Tag Archives: dreams

PPBF – Boat of Dreams

Today’s perfect picture book has been on my “to review” shelf for a while now, awaiting the right time to review it. It’s not about refugees, those affected by immigration bans, or even by an author from a region affected by war. But its haunting illustrations, focus on journeys, and ambiguous storyline make it a perfect read as leaves begin to fall in the northern hemisphere, nights grow longer, and imaginations run wild.

Title: Boat of Dreams

Written & Illustrated By: Rogério Coelho

Publisher/Date: Tilbury House Publishers/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4 and up

Themes/Topics: wordless, aging, dreams, journeys, imagination, fantasy, loneliness

Opening: (from jacket flap)

How does an old man with an umbrella come to live on a desert island, his only companion a seagull? Ho do a boy and his cat come to live in an apparently deserted city? Are the man and the boy separated only by distance, or also by time? Are they the same person – the boy dwelling in the man’s memory? Between them, in a stoppered bottle, floats a piece of paper on which the man draws a flying boat and the boy imagines himself aboard.

Brief Synopsis: A fantastical, wordless picture book in which an older gentleman draws a ship and sends it to a young boy who adds himself to the picture, and then visits the man.

Links to Resources:

  • Design your own ship;
  • Plan a visit to an older relative or friend. How will you journey there? What will you do once you arrive?
  • Draw a picture for an older relative or friend of something you’d like to do with her or him;
  • Start a “chain” picture, with each person in the chain adding something to the original artwork until, at the end, you have a masterpiece created by two or more persons.

Why I Like this Book:

With its haunting, sepia-toned, intricate images and ambiguous storyline, Boat of Dreams is a wordless picture book that has stayed in my mind long after each reading.

As the story begins, an elderly man on a seemingly deserted island finds an empty piece of paper in a bottle. He draws a detailed flying boat and launches his creation into the sea by setting it afloat in the bottle. When an unnamed young boy living somewhere in an unnamed city finds the picture on his doorstep, he adds himself and his sidekick cat to the image. Either dreaming while asleep or actually journeying in this fantastical tale, the boy and his cat visit the gentleman, hand him the completed drawing, and then depart, leaving the picture behind, fastened to the wall above the man’s bed.

Coehlo never reveals who the two characters are or whether they’re one person at different stages of life. We never know where the story occurs, or if the journey actually happens. But the reader does know that two seemingly lonely people come together to create a piece of art that reflects both of them.

I personally would like to believe that the boy and the older man are grandson and grandfather, separated by distance but drawn together by a love of each other and creativity. I view the story as a way to show how togetherness is possible, despite distance or possibly even political barriers.

What’s wonderful about Boat of Dreams is that it’s open to interpretation, so children reading it may come to a different meaning that speaks to them.

A Note about Craft:

Whether the title refers to an imaginary journey undertaken while asleep, whether the aspirations of the young boy culminate in the life of the older man, or whether the older man is reflecting on the hopes he felt as a boy, I think the title, Boat of Dreams, is an apt one. I also think Coehlo’s use of color to indicate moods, from sepia to shades of blue, serves as a tool to further his storytelling and alert the reader to important happenings in the story.

Visit Coelho’s website to view more of this Brazilian illustrator’s work.

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 – Sleep Well, Siba & Saba

I’m keeping with the back-to-school theme this week, as I always think of school in September. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that they both start with the letter S, as do the names of the main characters of today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Sleep Well, Siba & Saba

Written By: Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl

Illustrated By: Sandra van Doorn

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing Ltd./2017

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: school, lost possessions, dreams, #ReadYourWorld

Opening:

Siba and Saba lost things. Not a day slipped by when the sisters hadn’t lost something…somewhere.

Brief Synopsis: Two sisters in Uganda dream of items they’ve lost each day, until one day their dreams are of the future.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover Uganda, in central Africa, the setting for this story;
  • Have you ever lost something? What did you do? Describe or draw something you’ve lost. Did you find it? How did you feel?
  • Describe or draw a dream you’ve had.

Why I Like this Book:

With its two loving sisters and snippets of their lives in Uganda, Sleep Well, Siba & Saba acts as a window into a place and lifestyle that many of us probably may never experience. As the story begins, the reader learns that the two sisters constantly are losing things, like scarves and shoes, everything except what really matters: each other. Each night, the sisters dream of the items they’ve lost. Often these dreams incorporate colorful scenes from Uganda, including the savannah and landmarks like Sipi Falls and Ssese Islands.

But one night, the girls’ dreams turn from past lost items to the future, including, for Saba, a new school uniform. In the final spread, the sisters encounter a signpost with several international cities, Mount Everest and the moon featured – as they dream of the future, who knows what they’ll see.

I love the positivity of this story. Incorporating Ugandan phrases and names and utilizing lyrical language, Sleep Well, Siba & Saba transported me into their fantasy-filled world. I especially loved the whimsical and colorful illustrations filled with the fabrics, wildlife and plants native to Uganda. And I think younger children will enjoy finding their pet dog in most scenes. Even she dreams of future treats!

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, Isdahl includes Ugandan phrases, names, and landmarks to place us in the story. Van Doorn furthers this by including sweeping savannahs and colorful fabrics throughout the spreads. By incorporating dreams and fantastical illustrations, I think the author and illustrator heighten the sense that we’re visiting a unique world where dreams, in fact, come true. That a school uniform is part of that dream shows, I think, that education is the way for Siba and Saba, and all readers, to reach their goals – even the moon.

Sleep Well, Siba & Saba is Isdahl’s debut picture book. Isdahl, an American-born writer of Ugandan descent who now lives and works in Africa, is also the author of Sing to the Moon, illustrated by van Doorn. View more of van Doorn’s illustrations at her website.

Lantana Publishing is an independent UK publisher, “an award-winning social enterprise with a mission to see all children reflected in the books they read.”

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 – Neema’s Reason to Smile

I was fortunate to win today’s Perfect Picture Book in a giveaway late last year from Pragmatic Mom. It was reviewed for Children’s Multicultural Book Day this past January by my friend, Vivian Kirkfield, so I wanted to wait until just the right time to review it, too. Because so many kids are returning to school this month, I think today is the perfect time. I hope you agree!

Title: Neema’s Reason to Smile

Written By: Patricia Newman

Illustrated By: Mehrdokht Amini

Publisher/Date: Lightswitch Learning, a Sussman Education company/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: school, Africa, poverty, dreams

Opening:

Mama and I climb the hill to our favorite rock overlooking the savanna. We dream of the future while elephant take mud baths in the fading light.

Brief Synopsis:

Young Neema dreams of attending school to better her life, and, with her Mama, works hard to fill the Dream Basket to collect money for school fees.

Links to Resources:

  • Create your own Dream Basket, by following the instructions in the book. What will you do with the money you collect? Buy something for yourself, a family member or friend? Donate to a favorite cause?
  • Neema walks to and from school each day. How do you get to school? Describe in words or pictures your route to school;
  • Describe in words or pictures something that makes you smile;
  • Learn about the real school on which Neema’s school is based, the Jambo Jipya School in Mtwapa, Kenya, and see how you might support its work through the reason2smile organization.

Why I Like this Book:

As children in much of the world head back to school this month, I think this is a perfect book to explore how much education means to so many in this world. Set in an unnamed African village, Neema’s Reason to Smile follows young Neema as she dreams of attending school. But attending school in her region costs money, for school fees, supplies, and a uniform. So Neema helps by selling fruit that she carries on her head to the village, and Mama sews to add, slowly, to the Dream Basket of coins.

Just as Neema worries that they’ll never earn enough to pay for school, they learn that maybe the Basket holds enough after all (I won’t spoil the ending by sharing any details).

Newman peppers the story with references to local characters and comparisons to animals found in the savannah, like the lion, gazelle, egret, and zebra.

Amini’s vibrant and colorful illustrations made me feel like I was journeying with Neema to the village and school.

Whether you read this at home with your school-aged child or in a classroom setting, I think kids and adults will enjoy learning about how one girl dreams of a better future and how she works hard to achieve that goal. Included are Discussion Questions, Activities, a Group Activity, Author’s Note and Glossary to further your knowledge.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Newman informs readers that the idea for Neema’s Reason to Smile arose from a phone call with a librarian in New York City who wanted to share the story of a real school in Kenya, on which Neema’s school is based. After many telephone calls with the school’s founders and teachers and after viewing many videos of the school and students, Newman wrote this fictional story which highlights the desire for learning exhibited by the real students and their perseverance to attend school. Creating a fictional main character and story while remaining true to the experiences of actual students enables Newman to draw a more complete picture of the school, I think, and better incorporate universal themes into the story.

Visit Newman’s website to see more of her books that “empower young readers to act”.

Amini was born in Iran but currently lives in England. Visit her website to see more of her work.

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 – 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!