Tag Archives: Community

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!

Perfect Picture Book Friday: The Story of Moose

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Title: The Story of Moose: How a Big Dog on a Little Island Found Love…After Nearly 5 Years in a Shelter
 

Written By: Laurie Damron

Illustrated By: Photographs

Publisher/date: Self-published (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform), 28 February 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes/Topics: Dogs, Animal Shelters, Hope, Perseverance, Community

Opening: “I am Moose. I was brought to the Animal Care Center (ACC) in February 2011 when I was found running with the head of a pack of 1000 runners getting ready for the Islands’ annual ‘8 Tuff Miles’ road race. We put me in a kennel hoping to find my owner. My owner never came for me.”

Brief Synopsis: This is the true story of Moose, who spent almost 5 years in a no-kill animal shelter in St. John, US Virgin Islands, and of the efforts of ACC staff and friends, staff of Last Hope K9 Rescue in Boston, and the community of Moose lovers to find Moose a home.

Links to Resources:

  • Visit a local no-kill animal shelter;
  • The ACC participates in voluntourism – providing volunteer opportunities for tourists visiting St. John – if traveling, check to determine if there is a shelter where you can walk dogs or pet kittens or donate items or if there are other community organizations or schools that can use your help or donations (gently used books are often most welcome in more remote destinations, for instance).
  • Discuss with older children what it means to support a Cause: how would they work together to promote and achieve something important to them.

Why I Like this Book: I know this is a true story, because I have met, and walked with, Moose. When his Facebook page was first promoted, I followed and shared the posts often. I didn’t choose The Story of Moose as a Perfect Picture Book just because I already knew the story, however. Told from Moose’s perspective, this story highlights the power of community and an important lesson for children of all ages to persevere, work together and never give up hope: “Everyone can make a difference.”

This book is available for purchase on Amazon.com. All proceeds benefit ACC and Last Hope K9Rescue. Moose’s family has continued his Facebook page, now called Moose Found a Family – The Next Chapter.
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!

Perfect Picture Book Friday: One Family

I learned of this book last fall, just as we were heading into that prime family time: the holidays. I looked in the library, couldn’t find it there (yet), but I luckily managed to find it at a favorite indie bookstore while (theoretically) shopping for holiday gifts. I’m so happy I did, as this is a book that will be at the front of our family bookshelves for generations to come.

9780374300036_p0_v1_s118x184Title: One Family

Written By: George Shannon

Illustrated By: Blanca Gómez

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-6

Themes/Topics: Family; Counting; Diversity; Inclusivity; Community

Opening: “One is one. One lamp. One clock. One book to share.”

Brief Synopsis: In this richly-illustrated counting book, one stretches to ten, as collective nouns contain increasing numbers of items and the family illustrated in each two-page spread increases in number until, finally, we return to one world, one earth, one family, in which we all are included.

Links to Resources: Find other collective nouns and look to see whether all items in each group are the same or different; draw a picture of your family; make a family tree (note: this could include pictures of family members and ancestors, or could creatively show each family member’s character).

Why I Like this Book: The sparse, poetic language and rich illustrations make this a beautiful book. The diversity of families and settings and inclusivity add to its appeal. And the illustrated portraits on the inside covers create a story unto themselves. This truly is “one book to share” with children and grandchildren.

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!