Tag Archives: art

PPBF – Anya’s Secret Society

I saw today’s Perfect Picture Book featured in a list of new picture books and immediately was drawn in by the title and description. I think you’ll enjoy this one, too.

Title: Anya’s Secret Society

Written & Illustrated By: Yevgenia Nayberg

Publisher/Date: Charlesbridge/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: left-handed; feeling different; conformity; Soviet Union; art; self-expression; imagination

Opening:

Anya was born in Russia, in the middle of winter.

Brief Synopsis: Left-handed Anya loved to draw, but conformity in the Soviet Union meant that she could use only her right hand for all tasks. Although she learned to perform other tasks with her right hand, she drew in secret at night with a society of great artists of the past.

Links to Resources:

  • Try drawing with the hand you don’t usually use to draw;
  • Learn more about the famous artists who were part of Anya’s Secret Society: Leonardo da Vinci , Rembrandt , and Michelangelo , who could create with both hands.

Why I Like this Book:

Using a very concrete example that I think even young kids will understand, Nayberg explores a universal issue: feeling different. Left-handed children who have tried to play sports or create art with their right hands will immediately understand Anya’s frustration. I think those of us who are right-handed will empathize with Anya, too, as all of us, I believe, have some trait that makes us feel different from others.

In Anya’s case, she hid the difference, conformed to rules, but maintained her unique left-handed drawing abilities in secret. As Nayberg notes, “The right hand took care of the world around Anya. The left hand took care of the world inside Anya.”

I think older kids will understand Anya’s desire to conform, to hide the difference, while at the same time creating an inner, secret world where her talent could flourish. This story also explores life in repressive societies, the need to fight conformity and oppression, and the relief felt by those, like Anya, who find freedom in a new society.

Nayberg accompanies her text with colorful, surrealistic, acrylic on illustration board and digital collage illustrations. I particularly enjoyed comparing the depictions of Russian and American society and viewing the wonderous animals that Anya imagined and that “her left hand could draw”.

A Note about Craft:

Anya’s Secret Society is based on Nayberg’s own experiences as a left-handed artist growing up in the former Soviet Union. Rather than writing an autobiographical picture book, Nayberg creates a character, Anya, with whom children may more readily identify. She also focuses on one aspect of her experience, hiding her left-handedness, to explore the universal feeling of being different and the desire to hide that difference. Are there times in your past or features that make you feel different than others? Could these be the particulars to help you explore that universal feeling?

Visit Nayberg’s website to see more of her work, including the illustrations for Martin & Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank (Nancy Churnin, Creston Publishing/2019)

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 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 – of  Books about Walls, Art & Community

As Valentine’s Day is coming, I thought I’d pair a few books that show how we can share love through creative pursuits that strengthen our communities.

 

Hey Wall: A Story of Art and Community

Author: Susan Verde

Illustrator: John Parra

Publisher/Date: A Paula Wiseman Book (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: art; community; wall; street art

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

One creative boy.
One bare, abandoned wall.
One BIG idea.

There is a wall in Ángel’s neighborhood. Around it, the community bustles with life: music, dancing, laughing. Not the wall. It is bleak. One boy decides to change that. But he can’t do it alone.

Read a review at Children’s Books Heal.

 

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood

Author: F. Isabel Campoy & Theresa Howell

Illustrator: Rafael López

Publisher/Date: HMH Books/2016

Ages: 4-7

Themes: murals; art; community; wall

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

What good can a splash of color do in a community of gray? As Mira and her neighbors discover, more than you might ever imagine! Based on the true story of the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, California, Maybe Something Beautiful reveals how art can inspire transformation and how even the smallest artists can accomplish something big. Pick up a paintbrush and join the celebration!

Read a review at All the Wonders.

I paired these books because they show how something that we generally think of as a barrier, something that can divide us, can also unite us. In Hey Wall, the unnamed young narrator addresses the wall directly and shows readers how that old, “lonely concrete” wall can be changed with “pencil”, “paints”, and “dreams” to tell the story of the community, that is “somethin’ to see”. In Maybe Something Beautiful, the young protagonist spreads color across a gray city, one picture at a time, until she partners with a muralist to bring color to all. I love how children lead the way to transformation in both books, I love the multicultural communities depicted, and I love the centrality of art to bringing communities together. How will you share beauty, and love, in your neighborhood or city today?

Looking for similar reads?

For another creative treatment of walls, see The Wall in the Middle of the Book  .

Perfect Pairing is Hands On

There are so many ways to think about what we do and how we do things. Today’s perfectly paired Picture Books look at one important tool that we all share: our hands!

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Whose Hands Are These? A Community Helper Guessing Book

Author: Miranda Paul

Illustrator: Luciana Navarra Powell

Publisher/Date: Lerner Publishing Group/2016

Ages: 4-9

Themes: hands; rhyming; concept book; helping occupations; non-fiction

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

If your hands can mix and mash, what job might you have? What if your hands reach, wrench, yank, and crank? The hands in this book–and the people attached to them–do all sorts of helpful work. And together, these helpers make their community a safe and fun place to live. As you read, keep an eye out for community members who make repeat appearances! Can you guess all the jobs based on the actions of these busy hands?

Read a review at The Grog.

 

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With My Hands: Poems About Making Things

Author: Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

Illustrators: Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson 

Publisher/Date: Clarion Books/2018

Ages: 4-7

Themes: hands; poetry; art; creativity

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

For young makers and artists, brief, lively poems illustrated by a NYT bestselling duo celebrate the pleasures of working with your hands.
Building, baking, folding, drawing, shaping . . . making something with your own hands is a special, personal experience. Taking an idea from your imagination and turning it into something real is satisfying and makes the maker proud.
With My Hands is an inspiring invitation to tap into creativity and enjoy the hands-on energy that comes from making things.

Read a review at Enjoy and Embrace Learning.

I paired these books because…Who knows the answer? Hands up! Yep, the hands have it! Looking at their hands, Paul explores community helpers in a question-and-answer format that will engage young readers. VanDerwater encourages creativity in With My Hands, a collection of 26 poems that celebrate the joy of being a maker and making such things as a birdhouse or boat. How will you use your hands to help others and be a creator?

Perfect Pairing for International Dot Day 2018

I’m deviating from my usual practice of posting Perfect Pairing on Tuesday in order to celebrate an important day: the 10th Annual International Dot Day! I hope you enjoy the post and join Peter H. Reynolds, the author/illustrator of The Dot, and close to 13 million people in 177 countries celebrating creativity and the joy of “making your mark.”

the-dot103606801The Dot

Author & Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2003

Ages: 5-8 (and older)

Themes: art; creativity; confidence; making your mark

 Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

With a simple, witty story and free-spirited illustrations, Peter H. Reynolds entices even the stubbornly uncreative among us to make a mark — and follow where it takes us.

Her teacher smiled. “Just make a mark and see where it takes you.”

Art class is over, but Vashti is sitting glued to her chair in front of a blank piece of paper. The words of her teacher are a gentle invitation to express herself. But Vashti can’t draw – she’s no artist. To prove her point, Vashti jabs at a blank sheet of paper to make an unremarkable and angry mark. “There!” she says.

That one little dot marks the beginning of Vashti’s journey of surprise and self-discovery. That special moment is the core of Peter H. Reynolds’s delicate fable about the creative spirit in all of us.

Read more about celebrating Dot Day at Children’s Books Heal and By Word of Beth.

 

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When I Coloured in the World

Author:  Ahmadreza Ahmadi

Illustrator:  Ehsan Abdollahi

Translated By: Azita Razi (2015)

Publisher: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd/2017 (first published in Persian, Nazar Publisher/2010)

Ages: 3 and up

Themes: imagination, diverse books, creating positive change, power of art

Short Synopsis (from Book Depository):

This is a story that is told with poetic simplicity, offering beautiful images but also raising questions to set thoughts going in readers’ imaginations as a child uses an eraser and crayons to bring happier colours to the world, replacing bad with good.

Read my review from April 2017.

I paired these books because the celebration of creativity permeates both books.  The teacher in The Dot encourages Yashti to tap into her inner artist and share her creativity with others. The mother gave the unnamed young narrator in When I Coloured in the World crayons and an eraser, which the child then used to change the bad and sad in the world to good and happy. Both children make their marks – how will you make your mark in the world?

And my DOT for 2018? A combination of my favorite place and my hope for this world.

 

My Dot 2018

PPBF – Drawn Together

I first learned of today’s Perfect Picture Book from a blog post interview (cited below) with the talented author and illustrator. I knew right away that I had to read and review this newly-published picture book. I’m so glad I did!

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Title: Drawn Together

Written By: Minh Lê

Illustrated By: Dan Santat

Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion (an imprint of Disney Book Group)/2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-5 (and older)

Themes/Topics: grandparents; communication; connections; art

Opening:

So…what’s new, Grandpa?

Brief Synopsis: A young boy and his non-English speaking grandfather bridge their communication divide through art and a shared love of fantasy.

Links to Resources:

  • Watch a video of Dan Santat discussing his art process for Drawn Together;
  • Draw a picture of, or for, a grandparent or special person in your life;
  • Lê’s grandparents and parents emigrated from Vietnam. Santat is of Thai descent. Discover these two Southeast Asian countries, Vietnam and Thailand;
  • Find more ideas in the Educator Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

Drawn Together is a visually stunning picture book that tackles an important question: how to bridge a generational divide, especially when the parties don’t speak the same language. In this case, the unnamed young narrator doesn’t speak Thai, the language of his grandfather, the grandfather speaks no English, and the two seem far apart and rather unhappy together as the story begins. But a shared love of creating art unites the two, even though the art they create differs stylistically. In the book’s dramatic turning point, the grandfather surprises his grandson “by revealing a world beyond words.” The boy notes that “in a FLASH” the pair see each other through their art, through the fantastical characters and scenes they create with markers, pen and ink.

What starts as a fairly quiet book becomes a rousing adventure as the pair work together to draw and defeat a “roaring” serpent monster. I think the inclusion of these epic action-filled scenes will appeal to kids (and adults), whether or not they’ve experienced communication problems with older relatives, new kids at school, or anyone else.

Santat created the detailed illustrations in traditional mixed media. I especially enjoyed how the beginning illustrations were wordless panels, like stills from a cartoon video, but then became intricate, full-page and double-page spreads with the boy’s and grandfather’s creations interacting to create “a new world that even words can’t describe.”

A Note about Craft:

With text comprising about 100 words and not starting until page 4, to say that this is a low word-count picture book or that Lê left plenty of space for the illustrator is a bit of an understatement. Nowhere in the text does it explicitly dictate how the two artists’ creations will come together to “build a new world”. Lê seemingly gave no direction to his illustrator, letting Santat create the new world from old, pen & ink, black & white, Asian warriors, and new, colorful markers and a young wizard reminiscent of Mickey as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia.

The title is, as you’ve probably discovered, a double entendre, a play on words, that drew this reader in & reminded me of the importance of an evocative, memorable title.

Finally, as I examined the endpapers, lifted the jacket cover, and poured over Drawn Together, I was reminded of Megan Dowd Lambert’s Whole Book Approach, and the many opportunities Lê and Santat offer readers to delve deeper into this wonderful collaboration.

Visit Minh Lê’s website. Read the transcript, or listen to the audio, of an All Things Considered (NPR) interview with Lê about Drawn Together and the importance of connecting with others.

Visit Dan Santat’s website to see more of his books and artwork.

For an insightful Q&A with Lê & Santat, see Think Quick.

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 – Tomorrow

Regular readers may recall that I reviewed The Jasmine Sneeze, written and illustrated by Nadine Kaadan, in March 2017. When I learned that she had written and illustrated a new picture book set in Syria, her homeland, I reached out to the publisher for a review copy. I’m so happy that today’s Perfect Picture Book is releasing next week and that Lantana Publishing’s books, including Kaadan’s books, are now available in the US (See below).

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Title: Tomorrow

Written & Illustrated By: Nadine Kaadan

Translated By: Nadine Kaadan

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing Ltd/16 August 2018 (originally published in Arabic by Box of Tales Publishing House, Syria/2012)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Syria; war; art; hope; #OwnVoices

Opening:

Yazan no longer went to the park, and he no longer saw his friend who lived next door.

Everything was changing around him.

Brief Synopsis:

Yazan, a young boy in Damascus, Syria, is stuck in the house because of the escalating conflict, but he’s desperate to go outside, visit the park, play with his friends, and even return to school.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about the geography and rich history of Syria before the current conflicts;
  • What do you do when you’re stuck at home? See a list of ideas to end indoor boredom;
  • Draw a picture of your “happy place”;
  • Yazan makes paper airplanes to pass the time. Make, and fly, your own paper airplanes.

Why I Like this Book:

Tomorrow provides a child’s-eye view of life in a Syrian neighborhood when war disrupts everyday activities. We learn that Yazan can no longer go outside by himself, play with friends, or go to school. His artist mother “stopped painting” and spends her days watching the news. At first, Yazan tried to amuse himself, even making “142 paper planes.” But despite his best efforts, we learn he was “BORED!” Finally frustrated at the lack of things to do, Yazan escapes outside, only to learn that the neighborhood, his world, has changed. But through the love of his parents and the creativity of his mother, Yazan learns to imagine his neighborhood as it was, before the conflict began, thus offering the reader hope that a better day will come at some future time, some tomorrow.

While several picture books published in the past several years have focused on the traumatic onset of war, the journey from a war zone, the plight of refugees, and/or the need to welcome refugees to our communities and schools, Kaadan’s focus is on the immediate onset of the conflict. She reveals only those aspects of war that would be visible to a young child sheltered at home. Rather than depicting injury, death, or flight – occurrences that could overwhelm young children, Kaadan highlights the inability to play outside and interact with friends, disruptions to education, and experiencing loud newscasts – all very kid-relatable occurrences. Through text and her evocative illustrations, she shows the emotions Yazan feels: confusion, anger, fear, and even boredom. I think kids will relate to both the changes highlighted and the emotions Yazan displays. Tragically, these are affecting both children still in conflict zones, like many places in Syria, and those who have fled to refugee camps and/or other communities and countries.

Kaadan’s watercolor and pencil illustrations have a child-like sense to them, as if Yazan is not only experiencing the situation, but recording it, too. Utilizing color, oozing dark grays and blues for the escalating conflict, bright yellows and greens for times and places of safety and comfort, Kaadan depicts both the changes and Yazan’s emotional reactions to them.

A Note about Craft:

Kaadan is an #OwnVoices author/illustrator who depicts her home city of Damascus as war erupts. Because she is so familiar with the locale, I think she includes details in the story that help place the reader in the situation. In a note to readers, Kaadan writes, “I wrote this story because I saw children like Yazan in my hometown of Damascus. Their lives were changing, and they couldn’t understand why.”

Kaadan also focuses on disruptions to normal “kid stuff,” rather than on the aspects of war that often grab headlines. I especially appreciated the focus on Yazan’s boredom – an emotion not often mentioned in stories dealing with conflict but that is an understandable reaction to the loss of freedom to leave the house to play outside, visit with friends or even attend school. That Yazan tries to “keep himself busy” with pursuits most kids can relate to, such as doodling, building a castle from pillows, and making paper airplanes, will help kids empathize with his situation, I think.

Finally, Kaadan utilizes different color palates to contrast conflict and comfort and to display feelings, and she depicts items, like the paper airplanes and Yazan’s unused red bike, to symbolize freedom and its absence.

Visit Kaadan’s website to view more of her artwork. View a video of Kaadan discussing Tomorrow and the displaced children of Syria.

Lantana Publishing, is an independent publishing company in the UK “producing award-winning diverse and multicultural children’s books”. Both Tomorrow and The Jasmine Sneeze are available in the US, through Lantana’s US distributor, Lerner Books.

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!