Tag Archives: Books

PPBF – The Treasure Box

I was browsing in a favorite bookstore recently, Books of Wonder in New York City, when a very helpful staff member brought today’s perfect picture book to my attention. Although it’s newly published in the US, its original publication date is 2013 in Australia. I love seeing how authors and illustrators from cultures outside the US approach storytelling. Today’s pair incorporates some interesting techniques that I think we all can use when writing and/or illustrating stories:

9780763690847_p0_v2_s192x300Title: The Treasure Box

Written By: Margaret Wild

Illustrated By: Freya Blackwood

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press/2017 (first published in Australia by Penguin/Random House/2013)

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: books, treasure, war, refugees

Opening: When the enemy bombed the library, everything burned.

Brief Synopsis: War rages, and an enemy destroys the library and its books and then orders everyone to leave their homes. Peter and his father flee, taking a treasure box containing one book with them.

Links to Resources:

  • Craft a treasure box out of a shoe box or other recycled carton by covering it with wrapping paper, labeling it or decorating it with precious pictures or “jewels”. What will you put in your box?
  • Think about what one or two things you would keep with you if you were traveling or moving house.
  • Do you have a favorite book? Why is it your favorite? What does it tell us about you?
  • Create a collage of pictures that describes you and/or your family: your interests, history and community.

Why I Like this Book:

The Treasure Box is a haunting but hopeful story about refugees that raises many interesting questions. The reader never learns who the enemy is or where and when the story takes place. In many ways, Peter and his father are like the mother and children fleeing in Francesca Sanna’s The Journey, or Zoe and her family in Fran Nuño’s The Map of Good Memories.: fleeing an enemy, we just don’t know who or when or where.

Unlike refugee stories like The Journey, or Margriet Ruur’s Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, however, The Treasure Box doesn’t end when Peter is in a new country, removed from the war. Rather, after the war ends, a grown-up Peter returns to the city he had fled and even finds and returns the book in the treasure box to the restored library. Ending in this way enables readers and listeners to envision peace after the war. It also places the focus on the item Peter’s father chooses to save: not only does Peter survive but he also saves the one book that illuminates something about the ruined city’s culture or history.

Interestingly, neither the title nor the type of book is mentioned. We learn only that it’s loved by Peter’s father, more precious than jewels, silver or gold, and is “about our people, about us.” Whether it’s a religious text, a secular text or a history of a particular ethnic, cultural, religious or regional group is not revealed.

Blackwood’s soft pencil, watercolor and collage illustrations complement and further the text. In a blog post, Blackwood reveals that she created “each illustration in layers, cut out and stuck one upon the other like a paper diorama.” This multi-layered approach enables Blackwood to utilize book text in many spreads, highlighting the importance of the book in the treasure box and helping readers and listeners remember that the book accompanies Peter and his father on the journey, even when it isn’t otherwise visible.

TTB_4

Interior Spread reprinted from Blackwood’s website

A Note about Craft:

In contrast to the families portrayed in many of the refugee books I’ve read, Peter flees with his father only; there is no mention of his mother or any other female figure. My guess is that this is a deliberate choice, perhaps due to the nature of the saved book. Peter’s father may be a religious scholar.

I mentioned Blackwood’s collaged artwork and use of printed text above. Snippets of text appear on the front cover, blanket the end papers and appear as background on other spreads. Curious as to where and when this story was taking place, I googled some of the text to determine the language. I discovered that some is Slavic, some Hungarian, and some Spanish. I then read the “fine print” and learned this text is taken from foreign editions of Sonya Hartnett’s The Silver Donkey  (Penguin Australia, 2006), a World War I story that incorporates fables to highlight the importance of stories to culture, and Morris Gleitzman’s Once (Pearson Education, 2007) and Then (Penguin Australia, 2008), stories set in World War II that also highlight the importance of stories to culture. By integrating these texts into The Treasure Box, I believe Blackwood is adding emphasis to Wild’s thesis about the importance of the written word to preserve culture.

What references are you adding to the stories you write or illustrate?  What details can you provide that help contextualize your characters, problem, or solution, or that may set your story within a literary tradition.

See more of Freya Blackwood’s illustrations on her website.

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books 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 – 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!