Tag Archives: dreams

PPBF – When the Horses Ride By: Children in the Times of War

April is National Poetry Month, so I’ve chosen a poetry collection this week, by a wonderful writer, Eloise Greenfield, whose picture book, Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me, I reviewed last year (and it’s now available for US readers to enjoy!).

Title: When the Horses Ride By: Children in the Times of War

Written By: Eloise Greenfield

Illustrated By: Jan Spivey Gilchrist

Publisher/Date: Lee & Low Books/2006

Suitable for Ages: 8-9

Themes/Topics: war; peace; dreams; imagination; resilience; diverse books

Opening:

I Think I Know

I think I know what war/ is all about./ Listen:/ This one was mad at that one,/ and that one was angry, too./ Then the others said,/ “Since you two are mad, we’re going to be mad at you.”/ Now, everyone’s mad/ at somebody else,/ and everyone wants to be right./ And how to decide/ who the winner is?/ They fight.

Brief Synopsis: A collection of 17 poems about children and war throughout history.

Links to Resources:

  • Write an acrostic poem in celebration of peace, using the letters in PEACE as the first letters of each line;
  • As a foreword to When the Horses Ride By, Greenfield quotes a portion of Langston Hughes’ “Dreams” (©1994, Estate of Langston Hughes): Hold fast to dreams/ For if dreams die/ Life is a broken-winged bird/ That cannot fly. Describe or draw your dreams for peace;
  • Think about a time in your family, classroom, school or neighborhood when you or others were angry. What did you do? Think of 3 ways you could promote a peaceful resolution to this conflict;
  • Make and share a peace crane;
  • Celebrate National Poetry Month by reading & writing poems and participating in other activities in your school or town.

Why I Like this Book:

When the Horses Ride By explores a difficult topic, children during times of war. But rather than leaving readers feeling sad and hopeless, Greenfield uses free-verse poetry to explore children’s resilience and show us that even in terrible circumstances, there is hope of a better tomorrow. Arranged in roughly chronological order, the poems provide glimpses into the relationship of children to war from ancient China, through early American conflicts, to world wars, Vietnam, apartheid in South Africa, and the Gulf War of the early 2000s.

Teachers and parents will appreciate this great geographical and historical breadth and the inclusion of a diverse group of children and experiences. There’s also a wonderful range of feelings about wartime, including poems about being on the sidelines of war zones, being afraid in war zones, missing parents, understanding soldier parents who return home with injuries, and celebrating the end of war and apartheid.

I particularly enjoyed A Child Like Me, that encourages children to empathize with other children in other places who share the same “scary thoughts”. But “[i]f we laugh, our laughter will meet in the middle of the ocean, and we will be friends.”

Gilchrist’s colorful collages combine site and era specific details, including photographs, with images of children’s faces and child-like pursuits, including toys.

A Note about Craft:

Greenfield uses poetry to describe the many varied ways that war affects children and how children react to war. I think this medium enables Greenfield to explore this difficult topic in a way that doesn’t leave readers feeling hopeless. Using poems about different wars, both geographically and throughout history, also enables readers to distance themselves somewhat from the conflicts and to come to the realization that “surrounded by love” that takes them “through the danger days”, the children will survive with their wonder, wisdom, laughter and hope, as they “are the children…still”.

Greenfield is the author of almost 50 books for children, and has received many awards, including the 2018 Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children from the National Council of Teachers of English. Read a 2007 interview by Don Tate in The Brown Bookshelf, including a discussion about When the Horses Ride By.

Visit Gilchrist’s website to see more of her award-winning books and illustrations.

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!

 

PPBF – Imagine

As a new year dawns, imagine the possibilities that await!

Title: Imagine

Written By: Juan Felipe Herrera

Illustrated By: Lauren Castillo

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes/Topics: migrant; dreams; poetry

Opening:

If I picked chamomile flowers/ as a child/ in the windy fields and whispered/ to their fuzzy faces,/ imagine

Brief Synopsis: A young boy invites readers to imagine what they could do, as they learn about the varied experiences of his life.

Links to Resources:

  • Try writing a poem like Herrera has, by starting a sentence, “If I”, and ending with “imagine”;
  • Have you ever slept outside under the stars? Draw a picture of what you saw or heard;
  • Have you ever spoken or sang in front of a large audience? Describe how you felt;
  • Herrera’s family were migrant farm workers, who moved from place to place to find work. Have you ever moved? How did you feel?

Why I Like this Book:

Imagine is a quiet, poetic picture book that gently encourages children to imagine what they can do, what they can become. Sharing scenes from his childhood in a migrant farming family, former US Poet Laureate Herrera ends most scenes with the term “imagine”, inviting children to think about childhood experiences that probably differ from their own and to empathize with the child narrator. He also addresses readers directly at a few points in the poem and asks them to “imagine what you could do…”

Imagine’s peaceful, contemplative text will soothe listeners at bedtime and could also be a powerful classroom tool to help build empathy for others. In a classroom setting, I can envision teachers questioning students in particular about Herrera’s entry to a new, English-speaking school, even though he didn’t know “how to read or speak in English”, and contrasting that with a scene “in front of my familia and many more”, as he read as an adult from his poetry book on the “high steps” of the Library of Congress as Poet Laureate.

Castillo’s earth-toned, pen and monoprint illustrations further the dreamy, contemplative feel of the text, providing further encouragement to listeners to imagine the young poet’s life and their own possibilities.

A Note about Craft:

At its core, Imagine is a memoir targeted to young readers/listeners. By using poetic language, by relating the story using first-person point-of-view, and by addressing the reader/listener directly, Herrera stretches it much further, rendering his life story a gentle lesson for readers of all ages, reminding us that we, too, can dream and achieve our goals.

It’s always a fine line between adding descriptive adjectives in a picture book, that risk not leaving room for the illustrations to tell part of the story, and leaving them out. Herrera, though, chooses carefully, entering “my classroom’s wooden door” –  which could be any size, shape or color, and climbing “high steps” to the Library of Congress – how high and what color and material are left to the illustrator to show. I especially liked the image of “gooey and sticky ink pens” that the young poet used to grab “a handful/ of words” and sprinkle “them over a paragraph/ so I could write/ a magnificent story,/ imagine”.

Learn more about Herrera’s life and works at poets.org. See more of Castillo’s artwork on her website.

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!

PPBF – A Drop of the Sea

From the sea as a Blue Road, as in last week’s Perfect Picture Book (Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea) to the sea as a dreamed-of destination, I’ve been enjoying quite a few “sea” stories lately. Here’s the latest!

Title: A Drop of the Sea

Written By: Ingrid Chabbert

Illustrated By: Raúl Nieto Guridi

Publisher/Date: Kids Can Press/2018 (originally published in France as Un bout de mer, Éditions Frimousse/2017)

Suitable for Ages: 4-7 (and older)

Themes/Topics: sea; desert; dreams; gift; kindness; intergenerational; aging; book in translation; #ReadYourWorld.

Opening:

Ali lives at the edge of the desert, not far from a hundred-year-old palm tree. He likes climbing it to snack on fresh dates. He never forgets to pick a few for his great-grandmother, too.

Brief Synopsis: Ali’s aging great-grandmother has always wanted to visit the sea. With bucket in hand, Ali journeys to the sea and and back to share the sea with her.

Links to Resources:

  • Fill a bucket with water. Try not to spill any! How far can you carry it? Why is a bucket full of water heavier than an empty bucket?
  • What place do you dream about? Draw a picture or write a description of that place;
  • Think of good deeds you can do for a family member or friend;
  • This story takes place in a desert, where there is little water. Learn about water scarcity and what you can do to help.

Why I Like this Book:

What would you do for someone you love? This question is at the heart of A Drop of the Sea. When Ali learns that his aging great-grandmother has always wanted to visit the sea but is no longer physically able to journey there, he sets off on a two-day journey to the coast, bucket in hand, to bring the sea to her: if she can’t journey there, he’ll bring the sea to her. But carrying a bucket brimming with sea water for two days is no easy task, especially in the hot sun and dry air of North Africa, the setting of the story.

As is evident from the title, Ali delivers mere drops of the sea. And the result? The elderly woman “starts to cry,” not because she is sad or upset, but because “this is one of the most beautiful days of my life!” And Ali? His “heart soars.”

Focused as it is on Ali’s kindness, the grandmother’s dreams, the “failed” attempt, and the reactions, I think A Drop of the Sea is a thought-provoking reminder of what it means to give and receive, to fail and succeed, to grow more infirm or stronger, and of the importance of actions & experiences over objects. In the midst of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Green Monday and SALE signs accosting us everywhere, perhaps we’d do well to remember that a drop of the sea is all that we, and the children in our lives, need.

Like the text and the setting, Gurudi’s digitally-rendered gouache and pencil illustrations are sparse and evocative. Much of the time, the sand appears more like lined-paper than actual sand, and in one spread, the route of the journey appears as a map underfoot. Is Guridi implying that this story is, in fact, a fairy tale or fable, set down here to make us think about timeless issues of aging, water-scarcity, dreams, and gifts? While I don’t know the answer, I believe the illustrations add an additional layer to discuss after reading  A Drop of the Sea.

A Note about Craft:

As noted above, the title, A Drop of the Sea, almost reveals the outcome of the story. It also, though, is very intriguing, especially when combined with the overwhelmingly simple and beige cover illustration. As authors or editors, we know that we need to weigh the pros and cons of revealing too much or not enough with a title. In this case, I think they made the right choice.

A Drop of the Sea is a simple, straightforward story, with only two characters depicted and little indication of time period, contemporary or historical, or place (we know only that it’s a vast desert, a two-day walk from a sea coast, and we presume it’s North Africa). Clearly Ali does not live alone with his great-grandmother in a vast desert with no other family, friends or neighbors anywhere near. But as these other characters are not essential to the story, the author and illustrator haven’t cluttered the story with them. By leaving others out, I think the author and illustrator have enabled readers to focus better on the issues that matter, namely, the great-grandmother’s dream, Ali’s attempt to fulfill it, and the outcome. What clutters your story, and what can you strip away to enable readers to experience its heart?

Per the book jacket, French author Chabbert has published “dozens” of books, including several picture book collaborations with Guridi. Spanish illustrator Guridi is an “award-winning illustrator of many children’s books”.

Read an insightful review of A Drop of the Sea in CM: Canadian Review of Materials.

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 – 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).

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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.