Tag Archives: Courage

PPBF – Robinson

Regular readers may think that I’m deviating from my focus on books about refugees, regions experiencing conflict or natural disasters, and regions affected by immigration bans. But as I read today’s Perfect Picture Book by a noted author-illustrator who, himself, was born in the former Czechoslovakia and was granted asylum as an adult in the US, I couldn’t help but think the themes of this book are so important for today’s refugees or any other kids feeling alone or hopeless. I hope you agree!

9780545731669_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Robinson

Written & Illustrated By: Peter Sís

Publisher/date: Scholastic Press/September 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Courage, loneliness, independence, friendship, adventure, bullying

Opening:

My friends and I love adventure. We play pirates all the time. Together, we rule the high seas!

Brief Synopsis: Peter, a young boy who loves Robinson Crusoe, falls ill after dressing as his hero for a school costume party and being mocked for his costume. He then dreams of a journey that mimics that of his hero.

Links to Resources:

  • A costume party is a key feature of this story. Have you ever dressed as a literary hero? Find some ideas here.
  • Have you ever worn a costume that you really liked, but others found it funny or too different? How did you feel?
  • Read a child’s version of Robinson Crusoe here.

Why I Like this Book: Robinson is a gorgeous picture book with an important message for kids who feel alone and/or different.

How will I survive on my own?” Peter asks in one dark spread, as he looks fearfully around an imposing forest. I think Peter speaks for all kids who are alone, or who feel alone due to lack of friends or bullying, or who are in an unfamiliar place due to a natural or manmade disaster or even are lost near home. As kids see Peter adapt to island life and emulate the lifestyle of his hero, I think they will feel hope, too, that their situations will improve. As in all good adventure stories, Sís circles back to the beginning, and in the end, we leave Peter and his friends ready for another adventure.

In true Sís style, the text is minimal and the illustrations are incredible. This is a dream adventure, and Sís’ depiction of the transition from reality to dream is stunning as Peter’s bed transforms into a ship, and he approaches the island after floating in and out of hours, or maybe days.

A mix of smaller panels and larger one- and two-page spreads, Sís’ pen, ink and watercolor illustrations were designed to capture the “colorful, dreamlike first impression” he had when he first read Robinson Crusoe, per an About the Art note. I believe he succeeded, and I think you’ll agree!

A Note about Craft:

As authors or author-illustrators, we learn the importance of ideas and idea generation. We also learn they can come from anywhere – even our own past. Sís mined his past for Robinson. He states, in an Author’s Note, that Robinson is inspired by a true story from his childhood. Sís wore a Crusoe costume fashioned by his mother and recalled being ridiculed by friends. He even includes a photograph of himself in that costume in the book (you’ll have to read Robinson to see it!). What memories of yours can become picture books?

From the opening above, the point of view is clear: the main character of Robinson narrates his own story. I think this works well to bring immediacy to the story.

Robinson is a 48-page picture book published by a major commercial publisher. While the word-count is low, the page count is high, showing that the “rules” can be broken.

Finally, I confess to having had trouble pulling the main themes from Robinson. It is so multi-layered! I listed those from the jacket cover first, but then realized how bullying, not listed on the cover, plays such a pivotal role in the story, and how imagination, which isn’t even listed above, pops from each page.

Robinson has justifiably received many starred reviews. Learn more about its acclaimed author/illustrator, Peter Sís at his website and Scholastic Author Page.

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 Rooster Who Would Not be Quiet!

I chose today’s Perfect Picture Book because it’s a delightful folktale that has more than a few parallels to today’s political situation, because it pairs the words and artwork of two American immigrants, and because I’d like to think the fictional village in the story, La Paz, is somewhere in Cuba, a country I’m visiting for the first time in mid-March. This is a newly released book, but based on the reviews thus far, I think others agree that this is a Perfect Picture Book:

9780545722889_p0_v4_s118x184Title: The Rooster Who Would Not be Quiet!

Written By: Carmen Agra Deedy

Illustrated By: Eugene Yelchin

Publisher/date: Scholastic Press/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: rooster, hero, courage, singing, freedom, protest, oppression, diversity

Opening:

Once there was a village where the streets rang with song from morning till night.

Dogs bayed, mothers crooned, engines hummed, fountains warbled, and everybody sang in the shower.

Brief Synopsis:

After a silence-loving mayor bans singing in La Paz, a rooster appears and continues to crow despite the mayor’s many attempts to silence him.

Links to Resources:

  • Paint a rooster with plastic fork “paint brushes”;
  • Find more chicken and rooster art ideas here;
  • Learn and sing kids’ songs from around the world.

Why I Like this Book:

An allegory perfect for these unique times, The Rooster Who Would Not be Quiet! is a humorous story pitting a very vocal rooster against a mayor elected to ease the annoying volume of a very noisy village. In words and pictures, Deedy and Yelchin show how the power placed in the mayor’s hands goes to his head. Signs admonishing “No Loud Singing in Public, por favor” evolve to “!Basta! Quiet, Already!” as the noisy village becomes “silent as a tomb,” with the words playfully shown on a tombstone. How strict were the laws? “Even the teakettles were afraid to whistle.” With analogies like this, even the youngest listeners will enjoy this story, while the adults chuckle, hum, and even, perhaps break out in song – “kee-kee-ree-KEE!”

Yelchin’s bright, colorful mixed-media illustrations, including seven full-page paintings, and three double spreads with only the word Kee-kee-ree-KEE, wonderfully complement and enhance Deedy’s tale, and breathe life into the village of La Paz.

A Note about Craft:

Deedy utilizes several techniques that render The Rooster Who Would Not be Quiet! a wonderful mentor text for picture book writers, and will ensure that it is enjoyed again and again in both homes and classrooms:

  • She sets the story in the village of La Paz, “the peace,” and integrates several Spanish words into the text. Deedy does so in a way that draws readers into the story and helps readers understand the terms in context. Even the rooster is referred to as the gallito who sings despite the best efforts of the mayor, Don Pepe. Most Spanish terms are italicized, which will make it easy for children to find them and discover their meaning in the surrounding text and illustrations.
  • At the outset of the tale, Deedy lists many types of song that contribute to the noise, including animal sounds, heartwarming parental sounds, industrial sounds and natural sounds. People enjoy hearing some of these, while others, like a dog braying, could be considered annoying. I think by including such a broad spectrum, Deedy draws attention to what, later, is at risk, namely the vibrant hum of the community. She also adds a further layer to the story by providing a discussion opportunity about the many pleasant and unpleasant songs in a village or town.
  • Deedy skillfully utilizes repetition in the interactions between the Gallito and the mayor. Use of repetition bolsters the feeling of a traditional folktale and helps children anticipate the results of these encounters.
  • Finally, like all good folktales, The Rooster Who Would Not be Quiet! includes a moral. Who better to deliver this message than a lowly rooster.

I can’t help but conclude this review by quoting the Author’s Note in full:

Roosters sing at sunrise; they also sing at noon, sundown, and in the middle of night. Roosters sing when they please, and that’s all there is to that.

Much like roosters, human children are born with voices strong and true – and irrepressible.

Then, bit by bit, most of us learn to temper our opinions, censor our beliefs, and quiet our voices.

But not all of us.

There are always those who resist being silenced, who will crow out their truth, without regard to consequence.

Foolhardy or wise, they are the ones who give us the courage to sing.

So crow away!

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 – Friend or Foe?

The best children’s books appeal to, and resonate with, not only the children listening to the story but also to, and with, the adults reading them. Since I’ve acquired today’s Perfect Picture Book, I can’t help thinking that themes of the book – wondering about people who are different than us; using clues to discover their natures; finding the courage to cross barriers that divide us – ring true on the playground, in the classroom, in the workplace, and even in the larger world, whether we are 5, 25, 55 or older. I think you’ll agree.

51ailoxr49l-_sx485_bo1204203200_Title: Friend or Foe?

Written By: John Sobel

Illustrated By: Dasha Tolstikova

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press/11 October 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-7 & older

Themes/Topics: Wonder, friendship, courage, mice, cats, social situations

Opening: “This is how it was…A lonely mouse lived in a small house beside a great palace. In the great palace lived a cat.”

Brief Synopsis: Night after night, a lonely mouse on the roof of a small house and a cat in a castle tower stare at each other. The mouse wonders whether the cat is a friend or foe, and, conquering his fear, sets off to discover the answer.

Links to Resources:

  • Discuss or draw pictures of animal species that generally are friends. Why do they get along? Do the same for species that generally are foes. Why do they fight or avoid each other?
  • Discuss visual and verbal clues that help you decide whether someone or something is a friend or foe (and why sometimes the clues can be misleading);
  • Describe a time you overcame fear to discover or find something.

Why I Like this Book:

This is a simple story, told with straightforward prose, but with a fairy tale aspect – “This is how it was…” It’s also an ambiguous tale, as judgments about the nature of others often are. 

The muted palate of grays and creams with a few pops of reds and yellows furthers the air of mystery in this quiet book. Readers/listeners aren’t quite sure where the palace and small house are or when the story takes place. We don’t know whether the cat is lonely, too. And we know little about their lives apart from the nightly encounter: is the cat a Rapunzel character or a princess happy in the tower; does the smallness of the house represent poverty or just difference from the imposing palace. Neither author nor illustrator answer these questions, but I think that’s ok. Friend or Foe? presents characters that wonder and enables readers and listeners to ponder these questions, too. Many interesting family and classroom discussions inevitably will take place after reading this tale of would-be friends, or foes.

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, Friend or Foe? is a tale filled with ambiguity. At its heart, it is an examination of friendship: how do we discover and assess whether someone is a friend or foe. But rather than placing the two potential friends together, as is the case with most picture books examining friendship, Sobel separates the two, leaving the pair, and the readers/listeners, with only visual clues to answer the question.

Setting is a key character in the story. The pair are separated not by a busy road or body of water that is difficult to cross. Rather, the “palace had only one entrance, and it was carefully guarded.” “Not even the cat” could enter or leave, but the mouse noticed a tiny hole. After squeezing through this hole, the mouse still had to climb to the top of a tower, because not just a wall but also vertical distance separate the pair. Could this vertical distance be a metaphor for class difference? I don’t know, but this detail lends an interesting layer to this tale.

I received an advance copy of Friend or Foe? from the publisher; the opinions and observations expressed in this review are my own and were not influenced by anyone.

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!