Tag Archives: Community

PPBF – 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag

I’m happy to be sharing a recently published picture book that I had the good fortune to win from the wonderful crew at Kidlit 411 earlier this summer.* I knew when it arrived in the mail that I wanted to save my review of it until now, as we reflect on the events of September 11th, on its 20th anniversary.

Title: 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag

Written By: Amanda Davis

Illustrated By: Sally Wern Comport

Publisher/Date: WorthKids, an imprint of Hachette Book Group/2021

Suitable for Ages: 5-8+

Themes/Topics: 9/11, American flag, hope, community, healing, non-fiction

Opening:

On September 11, 2001, New York City was attacked. Two planes were flown into the World Trade Center. The Twin Towers collapsed, and thousands of people lost their lives.

It was a tragic day in America’s history.

Brief Synopsis:

The story of an American flag that flew at Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11, that became tattered and torn, and that was repaired by people coming together in a journey through all 50 states.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Back Matter, including a link to the national 911 flag website;
  • For the 20th anniversary of 9/11, 30,000 Stitches embarked on a tour of many of the places where the 9/11 Flag was stitched. Click on reflections from some of the many people who helped repair the Flag in this Voices from the Flag Tour;
  • Learn more about the American Flag.

Why I Like this Book:

It’s not easy writing a feel-good, hope-filled story about a tragedy, but this is exactly what Amanda Davis has done in 30,000 Stitches.

Although the story begins on that fateful day 20 years ago, readers’ attention quickly is drawn to the flag that construction workers hung over Ground Zero in the aftermath of the bombing. From there, readers learn that the flag became “Torn. Tattered. Tired.” It was stored away, where it languished until a tornado destroyed a town in Kansas several years later.

A team from New York volunteered to help rebuild that town, and town residents asked that they bring along something from the World Trade Center for a new memorial park. But instead of placing the ragged flag in the park, the residents repaired the 9/11 Flag.

As Davis notes, “a grand idea was born.” The Flag would journey to all 50 states, where in ceremonies, new stitches and new pieces of fabric would join together to fully restore the flag. From World War II veterans in Hawaii, to members of Martin Luther King Jr.’s family in Georgia, and many places in between, the flag and a team of volunteers crisscrossed the nation as the fabric of America united to commemorate the victims of 9/11 and showcase the strength, hope, and unity of our nation.

I love how Davis weaves sewing terms throughout the text. And in her collaged illustrations, Comport includes stitches that bring to mind the 30,000 stitches that Americans in each of the 50 states used to restore the Flag. One two-page spread tracks the journey across a multi-colored map of the US, with the journey indicated by stitches and the locations of the restoration ceremonies indicated by Xs. A single sentence accompanies the map: “The flag wove its way across America—crisscrossing borders, cross-stitching lives.” I love the image those words convey.

I think children and their adults reading 30,000 Stitches will gain not only a greater understanding of the postscript to the 9/11 tragedy, but a better appreciation of the importance of national symbols, like our Flag, and of communities rallying to overcome tragedy.

A Note about Craft:

As Davis relates in an Author’s Note, she first learned about the 9/11 Flag and its journey to rebirth while searching for an art project for her high school students to commemorate “the lives lost on that tragic day” and that “also focused on the strength and unity that America displayed” afterwards. She discovered the National 9/11 Flag, and its story wouldn’t leave her. In addition to basing an art lesson on it, she crafted this story, weaving in many sewing terms and a refrain-like tag line, “The fabric of America…” In the end, readers learn, “The fabric of America endures.”

*I received a copy of 30,000 Stitches in a contest, with no expectation, nor requirement, of reviewing it. The opinions expressed are purely my own, and they are not predicated on receiving a copy of the book.

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 – Be A Tree!

The end of summer is nearing, at least in my neck of the woods. Although the temperatures remain high, the sunflowers are past their prime. School buses search out new routes, and my inbox is filled with “Back to School” promotions. Before we turn the corner to fall, I think it’s the perfect time to be out exploring the natural world, or reading about it, don’t you?

Title: Be A Tree!

Written By: Maria Gianferrari

Illustrated By: Felicita Sala

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 and up

Themes/Topics: trees, community, strength, free verse poetry, environment, cooperation

Opening:

Be a tree!

Stand tall.

Stretch your branches to the sun.

Brief Synopsis: A comparison of trees and people, showing our strengths and need for community.

Links to Resources:

  • If you were a tree, what type would you like to be? Draw a picture of your favorite type of tree;
  • Take a walk and check out the different species of trees that grow in your community;
  • Check out the Back Matter that includes an author’s note, five ways you can help save trees, how you can help in your community, anatomy of a tree, and further resources.

Why I Like this Book:

Using lyrical language, Gianferrari explores the similarities between people and trees. Like trees, we have an outer layer. Our spines are a trunk, giving us shape. At our tops, we have crowns of leaves or hair.

Like people, readers learn, trees communicate and help each other “share food, store water, divide resources, alert each other to danger.” Trees create, as it were, a “wood wide web of information”.

Gianferrari shows that both people and trees are stronger when they live in communities. A fold out spread shows diverse groups of people and various animals enjoying the shade of many different types of trees. A final spread featuring people of different races, ethnicities, ages, and abilities drives home the point that when we live in harmony with one another, as trees do, we are stronger, like a forest.

I really love how Gianferrari’s sparse language encourages kids, and their adults, to draw similarities between ourselves and such an important part of our natural surroundings. I also love the overarching message that we’re all better off when we take care of each other.

Sala’s watercolor, goache, and colored pencil illustrations include sweeping vistas of many types of trees and forests, and anatomical close-ups.

Be A Tree! is an engaging read-aloud and fact-filled book for school and home libraries.

A Note about Craft:

In Be A Tree! Gianferrari uses strong verbs to exhort readers, whom she addresses directly, to picture themselves as trees, to act as trees, and to live in a community that includes humans and nature. I love the analogies between tree and human anatomy. I also love the metaphor of people being part of a forest, a community that is better together.

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 Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom

With Earth Day this week, and National Poetry Month in full swing, I couldn’t resist sharing this Perfect Picture Book that includes poetry, gorgeous forest vistas, and even suggestions to help our forests.

Title: The Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom

Written & Illustrated By: Lita Judge

Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press/2021

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes/Topics: trees, nature, community, ecology, poetry, botany

Opening:

A Secret Kingdom

I am a single beech,/ but I am not alone./Together with my fellow trees,/ we form a secret kingdom.

Brief Synopsis: A series of free-verse poems and informative sidebars explore the hidden communities, communications, and cooperation that help strengthen trees and the world.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

With gorgeous two-page watercolor illustrations, free verse poems, and informative sidebars, Judge introduces children to a world of trees. After the introductory poem of the opening, readers are asked to imagine the stories that ancient trees could tell. We then learn that trees have a “secret language” that humans can’t read or hear, that they communicate with each other to help trees live longer. How cool is that! What child wouldn’t be intrigued, especially when they learn that trees’ communication “begins deep underground.”

With catchy titles that invite reading and rereading, such as “How to Speak in Tree” and “Like the Bear”, the poems provide some basic information, like the role of fungal partners in communication and the role of hibernation. In sidebars that accompany these poems, Judge delves deeper, sharing the secrets of the “wood wide web” and the cork layers that form as temperatures drop to keep wood tissue from bursting like frozen water pipes in unheated houses.

Younger children can enjoy and learn some basic botany by listening to the poems and examining the detailed illustrations. Even the youngest toddlers can search for the birds and other woodland creatures in each spread. Older children and adults can learn much more from the sidebars and back matter.

I especially enjoyed the poem “We Are a Village” which reminds readers that a forest is comprised of a “diversity of trees”, each serving “a purpose in the rich fabric of life.” Just as diverse human communities are stronger and just as humans need each other, readers learn that “[t]ree diversity leads to healthier forests and helps multiple species of wildlife thrive by providing a wide range of food and homes.”

The extensive back matter includes an Author’s Note, further exploration of the topics covered, ways to help our forests, a glossary, sources, and more.

Whether for a home, classroom, or library, The Wisdom of Trees is a stunning resource that children and adults will find fascinating.

A Note about Craft:

Judge tackles a huge topic in The Wisdom of Trees, and she even shares some cutting-edge science. How does she make it accessible to children? I think she succeeds by dividing the subject matter into discreet topics, presenting basic introductory facts in each poem, offering more detailed information in the side bars and back matter, and completing the package with gorgeous illustrations of trees and forest animals. And to entice children to explore this wisdom, she begins in “A Secret Kingdom” where a single beech holds center stage. She then draws us in further by sharing that trees have their own stories and that we can learn about their communication by looking “deep underground”. What child or adult wouldn’t want to read on!

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 Little Island

I picked up today’s Perfect Picture Book when I visited London last fall. It may not be available in the US yet, but I think it’s publishing here soon. Hopefully, US readers will be able to find it!

Title: The Little Island

Written By: Smriti Prasadam-Halls

Illustrated By: Robert Starling

Publisher/Date: Andersen Press/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: community, island, working together, barriers, bridges, fable

Opening:

There was once a farm where all the animals were friends. They worked hard and each was at liberty to live and work where they chose. Together they looked after the farm and each other.

Brief Synopsis: When a flock of geese on an island at the edge of a farm remove a bridge to keep other animals off of the island, they are happy at first, until they realize that perhaps life is better when they are together with the other animals.

Links to Resources:

  • Do you have a favorite farm animal? How do you think that animal could help another one, like a goose?
  • Have you ever visited an island? What animals did you see there? How do you think each type of animal contributes to island life?
  • This story is a fable. What do you think the moral of this fable is? Think of other fables that include animals;
  • Check out the Teaching Notes for more insights.

Why I Like this Book:

When I think of kids at play, I often think about how they play at keeping some friends near and other kids further away. Who hasn’t seen the “Keep Out” signs on forts or play structures, or the dreaded “No XXXs Allowed”?

In similar fashion, the geese in The Little Island grew tired of sharing their island with the larger animals on the farm. But instead of building a wall or posting a sign, they destroyed the only route to the island for non-swimming farm animals: the bridge.

I think even young children will understand a discussion about this exclusionary action. I think they’ll also understand how this action hurts not just the other animals, those kept away from the island, but most especially the geese and ducks left alone there. And for adults or older children reading this story, my guess is that the impetus behind it, the exclusionary antics of certain politicians and governments building barriers and/or leaving multilateral organizations, will engender spirited comparisons.

Starling’s bright illustrations are engaging, and I especially loved the map on the endpapers.

A Note about Craft:

A straight-forward book about keeping others out may get to the point, but setting the situation on a farm with animal characters will, in my opinion, better engage young children and better show the ill consequences for both those excluded and those who exclude others.

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!

Perfect Pairing – of Traditional Comfort Foods

Looking for a fun family activity to chase away the winter chills? Try cooking together – as shown in today’s Perfect Pairing.

Freedom Soup

Author: Tami Charles

Illustrator: Jacqueline Alcántara

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: intergenerational, cooking, tradition, Haiti

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Join the celebration in the kitchen as a family makes their traditional New Year’s soup — and shares the story of how Haitian independence came to be.

The shake-shake of maracas vibrates down to my toes.
Ti Gran’s feet tap-tap to the rhythm.

Every year, Haitians all over the world ring in the new year by eating a special soup, a tradition dating back to the Haitian Revolution. This year, Ti Gran is teaching Belle how to make the soup — Freedom Soup — just like she was taught when she was a little girl. Together, they dance and clap as they prepare the holiday feast, and Ti Gran tells Belle about the history of the soup, the history of Belle’s family, and the history of Haiti, where Belle’s family is from. In this celebration of cultural traditions passed from one generation to the next, Jacqueline Alcantara’s lush illustrations bring to life both Belle’s story and the story of the Haitian Revolution. Tami Charles’s lyrical text, as accessible as it is sensory, makes for a tale that readers will enjoy to the last drop.

Read my review.

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story

Author: Kevin Noble Maillard

Illustrator: Juana Martinez-Neal

Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press/2019

Ages: 3-6

Themes: Native Americans, family tradition, cooking, community

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Fry bread is food.
It is warm and delicious, piled high on a plate.

Fry bread is time.
It brings families together for meals and new memories.

Fry bread is nation.
It is shared by many, from coast to coast and beyond.

Fry bread is us.
It is a celebration of old and new, traditional and modern, similarity and difference.

Read a review by Susanna Leonard Hill.

I paired these books because they involve food traditions that tie communities together, be it soup, as in the Haitian Freedom Soup, or the Native American Fry Bread. And a special bonus: both picture books include recipes, perfect for wintry days!

 

 

 

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Under the Same Sky

 

Regular readers know that I often feature picture books dealing with tougher topics. But this week, I needed to read a hopeful book that focuses on community, how aspects we share unite us, regardless of species. When I picked up today’s Perfect Picture Book in the Children’s Room of the New York Public Library, I knew I found that book.

Title: Under the Same Sky

Written & Illustrated By: Britta Teckentrup

Publisher/Date: Tiger Tales/2018 (originally published in Great Britain, Caterpillar Books/2017)

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: rhyming, shared hopes, shared dreams, community, animals, imagination

Opening:

We live under the same sky…in lands near and far. We live under the same sky…wherever we are.

Brief Synopsis: A lyrical celebration of the bonds that unite us all.

Links to Resources:

  • Think of some of the ways that you are the same as a family member, friend, someone you pass on a playground;
  • The sun shines during all seasons, all over the world. Draw pictures showing the sun shining on a snowy day, in the desert, on a lake or ocean, by your own home.

Why I Like this Book:

In short, poetic text, using lovely illustrations of different animal species, Teckentrup celebrates the many natural elements that unite the world. A quiet book, Under the Same Sky will be a reassuring bedtime favorite for families with younger children. I especially liked the last spread, showing all of the animals together under a full moon and starlit sky and its message of unity. What a wonderful way to fall asleep, reminded that our hopes and dreams unite us.

The collaged illustrations in soft, pastel hues provide soothing accompaniments to the gentle text. I think kids will enjoy the cut outs, as they follow along on this exploration of community.

A Note about Craft:

Teckentrup uses animals as the main characters in Under the Same Sky. I think this will appeal to young children, especially as many young animals are depicted.

Cut outs are used in the pages to great effect, as phrases, such as that shown above, appear on one page and then after the page turn to emphasize text.

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

 

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  .

PPBF – Thank You, Omu!

Regular readers won’t be surprised that I maintain a to-be-read list of picture books. I also maintain a stack of to-be-reviewed picture books, and I try to maintain a schedule of reviews that reflect some sort of logic. Today’s selection was on that stack, and I couldn’t resist bumping it up on the review schedule after learning the wonderful news that its creator, Oge Mora, received the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award this past Monday, and today’s Perfect Picture Book is a 2019 Caldecott Honor Book. I wasn’t surprised by this news, and I don’t think you’ll be either, as Mora’s debut picture book truly is a Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Thank You, Omu!

Written & Illustrated By: Oge Mora

Publisher/Date: Little Brown Young Readers, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc./2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: kindness; sharing; community; stew; multigenerational; multicultural

Opening:

On the corner of First Street and Long Street, on the very top floor, Omu was cooking a thick red stew in a big fat pot for a nice evening meal. She seasoned and stirred it and took a small taste.

Brief Synopsis:

Smelling Omu’s delicious red stew, neighbors arrive at Omu’s apartment, and she shares with all of them until there’s nothing left.

Links to Resources:

  • With the help of an adult, cook a “thick red stew”;
  • Ask an older relative or friend about special foods they enjoyed preparing or eating as a child. Make, and share, that special food;
  • Does your family have a special name for a grandparent or older relative? Discover the language and meaning of that term, and why your family uses it;
  • View a Book Chat video with Mora.

Why I Like this Book:

Thank You, Omu! is a joyous book of community and caring. Debut author-illustrator Mora shows readers the meaning of that old adage, that “it’s in giving that we receive”, as Omu shares bowl after bowl of her thick red stew.

Readers learn at the outset that Omu (pronounced AH-moo) means “queen” in the Igbo language spoken in parts of Nigeria. To Mora, per an Author’s Note, that term also signifies “grandma.” As is clear in the text and illustrations, Omu is a caring woman, who shares willingly with neighbors and community members until “it was finally time for dinner” but the pot “was empty.” I think kids will relate to Omu’s generous spirit and especially to her feelings of disappointment when she discovers that she has nothing to eat for dinner. I think they’ll especially appreciate the book’s ending (which I won’t reveal here!).

Mora invites readers to experience Thank You, Omu! with all of our senses. “[S]crumptious scent[s]” and a “most delicious smell” of “thick red stew” simmering waft their way to hungry neighbors. I could almost smell and feel the stew on my tongue as I read. Likewise, the visitors showed their hunger by licking lips and watering mouths. Mora illustrates her text with colorful cut-out collage artwork incorporating floral patterns, acrylic paint, pastels, patterned paper, and clippings from old books. I think this conveys an upbeat, joyful feeling. The image of Omu, clad in sunny yellow, radiates, like her sharing disposition, throughout the story.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Mora recounts the memory of her grandmother cooking “what was often a large pot of stew” as she danced and swayed to the radio. She further relates that “[e]veryone in the community had a seat at my grandmother’s table.” It’s clear that not only has this memory had a significant impact on Mora’s life but that she’s recreated that sense of sharing and community in Thank You, Omu! I think because these scenes are etched in Mora’s heart, they resonate with readers. What caring characters fill your memories that can help bring heart to your stories? And what terms, such as Omu, can you use in your writing to add layers, such as multiculturalism, to the story?

The Main Character of Thank You, Omu! is Omu, an elderly woman. So how is this story kid-centric? First, I think children (and adults) like to read about caring elders. I also believe that Omu’s willingness to share is child-like, as she never questions whether her visitors are hungry or whether they don’t have other sources of food. Finally, the first visitor is a young child with whom, I think, kids will identify. Interestingly, he also has the last word of the story (but I won’t spoil it & tell you what that is).

Visit Mora’s website to see more of her artwork and find out about upcoming picture books.

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 Jasmine Sneeze

I first learned of today’s Perfect Picture Book when I read a blog post last summer on the Picture Book Den, a blog written by an independent group of professional children’s authors based in the UK and Scotland that focuses on picture books (but does not review them).  In that post, Nadine Kaadan, the author/illustrator of today’s selection, addressed the issue of diversity in children’s books. While the post most directly addressed the UK market, I think the issue raised also is evident in the US market. In Kaadan’s words:

…even when there is an attempt by UK publishers to publish more inclusive and diverse books, they still fall into the danger of the single story. For example, looking at UK children’s books that feature Arab or Middle Eastern culture, I feel that there is an exaggerated focus on ‘cultural differences’ (in the name of cultural richness). Too many of these books strike me as quite orientalist, and seem to depict overly stereotypical clichés about Arab culture, such as the typical camels in the desert and fasting in Ramadan. Although these elements are very much a part of our culture, and the stories are absolutely worthy of publication, the problem is that they only present one aspect of who we are.

As I continue to feature picture books from areas experiencing conflict, relating the experiences of children fleeing those areas, and/or written or illustrated by persons affected by travel restrictions to the US and other regions, I will keep Kaadan’s words in mind and look for those universal aspects of the stories that reflect multiple aspects of the culture of the characters. And now, today’s Perfect Picture Book:

The-Jasmine-Sneeze-Cover-3-300x295

Title: The Jasmine Sneeze

Written & Illustrated By:  Nadine Kaadan

Publisher/date: Lantana Publishing/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: cats, jasmine, sneezing, solving problems, Damascus, Syria, community, diverse books

Opening:

Haroun is the happiest cat in the world. He lives in Damascus, the city of a million and one cats. He spends most of his time sleeping on the marble floor next to the fountain in his favourite courtyard.

Sometimes he stays up late for a karaoke party with the other cats in the moonlight.

Brief Synopsis: Haroun the cat lives happily in Damascus, except it’s a city filled with jasmine flowers and he sneezes at the scent. When he tries to get rid of the scent, he sets off a series of misfortunes that he then must reverse.

Links to Resources:

  • Lantana Publishing provides education resources, including how to design tiles like those featured in The Jasmine Sneeze;
  • Learn about the geography and rich history of Syria before the current conflicts;
  • Discover jasmine flowers.

Why I Like this Book:

The Jasmine Sneeze is a sweet and humorous story of Haroun the cat with a sneezing problem who tries to solve it to the detriment of others in the community. There is a fairy tale quality to the story including a touch of magic with a Jasmine Spirit who punishes Haroun for his selfish mistreatment of jasmine plants.

I especially loved the setting of the story, Damascus, the longest continuously inhabited city in the world, and Kaadan’s depiction and lovely watercolour illustrations of it as a city filled with winding jasmine vines, karaoke cats, tiled courtyards with fountains, and most importantly, a community that cares about the cats, the plants and one another. In many ways, the setting itself is a character as are the jasmine plants, several of which are depicted with eyes. This vision of Damascus is a refreshing reminder of the culture and beauty of Syria that will be more accessible again someday, hopefully soon.

A Note about Craft:

This is Kaadan’s first English-language picture book as author and illustrator. I love that she has written a story about a region that currently few of us will visit, that presents a universal problem and that highlights everyday features that a child would care about, regardless of where he or she lives. By choosing a non-human main character, Kaadan more easily fosters empathy and encourages readers to focus on the similarities of the situation rather than on what’s different about life in Haroun’s Damascus.

Interestingly, the conflict Kaadan sets up is between two positive features of Damascus, one of the “million and one cats” and the beloved jasmine plant, that, Kaadan informs the reader, is treated like a member of “family” and is watched over by a Jasmine Spirit. Only when these two positive aspects are in balance, when Haroun realizes that his sneezes should not be a reason to deprive his community of the jasmine plants, can the problem be resolved – a resolution that I think presents a positive message for children.

Learn more about Nadine Kaadan and her other books (to date, all in Arabic) on her website.

Lantana Publishing, an independent publishing company in the UK “producing award-winning diverse and multicultural children’s books”, has been nominated for the Bologna Prize for Best Children’s Publisher of the Year 2017.

While not currently available in bookshops in the US, you can order The Jasmine Sneeze from the Book Depository, which offers free worldwide shipping (payment can be made via credit card in US dollars).

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 Apple-Pip Princess

Today, as many of us recover from turkey hang-overs (at least those in the US), and others rush around to score Black Friday deals, I chose a story that celebrates the bounty and community that are at the heart of Thanksgiving. While it’s not a new book, I think its appeal endures and make it a Perfect Picture Book:

9780763637477_p0_v1_s192x300Title: The Apple-Pip Princess

Written & Illustrated By: Jane Ray

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press/2008 (UK edition: Orchard Books/2007)

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: kindness, sharing, nature, community, princess, apple seeds

Opening: “Let me tell you a story about something that happened a long time ago in a land far from here – a land ruled by an old king who had three daughters.”

Brief Synopsis: An elderly king ruling over a bleak, barren kingdom sets each of his three daughters a task: to build in seven days something that will make her mark, that will make the king proud. Whichever of his daughters builds that thing will inherit his crown.

Links to Resources:

  • Plant an apple-pip (seed) and watch it grow;
  • Make baked apples or apple pie;
  • Plan a picnic (indoors or out): what will you eat? Who will you invite to share your picnic?
  • For older children, discuss the king’s system of choosing his successor. How else could he have done so? Discuss the attributes of a good ruler (or president!).

Why I Like this Book:

The Apple-Pip Princess is a modern fairy tale. Need I say more? Like the best fairy tales, it is an allegory for issues in our own 21st century world: caring for the environment; the hollowness of material possessions; the power of one person to better the world; the power of community. Told by a narrator speaking directly to “you” in lyrical language that flows like the best fairy tales do and accompanied by illustrations fit for a royal tale, including several collages incorporating digital art in a unique manner, The Apple-Pip Princess is a wonderful way to open discussions about our need to care for our world, the effect our actions have on our world and fellow beings, the importance of community, and why being the tallest or the most beautiful really doesn’t matter.

A Note about Craft:

Ms. Ray offers the usual array of fairy tale elements plus a few twists:

  • An omniscient narrator who tells the tale and specifically brings “you” into the story, addressing the reader at the beginning, when the focus shifts to Serenity, the princess with the apple seed, or pip, and how she will complete the king’s task, and at the end;
  • A dead queen, although no evil stepmother nor a fairy godmother;
  • Three sisters with, you guessed it, three different ideas about how to complete the task;
  • They are given seven days and nights to complete the tasks – a nod to Biblical creation, although without the day of rest;
  • An ample dash of magic, in fact, seven dashes, but the magic works only after Serenity unleashes it;
  • The characters are dark skinned, although wearing European-style clothing from an earlier era and living in houses that would be at home in Europe or even parts of rural or small-town America.

Incorporating these twists into the  classic formula, I think, makes The Apple-Pip Princess a fairy tale that will endure.

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!