Tag Archives: Courage

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!

PPBF – The Flying Girl: How Aída de Acosta Learned to Soar

I’m starting National Poetry Month with a picture book biography written in free-verse by Margarita Engle, the Young People’s Poet Laureate, as she shines a light on a little-known first woman of flight and inspires us all to soar.

flying girlTitle: The Flying Girl: How Aída de Acosta Learned to Soar

Written By: Margarita Engle

Illustrated By: Sara Palacios

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

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: flying; first female pilot; biography; courage

Opening:

One day, a girl named Aída was strolling on a lively street in a lovely city when she glanced up and was dazzled by the sight of a huge balloon that glided as gracefully as a whale-shaped moon.

Brief Synopsis: The Flying Girl recounts the story of how young Aída de Acosta became the first female to pilot a motorized aircraft.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

As Engle recounts in this inspiring, lyrical biography, all Aída needed to pilot a motorized dirigible was “courage and a chance to try”. We learn in the Afterword that Aída did so despite her parents’ disapproval and months before the Wright Brothers undertook the much better-known first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk. I think children will enjoy learning about this brave young Cuban-Spanish-American woman, who followed her dream to soar in the skies. And perhaps they’ll be inspired to soar towards their dreams, too.

Palacios’ bright, mixed media illustrations capture the excitement of this aviation first. I especially like that she set many of the illustrations against a sky-blue background. Many also include bright red birds – a detail younger children especially will enjoy following.

 

A Note about Craft:

In The Flying Girl, Engle focuses on one event in the life of Aída de Acosta, the short time she spent in Paris where she discovered Alberto Santos-Dumont’s dirigible, convinced him to teach her to fly, and then flew the dirigible by herself. In the Afterword, we learn the rest of her story, but I believe Engle keeps unnecessary details out of the text so the reader better experiences Aída’s journey from dream to soaring.

Although Aída is a teen in the story, well above the normal picture book main character age range, Engle focuses on her interactions with her mother when she discovers Aída’s aspirations, she renders Santos-Dumont childlike by referring to him only by his first name in the text, and she includes “excited children” and “giggling children” as onlookers. Perhaps most importantly, Engle addresses children in the last lines of the story, as Alberto declares Aída “a brave inspiration for all the girls of the world!”

Read a wonderful guest post on “poetry that crosses borders” by Engle on the Grog and her reasons for hope for #OwnVoices poetry in a Nerdy Book Club post, both last fall. To read a recent poem building a bridge of peace by Engle and to post your own poem about “choices”, visit René LaTulippe’s No Water River. See my reviews of a few of Engle’s other works: All the Way to HavanaBravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics, and Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote.

Visit Palacios’ site and follow her on Instagram to view more of her illustrations.

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 – 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!