Tag Archives: Birds

PPBF – My Beautiful Birds

The stunning cover of today’s Perfect Picture Book drew my eye on the library shelf. When I read the jacket flap, I knew that I had to read, and review it, as it takes places primarily at the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, a camp which my daughter visited when she volunteered with Syrian refugees in Jordan in 2013 and 2014. Without further ado, today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9781772780109_p0_v2_s192x300Title: My Beautiful Birds

Written & Illustrated By: Suzanne Del Rizzo

Publisher/date: Pajama Press

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes/Topics: Syria, refugees, birds, refugee camps, Jordan

Opening:

The ground rumbles beneath my slippers as I walk. Father squeezes my hand. “It will be okay, Sami. Your birds escaped, too,” he repeats. His voice sounds far away. I squeeze back, hoping it will steady my wobbly legs.

Brief Synopsis: After a bomb destroys their home, young Sami and his family flee Syria and settle in a refugee camp. But Sami worries about the pet birds that can’t accompany the family, and only finds emotional solace when he discovers new birds at the camp.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

My Beautiful Birds is a beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated book about a young boy coping with the loss of pets and home and adapting to life in a refugee camp. While the subject matter is understandably somber, Del Rizzo’s images of birds flying up to the sky and escaping, or others appearing in the camp to console young Sami, leave the reader with a feeling of hope, that Sami, and the refugee children he represents, will survive the ordeals and live a better life in the future.

Using a combination of Plasticine, polymer clay and other mixed media, Del Rizzo’s illustrations are the perfect compliments to the story. While they are detailed enough to convey emotion well, because they appear as theatrical vignettes, they provide some distance for the reader from a story which tackles a difficult subject.

Watch the Book Trailer:

A Note about Craft:

On the book jacket, Del Rizzo states that she “came across the article of a boy who took solace in a connection with wild birds” at the refugee camp and was inspired to write My Beautiful Birds. Similarly, author Margriet Ruurs saw the artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr on Facebook, and was inspired to write Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey. Authors and illustrators, what article, headline in your news feed, or tweet has inspired a story?

Birds play many roles in this story: as a link to the past; as a reason to hope for a better future; and as metaphor – “Like feathered brushes they paint the sky with promise and hope of peace.” Birds play a role in Francesca Sanna’s The Journey, too, also as metaphor for the migratory journey of the refugees, fleeing to a place of safety and greater emotional security.

See more of Suzanna Del Rizzo’s work here.

Established in 2011, Pajama Press is a “small literary press” in Toronto, Canada, producing “all formats popular in children’s publishing across a fairly broad range of genres.”

My Beautiful Birds is a 2017 Junior Library Guild selection and has received favorable reviews in, among others, The New York Times Book Review.

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 Journey

Over the river and through the woods…

‘Tis the season for journeys – whether fighting cross-town traffic to bag bargains, purchase perfect presents, or track down tasty treats, or joining the millions of Americans journeying by plane, train or automobile to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends. It’s also, sadly, a season when migrants, those fleeing violence and/or lack of employment, continue to risk their lives and undertake perilous journeys in hopes of a better life.

This is such a difficult subject for young children and even adults, but I believe we must try to understand it, to picture ourselves in the story, to discuss it with children, which is why I’ve chosen today’s Perfect Picture Book.

9781909263994_p0_v1_s192x300Title: The Journey

Written & Illustrated By: Francesca Sanna

Publisher/date: Flying Eye Book (Nobrow Ltd)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-7 and older

Themes/Topics: refugees, migrants, journey, birds

Opening: “I live with my family in a city close to the sea. Every summer we used to spend many weekends at the beach. But we never go there anymore, because last year, our lives changed forever…”

Brief Synopsis: An unnamed narrator and her family flee from a warn-torn region.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about the refugee experience with materials from Amnesty International and UNHCR;
  • Choose three favorite toys or books that you’d bring on a journey;
  • Discuss journeys you and your family have undertaken;
  • Learn about animal migration.

Why I Like this Book:

The refugee crisis is such a difficult subject, but one that is, sadly, so timely. With a fairy-tale, storybook quality, particularly in the graphic, fantastical illustrations, this “collage” of refugee stories will, hopefully, enable adults to discuss the refugee experience with children and build empathy for those who have made journeys like the one described in The Journey. Spoiler alert: It also ends on a note of hope, of a new story in a new land for the child narrator and her family.

A Note about Craft:

In this debut picture book by author/illustrator Francesca Sanna, she has chosen to not name the Main Character, the place from which the family flees, or the place to which they journey, thus providing an Everyman-type of story. She also weaves references to books, stories, and storytelling throughout the text and illustrations, bolstering a theme that the journey described is just one of many journeys being undertaken. In an Author’s Note, Ms. Sanna shares that the story is a collage of stories learned by interviewing refugees.

Ms. Sanna tells much of the story in illustrations only. Her use of light and darkness and her inclusion of birds and sea creatures that undertake long journeys, as well as scary forest creatures during the border-crossing scenes, act as metaphors of the journeying family and provide a way to help adults discuss the story with children. By ending the story with a reference to, and an illustration of, migrating birds, Ms. Sanna leaves us with an image of safe nests and a sense of hope.

The Journey received starred reviews in Kirkus ReviewsPublishers Weekly, and the School Library Journal. The New York Times Book Review also highlighted The Journey in an article about explaining the refugee crisis to children. To that list, I’d also add Two White Rabbits, which also uses animals as a metaphor for the migrating narrator.

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 – Shy

I first caught a glimpse of today’s Perfect Picture Book during the New England SCBWI conference this past Spring. One look at the title and the gorgeous cover and I was hooked – I was a shy child hiding in books (and some would argue I still am) who raised three book-loving introverts. How could I not love this book? With its stunning artwork and heart-warming story, though, I think everyone will love this Perfect Picture Book – whether you’re shy…or not!

9780451474964_p0_v1_s118x184Title: Shy

Written & Illustrated By: Deborah Freedman

Publisher/date: Viking (Penguin Young Readers Group), September 2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes/Topics: shyness, friendship, birds, overcoming fear, books

Opening: “Shy was happiest between the pages of a book.”

Brief Synopsis: Shy, a timid creature, hides in books until he hears a songbird sing. He sets out to meet her, and in so doing, faces his fears.

Links to Resources:

  • Have you ever felt shy? Draw or describe a time you felt shy or afraid to do something;
  • Download Shy postcards and a Shy writing page here;
  • Do you have a shy friend or sibling? Describe a time when you encouraged her or him to join an activity or go on an adventure;
  • Learn more about birds and bird songs;
  • Share a favorite book with a friend.

Why I Like this Book:

Shy is a quiet book that presents a character who has read about birds and thinks he will love them, but who has “never actually heard a bird,” and when he does, worries that he may not “know how to talk” to one and “what if” he stuttered, blushed, or…

The gentle story of overcoming one’s fear to find a friend will resonate, I think, with shy children (and adults!) as well as friends and family of shy children. 

With its pastel palette and low word count, Shy is a perfect bedtime story or read-aloud to a class simmering down after lunch or recess.  And I love how the story invites friends to share favorite books together.

To quote a starred Kirkus review, “Freedman’s fine pencil lines, graceful animals, superb compositions, and spare text are virtuosic, but the backgrounds are the soul of Shy’s tale: breathtaking watercolor washes blend hues softly from one section of the natural color spectrum to another, opaquely connoting desert, mountains, skies, dawn, and night.”

A Note about Craft:

“Show don’t tell” – a directive that picture book authors hear again and again. If you’re writing about a shy character who hides in books, how do you show this? A pile of books perhaps? A head poking out of the top of an open book perhaps? Or, perhaps, if you’re the talented Deborah Freedman, you hide the character within the book itself. And what better place to hide a character than smack in the middle of that book – the gutter.  As many shy people disappear in the middle of a classroom, party or other gathering, so Shy hides right in the middle of his own book. Brilliant!

Hiding the main character presents a problem and an opportunity. The problem, of course, is that with your main character less present in the beginning pages, the narrator and illustrations must work harder to help the readers picture and empathize with him or her. At the same time, this is an opportunity, building tension, as your readers and listeners wonder who, or what, the main character is. It’s also an opportunity to drop visual clues, so that when the first reading ends, the reader and listener will want to go back to the beginning and see who is the first to find Shy hiding in plain sight.

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!