Tag Archives: Diversity

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!

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 -The Princess and the Warrior

Last Friday was the fourth annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day, and many bloggers reviewed diverse books that day. I chose to review The Three Lucys, set in Lebanon during a period of conflict.

Last Friday, as most of the world already knows, also was the day the current US President signed an executive order temporarily banning travel to the US for anyone born in, or a citizen of, seven predominantly Muslim countries, indefinitely barring Syrians from travel to the US, and halting the refugee resettlement program for the next four months, including for those already approved for resettlement and even for those in transit. Earlier that week, he reiterated his infamous campaign pledge to build a Wall along the Mexican border.

While authors and illustrators from these regions may be barred or discouraged from travel to the US, I believe their voices and the stories they tell must be shared with children here. To that end, my reviews will focus on picture books written and illustrated by those from the regions affected by current US government directives, books about the refugee and immigrant experience generally, and stories from these cultures. Folks who have read my reviews this past year know that many of the books I’ve reviewed meet these criteria already. I’ll be doubling down, though, to locate and review even more of them. I invite readers to share their favorite picture books in these categories in the comments. After all, isn’t any picture book that introduces us to different cultures, that sheds light on different experiences, or that opens our minds to the world a Perfect Picture Book?

9781419721304_p0_v1_s118x184Title: The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2016

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: origin myth, Aztecs, volcanoes, diversity, love story, native legends

Opening:

            Once upon a time, there lived a kind and beautiful princess named Izta. Even though she was the daughter of an emperor, she loved to spend time with the people who grew corn in the milpas. She liked to teach them poetry, or flor y canto.

Brief Synopsis:

The Princess and the Warrior is a love story about a poetry-loving princess and a warrior, and a retelling of an Aztec origin myth that explains the appearance of two volcanoes in central Mexico.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover more about the Aztecs, and other indigenous peoples of Mexico and central America,
  • Learn more about volcanoes and make a model volcano,
  • Iztaccíhuatl means white woman in the Nahuatl language, the language spoken by the Aztecs, and is often called la Mujer Dormida, the “Sleeping Woman” because its peak resemble a woman lying under a blanket of snow (see the Author Note). Draw the outline of a many-peaked mountain: what do you see? Could it be a face, a human or animal form, or something else?

Why I Like this Book:

I love origin myths, and I love discovering folk tales from other countries. Tonatiuh includes a strong female princess, who shares poetry with farm workers and rejects suiters who try to woo her with material gifts and a posh lifestyle, and a loyal warrior, who loves Princess Izta because of her “kind and beautiful heart” and who pledges to “stay by… [her] side no matter what”. By doing so, he elevates this myth from a story from the past to one that includes important role models for children today.

Drawing on images in the Mixtec Codices, Tonatiuh’s hand-drawn, digitally-collaged artwork set against earth-toned backgrounds invites readers to imagine the Aztec world at the heart of this love story.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author Note, Tonatiuh indicates that he added his own twists to the original myth. I can pick out hints of Beauty and the Beast, with Izta’s love of poetry, Sleeping Beauty, as Izta falls asleep after drinking a poisoned potion, and Romeo and Juliet.

The inclusion of Nahuatl words and phrases adds to the authentic feel of the story. Thankfully, Tonatiuh includes a Glossary with meanings, and importantly for this non-Spanish/non-Nahuatl speaker, a pronunciation guide!

The Warrior and the Princess is a 2017 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book, was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of 2016, and received many starred reviews. Discover Tonatiuh’s many other books on his website.

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 Three Lucys

I first learned of today’s Perfect Picture Book when I read a Lee & Low Books blog post last summer about tackling heavy themes in children’s stories. As this is a debut picture book by Lebanese-American author, editor and poet Hayan Charara and as it features an international setting and main character, I think it’s a Perfect Picture Book to help us celebrate the fourth annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day.

9781600609985_p0_v2_s192x300Title: The Three Lucys

Written By: Hayan Charara

Illustrated By: Sara Kahn

Publisher/date: Lee & Low Books/2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-9 or older

Themes/Topics: war, loss, cats, Lebanon, diversity

Opening:

On the hill behind our house in Lebanon, there is an olive tree. I like to sit in the shade of the tree with the three Lucys: Lucy the Fat, Lucy the Skinny, and Lucy Lucy.

Brief Synopsis: When war breaks out in Lebanon, a young Luli and his parents must remain at the home of relatives, even as Luli worries about the pet cats that are waiting at home. Upon Luli’s return home, at least two of the cats are found to be safe.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Lebanon;
  • Make & eat traditional Lebanese cookies;
  • Discussing war, hateful speech or actions, and tragedies with children is never easy; a few sites I found that may help include a Unicef site, Race to Peace, a site that includes links to many peace-promoting organizations, and a Parent Resource on the Fred Rogers Organization site.

Why I Like this Book:

The Three Lucys begins and ends with a description of domestic life and pet ownership that I think will captivate any child. I loved the glimpse into Luli’s life and the reminder that even in regions which many of us consider “war torn,” there is beauty. Luli “learned to catch fish” in the sea to the west; Beirut is “full of taxicabs, buses, and honking cars…falafel sandwiches and freshly squeezed fruit drinks.” And like kids anywhere, Luli loves his pet cats and takes good care of them.

When fighting erupts, Charara shows readers the war through Luli’s perspective. We learn that the school is badly damaged, but that a tree in the schoolyard remains. We also learn that Luli’s heart “feels as heavy as an apple falling from a tree,” an image that shows Luli’s grief so vividly.

The images of Sara Kahn, a cat-loving Iranian-American, capture the bond between Luli and the Lucys, the terror felt by the family as bombs fill the sky, and the destruction left in their wake.

A Note about Craft:

Presumably because of the difficult subject matter, the older target audience and the relative unfamiliarity of many American readers with this region and subject matter, at 1854 words, the word count of The Three Lucys is notably longer than the average picture book. I think books of this nature generally are longer, as more background is necessary to place the events and emotional journey into context.

War and loss are never easy subjects, especially in picture books. To soften the blow, while maintaining the messaging, I think Mr. Charara’s choice of loss is insightful. As a pet owner & lover, I understand that the loss of a pet is never easy, but unlike a person, the cat could have wandered or been frightened away – Lucy disappears but Charara never states that she dies. This leaves open the possibility that Lucy could be living happily elsewhere, which generally couldn’t be true if Lucy were a person. I think this glimmer of hope is important. Additionally, including three Lucys with two survivors enables Charara to circle back to the beginning, even as Luli remembers Lucy and grieves for her.

Finally, The Three Lucys is written in the first person, bringing immediacy to the story but also letting Luli show us that he is surviving, even as he grieves for Lucy.

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!