Tag Archives: adventure

PPBF – Robinson

Regular readers may think that I’m deviating from my focus on books about refugees, regions experiencing conflict or natural disasters, and regions affected by immigration bans. But as I read today’s Perfect Picture Book by a noted author-illustrator who, himself, was born in the former Czechoslovakia and was granted asylum as an adult in the US, I couldn’t help but think the themes of this book are so important for today’s refugees or any other kids feeling alone or hopeless. I hope you agree!

9780545731669_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Robinson

Written & Illustrated By: Peter Sís

Publisher/date: Scholastic Press/September 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Courage, loneliness, independence, friendship, adventure, bullying

Opening:

My friends and I love adventure. We play pirates all the time. Together, we rule the high seas!

Brief Synopsis: Peter, a young boy who loves Robinson Crusoe, falls ill after dressing as his hero for a school costume party and being mocked for his costume. He then dreams of a journey that mimics that of his hero.

Links to Resources:

  • A costume party is a key feature of this story. Have you ever dressed as a literary hero? Find some ideas here.
  • Have you ever worn a costume that you really liked, but others found it funny or too different? How did you feel?
  • Read a child’s version of Robinson Crusoe here.

Why I Like this Book: Robinson is a gorgeous picture book with an important message for kids who feel alone and/or different.

How will I survive on my own?” Peter asks in one dark spread, as he looks fearfully around an imposing forest. I think Peter speaks for all kids who are alone, or who feel alone due to lack of friends or bullying, or who are in an unfamiliar place due to a natural or manmade disaster or even are lost near home. As kids see Peter adapt to island life and emulate the lifestyle of his hero, I think they will feel hope, too, that their situations will improve. As in all good adventure stories, Sís circles back to the beginning, and in the end, we leave Peter and his friends ready for another adventure.

In true Sís style, the text is minimal and the illustrations are incredible. This is a dream adventure, and Sís’ depiction of the transition from reality to dream is stunning as Peter’s bed transforms into a ship, and he approaches the island after floating in and out of hours, or maybe days.

A mix of smaller panels and larger one- and two-page spreads, Sís’ pen, ink and watercolor illustrations were designed to capture the “colorful, dreamlike first impression” he had when he first read Robinson Crusoe, per an About the Art note. I believe he succeeded, and I think you’ll agree!

A Note about Craft:

As authors or author-illustrators, we learn the importance of ideas and idea generation. We also learn they can come from anywhere – even our own past. Sís mined his past for Robinson. He states, in an Author’s Note, that Robinson is inspired by a true story from his childhood. Sís wore a Crusoe costume fashioned by his mother and recalled being ridiculed by friends. He even includes a photograph of himself in that costume in the book (you’ll have to read Robinson to see it!). What memories of yours can become picture books?

From the opening above, the point of view is clear: the main character of Robinson narrates his own story. I think this works well to bring immediacy to the story.

Robinson is a 48-page picture book published by a major commercial publisher. While the word-count is low, the page count is high, showing that the “rules” can be broken.

Finally, I confess to having had trouble pulling the main themes from Robinson. It is so multi-layered! I listed those from the jacket cover first, but then realized how bullying, not listed on the cover, plays such a pivotal role in the story, and how imagination, which isn’t even listed above, pops from each page.

Robinson has justifiably received many starred reviews. Learn more about its acclaimed author/illustrator, Peter Sís at his website and Scholastic Author Page.

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!

PPBF – Gary

Happy New Year! And welcome to another year of Perfect Picture Book Friday – my second year as a participating blogger.

Thanks to an anti-resolution revolution post from Julie Hedlund, I spent the waning hours of 2016 focused not just on goals for 2017, but on all that I accomplished in 2016. I realized that I not only read over 400 picture books last year, but reviewed over 50 of them.

As regular readers know, I have a penchant for reviewing books by English author/illustrators, those featuring difficult topics and/or highlighting diverse characters, and books that generally are considered quiet. Today’s Perfect Picture Book hits all three categories (although the author/illustrator now resides in Australia). Enjoy! And cheers to a new year of reading, writing and reviewing picture books! Thanks for following along!

9780763689544_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Gary

Written & Illustrated By: Leila Rudge

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press/2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: adventure, travel, dreams, overcoming fear, overcoming physical limitations, perseverance, being different

Opening:

Most of the time, Gary was just like the other racing pigeons.

He ate the same seeds. Slept in the same loft. And dreamed of adventure.

Brief Synopsis: When a racing pigeon who can’t fly suddenly finds himself lost in the city, he relies on other skills to find a way back home.

Links to Resources:

  • Create a map of your room, house, or route to/from school, friend’s or relative’s house, or even a picture book;
  • Many forms of transportation are shown in Gary. Find and list these ways to travel. How many have you used?
  • Create a scrapbook of mementos from a favorite journey, memorializing a favorite event, or about a hobby or sport you love.
  • Find out more about racing pigeons (who knew there’s a Royal Pigeon Racing Association in the UK?).

Why I Like this Book:

Simple title, simple story, simple message: it’s ok to be different. Keep dreaming, as you will find a way to realize your dreams. What better message than that as we start the new year?

The text is straightforward and the illustrations, a mixture of colored pencil, paint and collage, capture Gary’s love of scrapbooking journeys and showcase many aspects of the journey he ultimately enjoys.

A Note about Craft:

When I think about what makes a first line great, I think Ms. Rudge has hit the mark with the first line of Gary. “Most of the time” – so sometimes something is different; “Gary was just like the other racing pigeons.” How is he just like them? How is he different? And what, exactly, are racing pigeons? I want to know more!

Interestingly, the text doesn’t start until page two (with some awesome illustrations on the endpapers, too). We learn then that Gary is sometimes different from the other racing pigeons and that he, and they, dream of “adventure”. It isn’t until page three that we learn that Gary stays at home on race days, and we wait another page to learn why. Combined with illustrations showing Gary busily compiling a travel scrapbook, Rudge’s text spurred me to read on. What a great lesson in perfect openings!

As noted above, Gary is a story of being different and overcoming limitations to realize dreams.  Rather than choosing a human child as main character, perhaps sidelined on a playing field, foot in cast or sitting in a wheelchair, Rudge chooses a species with a sport about which most of us know nothing. I can envision this giving rise to some interesting conversations about differences, dreams, and overcoming limitations. Brilliant!

Finally, Rudge ends Gary by circling back to repeat the first lines, with a twist. Classic picture book ending!

Find out more about Leila Rudge. Read the starred Kirkus Review here.

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!

PPBF -What to Do With a Box

It’s November, time to:

  • Elect our next president and fill other state and federal offices;
  • Turn back the clocks;
  • Head indoors as outside temperatures fall;
  • Give thanks and share our blessings with others.

So why have I chosen to feature a picture book about a BOX?

  • Countless school & community groups are hosting food drives now –  filling cardboard boxes with meals for less-fortunate neighbors;
  • Boxes are a great indoor escape from cold, rainy fall weather, especially as the sun retreats earlier each afternoon; and
  • If you live in a contested state, or listen to, read or watch any news sources, you may by now just want to curl up in a box – or perhaps you may want to do so next Wednesday.

Without further ado, off to unpack today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9781568462899_p0_v2_s118x184Title: What to Do With a Box

Written By: Jane Yolen

Illustrated By: Chris Sheban

Publisher/date: Creative Editions/2016

Suitable for Ages: 6-8 (or younger)

Themes/Topics: rhyming picture book, cardboard boxes, imagination, creativity, adventure, recycling

Opening: “A box! A box is a strange device. You can open it once. You can open it twice.”

Brief Synopsis: A “how to” play with an empty cardboard box

Links to Resources:

  • Use your imagination to repurpose a cardboard box as a vehicle, costume or other  item
  • Think of other things you can recycle into toys or other items.

Why I Like this Book:

In fewer than 200 words, Jane Yolen opens the box on creativity, inviting children to imagine, explore, set off on adventures. The only characters in the book are two unnamed children, a boy and a girl, with a dog, and the suggestion is that “you” can participate in adventures, journeys and imaginative play with a box, too.

Chris Sheban’s soft illustrations mimic the colors of a cardboard box and complement Ms. Yolen’s text well. As one reviewer noted, the pair combine “soft words and soothing visuals”, providing “inspiration without instruction.”

A Note about Craft:

I immediately was struck by two things when I read What to Do With a Box: the quiet, lyrical language and the lack of character names. Concerning the latter, I think by leaving the characters nameless, Ms. Yolen makes it easier for young listeners to envision themselves in the story – something she encourages further by inviting “you” to join in on the action. This reminded me of the directives in A Child of Books, Oliver Jeffers/Sam Winston (Candlewick Press, 2016), in which the narrator, a nameless “child of books,” will journey with “you” to discover the joys of literature.

And while What to Do With a Box is an action story, all of the actions require thought and contemplation. This isn’t hurried, slapstick action. Rather, the children and you think about what to do with the box and, harnessing creativity, repurpose it in many imaginative ways.

Finally, no review of this book would be complete without a note about word choice. Ms. Yolen seemingly chooses her words not just to keep the rhythm and rhyme, but to draw the reader in, to paint a picture as one child “crayon[s] an egret” and the other sails not just anywhere, but “to Paris and back”. Such beautiful images!

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!

PPBF – Sail Away

Earlier this week, I learned of efforts to preserve Langston Hughes’ Harlem brownstone. The group spearheading the efforts, I, Too Arts Collective, @ITooArts, is a “nonprofit organization committed to nurturing voices from underrepresented communities in the creative arts”. According to its statement of purpose on generosity.com, the group’s “first major project is to provide a space for emerging and established artists in Harlem to create, connect, and showcase work”. Its “goal is to lease and renovate the brownstone where Langston Hughes lived in Harlem as a way to not only preserve his legacy but to build on it and impact young poets and artists.” You can find out more and donate at generosity.com.

When I came across the featured collection of poetry by Langston Hughes, newly illustrated by Ashley Bryan, I knew this was the Perfect Picture Book to showcase I, Too Arts Collective’s campaign and celebrate summer on the water.

9781481430852_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Sail Away

Written By: Langston Hughes

Illustrated By: Ashley Bryan

Publisher/date: Atheneum Books for Young Children/2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (and beyond)

Themes/Topics: poetry, sea, sailing, travel, adventure, non-fiction

Opening:

Catch

Big Boy came

Carrying a mermaid

On his shoulders

And the mermaid

Had her tail

Curved

Beneath his arm.

Being a fisher boy,

He’d found a fish

To carry-

Half fish,

Half girl

To marry.

Brief Synopsis: This is a collection of 15 poems about water and the sea penned by Langston Hughes and newly illustrated by Ashley Bryan.

Links to Resources:

  • Use paper collage techniques to draw a picture;
  • Visit the sea, a river, lake or pond and describe what you see. What was it like?

Why I Like this Book:

As other reviewers have noted, Langston Hughes (1902-1967), a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, is most remembered for his writings about racial and national identity. This collection of poetry, while containing one that is specific to the African-American experience (see, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, the last poem in the collection), shows another side of Hughes. It is a celebration of seafaring, mermaids, rivers, fish, bridges – really all things nautical. These poems on the whole are joyful, especially as the very talented artist Ashley Bryan has illustrated them using bright paper collages. At times they are whimsical, almost childlike, as in the poem entitled simply “F”, about a fish “with a greedy eye/Who darted toward/A big green fly.” But the fly was simply “bait on a hook!/So the fisherman took/The fish home to cook.”

A Note about Craft:

The genesis of this book was not Langston Hughes, who died long before publication. Rather, the illustrator, Ashley Bryan, is the protagonist here. As stated on the front flap, Mr. Bryan is “one of Langston Hughes’s greatest admirers.” His illustrations truly bring this poetry to life.

9781481430852_p3_v4_s192x300In an illustrator’s note, Mr. Bryan states that the “scissors shown on the endpapers are the scissors that my mother used in sewing and embroidery and that I, in turn, used in cutting the colored papers for all the collage compositions in this book.” An author in his own right, Mr. Bryan created this artwork at the ripe young age of 91, meaning the scissors most likely date to the late 19th or early 20th century. Truly an inspiration for young and old!

If You Liked this Book:

Check out Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph, reviewed here.

One of Ashley Bryan’s many other books for children, found here.

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Beyond the Pond

As the days lengthen, as buds and tiny shoots appear, and as a greater variety of birds visit the feeder each day, the urge to wander, to explore outside, returns. What better way to embrace the spirit of adventure and exploration than through this Perfect Picture Book Friday.

 

9780062364272_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Beyond the Pond
 

Written & Illustrated By: Joseph Kuefler

Publisher/date: Balzer + Bray, 2015

 

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Exploration, nature, imagination, adventure

Opening: “Just behind an ordinary house filled with too little fun, Ernest D. had decided today would be the day that he’d explore the depths of his pond.”

Brief Synopsis: A young boy, Ernest D. is bored with his ordinary, too little fun house, so he decides to explore the depths of the pond. He discovers a different, exciting world on the other end. But when he returns home, will he view it the same as when he left?

Links to Resources: Children of all ages love to explore! But what do you need to explore?

Discuss and assemble the tools necessary for an exploration of the back garden, the local park, a body of water, or even the basement or attic of your own home.

Try a scavenger hunt.

Older children in warmer climates could don a mask and explore the bottom of a local pond, stream, or bay.

Why I Like this Book: In this debut picture book, Joseph Kuefler combines words and pictures to describe a perfect day out for any would-be explorer. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Ernest D. leaves his everyday, ho-hum backyard and enters a big, raucous, colourful world. As in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna (Harper Collins, 2009), the doorway to this other world is through Ernest D.’s pond. I especially love that the adventures begin, and end, where all the best ones do: at home (which may just be a little less ordinary than we thought!).

 

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!