Tag Archives: Diversity

Perfect Pairing – is Bicycling

Tomorrow is my husband’s birthday, and he loves to bicycle. So I thought I’d share two picture books featuring children who also love to cycle.

 

In a Cloud of Dust

Author: Alma Fullerton

Illustrator: Brian Deines

Publisher/Date: Pajama Press/2015

Ages: 4-8

Themes: bicycles, diversity, education, disappointment, compassion

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In a Tanzanian village school, Anna struggles to keep up. Her walk home takes so long that when she arrives, it is too dark to do her homework. Working through the lunch hour instead, she doesn’t see the truck from the bicycle library pull into the schoolyard. By the time she gets out there, the bikes are all gone. Anna hides her disappointment, happy to help her friends learn to balance and steer. She doesn’t know a compassionate friend will offer her a clever solution—and the chance to raise her own cloud of dust. Brought to life by Brian Deines’ vivid oil paintings, Alma Fullerton’s simple, expressive prose captures the joy of feeling the wind on your face for the first time. Inspired by organizations like The Village Bicycle Project that have opened bicycle libraries all across Africa, In a Cloud of Dust is an uplifting example of how a simple opportunity can make a dramatic change in a child’s life.

Read my review.

 

 

The Patchwork Bike

Author: Maxine Beneba Clarke

Illustrator: Van T. Rudd

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018 (first published in Australia by Hachette Australia/2016)

Ages: 6-9

Themes: bicycle, resourcefulness, play, poverty, imagination, North Africa, multicultural

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

What’s the best fun in the whole village? Riding the patchwork bike we made! A joyous picture book for children by award-winning author Maxine Beneba Clarke.

When you live in a village at the edge of the No-Go Desert, you need to make your own fun. That’s when you and your brothers get inventive and build a bike from scratch, using everyday items like an old milk pot (maybe mum is still using it, maybe not) and a used flour sack. You can even make a numberplate from bark, if you want. The end result is a spectacular bike, perfect for going bumpity-bump over sandhills, past your fed-up mum and right through your mud-for-walls home.

A delightful story from multi-award-winning author Maxine Beneba Clarke, beautifully illustrated by street artist Van T Rudd.

Read my review.

I paired these books because they feature bicycles and children, and, in both cases, economic hardship necessitates the use of either a homemade or donated bicycle. While the focus of In a Cloud of Dust is riding bikes to and from a rural school, the children in A Patchwork Bike use their creation to explore and have fun. In both books, I think readers learn the importance and joy of bicycles, even if they aren’t shiny and new.

PPBF- In a Cloud of Dust

With its cooler but not yet cold temperatures and the promise of multi-colored leaves on the trees, October can be one of the best months to take a bike ride. I think it’s also a wonderful time to read about bicycling, as featured in today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: In a Cloud of Dust

Written By: Alma Fullerton

Illustrated By: Brian Deines

Publisher/Date: Pajama Press/2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: bicycles, diversity, education, disappointment, compassion

Opening:

In a Tanzanian village, a little schoolhouse sits at the end of a dusty road.

Brief Synopsis:

When the bicycle library arrives at her school, Anna hopes to find a bicycle to ride to and from school, but she is too late to find a bicycle of her own.

Links to Resources:

  • Try drawing a bicycle or creating a bicycle with colorful accordion wheels;
  • Ride your bicycle to school and back, around a park, or in your neighborhood;
  • Learn about Tanzania, the setting of this story;
  • Read the Author’s Note to learn more about bike sharing and giveaway programs;
  • Discover more ideas in the Reading Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

In a Cloud of Dust provides a window into life for children lacking transportation to and from a rural school in Tanzania. Readers learn that Anna, the main character, does her homework during the lunch break, as her journey by foot to and from school is so long that it’s dark by the time she reaches her home, a home without electric lights. When a “Bicycle Library” visits her school during the lunch break, the other students already have chosen all of these used bicycles. It’s clear that these children are excited about the bicycles and eager to learn how to ride them. But what about Anna? Her disappointment leaps from the page. What does she do?

If I were reading In a Cloud of Dust aloud to a group of children, I think I’d stop at this point and ask them what they’d do if they were Anna or if they were the other children. By including this universal feeling of disappointment at the heart of the story, I think Fullerton broadens the appeal and offers an opportunity to discuss what’s fair or not, how to handle disappointment, and how to be a true friend.

Because Anna overcomes her disappointment with the help of her friends, the story has a happy ending. I won’t spoil it by revealing how she overcomes this disappointment or the solution – you’ll have to read In a Cloud of Dust yourself!

Deines’ earth-toned illustrations transported me to Tanzania and expressed the emotions that the children felt.

A Note about Craft:

Fullerton utilizes spare, lyrical text to tell Anna’s story. By using few words, she enables the illustrations to do much of the storytelling, which added to the emotional appeal for me.

In a Cloud of Dust is a work of fiction based on bicycle lending and give-away programs that help those without access to transportation in places like Tanzania. I think by wrapping the information about these programs in a fictional account that includes disappointment and compassion, Fullerton gives a more complete picture of the importance of these programs to so many people throughout the world.

Visit Alma Fullerton’s website to see more of her works.

See more of Brian Deines’ artwork on his website.

Independent, Canadian publisher Pajama Press “is a small literary press” that “produce[s] many formats popular in children’s publishing across a fairly broad range of genres”.

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 – Dances into Spring

I’m continuing the celebration of Women’s History Month with a focus on trailblazing dancers.

Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins

Author: Michelle Meadows

Illustrator: Ebony Glenn

Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan Publishing Group)/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: ballet; diversity; trailblazers; biography

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A lyrical picture book biography of Janet Collins, the first African American principal dancer at the Metropolitan Opera House. 
Janet Collins wanted to be a ballerina in the 1930s and 40s, a time when racial segregation was widespread in the United States. Janet pursued dance with a passion, despite being rejected from discriminatory dance schools. When she was accepted into the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as a teenager on the condition that she paint her skin white for performances, Janet refused. She continued to go after her dreams, never compromising her values along the way. From her early childhood lessons to the height of her success as the first African American prima ballerina in the Metropolitan Opera, Brave Ballerina is the story of a remarkable pioneer as told by Michelle Meadows, with fantastic illustrations from Ebony Glenn.

Read a review at Noodling with Words.

 

Firebird: Ballerina Misty Copeland Shows a Young Girl How to Dance Like the Firebird

Author: Misty Copeland

Illustrator: Christopher Myers

Publisher/Date: Penguin Young Readers Group/2014

Ages: 6-10

Themes: ballet; trailblazers; determination

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In her debut picture book, Misty Copeland tells the story of a young girl–an every girl–whose confidence is fragile and who is questioning her own ability to reach the heights that Misty has reached. Misty encourages this young girl’s faith in herself and shows her exactly how, through hard work and dedication, she too can become Firebird.
Lyrical and affecting text paired with bold, striking illustrations that are some of Caldecott Honoree Christopher Myers’s best work, makes Firebird perfect for aspiring ballerinas everywhere.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because both are lyrical picture books that explore the hard work and dedication necessary to excel at ballet and that encourage all young children, regardless of race or socio-economic situation, to soar through their endeavors. In Brave Ballerina, readers learn the story of Janet Collins, the first African-American prima ballerina in a major company. In lyrical rhymes that dance through the story, Meadows explores each component that led to Collins’ success, ending with the revelation that “This is the dancer,/bold like the sun,/a prima ballerina/in 1951.” In the fictional Firebird, Copeland herself offers encouragement to the narrator, a young dancer who doubts her abilities. With practice, Copeland assures the budding ballerina that she’ll “soar become a swan, a beauty, a firebird for sure”.

Looking for similar reads?

See Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova (Chronicle Books/2015).

PPBF – The Day You Begin

Though today is its one-month birthday, today’s perfect picture book already has garnered many starred reviews and is on several lists as a future award winner. Once you read it, I think you’ll know why!

9780399246531Title: The Day You Begin

Written By: Jacqueline Woodson

Illustrated By: Rafael López

Publisher/Date: Nancy Paulsen Books (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)/2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: feeling different; diversity; self-image; self-esteem; fear; bravery

Opening:

There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.

Brief Synopsis: Several unnamed young narrators reflect on how it’s not easy to take the first steps into a place where nobody knows you, especially when you feel different because of how you look or talk, where you’re from or even what you eat.

Links to Resources:

  • Think of a favorite relative or friend. Think of a few ways you are the same (age, skin or hair color, favorite color, etc.) and a few ways you differ (gender or types of music you enjoy, for instance). Draw a picture of your friend or relative and you;
  • Watch the Book Trailer;
  • Look for some things that López includes in several illustrations, such as a ruler, books and bluebirds. Why do you think López includes these things? What do you think they mean?
  • Check out the Educator Guide (specific ideas about The Day You Begin appear on pp 4-5).

Why I Like this Book:

The Day You Begin is a lyrical exploration of a problem that plagues many young children and even adults: entering a room or joining a group when you feel different from others in one or more ways. As Woodson points out, this feeling can arise for many reasons. I think everyone will discover a reason that resonates with them. I particularly appreciate that Woodson reaches beyond appearance and athletic prowess and highlights language and socio-economic differences, among many others.

But Woodson doesn’t just point out the uneasy feelings. She also shows how, with bravery, you will find that when you “share your stories” you’ll discover some similarities among new friends who have “something a little like you” and something “fabulously not quite like you”. This acknowledgement of our individual gifts celebrates the uniqueness of individuals and the contributions everyone makes to the group or community. That stories and books run through The Day You Begin makes it extra special.

López’ multi-media illustrations are vibrant and joyful, bringing Woodson’s text to life. I especially appreciated how he pictured one boy alone in a right-hand spread dominated by a beige, rather lifeless background while the facing spread includes smiling children playing in a colorful, lush school yard. I think even young children will see immediately that this young boy feels alone and different. López also includes in many spreads gorgeous flowers and greenery that help show how the characters are feeling.

A Note about Craft:

The text of The Day You Begin began with a line from Woodson’s Newbery Honor novel in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014) that refers to the courage of her great-grandfather. That line, A moment when you walk into a room and no one there is like you” is altered slightly to become the opening line of The Day You Begin. I love how Woodson reaches back into her family history and her past work to give life to this line in a setting for younger readers.

When I first read the title, The Day You Begin, and saw the pensive face on the cover, I thought the book was focused solely on that feeling of dread when you encounter a new situation or group. But I realize now that the title also refers to the day you overcome your fears, when you realize that you have stories to tell and that you are a unique and wonderful person. I love that the title can have both of these meanings.

Read López’ blog post that shares many interior spreads and includes his thoughts on illustrating Woodson’s text.

Visit Woodson’s website to learn more about this award-winning author and 2018-19 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Visit López’ website to see more of his illustrations and artwork. And see also my review of Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics, a book that López illustrated and that would be a wonderful read for National Hispanic Heritage Month.

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 Drum

The moon and stars aligned last Saturday, and I was in London for the launch of today’s Perfect Picture Book. What fun to check out New Beacon Books, a north London bookstore that has specialized in African and Caribbean literature since 1966, and participate in the lively book launch, featuring dancing, stomping and clapping.

DWePGqhXkAAIwmU-1024x1005Title: The Drum

Written By: Ken Wilson-Max

Illustrated By: Catell Ronca

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2018

Suitable for Ages: 2-5

Themes/Topics: music; motion; diversity; poetry; self-expression

Opening:

This is the drum

This is the beat

Brief Synopsis: A diverse group of children enjoys moving to the beat of a drum.

Links to Resources:

  • Make a drum;
  • Listen to drum music;
  • Read about a young Cuban girl who wanted to play the drums in Margarita Engle’s Drum Dream Girl – music, especially the beat of drums, really is universal!

Why I Like this Book:

The drum takes center stage in the first in the Children Music Life series of picture books designed to get children moving and feeling the musical beat. With its diverse cast of characters, The Drum presents a lively celebration of how music unites peoples of different races, ethnicities, genders, ages and socioeconomic status.

I think children and adults will enjoy hearing, over and over again (as young children often ask for beloved books), Wilson-Max’s song-like text and following his prompts to move to the music. As I experienced at the book launch, even very young children were quick to repeat his poetic text, word for word, as they followed the prompts to clap hands, stomp feet, shake shoulders, and move their bodies. Best of all, it was clear that the message to “feel the drum in your heart” was heeded. I could easily envision kids, and maybe some adults, leaving the launch, or finishing a reading, and being inspired to beat on whatever drum-like surface they could find or make.

new-beacon-4-150x150

Wilson-Max at the book launch

Ronca’s bright illustrations that seem to jump off the pages are the perfect accompaniment to Wilson-Max’s staccato text. With minimal backgrounds and a mixture of clothing styles, including many fabrics that could be African or Caribbean inspired, the focus is on the smiling faces and moving bodies of the diverse participants. As Ronca stated in a recent interview, “I wanted the colours to communicate life and make the visuals as striking as possible.” I think you’ll agree that she succeeded.

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Scene from The Drum

The Drum is a great addition to home, classroom and nursery school bookshelves, especially for those desiring to build a diverse library or teach listening and basic musical skills.

A Note about Craft:

With its low word count (about 80 words total), Wilson-Max’s staccato, poetic text mimics the beats of a drum and encourages repetition. This suits the subject matter of The Drum well, I believe, and brought to mind Baptiste Paul’s poetic language in The Field that, to my mind, mimicked the back and forth action of a soccer match. In addition, Wilson-Max’s short, rhythmic language is perfect for younger listeners, like those in nursery schools or music appreciation classes. It’s clear that he tailored his words not just to the subject matter but also to the young ages of his target listeners.

Visit Wilson-Max’s about.me site to learn more about him. See more of Ronca’s artwork on her website.

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

While not currently available in US book shops, The Drum is available through the Book Depository, which ships for free to the US and around the world.

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 – Yo Soy Muslim

 

I pre-ordered today’s Perfect Picture Book after reading about it in one of the recent lists of multicultural books. The title drew me in and the idea of a celebration of multicultural identities intrigued me. We are all special, and a picture book that celebrates the unique traits that make us special is, in my mind, a Perfect Picture Book:

yo-soy-muslim-9781481489362_hr

 

Title: Yo Soy Muslim: A Father’s Letter to his Daughter

Written By: Mark Gonzales

Illustrated By: Mehrdokht Amini

Publisher/date: Salaam Reads, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/August 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: diversity, Muslims, Latinas, multicultural identities

Opening:

It has been said, if you climb a tree to the very top and laugh,

your smile will touch the sky.

Brief Synopsis:

A Muslim Latino father writes a letter to his daughter celebrating their multicultural identity.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Islam;
  • Although Muslims make up a small percentage of the Mexican population (less than 1% as of 2009), there is a long history of Muslims in Mexico, dating back to Spanish colonization, although they were not allowed to openly practice their religion in colonial times; see Islam in Mexico (an article written for adults);
  • Create Mexican Amate folk-art paintings , featuring natural images (plants and animals) from brown paper bags;
  • Try creating Islamic tiles;
  • Yo soy means I am. What are you? Show what makes you unique and special by completing the sentence: I am…

Why I Like this Book:

In sparse, lyrical text, Gonzales breaks down stereotypes as a father’s words inspire a young Latina Muslim to be strong and proud of her diverse heritage. Respecting history, Gonzales conjures images of “Mayan pyramids that too lived amongst the heavens” like modern skyscrapers do today. From the heavens, Gonzalez returns to earth, asking what it means to be human, and preparing the daughter for questions that will be asked of her, “What are you?” “and where are you from?”  He acknowledges that some people “will not smile at” her, but assures her that she will do amazing things, as her ancestors did. In my favorite passage, Gonzalez writes:

No matter what they say, know you are wondrous. A child of crescent moons, a builder of mosques, a descendant of brilliance, an ancestor in training.

To be an ancestor in training, to be one revered by future generations, is something we can wish for all children, and especially for one whose faith and ethnic heritages place her among not one but two peoples who face discrimination within certain sectors today.

yo-soy-muslim-9781481489362.in08

I love that Amini, who grew up in Iran but now lives in England, was chosen to illustrate Yo Soy Muslim. Her jewel-toned illustrations combine imagery from rural Mexico with images from Islam, such as mosques and the crescent moon, and highlight the rich heritage of both cultures.

A Note about Craft:

Yo Soy Muslim is not a traditional children’s story with a named main character who faces a problem and experiences growth. Rather, it is presented as a lyrical letter with the father showing his daughter her history and future, and exhorting her to be proud, even when others disagree.

A few Spanish words are used in the text, but very few. Interestingly, though, the author, or possibly the publisher, chose to use Spanish words in the title. By placing the Spanish terms with Muslim, the reader is alerted right away that the two belong together.

Like Tiny Owl Publishing that built bridges by pairing an Iranian illustrator with a British author in A Bottle of Happiness, Salaam Reads furthered a Latino Muslim’s text by pairing it with the images of an Iranian illustrator. I think this adds another rich layer to the book.

Check out more of Mehrdokht Amini’s art on her website.

Learn more about Salaam Reads, “an imprint that aims to introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works.”

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF: Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics

It’s National Poetry Month, so I thought I’d kick off the month with a new poetry anthology that I believe is a Perfect Picture Book:

9780805098761_p0_v4_s118x184Title: Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics

Written By: Margarita Engle

Illustrated By: Rafael López

Publisher/date: Henry Holt and Co (BYR)/March 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes/Topics: poetry, American history, non-fiction, biography, Hispanics, diversity

Opening:

First Friend (Juan de Miralles, 1713-1780)

I believe in the good cause

of American independence from England.

Thousands of soldiers from Spain

and all the regions of Latin America

are fighting side by side with George Washington’s men,

as we struggle to defeat the British.

Brief Synopsis: A collection of biographical poems about Hispanic Americans, “a variety of amazing people who lived in geographic regions now included in the modern United States.” (quoting Author’s Note)

Links to Resources:

  • Find out more about Latin America;
  • Hispanic is a designation used by the US Census Bureau. Discover what it means to identify as a Latino or Hispanic in the United States for Census purposes;
  • The US Census Bureau maintains a website with activities and teacher resources by education level;
  • Write a poem about a famous or not-so-famous person or write a poem about yourself.

Why I Like this Book:

Engle includes biographical poems about famous and less well-known Hispanics arranged chronologically from the founding of the United States. Shared dreams and lasting contributions to the United States tie these 18 poems together. Bravo! also includes helpful “Notes About the Lives”, that are short prose biographies of those featured, and “More and More Amazing Latinos”, a poetic celebration of other famous Hispanics.

I learned facts that generally are left out of historic accounts, like that Aida de Acosta flew a powered aircraft months before the Wright Brothers’ historic flight; that in addition to Lafayette and his French comrades, Cuban merchant Juan de Miralles helped the American revolutionary cause by shipping fresh citrus to his friend George Washington and his Yorktown troops; and that baseball great Roberto Clemente was also a humanitarian who organized relief efforts following natural disasters.

López’ full-page, brightly-colored portraits complement and contextualize Engles’ poems by surrounding these subjects with the tools of their trades and providing glimpses into the eras in which they lived.

This anthology is a useful resource for homes and classrooms, as Engle has paired the details of these lives with more universal themes. Following are some favorites:

Sometimes friendship

is the sweetest form

of courage. (Juan de Miralles, 1713-1780; Cuba)

When my friend and I walk arm in arm,

it is a wordless statement of equality,

Martí’s light skin and my dark skin

side by side. (Paulina Pedroso, 1845-1925; Cuba)

Nothing makes me feel more satisfied

than a smile on the face of a child who holds

an open book. (Pura Belpré, 1899-1982; Puerto Rico)

I find poetry in tomato fields,

and stories in the faces

of weary workers. (Tomás Rivera, 1935-1984; Mexico)

A Note about Craft:

Engle uses First Person POV in her poems. I believe this helps readers more easily connect with the subjects and the historical moments. I think this is particularly helpful for the intended audience of 8-12 year olds to encourage empathy with and understanding of the lives of these notable Hispanics.

Is Bravo! a picture book? While it is a marriage of illustrations, or more accurately portraits, and words, the words comprise separate poems, or vignettes. They hang together with a common theme, Hispanics who dreamed and left their marks on US culture and history, as an anthology of poems perfect for National Poetry Month or anytime.

Bravo! has been published simultaneously in English and Spanish.

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!