Tag Archives: art

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.

14.FridaKahloLovedPets

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!

PPBF – Grandma’s Gift

I couldn’t think of a better holiday book to feature this year, as I’ve been focusing on the stories of refugees, migrants, and generally those making journeys from areas of conflict or poverty and trying to navigate new lives. I look forward to continuing to focus on picture books dealing with these themes in 2018.

This is the last post of 2017, as I journey to South America later today to spend the holidays in Brazil with our son-in-law’s family and friends. Happy holidays dear readers. I hope you receive a special gift this season, too!

GGcoverTitle: Grandma’s Gift

Written & Illustrated By: Eric Velasquez

Publisher/date: Bloomsbury Children’s Books/2013 (originally published, Walker & Company, 2010)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Puerto Rico; intergenerational; art; holiday foods; journeys

Opening:

“Feliz Navidad, Eric!” My teacher walked me to the classroom door, where my grandmother was waiting to take me back to her apartment for my winter break. I used to spend all my school vacations with her so she could take care of me while my parents worked.

Brief Synopsis: Eric helps his grandmother prepare a special Puerto Rican food for Christmas, and she accompanies him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to complete a school project.

Links to Resources:

  • A Teacher’s Guide provides several ideas, including identifying gifts or other items kids value and describing and discussing them;
  • The narrator’s Grandma hailed from Puerto Rico. Find out more about this US territory;
  • Eric and his grandmother visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they viewed Diego Velázquez’ portrait of Juan de Pareja. Try drawing a portrait or self-portait;
  • Grandma makes pasteles, a traditional Puerto Rican dish. Try making pasteles using Velasquez’ recipe and/or make a holiday food that is important in your family or culture.

Why I Like this Book:

I love the many layers of this holiday picture book. Not only does Grandma’s Gift include heartwarming intergenerational interactions, but it also features two journeys of discovery: Grandma shares La Marqueta with Eric, and he helps her navigate a trip out of El Barrio to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There, they discover a famous painting that Grandma remembered from her Puerto Rican school days and that Eric realizes was “painted by someone we might see walking around El Barrio.”

Velasquez is an illustrator-author and his realistic, detailed paintings bring the words to life. Particularly poignant is a double-page spread showing Grandma and Eric starting up the grand steps to the Museum while men who clearly are more comfortable there face them, arms folded, as if to indicate that Grandma and Eric are not welcome to enter. I think this spread could generate some wonderful classroom discussions about how our body language makes others feel and how someone entering an unfamiliar institution may feel.

A Note about Craft:

Grandma’s Gift was published seven years ago, and it’s interesting to note a few differences from works published today. While there is inclusion of Spanish text, in italics, the text is much longer than much of what is included today, and the translations appear in parentheses directly afterwards. The word count generally is higher than that of today’s picture books, too.

Grandma’s Gift would pair well with Last Stop on Market Street (Matt de la Peña/Christian Robinson, 2016).

Visit Eric Velasquez’ website to see more of his books and illustrations. Grandma’s Gift was awarded the Pura Belpré Medal for illustration in 2011. I reviewed Grandma’s Records last week. These two would pair nicely for classroom discussion, too.

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- A Place Where Sunflowers Grow

Regular readers of this blog know that for the past several months, I’ve focused on picture books about refugees, migrants and areas affected by immigration bans – stories set in those regions and/or by authors and illustrators hailing from those regions. Today’s choice may seem at first blush to be a deviation from this focus. I’d argue, though, that the themes in today’s Perfect Picture Book, in particular forced relocation and finding hope through art, are illuminating to those trying to understand, convey to children or write about these difficult current issues. It’s also a lovely book about a difficult topic rarely addressed in picture books.

main_largeTitle: A Place Where Sunflowers Grow

Written By: Amy Lee-Tai

Illustrated By: Felicia Hoshino

Japanese Translation By: Marc Akio Lee

Publisher/date: Children’s Book Press (an imprint of Lee & Low Books)/2006

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: Japanese internment; World War II; historical fiction; relocation; bilingual; art; #WNDB

Opening:

Mari stared at the ground. It had only been a week since she and her mother had planted a handful of sunflower seeds outside their new home. Mari asked Mama, “Will these flowers grow as tall and strong and beautiful as the ones in our old backyard?”

Brief Synopsis: When Mari, a young Japanese-American girl, and her family are relocated to an internment camp during World War II, art and gardening help Mari adjust to the unfamiliar and harsh conditions.

Links to Resources:

  • For background about the Japanese internment, see Lee-Tai’s Introduction about the experiences of her mother and grandparents at the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah;
  • See the comprehensive Teacher’s Guide;
  • The Topaz Museum opened last month and displays examples of artwork from the Center on its site. Lee-Tan attended the opening and blogged about it here.

Why I Like this Book:

This is the first picture book I’ve read about the experiences of Japanese-American children in the internment centers. Although I knew that the relocations and life in the camps were difficult, I had no idea of the efforts of Japanese-American artists to continue creating and sharing art with fellow internees, including the children. And although the internment is a difficult topic to explore with children, I love the resilience and hopefulness that are evident in this story.

The text is in English and Japanese, a fitting tribute to those Japanese-Americans whose first language was Japanese. Hoshino studied the artworks of Lee-Tai’s grandmother, Hisako Hibi, and she based some of her watercolor, ink, tissue paper and acrylic illustrations on Hibi’s work.

A Note about Craft:

At first blush, the title, A Place Where Sunflowers Grow, may seem a bit misplaced: this picture book is about Japanese internment during World War II, not gardening. But by utilizing this natural, floral motif, Lee-Tai enables the reader to hope, like Mari, that sunflowers, like those that grew in the backyard she misses, will bloom in the desert and peace will return to the world.

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow is a work of fiction, but it is based on the experiences of Lee-Tai’s mother and family during World War II. Both of Lee-Tai’s grandparents were artists and produced artwork while at the Center. Her grandfather ran the Topaz art school for part of the war, and her mother and uncle attended art classes there. With these many experiences to draw upon, why did Lee-Tai choose to write a work of historical fiction? And, for writers, why may we make the same choice? In an interview, Lee-Tai stated,

By creating a character that readers might relate to or feel empathy for, I hope this book will plant some seeds in readers: to steer clear of racial and ethnic targeting in their individual interactions with others, and to work towards a world that will not commit other atrocities targeting entire races or ethnicities.

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow  won the 2007 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award for younger children.

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – The Wonder

As any parent, grandparent or caregiver can attest, early childhood is a time of questioning: “Why…”, “Where…” “When…” Sometimes it seems as if the questioning is never-ending. At such times, we will do the child, and ourselves, a favor by stepping back, taking a deep breath, closing our eyes, and wondering – just like the young child in today’s Perfect Picture Book.

9780763679576_p0_v1_s118x184Title: The Wonder

Written & Illustrated By: Faye Hanson

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press/2015 (originally published in the UK, Templar Books/2014)

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: Imagination, creativity, art, dreams

Opening: “This is a boy whose head is filled with wonder. On the way to the bus stop, he wonders where the birds are flying to.”

Brief Synopsis: A young boy imagines many different sights on his journey to school and during the school day, only to be rebuffed by most of the adults he encounters.

Links to Resources:

  • Use your imagination to draw or color on a blank sheet of paper
  • Tell a story about a picture in a museum or an old photograph you find at home

Why I Like this Book:

The Wonder captures the questioning of a young child and reminds adult readers that it’s ok to stop and smell the roses, to daydream, to wonder. And it’s a reminder to young listeners that it’s ok to share your dreams and to persevere in dreaming.

While it could be easy to focus on the negative reactions of the classroom and science teachers in the story, I’d prefer to focus on the positive influence of the art teacher who has left a “blank sheet of paper” waiting for the children, who encourages the boy to “use your imagination,” and who praises his work when the boy hesitantly shares it. As is visible on the blackboard of this school art room, “‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.’ Picasso” In this debut picture book, author/illustrator Faye Hanson, who hails from northern England, shows that she has solved Picasso’s dilemma.

A Note about Craft:

The Wonder is a perfect example of the essence of a picture book: the story exists as much in the illustrations as the text, perhaps even more so. From the sepia tones of the real world to the fanciful, colorful images in the child’s head, including the five double-spread illustrations midway through the book (which reminded this reader of certain album cover artwork from the late ‘60s, early ‘70s psychedelic era), the illustrations show the wonder in the unnamed protagonist’s head as he journeys through his day. 

Interestingly, the book deviates from the usual 32 page norm, and is, instead, 40 pages in length. Ms. Hanson has put these extra pages to good use with double spreads incorporating the nay-saying adults the child meets into the imaginary worlds where he believes they belong. Children and adults will find much to savor in these spreads. And for those who have read Megan Dowd Lambert’s Reading Picture Books with Children, the use of boxes to frame some of the encounters and full-bleed double page spreads for the scenes of wonder are well worth pointing out during a read-aloud session.

Note: Faye Hanson’s new picture book, Midnight at the Zoo, debuted recently. I can’t wait to read it and explore the illustrations!