Tag Archives: bravery

PPBF – Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is a new picture book that tells a story rooted in the past that sheds light on issues relevant today.

Title: Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story

Written By: Lesléa Newman

Illustrated By: Amy June Bates

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2019

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes/Topics: immigration, Judaism, Ellis Island, mother-child relationship, bravery

Opening:

“Gittel, will you write to me from America?” Raisa asked.

Brief Synopsis: A young Jewish girl and her mother leave their Eastern European village, but when her mother’s health precludes her from boarding the ship to America, Gittel must journey alone to this strange and faraway land.

Links to Resources:

  • Have you moved to a new house, city, or country? How did you feel? List three things you miss from your old home and three things you like about your new home;
  • Raisa gives Gittel a rag doll to accompany her on the journey. What favorite item or items would you bring on a journey?
  • Interview an older relative or friend to learn about his or her life when s/he was young;
  • Are there items from the past that your family treasures? Ask why those items are important;
  • Gittel arrives to the US at Ellis Island. Learn more about Ellis Island and US immigration.

Why I Like this Book:

With longer text than most current fiction picture books, Gittel’s Journey reads like a story from the era in which it is based. Opening with a scene including a beloved farm animal and best friend, Gittel’s Journey follows Gittel and her mother as they leave their eastern European village and travel to a seaside port. There, Gittel’s mother is refused passage because she appears to have an eye infection. This denial reminded me of the current concern about measles in the US.

I think kids will empathize with Gittel’s fear as she leaves her mother and embarks on the journey to an unknown land. I think they’ll be curious about the candlesticks that Gittel brings with her. They also may be surprised to learn how the story ends and how she reunites with new relatives without the aid of computer databases or smartphone messaging.

As the debate about immigration continues today and as the history of prior waves of immigrants fades from memory, this is an important book for home and classroom discussion and libraries.

Bates’ muted color palette evokes an earlier era. The block-print boarders that surround each page and illustration reminded me of picture frames and contributed to the historical feel.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Newman shares that Gittel’s Journey is based on two true stories from her childhood: the journey of her grandmother and great-grandmother from the “old country” of Poland/Russia to America and a similar journey of a family friend, whose adult companion was denied passage due to health reasons. In an essay in the Jewish Book Council, Newman explains that she remembered these stories from her childhood and decided to write this historical fiction story when she saw images of Syrian refugees in boats. What stories from your past shed light on issues relevant today?

Visit Newman’s website to see more of her adult and children’s books.

Visit Bates’ website to see more of her illustrations. Bates illustrated My Old Pal, Oscar, that I reviewed a few years ago.

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!

PPBF – The Day You Begin

Though today is its one-month birthday, today’s perfect picture book already has garnered many starred reviews and is on several lists as a future award winner. Once you read it, I think you’ll know why!

9780399246531Title: The Day You Begin

Written By: Jacqueline Woodson

Illustrated By: Rafael López

Publisher/Date: Nancy Paulsen Books (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)/2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: feeling different; diversity; self-image; self-esteem; fear; bravery

Opening:

There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.

Brief Synopsis: Several unnamed young narrators reflect on how it’s not easy to take the first steps into a place where nobody knows you, especially when you feel different because of how you look or talk, where you’re from or even what you eat.

Links to Resources:

  • Think of a favorite relative or friend. Think of a few ways you are the same (age, skin or hair color, favorite color, etc.) and a few ways you differ (gender or types of music you enjoy, for instance). Draw a picture of your friend or relative and you;
  • Watch the Book Trailer;
  • Look for some things that López includes in several illustrations, such as a ruler, books and bluebirds. Why do you think López includes these things? What do you think they mean?
  • Check out the Educator Guide (specific ideas about The Day You Begin appear on pp 4-5).

Why I Like this Book:

The Day You Begin is a lyrical exploration of a problem that plagues many young children and even adults: entering a room or joining a group when you feel different from others in one or more ways. As Woodson points out, this feeling can arise for many reasons. I think everyone will discover a reason that resonates with them. I particularly appreciate that Woodson reaches beyond appearance and athletic prowess and highlights language and socio-economic differences, among many others.

But Woodson doesn’t just point out the uneasy feelings. She also shows how, with bravery, you will find that when you “share your stories” you’ll discover some similarities among new friends who have “something a little like you” and something “fabulously not quite like you”. This acknowledgement of our individual gifts celebrates the uniqueness of individuals and the contributions everyone makes to the group or community. That stories and books run through The Day You Begin makes it extra special.

López’ multi-media illustrations are vibrant and joyful, bringing Woodson’s text to life. I especially appreciated how he pictured one boy alone in a right-hand spread dominated by a beige, rather lifeless background while the facing spread includes smiling children playing in a colorful, lush school yard. I think even young children will see immediately that this young boy feels alone and different. López also includes in many spreads gorgeous flowers and greenery that help show how the characters are feeling.

A Note about Craft:

The text of The Day You Begin began with a line from Woodson’s Newbery Honor novel in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014) that refers to the courage of her great-grandfather. That line, A moment when you walk into a room and no one there is like you” is altered slightly to become the opening line of The Day You Begin. I love how Woodson reaches back into her family history and her past work to give life to this line in a setting for younger readers.

When I first read the title, The Day You Begin, and saw the pensive face on the cover, I thought the book was focused solely on that feeling of dread when you encounter a new situation or group. But I realize now that the title also refers to the day you overcome your fears, when you realize that you have stories to tell and that you are a unique and wonderful person. I love that the title can have both of these meanings.

Read López’ blog post that shares many interior spreads and includes his thoughts on illustrating Woodson’s text.

Visit Woodson’s website to learn more about this award-winning author and 2018-19 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Visit López’ website to see more of his illustrations and artwork. And see also my review of Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics, a book that López illustrated and that would be a wonderful read for National Hispanic Heritage Month.

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!