PPBF – Bright Star

A favorite author/illustrator released an eagerly-awaited, new picture book earlier this month. With its focus on the borderlands, an area much in the news recently, I think this is a Perfect Picture Book. I hope you agree!

Title: Bright Star

Written & Illustrated By: Yuyi Morales

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Holiday House/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: borderlands, wildlife, family, barriers, connections, empowerment

Opening:

Child, you are awake!

Breathe in, then breathe out, hermosa creatura.

You are ALIVE!

You are a bright star inside our hearts.

Brief Synopsis: A fawn born in the borderlands desert takes its first exploratory steps, and, faced with a barrier, learns to make its voice heard.

Links to Resources:

  • When we think of borders and/or barriers between countries or regions, we generally think about the people who are prevented from crossing. Why do you think Morales focuses on a fawn that confronts a border wall?
  • Learn about the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert;
  • View a video in which Morales discusses the making of Bright Star;
  • Check out the Educators Guide for discussion questions and more, and the Event Kit for activity ideas.

Why I Like this Book:

With gorgeous mixed-media artwork and limited text using both English and Spanish, Morales transports readers to the Sonoran desert borderlands. There, readers witness the birth of a curious white-tailed fawn. We experience the sense of wonder it feels exploring this seemingly austere, desert landscape that is filled with cacti, other desert plants, and many native animals, birds, and insects.

When the fawn encounters a huge wall that precludes further progress on its journey to find water, it lets the world know how it feels by shouting out, “NO!” Thankfully, the earth protects the young fawn and the other creatures with a soothing rain shower, enabling it to “imagine a new story” of “the most beautiful world.” This world is filled with young children of a variety of soft brown hues, wearing colorful clothing that references the desert creatures.

An omniscient voice, like a caring mother, prods the fawn to explore, to overcome fear, and to listen to the surrounding silence. I love the gentle tone of the text and the reassurance this narrator imparts to the story.

In an afterword, Morales explains why she made the book. First in the list, “I made this book because you and I are connected”. These connections are very apparent throughout the text and most especially in the illustrations. The details, including the use of woven and embroidered cloth and a photograph of the arm of a young child at the border “used for the color and texture of the children’s skin” in the book, show the care, and love, Morales is sharing with the children at the borderlands and with us, the readers.

With its detailed illustrations, low word count, and message of community and caring for each other, Bright Star is a wonderful picture book to share with younger children. Because it raises so many questions about how we treat others, including the natural world, at the borderlands, I think this is also a wonderful choice for classroom and home discussion with older children.

A Note about Craft:

In another of the statements about why she created Bright Star, Morales stated that she “made this book knowing that children everywhere, but especially migrant children at the borderlands, have experienced things that they should never have to endure.” But rather than concentrating solely on these atrocities, which would be a difficult topic for young children to read about, Morales introduces readers to the beauty of the borderlands, the diverse flora and fauna, and the beautiful faces of young children. And while the wall that divides the borderlands plays a prominent role in the story, the young fawn uses its voice to shout “NO!” and then listens to the wisdom of the soothing silence. In the end, Morales leaves readers hopeful that communities will use their voices to reunite the peoples and natural world of the borderland.

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!

PPBF – Anita and the Dragons

Regular readers know that I love stories that feature moving house, especially when they involve international moves. I recently read a new picture book about a move from the Dominican Republic to the United States that I think you’ll agree is a Perfect Picture Book!  

Title: Anita and the Dragons

Written By: Hannah Carmona

Illustrated By: Anna Cunha

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing/2021

Suitable for Ages: 3+

Themes/Topics: emigration, imagination, bravery, moving

Opening:

Today is the day I will meet the dragons – large winged beasts who will carry me away. For years, I have watched the dragons high above me as I play, hopping from one cement roof to another. Their snarls shake the gravel roads.

But being the valiant princesa I am, I never let them scare me!

Brief Synopsis: Anita, a young girl with a vivid imagination, prepares to emigrate from her native Dominican Republic.

Links to Resources:

  • Anita and her family live in the Dominican Republic. Learn more about this Caribbean country;
  • Anita describes airplanes as dragons. How are airplanes like dragons? How are they different? Draw a picture of an airplane, a dragon, or a dragon airplane;
  • Reread the opening lines, “Today is the day I will…” What will you do today to overcome a fear, complete a task, or fulfill a dream?
  • Check out a few other activities and coloring sheets here.

Why I Like this Book:

With courage and imagination, Anita, a young Dominican princesa, prepares to enter the belly of a dragon with her family and fly to a new home. I love how Anita portrays the airplanes that fly overhead as dragons, dragons that she will conquer. I think kids will relate to her worldview and plucky spirit. Those with siblings will enjoy how she dismisses her brother for questioning that they live in a palace, stating simply that she would never allow “a toad like you inside my walls”.

Those who have faced new situations will understand the physical manifestations of fear, the sweat, the clenched stomach, clammy hands, and a “rock the size of my fist” landing “with a plunk in the empty pit of my stomach.” Despite this fear, despite the necessity of saying goodbye to beloved family members and their island home, Anita and her family bravely “stand strong”, entering the beast’s belly to journey towards “new adventures”.

I love how the focus of Anita and the Dragons is on the courage and strength Anita displays as she and her family leave the beloved familiar and journey into the great unknown. Because Anita is such a strong character, I felt no doubt by story’s end that she would conquer her new homeland and establish a new palace there, one befitting a true princesa.

The beautiful pastel illustrations evoke Anita’s island homeland while a stylized illustration of an airplane makes clear that the family is journeying to the United States.

Anita and the Dragons is a wonderful choice for classroom and family reading with its many opportunities to discuss the differences between island life and life in an American city and ways we can overcome our fears to embrace new adventures.

A Note about Craft:

From the assertive first line, “Today is the day I will meet the dragons”, to the hopeful ending with its promise of “new adventures,” Carmona has crafted a picture book that showcases a strong main character overcoming her fears. I think by analogizing the airplanes to dragons, an image I think many kids will relate to, and by characterizing Anita as a brave princesa, a character I think many kids will want to emulate, Carmona shows readers that they, too, can adapt to change, even a major change like an international move. I also think it’s refreshing that Carmona highlights the positives of Anita’s life in the Dominican Republic and some things that await them in the United States. Finally, Carmona includes a scene in which Anita vows that she will return to “my island”, that she “will see you again.” I think this accurately reflects the experience of those who emigrate but hold their place of origin in their hearts and, when able, return home, even if simply to visit.

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!

PPBF – Mexique: A Refugee Story from the Spanish Civil War

A month ago, I, like many in the world, watched in disbelief and horror as scenes of refugees fleeing Afghanistan unfolded across our television screens, social media feeds, and in newspaper articles. One article, in particular, caught my attention: a few of the major US newspapers turned to what I thought was an unlikely source for help in evacuating Afghan coworkers: the Mexican government. And then I remembered this Perfect Picture Book sitting on my nightstand, waiting for me to reread and review it. It turns out that Mexico has a history of helping those from afar seeking refuge.

Title: Mexique: A Refugee Story from the Spanish Civil War

Written By: María José Ferrada

Illustrated By: Ana Penyas

Translated By: Elisa Amado

Publisher/Date: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers/2020, originally published in Spanish by Alboroto Ediciones, Mexico/2018

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: refugees, Spanish Civil War, hope, resilience

Opening:

At night I close my eyes and feel the waves beating. I think they are saying something to the ship. Mexique. That’s what it is called. Do the waves know that? Does the sea keep the names of all the ships?

Brief Synopsis: The story of one ship filled with 457 children of Spanish Republicans in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about the Spanish Civil War;
  • Have you ever traveled anywhere without your parents or siblings? How did you feel?
  • Learn about Spain and Mexico;
  • Learn more about the Mexique and the Spanish Civil War in the Afterword.

Why I Like this Book:

In sparse, poetic language, told from the viewpoint of one of the children on the boat, Ferrada relays the story of the departure of the refugee ship Mexique from Europe and its arrival in Mexico.

The children aboard were the offspring of Spanish Republicans who sought a place of safety for them to wait out the few months of a war about which many of us know little, if anything. But that war, readers learn in the Afterword, lasted longer than a few months. General Franco and his followers won that war, Spain was left hungry and in ruins, and the Spanish Republicans were persecuted by the victors. World War II quickly followed the Spanish Civil War. Afterwards, General Franco continued to rule with an iron fist until the 1970s. Many of the Mexique’s passengers never returned to Spain.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Thankfully, this picture book ends with the arrival of the children in Mexico, a place, as I mentioned above, that many of us in the United States generally don’t view as a place of refuge. During the journey, older girls befriended younger children, becoming the “sisters we didn’t have before.” The children sang, played at being soldiers, cried, and imagined where they were going. White handkerchiefs that looked “like stars or flowers” waving in the wind greeted the children. The children brought “the war in our suitcases”. But the story ends on a hopeful note, with those children still believing it would be only three or four months until their return to their families in Spain, like “summer vacation, only longer.”

Many of Penyas’ primarily black-and-white illustrations appear as panels, graphic-novel style, often across wordless two-page spreads. Several of the more difficult scenes, like leaving family and friends, scenes of war, and scenes of the difficult crossing, appear only in the illustrations.

Because Mexique ends on a hopeful note, because it illuminates a war and a period of history about which many of us know little, and because it highlights the generosity of our neighbors to the south and offers a new perspective for many about Mexico, I think this is an important picture book for classroom and home reading.

A Note about Craft:

The story of over 400 children leaving their homes and relatives behind is a difficult topic to share with children. But by focusing on the passengers of one ship and by using first person point-of-view, I think Ferrado helps readers empathize with the young refugees and eperience the hope they felt when they reached Mexico.

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!

PPBF – Grandpa Across the Ocean

This Sunday, we celebrate Grandparents Day in the United States. I think today’s Perfect Picture Book is a wonderful way to celebrate the bonds that unite grandparents and grandchildren, wherever they live. I hope you agree!

Title: Grandpa Across the Ocean

Written & Illustrated By: Hyewon Yum

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: intergenerational, Asian-Americans, Korea, grandparents

Opening:

My Grandpa lives on the other side of the ocean. Where Grandpa lives, it smells strange. It sounds strange.

Brief Synopsis: There might be many differences between a Grandpa and his grandson who speak different languages and live on opposite sides of an ocean, but many things unite them, too.

Links to Resources:

  • Cook a meal with an elderly relative or family friend that includes a favorite dish of theirs and yours;
  • Celebrate Grandparents Day with these fun activities;
  • Learn about South Korea, the setting for this story.

Why I Like this Book:

In Grandpa Across the Ocean, Yum uses kid-relatable examples to show the differences between the Korean grandpa and his visiting American grandson. In addition to the language barrier, readers learn that Grandpa eats yucky foods, watches news programs instead of cartoons, and “naps all the time in his chair”. And the only toy in the house, a ball, ends up crashing into Grandpa’s potted plants, causing a big mess. What child can’t relate to that?

Like the unnamed grandchild, young readers will expect Grandpa to react with sorrow and anger. My guess is that many adults will share that expectation. But instead, this mishap leads to greater understanding between Grandpa and the boy of the similarities that unite them. I love that many of these occur in nature.

Yum’s colorful colored pencil illustrations complement and further the text. I particularly enjoyed a two-page spread featuring Grandpa and the boy, in matching hats at the beach, accompanied by the perceptive text, “We watch the waves come and go. They look just like the waves on the other side of the ocean.” How true! And certainly something we all should remember, whether we’re thinking about barriers separating family members or even separating strangers.  

A Note about Craft:

On the jacket flap, readers learn that Yum was born and raised in South Korea, but now resides in New York. Like the mother in this story, she spends part of each summer in South Korea with her own children so that they can spend time with their grandparents. Clearly she has mined these experiences to craft 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!

PPBF – 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag

I’m happy to be sharing a recently published picture book that I had the good fortune to win from the wonderful crew at Kidlit 411 earlier this summer.* I knew when it arrived in the mail that I wanted to save my review of it until now, as we reflect on the events of September 11th, on its 20th anniversary.

Title: 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag

Written By: Amanda Davis

Illustrated By: Sally Wern Comport

Publisher/Date: WorthKids, an imprint of Hachette Book Group/2021

Suitable for Ages: 5-8+

Themes/Topics: 9/11, American flag, hope, community, healing, non-fiction

Opening:

On September 11, 2001, New York City was attacked. Two planes were flown into the World Trade Center. The Twin Towers collapsed, and thousands of people lost their lives.

It was a tragic day in America’s history.

Brief Synopsis:

The story of an American flag that flew at Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11, that became tattered and torn, and that was repaired by people coming together in a journey through all 50 states.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Back Matter, including a link to the national 911 flag website;
  • For the 20th anniversary of 9/11, 30,000 Stitches embarked on a tour of many of the places where the 9/11 Flag was stitched. Click on reflections from some of the many people who helped repair the Flag in this Voices from the Flag Tour;
  • Learn more about the American Flag.

Why I Like this Book:

It’s not easy writing a feel-good, hope-filled story about a tragedy, but this is exactly what Amanda Davis has done in 30,000 Stitches.

Although the story begins on that fateful day 20 years ago, readers’ attention quickly is drawn to the flag that construction workers hung over Ground Zero in the aftermath of the bombing. From there, readers learn that the flag became “Torn. Tattered. Tired.” It was stored away, where it languished until a tornado destroyed a town in Kansas several years later.

A team from New York volunteered to help rebuild that town, and town residents asked that they bring along something from the World Trade Center for a new memorial park. But instead of placing the ragged flag in the park, the residents repaired the 9/11 Flag.

As Davis notes, “a grand idea was born.” The Flag would journey to all 50 states, where in ceremonies, new stitches and new pieces of fabric would join together to fully restore the flag. From World War II veterans in Hawaii, to members of Martin Luther King Jr.’s family in Georgia, and many places in between, the flag and a team of volunteers crisscrossed the nation as the fabric of America united to commemorate the victims of 9/11 and showcase the strength, hope, and unity of our nation.

I love how Davis weaves sewing terms throughout the text. And in her collaged illustrations, Comport includes stitches that bring to mind the 30,000 stitches that Americans in each of the 50 states used to restore the Flag. One two-page spread tracks the journey across a multi-colored map of the US, with the journey indicated by stitches and the locations of the restoration ceremonies indicated by Xs. A single sentence accompanies the map: “The flag wove its way across America—crisscrossing borders, cross-stitching lives.” I love the image those words convey.

I think children and their adults reading 30,000 Stitches will gain not only a greater understanding of the postscript to the 9/11 tragedy, but a better appreciation of the importance of national symbols, like our Flag, and of communities rallying to overcome tragedy.

A Note about Craft:

As Davis relates in an Author’s Note, she first learned about the 9/11 Flag and its journey to rebirth while searching for an art project for her high school students to commemorate “the lives lost on that tragic day” and that “also focused on the strength and unity that America displayed” afterwards. She discovered the National 9/11 Flag, and its story wouldn’t leave her. In addition to basing an art lesson on it, she crafted this story, weaving in many sewing terms and a refrain-like tag line, “The fabric of America…” In the end, readers learn, “The fabric of America endures.”

*I received a copy of 30,000 Stitches in a contest, with no expectation, nor requirement, of reviewing it. The opinions expressed are purely my own, and they are not predicated on receiving a copy of the book.

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!

PPBF – This Very Tree

I think most adults can tell you where they were twenty years ago on 11 September 2001. I was living in upstate New York at the time, but my first career, in the mid and late 1980s, was on Wall Street in lower Manhattan. My husband and I commuted by train from suburban New Jersey, arriving each morning to the bowels of the Trade Center, riding a long escalator to ground level, and then walking to our offices.

On 9/11, I thought back to our neighbors and friends who commuted with us, some of whom brought babies and toddlers to a wonderful day care center in the area. Many of our former colleagues still worked in the area (thankfully, no one we knew was in the Towers that day, although some witnessed the tragedy first hand). So when I saw this new picture book, I knew I had to read and review it.

Title: This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth

Written & Illustrated By: Sean Rubin

Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: 9/11, World Trade Center, New York City, Survivor Tree, resilience, tragedy

Opening:

In New York City there once stood two towers. For a time, they were the tallest buildings in the world. Below the towers was a busy plaza.

That’s where I was planted.

Brief Synopsis: A pear tree that had lived on the plaza between the twin towers of the World Trade Center describes 9/11 and lives to experience the rebirth that followed.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about the history of the World Trade Center, 9/11, and the Survivor Tree in the back matter;
  • Read E.B. White’s lines quoted from Here is New York (1949) about This Very Tree that must be saved (appears as a foreword). Why do you think E.B. White thought a particular willow tree was worthy of saving? Why do you think the pear tree from the World Trade Center plaza was worth saving?
  • Do you have a favorite tree or other plant? What is it about that plant that you like? Draw a picture of that tree or plant.

Why I Like this Book:

Told from the point-of-view of a Callery pear tree, This Very Tree recounts the story of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City and the rebirth of the surrounding area afterwards. Because of the large loss of life, the horror of the circumstances, and the feelings of vulnerability and distrust that followed, the 9/11 attacks are perhaps the most difficult of topics for a picture book. But by focusing on a tree, a tree that survived the attacks, thrived afterwards, and returned to the very plaza to offer solace and hope, I think Rubin has rendered this tragedy accessible to kids.

I love how Rubin includes so many natural features in the illustrations. Birds flit in and out of many spreads, including a dove that nested in the tree’s branches that first spring after the attacks. I also love how Rubin juxtaposes the regrowth of the tree with the building of the Freedom Tower. And when the tree returns to the newly rebuilt plaza, it isn’t the only tree gracing the concrete plaza. Rather, it’s surrounded by a forest of other trees, there to help this tree feel stronger and less afraid.

By sharing the tree’s thoughts and fears, Rubin casts the tree in the role of a trauma survivor. It voices the emotions that all of us feel when we think about 9/11, which, I think, will help adults who experienced this tragedy discuss it with children. That the story ends with the reminder that the tree’s blossoms signal spring’s arrival enables us to feel hopeful, that a tragedy like this never occurs again.

A Note about Craft:

As someone who reviews many picture books dealing with difficult topics, I’m always interested to figure out how authors and illustrators depict tragic events without terrifying children or leaving them feeling hopeless. By focusing on a tree that survived the destruction of the towers and still graces the plaza at the new 9/11 Memorial, I think Rubin manages to turn this story of a tragedy to one focused on rebirth and hope.

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!

PPBF – Be A Tree!

The end of summer is nearing, at least in my neck of the woods. Although the temperatures remain high, the sunflowers are past their prime. School buses search out new routes, and my inbox is filled with “Back to School” promotions. Before we turn the corner to fall, I think it’s the perfect time to be out exploring the natural world, or reading about it, don’t you?

Title: Be A Tree!

Written By: Maria Gianferrari

Illustrated By: Felicita Sala

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 and up

Themes/Topics: trees, community, strength, free verse poetry, environment, cooperation

Opening:

Be a tree!

Stand tall.

Stretch your branches to the sun.

Brief Synopsis: A comparison of trees and people, showing our strengths and need for community.

Links to Resources:

  • If you were a tree, what type would you like to be? Draw a picture of your favorite type of tree;
  • Take a walk and check out the different species of trees that grow in your community;
  • Check out the Back Matter that includes an author’s note, five ways you can help save trees, how you can help in your community, anatomy of a tree, and further resources.

Why I Like this Book:

Using lyrical language, Gianferrari explores the similarities between people and trees. Like trees, we have an outer layer. Our spines are a trunk, giving us shape. At our tops, we have crowns of leaves or hair.

Like people, readers learn, trees communicate and help each other “share food, store water, divide resources, alert each other to danger.” Trees create, as it were, a “wood wide web of information”.

Gianferrari shows that both people and trees are stronger when they live in communities. A fold out spread shows diverse groups of people and various animals enjoying the shade of many different types of trees. A final spread featuring people of different races, ethnicities, ages, and abilities drives home the point that when we live in harmony with one another, as trees do, we are stronger, like a forest.

I really love how Gianferrari’s sparse language encourages kids, and their adults, to draw similarities between ourselves and such an important part of our natural surroundings. I also love the overarching message that we’re all better off when we take care of each other.

Sala’s watercolor, goache, and colored pencil illustrations include sweeping vistas of many types of trees and forests, and anatomical close-ups.

Be A Tree! is an engaging read-aloud and fact-filled book for school and home libraries.

A Note about Craft:

In Be A Tree! Gianferrari uses strong verbs to exhort readers, whom she addresses directly, to picture themselves as trees, to act as trees, and to live in a community that includes humans and nature. I love the analogies between tree and human anatomy. I also love the metaphor of people being part of a forest, a community that is better together.

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!

PPBF – A Bowl Full of Peace: a True Story

The anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were both this past week, so I think it’s a perfect time to share a fairly new picture book about one young survivor’s experience in Nagasaki.

Title: A Bowl Full of Peace: A True Story

Written By: Caren Stelson

Illustrated By: Akira Kusaka

Publisher/Date: Carolrhoda Books, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group/2020

Suitable for Ages: 6 and up

Themes/Topics: Japan, biography, atomic bomb, Nagasaki, family treasures

Opening:

No one knows how old Grandmother’s bowl is.

No one remembers who made it.

No one can count how many times the bowl has passed from mother to daughter.

But everyone knows Grandmother’s bowl is precious.

Brief Synopsis: In the rubble of their bombed home in Nagasaki, Japan, a family finds one precious bowl that has been passed down through generations and that now gives them hope for the future.

Links to Resources:

  • Stelson has recounted Sachiko’s story in a book for older children. See the Discussion and Activity Guide;
  • Ask an older adult to tell you about a cherished possession that has been passed down through the family. Why do you think this possession is important to that adult? Why is it important to you?
  • An Author’s Note, an Illustrator’s Note, and Recommended Books provide further information about Sachiko, her family, and the bowl at the heart of this story.

Why I Like this Book:

War is never an easy topic in picture books. And when it’s a true story, with several family members and friends who don’t survive a nuclear attack, I think it’s even more difficult. Yet, after reading A Bowl Full of Peace, I was filled not with sorrow, but with hope, hope because survivors like Sachiko lived to tell their stories and hope that nuclear weapons will never be used again.

Told from the perspective of Sachiko, six-years old at the time of the bombing, readers learn of the loss of life and devastation caused when an American plane dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki, Japan, in the final days of World War II. But amid the rubble, Sachiko’s father finds Grandmother’s bowl, the bowl that was at the center of their meals before the war, before Sachiko’s brothers and friends died.

On the anniversary of the bombing, Sachiko’s mother starts a tradition of filling the precious bowl with ice, reminding the family to “[r]emember how a chip of ice eased our thirst? As the ice melts, let us remember all who suffered and all who died.” Together, the family prays that “such a terrible war” never occurs again.

I love this tradition of remembering lost loved ones using the bowl that survived filled with ice that eased pain and thirst. I love, too, that by story’s end, readers learn that 50 years after the war, Sachiko continues the tradition and decides that she “can no longer be silent”, that she must share her story with the world.

Although this is a difficult topic, I think it’s important for adults to expose children to stories such as Sachiko’s so that, as Sachiko hopes, something similar never happens to anyone again.

Kusaka’s illustrations vary from dark and gray-filled scenes of war to tender family scenes.

A Note about Craft:

As I mentioned above, explaining war, especially nuclear war, in a way that resonates with younger children and doesn’t totally scare them is never easy. But by adding a focal point that kids can relate to, like a bowl used daily for family meals, and by focusing on how that object survives the bombing, I think Stelson has made this topic more accessible for kids.

The title of the book helps to focus readers on a future filled with peace, even as we remember those who tragically lost their lives. I love that the author is American, but the illustrator is Japanese.

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!

PPBF – The Doll

Who doesn’t enjoy receiving a gift upon arrival after a long journey? I think everyone appreciates that kindness, including the characters in today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: The Doll

Written By: Nhung N. Tran-Davies

Illustrated By: Ravy Puth

Publisher/Date: Second Story Press/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: refugees, kindness, paying it forward

Opening:

Long ago, in a nearby land, there was a young girl whose eyes were deep-ocean blue, whose dimples twinkled like bright mischievous stars.

She was waiting.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl is welcomed to a new land with the gift of a doll, and then, as an adult, she welcomes another young refugee with that same doll.

Links to Resources:

  • Have you ever received a special gift? How did you feel? Draw a picture of that gift or write a thank you note to the giver;
  • The author arrived as a refugee from Vietnam. Learn more about that country;
  • The new arrival fled conflict in Syria. Discover more about Syria (information is all pre-war).

Why I Like this Book:

Based on the author’s own experiences as a Boat Person arriving in Canada from Vietnam, The Doll showcases two acts of kindness separated by decades.

When a young stranger gives a doll to a newly-arrived refugee, the girl feels welcome in her new home. Years later, after reaching adulthood and becoming a doctor, that refugee learns about the conflict in Syria and the suffering of the people there. She remembers how she felt fleeing Vietnam and arriving, with almost nothing, to Canada. She also remembers the kindness of a young Canadian who welcomed her with that special gift, and pays that gift forward, by regifting the doll.

I love how one gift changed the outlook and life of the unnamed main character, as she settled into her adopted country and grew up to become a doctor. I also love how such a kid-friendly object, the doll, symbolizes the kindness shown the main character and that she passes that gift along to a new refugee years later.

I think The Doll is a wonderful new picture book to share with children to show them the enduring power of one act of kindness.

A Note about Craft:

As noted above, The Doll is based on a true story, on events that the author experienced personally. Because she remembered her flight from Vietnam and the welcoming gift that greeted her upon arrival in Canada, I think Tran-Davies is able to demonstrate empathy in a particularly kid-friendly way.

Interestingly, Tran-Davies begins her story not from the perspective of the main character who receives the doll, but on the giver. She then recounts the main character’s gift to the new refugee decades later using parallel structure and even similar words. Also interestingly, the story takes place over decades, something that Tran-Davies manages by, I think, focusing on the two similar gifting scenes.

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!

PPBF – Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued

Regular readers know that I’ve read, and reviewed, several picture books by the author/illustrator of today’s Perfect Picture Book. So when I saw he had released a new picture book about such a difficult, but important, topic, you know I had to find and review it!

Title: Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued

Written & Illustrated By: Peter Sís

Publisher/Date: Norton Young Readers/2021

Suitable for Ages: 6-8

Themes/Topics: non-fiction, Holocaust, heroes, refugees

Opening:

Nicky was born in 1909, into a century full of promise.

Brief Synopsis: The story of a young Englishman and the 669 Jewish children he helped transport to England from Prague during World War II.

Links to Resources:

  • Read the Author’s Note about Nicholas Winton, how Sís learned of the “Winton Train” and about Vera Diamantova, one of the rescued children;
  • Learn about the Czech Republic, part of the former Czechoslovakia, where much of this story takes place;
  • Have you ever journeyed by train? Where did you travel & what did you see? Draw a picture of something you saw on your journey.

Why I Like this Book:

In lyrical language and with gorgeously detailed illustrations, Sís recounts the stories of two people whose lives intersected during World War II. Nicky, readers learn, grew up in England, and as a young man journeyed to Prague to meet a friend on vacation. While there, he realized the plight of young Jewish children, and used grit, determination, and even some of his own funds, to arrange trains to England and find foster families there. Vera, one of those children, “wrote in her diary every day” about her experiences in England.

In all, Nicky managed to fill 8 trains with 669 children and quietly ferry them from Prague, by then controlled by the Nazis, to London in 1939. A two-page spread filled with an illustration of 8 trains is powerful testimony to the many lives he helped save.

A modest hero who, in his own words, “did not face any danger,” and “only saw what needed to be done”, Nicky packed away the records of these children and never told anyone, not even his family, about these actions during the war. As the story ends, readers learn that this quiet hero and the now-grown children were reunited many years after the war.

Not only is Nicky and Vera a true story, but it’s one that introduces children to a type of hero different than the rampaging Super Heroes of comics and movies. Readers learn that heroes, like Nicky, can be quiet and unassuming, who see a wrong and use their time and talents for the greater good, to help as many people as possible.

An internationally renowned artist and illustrator, Sís fills the pages with detailed images of his native Czechoslovakia, the journey to England, and the reunion with several of the children in England.

A Note about Craft:

How do you craft a picture book for young children about an extremely difficult topic, the Holocaust, featuring an adult protagonist? Sís accomplishes this feat by introducing the quiet hero in infancy, spending a few spreads recounting his childhood, and then once he reaches adulthood, Sís introduces one of the young beneficiaries of Nicky’s heroism and tells her story. By focusing on both the hero and one of those saved, I think Sís makes it easier for children to empathize with those who Nicky saved and better understand the importance of this quiet hero’s actions. Note, too, that Sís refers to Nicholas Winton not by his last name, but by a child-friendly nickname, which, I think, makes him seem more childlike to readers. At 64 pages, Nicky and Vera is longer than the typical picture book, but I can’t imagine telling this story in fewer spreads.

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!