Tag Archives: art

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!

PPBF – Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos

I was fortunate to have visited the New York Botanical Garden’s 2015 FRIDA KAHLO: Art, Garden, Life exhibition with an artist friend and view first-hand some of her paintings and the flora that she incorporated into them.IMG_5558

The conservatory show included a recreation of part of the exterior of La Casa Azul, as I was transported to the Mexico of Frida Kahlo, the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book:

28807785Title: Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos

Written By: Monica Brown

Illustrated By: John Parra

Publisher/date: NorthSouth Books, Inc (an imprint of NordSüd Verlag AG)/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: art; biography; Frida Kahlo; pets; Latina; Mexico.

Opening:

This is the story of a little girl named Frida who grew up to be one of the most famous painters of all time. Frida was special.

This is also the story of two monkeys, a parrot, three dogs, two turkeys, an eagle, a black cat, and a fawn. They were Frida’s pets, and they were special too.

Brief Synopsis:

The story of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and her many pets that inspired her and were subjects of her paintings.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Xolo dogs (Xoloitzcuintli – pronounced, show-low-eats-queen-tlee), an ancient Aztec breed, and view a short video of a Xolo playing;
  • Frida Kahlo is known for her self-portraits (over 50 of her 200+ paintings are paintings of herself, sometimes with her beloved pets). Color in the portrait from the Activity Page;
  • Try drawing or painting your own self-portrait;
  • An Author’s Note provides further information about Frida Kahlo, the first Latina to be featured on a US postage stamp;
  • Find more activities and insights in the Educator’s Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

Frido Kahlo and her Animalitos is an inspiring story of overcoming adversities and celebrating what is near and dear. For Frida Kahlo, what was near and dear were her pets, who were “her children, her friends, and her inspiration.”

I think kids will enjoy reading about the art and life of this important artist, an artist who hailed from Mexico, who was a female artist, at a time when most artists were male, and who suffered from illness and physical injury. I especially think they will enjoy how Brown relates the features of the pets to traits Kahlo shared. For instance, Brown connects the flight of Frida’s pet eagle, Gertrudis, to Frida’s imagination: “Like her eagle, Frida’s imagination could fly high.” Brown also includes a quotation from Kahlo, “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” Brown relays these insights as she explains how Kahlo was injured in an accident and spent many months in bed. By pairing these facts with the image of Kahlo’s imagination soaring like an eagle, I think Brown enables children to understand how Kahlo turned her adversities into opportunities to create art, and this will inspire them to overcome their own adversities.

Frido Kahlo’s art was colorful, a reflection of her Mexican home and love of its folk art traditions. So, too, are Parra’s vibrant acrylic illustrations. View the book trailer that captures some of these award-winning illustrations.

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Reprinted from John Parra’s website

A Note about Craft:

Brown’s picture book biography of Frido Kahlo is not the first picture book to explore this important 20th century Mexican artist and her work. So what sets it apart and what can authors interested in writing about a well-known, and examined, figure learn from Brown’s approach? I think a key to the success of Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos is Brown’s identification of an important influence on Kahlo and using it as a lens to relate her life story and explore her artwork. That this influence is her beloved pets, a topic to which kids easily can relate, renders Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos not only an enjoyable book to read, but one for budding artists to examine, too.

Check out Monica Brown’s website and see the many other picture books and picture book biographies she has written.

See more of John Parra’s artwork on his website, and read a 2015 interview with him at Latinx in Kidlit.

Among other awards, Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos was named a 2017 New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year and 2018 Pura Belpré Honor for Illustration.

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos is also published in Spanish as Frida Kahlo y Sus Animalitos.

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 – The Land Beyond the Wall: An Immigration Story

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is a self-import from Toronto, Canada. I visited there last weekend with my husband to celebrate a colleague’s birthday. Knowing that the independent Canadian children’s publishers often tackle difficult subjects, I couldn’t help but drag my husband to a bookstore – Another Story, where I found sections of the children’s area devoted to topics such as multicultural books, bullying, feelings and many others (the themes of “social justice, equity, and diversity” are highlighted on their website). I heartily recommend spending a few hours there! Interestingly, I also happened to read in a New York Times article a few days ago that a milestone has been reached: the time period since the Berlin Wall fell now exceeds the time period that it stood. As a wall features in today’s Perfect Picture Book, I couldn’t think of a better time to review it!

homegraphic02Title: The Land Beyond the Wall: An Immigration Story

Written & Illustrated By: Veronika Martenova Charles

Publisher/date: Nimbus Publishing/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigration; art; allegory; following dreams; walls

Opening:

Once, the world was divided by a BIG wall. On one side the sun rarely shone. Fields lay bare, towns and villages were grey, and shops were empty. People spoke in whispers because they were afraid of each other. They could not even trust their friends.

NOBODY WAS ALLOWED OUTSIDE THE WALL.

This was where Emma lived.

Brief Synopsis:

After her parents disappear and she is forced to live with an aunt who thinks that art isn’t useful, a young girl escapes her dreary life to resettle as an immigrant in a new land of happiness and colour.

Links to Resources:

  • In an Afterword, Charles recounts her own story of defection from the Eastern Bloc;
  • Learn about the “Iron Curtain” that separated the Communist Eastern Bloc from the free world;
  • Use your brightest crayons or colored pencils to draw a room or area outdoors; then draw the same space without color and without the things that make that room or area colorful. Which do you like better? Why?

Why I Like this Book:

The Land Beyond the Wall has a fairy-tale aspect to it from its beginning, “Once,” to the end. As in fairy tales, Emma has a friend, an old doll that had been her mother’s doll, who comforts and counsels her. Emma journeys on a boat that magically appears and then sails for days across stormy seas to a “land where dreams come true.” But before those dreams come true, she loses something, her voice. Only with perseverance can she find her voice again.

I like Martenova Charles’ analogy of physically losing one’s voice to the experience of immigrants who don’t speak or understand a language in the new land. I think this is a wonderful way to explain to children what it’s like to live in another country, whether by choice or, in the case of refugees, necessity. I also like that Martenova Charles ties the pursuit of art and beauty to freedom.

Martenova Charles’ soft, pastel illustrations help define the two lands, the dreary, more gray and brown area of the land where Emma was born, portrayed with charcoal, and the colorful area beyond the wall. To see an interior spread, look here.

A Note about Craft:

The Land Beyond the Wall is a semi-autobiographical story. Martenova Charles immigrated to Canada in 1970 and spent her first days in the country in a group setting in Nova Scotia, much like the “maze of corridors and halls” she describes in The Land Beyond the Wall. Martenova Charles was a young adult at the time, however, unlike the much younger Emma. I think by decreasing Emma’s age and adding the fairy tale elements, Martenova Charles renders the story much more kid-relatable. For authors who want to write a personal story, I think it’s helpful to remember that it’s the essence of the story, and not the actual details, that’s most important to retain.

I love the opening lines, in which the Wall itself is portrayed almost as a character – the one dividing the two worlds. By opening the story in this way, I think Martenova Charles is able to keep the focus on the difference between the two societies, rather than on the reason they are different, which would be a very difficult subject to try to explain to young children.

Find out more about Veronika Martenova Charles.

Nimbus Publishing “is the largest English-language publisher east of Toronto. Nimbus produces more than thirty new titles a year on a range of subjects relevant to the Atlantic Provinces” of Canada, including children’s picture 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!