Tag Archives: Courage

Perfect Pairing – of Fearless Female Flyers

Today is the 103rd anniversary of a daring flight by Ruth Law, a female pilot and the subject of one of today’s perfectly paired picture books. As so many Americans anticipate holiday flights next week, I thought it would be interesting to look back to the dawn of aviation, and the roles two courageous female pilots played in that history.

 

Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine

Author: Heather Lang

Illustrator: Raúl Colón

Publisher/Date: Calkins Creek, an imprint of Boyds Mills Press/2016

Ages: 5-8

Themes: flying, women, biography, courage

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

On November 19, 1916, at 8:25 a.m., Ruth Law took off on a flight that aviation experts thought was doomed. She set off to fly nonstop from Chicago to New York City. Sitting at the controls of her small bi-plane, exposed to the elements, Law battled fierce winds and numbing cold. When her engine ran out of fuel, she glided for two miles and landed at Hornell, New York. Even though she fell short of her goal, she had broken the existing cross-country distance record. And with her plane refueled, she got back in the air and headed for New York City where crowds waited to greet her. In this well-researched, action-packed picture book, Heather Lang and Raúl Colón recreate a thrilling moment in aviation history. Includes an afterword with archival photographs.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

The Flying Girl: How Aída de Acosta Learned to Soar

Author: Margarita Engle

Illustrator: Sara Palacios

Publisher/date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster)/March 2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: flying, first female pilot, biography, courage

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In this beautiful picture book filled with soaring words and buoyant illustrations, award-winners Margarita Engle and Sara Palacios tell the inspiring true story of Aída de Acosta, the first woman to fly a motorized aircraft.

On a lively street in the lovely city of Paris, a girl named Aída glanced up and was dazzled by the sight of an airship. Oh, how she wished she could soar through the sky like that! The inventor of the airship, Alberto, invited Aída to ride with him, but she didn’t want to be a passenger. She wanted to be the pilot.

Aída was just a teenager, and no woman or girl had ever flown before. She didn’t let that stop her, though. All she needed was courage and a chance to try.

Read my review.

I paired these books because they both feature ground-breaking female pilots at the dawn of aviation, who conquered their fears and society’s expectations to soar to new heights. Each book focuses on the flight and events leading up to it, and both contain helpful backmatter about each pilot and her role in aviation history.

PPBF – Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

I confess that the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book was not familiar to me. Nor did I know about the performance noted in the title. So I’m so happy that Margarita Engle discovered young Teresa and shared this heart-warming story.

Title: Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

Written By: Margarita Engle

Illustrated By: Rafael López

Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: music, refugee, immigrant, courage, biography

Opening:

When Teresa was a little girl in Venezuela, Mamá sang lullabies while Papá showed Teresita how to let her happy hands dance across all the beautiful dark and light keys of a piano.

Brief Synopsis: The story of how a young pianist, the “Piano Girl” Teresa Carreño, performed for President Lincoln and his family at the White House during the dark days of the Civil War, as the family was grieving the death of their son.

Links to Resources:

  • Teresa was born in Venezuela. Find out more about this South American country;
  • Teresa performed a song about a Mockingbird. Learn more about this bird;
  • Listen to the Mockingbird was a popular song in America in the mid-19th century. Listen to a recording of it;
  • Learn more about Teresa in the Historical Note and see the Curriculum Guide for further insights;
  • Teresa played the piano to cheer up President Lincoln and his family. What can you do to cheer up a friend, family member, or neighbor?

Why I Like this Book:

In Dancing Hands, Engle introduces readers to a famous 19th century pianist, Teresa Carreño. Readers learn that Teresa loved playing the piano as a young child in Venezuela, but that sometimes she “had to struggle” to play the “stubborn music”. Despite these struggles, Teresa persisted and became an accomplished pianist at a young age.

When Teresa was eight years old, her family fled conflict and sailed to New York City, where Teresa “felt lost”, lonely, and sad, especially as no one spoke Spanish and the US was embroiled in the Civil War. But when Teresa acquired a piano in New York, her life and playing skills improved. Soon, she was performing in concerts, culminating with a performance at the White House before President Lincoln and his family, shortly after the death of his son and during the bleak days of the Civil War.

I think any child who has felt shy speaking before strangers, nervous before a music recital or worried about a big game will relate to Teresa’s predicament. That a child could brighten a President’s life and bring comfort to him and his family is an important lesson for children and adults that young people, including those who are recent arrivals to a country, can make the world better by sharing their talents.

I also think Dancing Hands reminds readers that music has the power to soothe people in times of trouble, acting as a balm for creators, performers and listeners.

López’s mixed media illustrations reflect Teresa’s moods throughout the story, with bright, tropical colors prevalent when she was happy and darker blues and grays dominating scenes of worry and concern.

A Note about Craft:

Dancing Hands is a biography of a pianist who had a long international career as a professional pianist and singer. But Engle has focused solely on the start of that career, when Teresa was still a child, culminating with this one special performance for President Lincoln. I think by limiting the timespan and focus in this way, Engle has created a picture book that will appeal even to younger children and to which children will more readily relate. Also, by honing in on this one important performance early in her stay in the United States, Engle widens the subject of the book from just the story of a gifted pianist to include her journey as a refugee and immigrant who shared her talents and enriched her new home.

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 – Bijan & Manije: A Story from the Book of Kings

As the chill winds blow, I love reading stories from long ago that transport me to another time and place. I hope you agree that today’s Perfect Picture Book does just that.

Title: Bijan & Manije: A Story from the Book of Kings

Written By: Ali Seidabadi

Edited By: Nicolette Jones

Illustrated By: Marjan Vafaian

Publisher/Date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4 and up

Themes/Topics: fairy tale, #ReadYourWorld, Persia, courage, hero

Opening:

Once upon a time the people of Iran and the people of neighbouring Turan were enemies. Turan was ruled by a tyrant, King Afrasaib, who made his subjects tremble and threatened the country next door. Iran was a land of colour and perfume and beauty, ruled over by good King Khosrow.

Brief Synopsis:

A tale from Persia featuring a boar-hunting young knight, a princess from an opposing kingdom, and their love that overcomes all obstacles.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about the Shahnameh, a poem that gathered the “historical stories and myths of Persia” in the 10th century;
  • Write your own story that begins “once upon a time”;
  • Watch the book trailer.

Why I Like this Book:

Bijan & Manije features many elements found in classic fairy tales: monstrous creatures that terrorize helpless people; a brave, young knight; a quest to subdue the creatures; a cowardly general; a lonely princess; a tyrannical king; and a love that conquers all. But the setting, in ancient Iran and Turan, and the colorful illustrations lend an exotic air to the story, and they transported this reader into a fantastic world. I especially appreciated the loyalty of Princess Manije, who kept watch over the imprisoned Bijan, and her strength and courage as she helped Bijan escape and fled with him from her tyrannical father. No helpless female here!

I also enjoyed thinking about who the true hero of this tale is and what it means to be a hero. Is it Bijan, who subdues the monstrous boars? Or Manije, who defies her father and stays true to Bijan? Or is it the cowardly General Gorgin, who confesses that he led Bijan to the enemy lands? Or, perhaps, it’s the clever and courageous Rostam, who tracks down Bijan and helps the lovers escape? Maybe all of these are heroes who, by working together, help ensure the happy ending. I leave it for you to decide!

I think all children will enjoy this heroic love story, but children with a Persian heritage will truly love reading this tale set in the lands where their families lived and adapted from an ancient text.

With their jewel tones, Vafaian’s colorful and intricate illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to Seidabadi’s text.

A Note about Craft:

Bijan & Manije is a retelling of an older story into modern language, and then it’s been translated into English. Although the endnotes don’t reveal how or how much Seidabadi changed the story, I think updating an older story for modern readers is a wonderful way to preserve stories from the past and share a cultural heritage with children.

Read an interview with Seidabadi here and visit his Facebook page. Seidabadi is also the author of A Rainbow in my Pocket and collaborated with Iranian illustrator Vafaeian on The Parrot and the Merchant. Vafaeian is also the illustrator of Cinderella of the Nile.

Discover more books published by Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd , an independent publishing company in the UK “committed to producing beautiful, original books for children”, founded on the “belief that stories act as bridges – providing pathways to new experiences whilst connecting us to here and there”.

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 Picture Books about New Homes

Moving house is such a difficult transition for adults and kids, so when I found two recent picture books about moving, I just had to pair them!

Ella Who?

Author: Linda Ashman

Illustrator: Sara Sanchez

Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books/2017

Ages: 4-8

Themes: moving, making friends

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Mom . . . there’s an elephant in the living room.
It’s moving day—and look who slipped in the door: an elephant! But when a little girl tries to tell her family about their unusual guest, the distracted grown-ups just say, “Ella WHO?” Even as children giggle at the girl’s adventures with the smallish pachyderm, and at the fun, recurring refrain, they’ll relate to the poignant theme about making—and sometimes letting go of—new friends.

Read a review at Gathering Books.

 

Wallpaper

Author & Illustrator: Thao Lam

Publisher/Date: Owlkids Books, a division of Bayard, Canada/2018

Ages:  3-7

Themes: moving, making friends, fantasy, courage

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

New from the creator of Skunk on a String comes Wallpaper, a wordless picture book in Thao Lam’s signature paper collage style. It tells the story of a young girl whose family moves into a new house. Outside, she can hear other kids playing, but she’s too shy to say hello. So she picks at the old wallpaper in her room―revealing an entryway to a fantastic imaginary adventure world behind the walls.

Read my review.

I paired these books because they both feature main characters who are in the process of moving into a new home. In Ella Who? the unnamed main character finds a baby elephant among the boxes and potted plants, but her family is unable to see this new friend. In the wordless Wallpaper, the unnamed main character uncovers worlds hiding beneath the wallpaper in her new bedroom. Both books address the desire of children who have recently moved to find friendship in their new neighborhoods with fantasy and fun.

PPBF – Wallpaper

I discovered today’s Perfect Picture Book while reading a blog post at Gathering Books. The title and cover intrigued me, and, luckily, I was able to obtain a copy through the interlibrary loan network (what would we do without it!).

Title: Wallpaper

Written & Illustrated By: Thao Lam

Publisher/Date: Owlkids Books, a division of Bayard Canada/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes/Topics: moving, making friends, fantasy, courage

Opening:

Blah-blah, blah-blah-blah, blah-blah

Brief Synopsis: In this virtually wordless picture book, a young girl struggling to adapt to a new home and neighborhood discovers a fantastical world hidden under the wallpaper of her new bedroom.

Links to Resources:

  • Sometimes we all feel shy or afraid. What scares you? What do you do when you’re scared or feeling shy?
  • Design a wallpaper pattern for your bedroom;
  • Create a collage with wallpaper scraps.

Why I Like this Book:

Moving is one of the more difficult transitions anyone can undertake. And for a shy person, as the unnamed main character in Wallpaper undoubtedly is, it’s even more difficult. When she notices children playing in a tree house near her window and waving at her, the poor girl is too shy or frightened to wave back. Instead, she enters a world that she uncovers hidden within layers of wallpaper in her new bedroom. There she discovers a monster. A lively chase entails until the young girl discovers that if a monster can be a friend, perhaps the children in her new neighborhood can be friends, too.

Because it’s virtually wordless, Wallpaper will be a wonderful read together story that creates an opportunity to discuss overcoming the fear of something that is unknown or different, including moving to a new home, neighborhood and school. For those who haven’t experienced a move, it hopefully will help them empathize with new neighbors and classmates and welcome them.

Illustrated with bright, intricate collages, Wallpaper invites readers to marvel at what may lie hidden below the surface of wherever they may find themselves.

A Note about Craft:

I’m not an illustrator, and I’m always in awe of the emotions an illustrator can evoke via pictures. By limiting the text to a few sounds only, I think Lam enables readers to tell the story via their own words, and perhaps, in doing so, share what’s troubling them.

Visit Lam’s website to view more of her work.

Owlkids Books is a Canadian publisher that “publishes entertaining, unique, high-quality books and magazines that nurture the potential of children and instill in them a love of reading and learning — about themselves and the world around them.”

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 is Moonstruck

With the fiftieth anniversary of the first lunar landing approaching, there’s been increased interest in stories about our relationship with the moon. I recently read two new picture books that had me moonstruck, too.

A Kite for Moon

Authors: Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple

Illustrator: Matt Phelan

Publisher/Date: Zonderkidz/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: moon; historical fiction; space exploration; friendship

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A Kite for Moon, written by New York Times bestselling author of How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? Jane Yolen and her daughter, Heidi E. Y. Stemple, tells a heartfelt story about a young boy’s fascination and unlikely friendship with the moon. With whimsical illustrations by award-winning artist Matt Phelan, the story begins when the little boy, who is flying his kite, notices a sad Moon. He sends up kites to her, even writing notes to Moon promising he will come see her someday. This promise propels him through years and years of studying, learning, and training to be an astronaut! Dedicated to Neil Armstrong, and a perfect children’s book to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first United States moon landing, the cover of this book will captivate readers with eye-catching spot UV, foil, and embossing.

Read a review and an interview with Yolen and Stemple at Writing for Kids (While Raising Them).

Music for Mister Moon

Author: Philip C. Stead

Illustrator: Erin E. Stead

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books (Holiday House Publishing, Inc.)/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: moon; shyness; friendship; music; courage; imagination

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

What if you threw your teacup out your window…and what if it accidentally knocked the moon out of the sky? 
A girl named Harriet longs to play her cello alone in her room. But when a noisy owl disrupts her solitude, Harriet throws her teacup out the window and accidentally knocks the moon out of the sky in frustration. Over the course of an evening, Harriet and the moon become fast friends. Worried that he’ll catch a chill, Harriet buys the moon a soft woolen hat, then takes him on a boat ride across a glistening lake, something he’s only dreamed of. But can she work up the courage to play her music for the moon?

Read a review at The Picture Book Buzz.

I paired these books because they are dreamy, lyrical books, perfect for bedtime, that personify the moon and treat it as a character (a her, in A Kite for Moon and a him, in Music for Mister Moon). Interestingly, the moon is envisioned as lonely in both books, and friendship is a strong theme in both. As the unnamed boy in A Kite for Moon works hard to realize his dream to visit the moon as an adult, shy Hank works hard to overcome her fear of performing as she plays her cello on the moon in Music for Mister Moon. Both books thus show children that dreams are attainable.

Looking for similar reads?

To find out more about our quest to reach the moon, see Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon by Suzanne Slade/Thomas Gonzalez (Peachtree Publishers/2018), and a “galaxy” of fiction and non-fiction children’s books about space exploration in a recent post in Publishers Weekly.

PPBF – Marwan’s Journey

With the scent of holidays in the air, November always reminds me of journeys – those taken, to visit family and friends, and those yet to come. But as I reflect on these generally happy journeys in my own life, I can’t help but think of those people undertaking difficult journeys for other reasons, whether fleeing from violence or poverty or seeking a better life in some new location. Today’s Perfect Picture Book recounts the journey of one such child.mne_DE_Marwan's Journey_Cov_z_Layout 1

Title: Marwan’s Journey

Written By: Patricia de Arias

Illustrated By: Laura Borràs

Publisher/Date: minedition (Michael Neugebauer Publishing, Ltd)/2018 (first published in Spanish as El Camino de Marwan, Amanuta, Chile/2016)

Suitable for Ages: 5-7 (or older)

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; courage; hope

Opening:

I take giant steps even though I am small. One, two, three…crossing the desert.

Brief Synopsis: When the cold darkness of war arrives at Marwan’s house, he flees on foot, joining a caravan of refugees, but always remembering happy times with his family and dreaming of a peaceful future, of returning to his homeland.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about the refugee experience with materials from Amnesty International;
  • If you were going on a journey, what would you bring? Choose three favorite toys or books that you’d bring along;
  • Marwan travels mainly on foot. Think of other ways that people travel, and draw a picture of your favorite way to travel.

Why I Like this Book:

With its young, named main character traveling by foot to escape war, Marwan’s Journey is a haunting window into the refugee experience. Although the setting is not named, the reader learns that Marwan crosses a desert and reaches a border with the sea. And although he seemingly travels without parents or other relatives, it’s clear that Marwan is one of many undertaking this journey.

Told in sparse, lyrical prose, Marwan’s Journey enables the reader to walk along with Marwan, as he places one foot in front of the other, “one, two, three,” a “line of humans like ants crossing the desert”. He doesn’t look back, but he knows that, without hesitation, one day, he will return to “plant a garden with my hands, full of flowers and hope.”

With its glimpses of happy memories, its focus on the act of traveling, and its promise of a hopeful future, I think de Arias presents a believable portrait of a child refugee while not focusing too much on issues that would be difficult for children.

Borràs’ ink and color-washed illustrations have a child-like quality, at times seeming even surrealistic. Utilizing primarily sepia tones as Marwan crosses the desert, she adds pops of color as he remembers life before the war and as he looks forward to a life back in his homeland and prays “that the night never, never, never goes so dark again.”

A Note about Craft:

Like most of the refugee picture books, de Arias utilizes first-person point-of-view which renders the narrator’s experience more immediate. Unlike refugee stories such as Francesca Sanna’s The Journey or Nicola Davies’ The Day War Came, de Arias names the narrator, choosing a male name of Arabic origin that means “flint stone,” a stone used to start fires.

Interestingly, de Arias includes a flashback to life before the conflict which, while providing relief from the tedium of the long march, may be difficult for younger children to follow and is not a technique usually found in picture books.

Per the jacket cover, de Arias is a Spaniard currently residing in Brazil, where she has published a number of children’s books.

Borràs is an “internationally acclaimed illustrator who has published numerous books in many countries”.

minedition publishes picture books of the highest quality that “open the door to the world” for children….After 10 years with the Swiss Nord Sud Publishing, minedition – michael neugebauer edition – was founded 2004, first as an imprint with Penguin and now independent and distributed in North America by IPG.”

Marwan’s Journey received a Special Mention at the Bologna Ragazzi Awards in 2017 and a starred review in Kirkus.

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!