Tag Archives: dreams

PPBF – Malala’s Magic Pencil

When I first read the title and saw the jacket of today’s Perfect Picture Book, I couldn’t help but think back to my days at university in upstate New York. As I traveled back and forth to campus, I’d pass many dilapidated, rural houses. I recall thinking that if I could paint these houses, I’d somehow improve the lives of the inhabitants.

While I know that a coat of paint isn’t the answer to economic inequality or other social ills, I also understand the desire to magically make the world better, expressed so well in today’s Perfect Picture Book.

thTitle: Malala’s Magic Pencil

Written By: Malala Yousafzai

Illustrated By: Karascoët

Publisher/date: Little Brown and Company/October 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: female education; Pakistan; dreams; autobiography; social justice

Opening:

Do you believe in magic?

Brief Synopsis: The story of Malala Yousafzai, a proponent and symbol of female education.

Links to Resources:

  • If you had a magic pencil what would you draw?
  • Learn more about Pakistan, the country where Malala dreamt of a magic pencil, here and here, and see a map of Pakistan here.

Why I Like this Book:

As the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala is a well-recognized young woman. Most of us probably know the story of the attack that led to her global fame, too. Malala’s Magic Pencil focuses, instead, mainly on her early years, when she was a young child like many others, focused solely on her own desires.

We meet a young Malala who discovered the idea of a magic pencil from a favorite television hero. She writes not that she wanted to change the world with her magic pencil, but rather she wanted to draw a lock on a door “so my brothers couldn’t bother me.” Even her first recognition of societal problems, a trash dump near her home, is expressed as a desire to get rid of an odor that bothers her.

We then learn that as she grows, Malala increasingly becomes aware of social inequities. Her use of the magic pencil evolves to include erasing “war, poverty, and hunger,” until, as she writes in a letter to readers at the end of the story, “when you find your voice, every pencil can be magic.” Shared by such a young woman who was a child so recently, I think this is a message that will resonate with young listeners. Despite some dark scenes, this is a gentle lesson for children that their voices and actions can help change the world for the better.

The ink and watercolor illustrations are stunning! Golden accents that reminded me of henna markings or South Asian artwork effectively conveyed me to Pakistan and the “beautiful Swat Valley” of Malala’s childhood.

A Note about Craft:

Malala’s Magic Pencil is an autobiography, told from the first-person point of view. I think this works well for this story, as it is Malala’s story and imparts a sense of immediacy to the action.

Malala also addresses the reader directly at the beginning of the story, “Do you believe in magic?”, poses a variant of the question at the end, and then answers it. Observant readers will note that the meaning of “magic” changes subtly during the course of the story. I think this could be an interesting classroom or family discussion topic, especially with older children.

Finally, rather than focusing on the theme of the book at the outset, Malala gently guides her readers to the conclusion that using words, your voice, to effect social action is magical. What object could you use in a story to introduce your themes?

Read more about Malala and the Malala Fund. For another picture book about Malala, see Malala/Iqbal: Two Stories of Bravery (Jeanette Winter; Beach Lane Books/2014)

Find out more about the illustrator team, Kerascoët.

For a picture book with a similar message of the power of changing the world via words and/or pictures, see When I Coloured in the World (Ahmadreza Hamadi/Ehsan Abdollahi; Tiny Owl Publishing/2017).

9781910328071-150x150

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 – Gary

Happy New Year! And welcome to another year of Perfect Picture Book Friday – my second year as a participating blogger.

Thanks to an anti-resolution revolution post from Julie Hedlund, I spent the waning hours of 2016 focused not just on goals for 2017, but on all that I accomplished in 2016. I realized that I not only read over 400 picture books last year, but reviewed over 50 of them.

As regular readers know, I have a penchant for reviewing books by English author/illustrators, those featuring difficult topics and/or highlighting diverse characters, and books that generally are considered quiet. Today’s Perfect Picture Book hits all three categories (although the author/illustrator now resides in Australia). Enjoy! And cheers to a new year of reading, writing and reviewing picture books! Thanks for following along!

9780763689544_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Gary

Written & Illustrated By: Leila Rudge

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press/2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: adventure, travel, dreams, overcoming fear, overcoming physical limitations, perseverance, being different

Opening:

Most of the time, Gary was just like the other racing pigeons.

He ate the same seeds. Slept in the same loft. And dreamed of adventure.

Brief Synopsis: When a racing pigeon who can’t fly suddenly finds himself lost in the city, he relies on other skills to find a way back home.

Links to Resources:

  • Create a map of your room, house, or route to/from school, friend’s or relative’s house, or even a picture book;
  • Many forms of transportation are shown in Gary. Find and list these ways to travel. How many have you used?
  • Create a scrapbook of mementos from a favorite journey, memorializing a favorite event, or about a hobby or sport you love.
  • Find out more about racing pigeons (who knew there’s a Royal Pigeon Racing Association in the UK?).

Why I Like this Book:

Simple title, simple story, simple message: it’s ok to be different. Keep dreaming, as you will find a way to realize your dreams. What better message than that as we start the new year?

The text is straightforward and the illustrations, a mixture of colored pencil, paint and collage, capture Gary’s love of scrapbooking journeys and showcase many aspects of the journey he ultimately enjoys.

A Note about Craft:

When I think about what makes a first line great, I think Ms. Rudge has hit the mark with the first line of Gary. “Most of the time” – so sometimes something is different; “Gary was just like the other racing pigeons.” How is he just like them? How is he different? And what, exactly, are racing pigeons? I want to know more!

Interestingly, the text doesn’t start until page two (with some awesome illustrations on the endpapers, too). We learn then that Gary is sometimes different from the other racing pigeons and that he, and they, dream of “adventure”. It isn’t until page three that we learn that Gary stays at home on race days, and we wait another page to learn why. Combined with illustrations showing Gary busily compiling a travel scrapbook, Rudge’s text spurred me to read on. What a great lesson in perfect openings!

As noted above, Gary is a story of being different and overcoming limitations to realize dreams.  Rather than choosing a human child as main character, perhaps sidelined on a playing field, foot in cast or sitting in a wheelchair, Rudge chooses a species with a sport about which most of us know nothing. I can envision this giving rise to some interesting conversations about differences, dreams, and overcoming limitations. Brilliant!

Finally, Rudge ends Gary by circling back to repeat the first lines, with a twist. Classic picture book ending!

Find out more about Leila Rudge. Read the starred Kirkus Review here.

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 Cow Who Climbed a Tree

Regular readers know that my tastes often run towards more serious subjects told in more realistic or allegorical ways. But sometimes I read an outrageously silly book that I can’t get out of my mind. And when the main character is a Cow on a day when I’m off to visit my daughter who simply adored cows as a child, how could I not feature this Perfect Picture Book:

9780807512982_p0_v2_s192x300Title: The Cow Who Climbed a Tree

Written & Illustrated By: Gemma Merino

Publisher/date: Albert Whitman & Company/2016 (UK: Macmillan Children’s Books/2015)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Cows, dreams, creative thinking, taking chances, being true to oneself

Opening: “Tina was a very curious cow. She had a thirst for discovery.”

Brief Synopsis: Tina the cow is an explorer, dreamer and science-lover, unlike her sisters who are happy to eat grass and live like cows. They don’t believe that Tina can climb a tree and has met a dragon until they learn otherwise.

Links to Resources:

  • Create a cow tree-climbing game by completing this sentence: If a cow can climb a tree, then I can…; share what you can do, by charade gestures, drawing or otherwise showing your dream.
  • Discuss what attributes enable some animals to climb trees; what keeps others from climbing them? What can cows do that other animals can’t do?
  • Discuss other impossible things and inventions, including famous scientists and inventors and famous female inventors.

Why I Like this Book: This is a silly book – everyone knows that cows can’t climb trees, right? Just like we know that cars can’t map routes, that people can’t walk on the moon or float in space for months, and that grandparents can’t read bedtime stories to kids on the other side of the world. Right?

Cows climbing trees may seem silly now, but who knows, someday it may happen. And even if not, I love the spunk Tina exhibits and her dreaming, risk taking, and plucky determination to push boundaries to achieve the impossible. I also love that this female-centric, dare-to-dream story is such a great conversation starter about following dreams and reaching for the impossible. And all packaged in a dream-like landscape of soft, watercolor trees and forest.

A Note about Craft:

We talk about kid-appeal and kid-centric writing quite a bit. I think Ms. Merino nailed it here: who but a kid would think up a story about a cow climbing a tree. Like our own kids who may have or had imaginary friends or a fear of a “bogey man”, this premise is entirely plausible…to a kid or someone with a kid’s perspective. Ms. Merino presents it in a very matter-of-fact way. By changing just a few words of the opening, it would read like a biography (e.g., Marie Curie was a very curious girl. She had a thirst for discovery.). The dreamy illustrations that accompany the matter-of-fact story elevate the story to one that will make kids and adults alike wonder whether this may be a dream of the future after all.

Gemma Merino won the 2016 London Evening Standard’s Oscars Book Prize for The Cow Who Climbed a Tree.

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 Darkest Dark

As nights become longer and Halloween looms, my thoughts turn to things-that-go-bump in the night. Who can say that they’ve never been afraid of the dark? Whether down in a cobweb-covered basement, along a deserted sidewalk, or even in your own bedroom (true confession: to this day, I can’t sleep with a closet door open), I think it’s safe to say that everyone, at some point in her or his life, has been afraid of the dark.  Which is why I’ve chosen to feature Today’s Perfect Picture Book:

 

9780316394727_p0_v1_s192x300Title: The Darkest Dark

Written By: Chris Hadfield & Kate Fillion

Illustrated By: The Fan Brothers

Publisher/date:  Little Brown and Company/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: darkness, fears, dreams, space exploration, history, first steps on the moon

Opening: “Chris was an astronaut. An important and very busy astronaut. When it was time to take a bath, he told his mother, “I’d love to, but I’m saving the planet from aliens.”

Brief Synopsis: Based on a true story, astronaut Chris Hadfield shares incidents from his childhood when he was afraid of the dark, and how he overcame that fear to realize his dream of becoming an astronaut.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon;
  • Ask an adult to share recollections of that first moon walk, or another historical event

Why I Like this Book:

I well remember Apollo 11 and those first steps on the moon (am I dating myself?). In an era when many of us worry about children watching newscasts, and in an era when we often view news instantaneously, alone on individual phones, tablets or computer screens, I loved reliving the moonwalk and experiencing it through the eyes of a space-loving child surrounded by family and friends huddled in front of one black and white television. And while I’ve never dreamed about becoming an astronaut, I love books that show kids how someone can achieve his or her dreams when they overcome fear or other obstacles.

With their blue-gray, moody palette, the Fan Brothers are the perfect choice to illustrate this story. The illustrations combine fantasy, including the dark-loving aliens of Chris’ imagination, and more realistic, almost photographic, images. Befitting a book about darkness, the palette is understandably dark. As befitting a book about an historical occurrence, the illustrations at times are granular, much like the 1960s television images of the first steps on the moon.

A Note about Craft:

Chris Hadfield is a real-life astronaut who has teamed with collaborator Kate Fillion to highlight a problem of his childhood, fear of the dark, and the incident/realization that helped him overcome his fear. The story follows a typical arc: MC wants something, overcomes a problem, and changes. In order, The Darkest Dark presents Chris’ dream, to become an astronaut (see Opening, above, which shows young Chris playing at being an astronaut), explores his fear of the dark and the problems it causes, and offers the solution via the incident that changed everything for him, in this case one of the most momentous events in history. By focusing on this one childhood weakness and showing how he overcame it, Chris offers a way for children to think about overcoming their own fears and realizing their dreams. I think this broadens the scope, and market, of the book beyond the particulars of an astronaut and space, to encompass all dreaming children who overcome fear to realize their dreams.

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list.

PPBF – The Wonder

As any parent, grandparent or caregiver can attest, early childhood is a time of questioning: “Why…”, “Where…” “When…” Sometimes it seems as if the questioning is never-ending. At such times, we will do the child, and ourselves, a favor by stepping back, taking a deep breath, closing our eyes, and wondering – just like the young child in today’s Perfect Picture Book.

9780763679576_p0_v1_s118x184Title: The Wonder

Written & Illustrated By: Faye Hanson

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press/2015 (originally published in the UK, Templar Books/2014)

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: Imagination, creativity, art, dreams

Opening: “This is a boy whose head is filled with wonder. On the way to the bus stop, he wonders where the birds are flying to.”

Brief Synopsis: A young boy imagines many different sights on his journey to school and during the school day, only to be rebuffed by most of the adults he encounters.

Links to Resources:

  • Use your imagination to draw or color on a blank sheet of paper
  • Tell a story about a picture in a museum or an old photograph you find at home

Why I Like this Book:

The Wonder captures the questioning of a young child and reminds adult readers that it’s ok to stop and smell the roses, to daydream, to wonder. And it’s a reminder to young listeners that it’s ok to share your dreams and to persevere in dreaming.

While it could be easy to focus on the negative reactions of the classroom and science teachers in the story, I’d prefer to focus on the positive influence of the art teacher who has left a “blank sheet of paper” waiting for the children, who encourages the boy to “use your imagination,” and who praises his work when the boy hesitantly shares it. As is visible on the blackboard of this school art room, “‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.’ Picasso” In this debut picture book, author/illustrator Faye Hanson, who hails from northern England, shows that she has solved Picasso’s dilemma.

A Note about Craft:

The Wonder is a perfect example of the essence of a picture book: the story exists as much in the illustrations as the text, perhaps even more so. From the sepia tones of the real world to the fanciful, colorful images in the child’s head, including the five double-spread illustrations midway through the book (which reminded this reader of certain album cover artwork from the late ‘60s, early ‘70s psychedelic era), the illustrations show the wonder in the unnamed protagonist’s head as he journeys through his day. 

Interestingly, the book deviates from the usual 32 page norm, and is, instead, 40 pages in length. Ms. Hanson has put these extra pages to good use with double spreads incorporating the nay-saying adults the child meets into the imaginary worlds where he believes they belong. Children and adults will find much to savor in these spreads. And for those who have read Megan Dowd Lambert’s Reading Picture Books with Children, the use of boxes to frame some of the encounters and full-bleed double page spreads for the scenes of wonder are well worth pointing out during a read-aloud session.

Note: Faye Hanson’s new picture book, Midnight at the Zoo, debuted recently. I can’t wait to read it and explore the illustrations!