I Like this Book:

What would you do for someone you love? This question is at the heart of A Drop of the Sea. When Ali learns that his aging great-grandmother has always wanted to visit the sea but is no longer physically able to journey there, he sets off on a two-day journey to the coast, bucket in hand, to bring the sea to her: if she can’t journey there, he’ll bring the sea to her. But carrying a bucket brimming with sea water for two days is no easy task, especially in the hot sun and dry air of North Africa, the setting of the story.

As is evident from the title, Ali delivers mere drops of the sea. And the result? The elderly woman “starts to cry,” not because she is sad or upset, but because “this is one of the most beautiful days of my life!” And Ali? His “heart soars.”

Focused as it is on Ali’s kindness, the grandmother’s dreams, the “failed” attempt, and the reactions, I think A Drop of the Sea is a thought-provoking reminder of what it means to give and receive, to fail and succeed, to grow more infirm or stronger, and of the importance of actions & experiences over objects. In the midst of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Green Monday and SALE signs accosting us everywhere, perhaps we’d do well to remember that a drop of the sea is all that we, and the children in our lives, need.

Like the text and the setting, Gurudi’s digitally-rendered gouache and pencil illustrations are sparse and evocative. Much of the time, the sand appears more like lined-paper than actual sand, and in one spread, the route of the journey appears as a map underfoot. Is Guridi implying that this story is, in fact, a fairy tale or fable, set down here to make us think about timeless issues of aging, water-scarcity, dreams, and gifts? While I don’t know the answer, I believe the illustrations add an additional layer to discuss after reading  A Drop of the Sea.

A Note about Craft:

As noted above, the title, A Drop of the Sea, almost reveals the outcome of the story. It also, though, is very intriguing, especially when combined with the overwhelmingly simple and beige cover illustration. As authors or editors, we know that we need to weigh the pros and cons of revealing too much or not enough with a title. In this case, I think they made the right choice.

A Drop of the Sea is a simple, straightforward story, with only two characters depicted and little indication of time period, contemporary or historical, or place (we know only that it’s a vast desert, a two-day walk from a sea coast, and we presume it’s North Africa). Clearly Ali does not live alone with his great-grandmother in a vast desert with no other family, friends or neighbors anywhere near. But as these other characters are not essential to the story, the author and illustrator haven’t cluttered the story with them. By leaving others out, I think the author and illustrator have enabled readers to focus better on the issues that matter, namely, the great-grandmother’s dream, Ali’s attempt to fulfill it, and the outcome. What clutters your story, and what can you strip away to enable readers to experience its heart?

Per the book jacket, French author Chabbert has published “dozens” of books, including several picture book collaborations with Guridi. Spanish illustrator Guridi is an “award-winning illustrator of many children’s books”.

Read an insightful review of A Drop of the Sea in CM: Canadian Review of Materials.

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!

Perfect Pairing of Poetry Picture Books

I’ve been serving as a Round 1 panelist for the Cybils Awards poetry section these past few months, reading almost 50 picture book, middle grade and young adult books of poetry and novels in verse. I had known about the first book I feature below, but hadn’t had the pleasure of reading it until it was nominated to that list. I’m so glad I’ve now read it! Not only was the publication of this collection a gift from a daughter to her late mother, but the haiku themselves are a gift to kids young and old. I hope you read and enjoy both of these picture books – I certainly did.

H is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z

Author: Sydell Rosenberg

Illustrator: Sawson Chalabi

Publisher/Date: Penny Candy Press/2018

Ages: 5-11

Themes: haiku; poetry; nature

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z, the late poet Sydell Rosenberg, a charter member of the Haiku Society of America and a New York City public school teacher, and illustrator Sawsan Chalabi offer an A-Z compendium of haiku that brings out the fun and poetry in everyday moments.

Read a review and interview with Rosenberg’s daughter, Amy Losak, at Picture Books Help Kids Soar.

 

Poems in the Attic

Author: Nikki Grimes

Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon

Publisher/Date: Lee & Low Books/2015

Ages: 7-8

Themes: poetry; family history; intergenerational

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

During a visit to her grandma’s house, a young girl discovers a box of poems in the attic, poems written by her mother when she was growing up. Her mother’s family often moved around the United States and the world because her father was in the Air Force. Over the years, her mother used poetry to record her experiences in the many places the family lived. Reading the poems and sharing those experiences through her mother’s eyes, the young girl feels closer to her mother than ever before. To let her mother know this, she creates a gift: a book with her own poems and copies of her mother’s. And when she returns her mother’s poems to the box in the attic, she leaves her own poems too, for someone else to find, someday. Using free verse for the young girl’s poems and tanka for her mother’s, master poet Nikki Grimes creates a tender intergenerational story that speaks to every child’s need to hold onto special memories of home, no matter where that place might be.”

Read a review and an interview with Nikki Grimes about this book in the Horn Book.

I paired these books because they are both poetry collections, perfect for reading together, and because they offer differing perspectives on an intergenerational theme: In H is for Haiku, Rosenberg wrote the poems for children, but they were collected and published by her daughter, Amy Losak – an act of filial love and a gift to readers. In Poems in the Attic, a grandchild exploring her grandmother’s attic finds letters written by her mother as a girl and through them learns more about her mother. It also involves a gift, in this case, the original poems and the daughter’s responses, compiled into a book.

Looking for similar reads?

See Nikki Grimes’ A Pocketful of Poems (2001), which pairs haiku and free verse poems; Seeing Into Tomorrow, Nina Crews (2018), the haikus of Richard Wright with photographs by Crews; Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up, Sally M. Walker (2018).

PPBF – Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea

Those of you who read my Perfect Pairing post this past Tuesday may notice a theme this week: the color blue. And those of you who regularly read my Perfect Picture Book reviews no doubt will be thinking that there must be a refugee or migrant, or a few, among the poems in this anthology.

Title: Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea

Collected By: Lee Bennett Hopkins

Illustrated By: Bob Hansman & Jovan Hansman

Publisher/Date: Seagrass Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc./2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes/Topics: poetry; sea travel; history; non-fiction; migration; slavery

Opening (from the Introduction by Hopkins:

Standing on a balcony during a recent Caribbean cruise, I gazed across endless miles of water. The sea – awesome, breathtaking, frightening, filled with wonder – has always beckoned dreamers from shore to shore who have, as Rebecca Kai Dotlich phrases it in her poem “Sea,” “traveled away from,/traveled toward…” The sea has also carried less willing travelers across its wide expanses, both those compelled by hard circumstances to brave its blue distances and those captured into bondage to make bleak, terrifying crossings.

Brief Synopsis: A collection of 14 poems, penned by 14 different poets, about sea journeys from the 15th through the 21st century, including those undertaken by choice and those undertaken under duress.

Links to Resources:

  • Back matter includes Notes about each journey and information About the Poets;
  • Have you ever visited an ocean or sea or taken a sea journey? Describe the water or the journey;
  • Write a poem about the sea, a journey or a sea journey.

Why I Like this Book:

In Traveling the Blue Road, Hopkins encourages readers to think of the sea not just as a wide expanse, but also as a road, a route from here to there, along which travelers have journeyed for millennia. Arranged chronologically from the journey of Columbus and his crew in the late 15th century to the present-day journeys of refugees and the lives of itinerant fishermen on houseboats in the Philippines, these poems encourage readers to reflect on both the promise and perils of sea journeys, to gain greater insight into the bravery and fears of the travelers, and to empathize with the willing, and most especially the unwilling, voyagers.

In Voyage, a poem about Columbus’ journey, for instance, Paul B. Janeczko notes “[f]ear growing like a thunderhead”, “flea bites as common as rain”, and the weary sailors’ offering of “a prayer of thanks” when land draws near. In With Fearless Faith and Everything to Lose, Allan Wolf recounts the journey of the Pilgrims, “hopeful souls” who “huddle in the hold” of a ship that is a mere “fragile fleck” as “heathen winds harass and scold”.

Utilizing first-person point-of-view, Marilyn Nelson helps readers feel the fear of enslaved Africans in Kidnapped by Aliens about the 18th century middle passage of slaves. From the notion of the slave traders as “aliens” to the idea of lying “curled around terror, facing the blue unknown”, Nelson creates images that long will linger.

In a pair of poems about the voyages of MS St. Louis in 1939, Jane Yolen captures the hope of the “[b]lue road” in Blue the Color of Hope: On the Ship St. Louis. She then recounts the dashing of hope in Return to the Reich: On the Ship St. Louis, as first Cuba, then the US deny entry to the Jewish passengers, and “[w]e were sent back home/To a place where murderers waited.” And in Mediterranean Blue about 21st century migrants, Naomi Shihab Nye reminds readers, “[t]hey are the bravest people on earth right now,/don’t dare look down on them.”

Evoking, as they do, so many thought-provoking images, the poems in Traveling the Blue Road are targeted to the older end of the picture book range, and, I believe, are a wonderful resource for classrooms and homes, to be read as a set, or individually.

Beginning with archival images, and utilizing a predominantly blue and gray palette, the Hansmans’ pastel, charcoal, pencil, crayon, marker and cut paper illustrations evoke the past and are often, themselves, poetic and abstract, furthering the emotional impact of the poems they accompany.

A Note about Craft:

I read Traveling the Blue Road a few weeks ago because it’s a nominee for a Cybils Award, in the poetry category, for which I’m serving as a first-round panelist. The haunting poems have stayed with me, and I chose to review it here because, I believe, the historical perspective the collection offers will help children, and adults, understand better the hopes and fears of today’s desperate sea travelers – the refugees and migrants. I also believe that with its ability to evoke images and convey emotions, poetry is a wonderful medium to tackle tough subjects, such as those raised here. I invite writers to consider whether a difficult story you’re writing may work better as a rhymed or free verse poem, a series of poems, or a novel in verse.

Visit Hopkins’ website to learn more about this prolific and award-winning author, poet and children’s poetry anthologist.

Per the book jacket, St. Louis-based father-son artists Bob Hansman and Jovan Hansman first met at City Faces, a program whose “mission is to create and provide a safe haven and strong peer-based environment for all children living in Clinton-Peabody public housing”. Bob taught art classes at City Faces, and later adopted Jovan, an active participant as a young teen, who now runs the program.

An imprint of Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc., Seagrass Press “aims to nurture young readers as they grow by offering a range of informative and entertaining titles.”

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!

Hester Saves Christmas – Susanna Hill’s 8th Annual Holiday Contest

Dust off the decorations. Strike up the band. Bake, bake, bake and bake some more (especially if it’s chocolate). It’s time for

Susanna Hill’s 8th Annual Holiday Contest!

The Contest:  Write a children’s holiday story (children here defined as age 12 and under) about A Holiday Hero!  Your hero’s act of heroism can be on a grand scale or a small one – from saving Christmas to leaving a fresh-baked loaf of Challah bread for a homeless person to something like Gift Of The Magi where two people give up the thing most important to them to be sure someone they love has a good holiday.  Your hero can be obvious or unlikely.  Your story may be poetry or prose, silly or serious or sweet, religious or not, based on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate, but is not to exceed 250 words.  Entries are posted, or linked to, Susanna’s post. Grab some cocoa, scurry over & enjoy some wonderful holiday stories! You’ll be glad you did (and so will the writers, if you leave comments).

And now, for my 246-word entry…

Hester Saves Christmas

Hester loved jingling bells, the scent of sparkling pine trees, and the promise of present-filled stockings hung by Farmer O’Neill’s chimney. She especially loved stories of Santa and his reindeer.

“Mama, can I can pull Santa’s sleigh next year?” Hester asked.

“Flying reindeer pull Santa’s sleigh, Hester. And everyone knows Highland Cows can’t fly.”

But I can dream, thought Hester. And practice.

She hopped over heather and thistles.

“Ouch!”

She jumped across rocky streams…almost.

            SPLASH!

She trotted uphill, leapt, and…

tumbled down a steep slope.

            Moooo…

Hester kept trying…

and trying…

and trying…

but not quite succeeding.

As Christmas drew near, Hester turned her nose from pine trees and looked away from the chimney. She hung her shaggy head. Large tears fell, freezing like a glistening beard.

“A blizzard,” sighed Farmer O’Neill on Christmas Eve.  “No presents tomorrow. Santa’s reindeer can’t fly through this mess. Into the barn, girls.”

All but one shuffled into the warm barn.

Hester trudged through deep snowdrifts. She shivered in the blustery wind and slipped on icy paths until…

She heard a faint jingle-jingle. She scrambled and spied…

Santa in his sleigh with eight grounded reindeer stuck in a snow pile.

Hester pulled, tugged and led the reindeer, sleigh and Santa along the snowy trail.

The next morning, presents filled stockings.  Laughter rang like jingling bells across the farm.

“Merry Christmas, Hester,” Farmer O’Neill said.  “Wake up! Somehow Santa came!”

Hester yawned and wondered,

Can a cow hide Easter eggs?

 

 

Perfect Pairing – Feeling Blue?

In a favorite passage in Emilie Boon’s Ella & Monkey at Sea, young Ella utilized “angry black”, “scared gray” and “cold blue” crayons to color as a storm raged. Since reading these descriptions and writing a review of this awesome, new picture book, these images have haunted me. Blue is a favorite color, and I rarely associate it with coldness, sadness or angry feelings. But depending on shade, blue can be sad or happy, angry or peaceful, and so much more, as evident in these two recent picture books. How do you feel blue?

Blue

Author & Illustrator: Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press/2018

Ages: 3-6 (and older)

Themes: low word count; loss; dogs; blue

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

How many shades of blue are there?

There’s the soft blue of a baby’s cherished blanket, the ocean blue of a romp in the waves, the chilly blue of a cold winter’s walk in the snow, and the true blue of the bond that exists between children and animals.

In this simple, sumptuously illustrated companion to Caldecott Honor Book Green, award-winning artist Laura Vaccaro Seeger turns her attention to the ways in which color evokes emotion, and in doing so tells the story of one special and enduring friendship.

Read a review by Julie Danielson at Kirkus Reviews.

The Blue Hour

Author & Illustrator: Isabelle Simler

Publisher/Date: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers/2017 (originally published in France as Heure Bleue, Éditions courtes et longues, Paris/2015)

Ages:  4-8

Themes: nature; evening; quiet; blue

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A lovely and tranquil celebration of nature

The sun has set, the day has ended, but the night hasn’t quite arrived yet. This magical twilight is known as the blue hour. Everything in nature sky, water, flowers, birds, foxes comes together in a symphony of blue to celebrate the merging of night and day.

With its soothing text and radiant artwork, this elegant picture book displays the majesty of nature and reminds readers that beauty is fleeting but also worth savoring.

Read a review at Waking Brain Cells.

I paired these books because they evoke feelings and emotions through various shades of the color blue. In the almost-wordless Blue, Seeger traces the lifespans and love of a boy and his dog from infancy, with a baby blue blanket, to the end, utilizing differing shades and descriptive words for blue. In The Blue Hour, Simler provides snapshots of many animals preparing for the darkness of night. Both of these picture books are quiet, and because of the illustrations, merit multiple readings and re-readings.

Looking for similar reads?

See Seeger’s Green and Aree Chung’s Mixed: A Colorful Story.

PPBF – Ella & Monkey at Sea

I first learned of today’s Perfect Picture Book in a review by Vivian Kirkfield on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar. I purchased the book for my own collection and am so happy to share it with you today.

Title: Ella & Monkey at Sea

Written & Illustrated By: Emilie Boon

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: immigration; journey; moving/loss

Opening:

Monkey doesn’t like good-bye hugs. He doesn’t want to say good-bye to Oma. Oma wipe away tears and hugs Mama too.

Brief Synopsis:

A young girl, accompanied by her mother and a favorite sock monkey, journey from the Netherlands to America to reunite with her father.

Links to Resources:

  • Ella draws pictures when she’s scared and angry. What colors are your pictures when you’re scared or angry? What colors do you use to cheer yourself up or cheer up someone else? Draw a cheerful picture;
  • Have you moved to a new house, city, or country? How did you feel? List three things you miss from your old home and three things you like about your new home;
  • Monkey is a sock monkey. Try ten sock crafts (with thanks to Vivian for the suggestion!).

Why I Like this Book:

In Ella & Monkey at Sea, the reader travels along with Ella, her special friend, Monkey, and Mama as they journey from the home and grandmother they have known in Europe to a new home in America, where Ella’s father awaits their arrival. Filled with emotion, we feel Ella’s doubts and misgivings about this long sea voyage and life-changing move through the reactions of Monkey, who, we learn, “doesn’t like good-bye hugs”, “doesn’t want to get on a ship, or sail off to sea, or move away forever”. It’s also Monkey who doesn’t like the fish served at dinner and who is “clingy” when a storm arises. And it’s Monkey who “loves hello hugs”, as, Ella reveals, does she.

While it isn’t clear why the family moves, I think Ella & Monkey at Sea will be a helpful book for any child whose family is moving across town or across the world. I think even children who have never moved will relate to the very real emotions that Monkey (and Ella) feel and, hopefully, will gain empathy for new students in their classrooms or new neighbors.

Boon is an author-illustrator whose watercolor, graphite, colored pencil and crayon illustrations show the emotions Ella and Monkey feel through facial expressions, body language and color. I especially liked Boon’s descriptions of Ella scribbling during a bad storm at sea, using “angry black”, “scared gray”, “cold blue”, until, as her crayons “snap”, she borrows “Monkey’s crayons” and draws “sun pictures” filled with bright yellow – a hopeful sign of future happiness.

A Note about Craft:

As in many recent refugee and immigrant picture books, Boon uses first-person point-of-view to bring immediacy to the story and help others empathize with Ella’s situation. Unlike many other young immigrants, Ella doesn’t travel alone or just with a parent: she has Monkey. Boon projects Ella’s feelings onto Monkey, so Ella doesn’t have to face the unpleasant aspects of the journey – leaving her grandmother, a long sea voyage and a storm at sea – alone. I found this “role playing” aspect of the story especially beneficial for kids who may be undergoing similar changes in their lives and who, like Ella, may be scared or feeling unsure of their future. Whether it’s a pet, a stuffed animal or another toy, I think it’s helpful to include something upon which the main character can project his or her emotions and which s/he can help overcome misgivings and fears.

Visit Boon’s website to see more of her work and learn the backstory of Ella & Monkey at Sea, Boon’s journey by ship to America from the Netherlands as a young girl. Read Kirkfield’s interview with Boon on “Will Write for Cookies”.

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!