Tag Archives: empathy

PPBF – My Name is Not Refugee

According to news reports I’ve read, more travelers will be on the road and in the skies in the US than ever before this Thanksgiving weekend, traveling to celebrate the holiday with family and friends. But as we celebrate, I think it’s important to remember those that travel for different reasons, including the boy and his mother in today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: My Name is Not Refugee

Written & Illustrated By:  Kate Milner

Publisher/Date: The Bucket List (an imprint of Barrington Stoke/2017)

Suitable for Ages: 5 and under

Themes/Topics: refugees; moving; empathy

Opening:

We have to leave this town, my mother told me, it’s not safe for us, she said. Shall I tell you what it will be like?

Brief Synopsis: Step by step, a mother explains to her young son that they are leaving the home they know because it isn’t safe and traveling to a new place where they’ll have to learn a new language, eat different foods, and otherwise adapt.

Links to Resources:

  • Describe or draw a journey or walk you’ve taken;
  • Find many more activities in the Teacher Toolkit;
  • Try one or more of the 20 Simple Acts to learn more about refugees or help one or more of them feel welcome in your school or community.

Why I Like this Book:

In simple, child-friendly sentences, a mother explains to her young son their upcoming journey and what they may find in their new home. Unlike many picture books about the refugee experience, Milner mentions and shows the unsafe home the pair leave, but there is no mention of death, soldiers or bombs. She thus leaves it to a child’s imagination, or the answer of a caregiver or teacher, to explain why there’s no running water and why there’s garbage everywhere. The adult reading with a child then can tailor the answer to the comprehension level of that child.

In addition to his mother’s reassurances, the young boy finds comfort in a stuffed animal that he carries in most spreads. I think younger children will relate to this, and find it reassuring as well. For the youngest of listeners, they may even want to search the pages to find the beloved item.

On the right-side page of most spreads, Milner addresses the reader, asking direct questions that are highlighted in blue boxes. From “what would you take,” to “how far could you walk,” and “what is the weirdest food you have ever eaten,” Milner invites readers to journey along with the unnamed refugees, to better understand their journeys and build empathy.

Milner uses pencil drawings and lots of white space to engage readers in the refugee experience. And by not showing a specific region or including details that could indicate that the refugees practice a particular religion, she universalizes the experience: anyone could be a refugee.

A Note about Craft:

Although the main character is a child, he relates the story as told to him by his mother. The reader thus experiences the journey through the mother’s perspective, too, which, in my mind, provided a reassurance missing from many refugee stories.

The inclusion of direct questions helps an adult reader tailor story-time to particular children, I think. To stick to the narrative, an adult reading aloud can skip a question or all questions, or s/he can stop and explore the main character’s experiences and discover how they may relate to the experiences of children listening.

My Name is Not Refugee is the winner of the Klaus Flugge Prize, which “celebrates the most exciting newcomer to children’s book illustration.” Milner won the V&A Student Illustrator of the Year in 2016 for My Name is Not Refugee.

See more of Kate Milner’s work on her website. Read an interview with Milner about her reason for writing My Name is Not Refugee and learn about her illustration techniques at Library Mice.

Edinburg-based, independent publisher Barrington Stoke is the “home of super-readable books” and aims to publish books for children with dyslexia and reluctant readers.

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 – Me and My Fear

When I saw today’s Perfect Picture Book advertised, I couldn’t wait to find, read  and review it. I hope you find it as captivating as I did!

MeandMyFear_RGB-644x728

Title: Me and My Fear

Written & Illustrated By: Francesca Sanna

Publisher/Date: Flying Eye Books (an imprint of Nobrow Ltd.)/September 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5+

Themes/Topics: fear; immigrant; moving; empathy

Opening:

I have always had a secret. A tiny friend called Fear.

Brief Synopsis:

When a young girl and her family arrive in a new country, the girl’s fear grows and keeps her from making friends and adjusting to her new life, until she realizes that she’s not the only one with fear.

Links to Resources:

  • Sometimes we all are afraid. What scares you? What do you do when you’re scared?
  • How do you welcome newcomers to your neighborhood or school? Try one or more of the 20 Simple Acts to learn more about refugees or help one or more of them feel welcome;
  • See the Classroom Guide for more ideas.

Why I Like this Book:

With warm, retro-feeling illustrations and short text, Sanna personifies the fear that everyone experiences at times in a very kid-relatable way. As the story begins, Fear is a “tiny friend”, a helpful being that keeps the unnamed MC safe. But after “we came to this new country,” Fear grows and keeps the girl from experiencing the new neighborhood and making friends at school. It’s Fear that “hates” the new school, that “grows angry” when the girl’s name is mispronounced, that keeps the girl alone at break times. Through sharing art with another student, though, the young girl begins to reach out and then discovers that others have their own fears. As she does so, Fear reverts to its old, smaller self as “school is not so difficult anymore”.

I think Me and My Fear will help kids who experience fear in unfamiliar situations understand that they aren’t alone. It also will help other kids empathize with newcomers or those who keep to themselves, when they understand that it may be fear that holds these loners back. While the young MC is a newcomer to a country and school, I think the story will resonate with others, too, as they face any new situations.

Sanna’s warm color palate and the rounded curves she uses to depict Fear exude a feeling of comfort.

A Note about Craft:

As in her debut picture book, The Journey, Sanna has chosen to not name the Main Character, thus providing an Everyman-type of story. She also uses first-person point of view which, I think, brings an immediacy to the story. Interestingly, the MC in Me and My Fear is the same MC as in The Journey, so that this book is, in effect, a continuation of the refugee’s journey.

An illustrator-author, Sanna tells much of the story in illustrations only, and it’s a low word-count picture book. Sanna pictures Fear as a ghost-like creature, similar, in my mind, to Beekle, in Dan Santat’s The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. By making Fear a character, Sanna can show readers how Fear accompanies the young girl, demonstrate how it grows, and even, in one full-page spread, show how the MC must carry Fear on her back.

When I first read the title, Me and My Fear, I was a bit perplexed. Wouldn’t “I and My Fear,” or “My Fear and Me” be more grammatically correct? But then it struck me: the title hearkens back to an old song title: Me and My Shadow. It thus puts the MC’s experience into context: Fear has accompanied people throughout history and in many places, and it continues to do so.

From the publisher’s website, I learned that Me and My Fear “is based on research that creator Francesca Sanna did in classrooms—asking children to draw their fears and encouraging them to talk about what made them afraid.” I also learned that Amnesty International has endorsed it.

The publisher, Flying Eye Books (FEB, for short),  “is the children’s imprint of award-winning visual publishing house Nobrow. Established in early 2013, FEB sought to retain the same attention to detail in design and excellence in illustrated content as its parent publisher, but with a focus on the craft of children’s storytelling and non-fiction.”

Visit Sanna’s website to see more of her work, including illustrations from The Journey, one of the first picture books to shed light on the current refugee crisis in Europe.

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 Day War Came

As regular readers know, I’ve reviewed many picture books about the refugee experience published in the past few years. For World Refugee Day earlier this week, I posted about some of the picture books I’ve reviewed about the refugee and migrant experience in the Americas. Because in some countries, refugee-focused events span an entire week (see Refugee Week 2018), I couldn’t help but continue the theme and post a newly-published book about a refugee, that is, in my mind, a Perfect Picture Book:

9781406376326Title: The Day War Came

Written By: Nicola Davies

Illustrated By: Rebecca Cobb

Publisher/date: Walker Books/June 2018

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; empathy; social activism; free verse poetry

Opening:

The day war came there were flowers on the window sill and my father sang my baby brother back to sleep.

My mother made my breakfast, kissed my nose and walked with me to school.

Brief Synopsis:

When war arrives in the unnamed narrator’s town, she flees alone, but feels surrounded by war while a refugee, until the kindness of children enables her to experience some peace at last.

Links to Resources:

  • Draw a chair, perhaps like a favorite one from home or school. Does your picture have anyone sitting in the chair? Which do you like better – a picture of an empty chair or one with a friend or relative sitting in it?
  • The children in the narrator’s old and new schools are studying volcanos. Build a volcano;
  • The children in the narrator’s old and new schools draw birds. Why do you think birds are an important part of this story? Draw a favorite bird;
  • Try one or more of the 20 Simple Acts to learn more about refugees or to help them feel welcome in your school or community.

Why I Like this Book:

I don’t just like this book, I love it, as, in my mind, it captures the young refugee experience in its entirety. [Spoiler alert: despite reading many picture books about refugees, I cried when reading this one!]

In sparse, lyrical language, Davies captures a child’s heartbreak of being alone, of utter despair and desolation, not just as disaster strikes and rends life into a before and after, but as the young narrator searches for a new life in an unfamiliar land. Davies ends on a note of hope, not as the narrator arrives in this new country, but only when, at long last, she feels welcome there.

Several recent picture books capture the sense of loss when leaving a beloved homeland, like The Map of Good Memories. Others enable the reader to walk in the footsteps of those in flight, most notably The Journey and Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey. All end with hope of a new life, as in My Beautiful Birds.

What is hauntingly different with The Day War Came, is that the narrator is completely alone in her journey, with no parent, sibling, or even friend to cling to. We meet her as war obliterates her life in an instant: “war took everything, war took everyone.” We journey with her to what should be a safe place where, we’d like to believe, she will start to rebuild her life. Instead, though, she journeys and finds “war was in the way that doors shut when I came down the street.” Finding a school, she yearns to enter, but an unsmiling teacher explains,

There is no room for you, you see. There is no chair for you to sit on.

Linking the narrator’s experiences as war strikes to the hatred she encounters as a refugee will, I believe, cause readers to think how their actions affect refugees who may relocate to their communities and schools. This makes The Day War Came an important and timely book for classroom, church and family discussion.

Cobb’s illustrations are often two-page spreads, and they incorporate many grays depicting war and despair, interspersed with splashes of color. Like Davies’ text, the scenes are not geographically specific, which supports the sense of universality. They also appear, at times, to be drawn by a child, furthering Davies’ storytelling from the narrator’s point of view.9781406376326_INS_3-1024x430

A Note about Craft:

In many ways, war is almost a character in The Day War Came. I think Davies accomplishes this because, except in two instances late in the story, war appears without an article preceding it. Similar to death entering a home in Cry Heart, But Never Break, war accompanies the unnamed narrator on her journey, following her, invading her dreams, taking “possession of my heart.” That the story is told from first-person point of view and as the narrator is unnamed, bringing an “Everyman” feel to it, I think this encourages readers to think: how do my actions perpetuate war and hatred in the world? This hopefully encourages us to take the next step: to counter that hatred.

Davies utilizes several visual symbols that enable Cobb to expand on the story. In her old school, pictures of volcanos line the windows. In the new school, the children also learn about them. When war erupts, the fires in the city mimic volcanic explosions. The children at both schools draw birds – a symbol of flight. And the absence of a chair, like “no room at the inn,” resonates and provides a strong visual reminder of one step even a young child can take to welcome others. Check out the endpapers – a stunningly visual reminder of what one small action can accomplish.

Nicola Davies, an award-winning children’s author, originally published a version of The Day War Came in 2016 as a free verse poem in The Guardian newspaper, in reaction to the British government’s decision to turn 3,000 unaccompanied children away. See Davies’ blog post about writing the poem, publishing it, and the outpouring of illustrations of empty chairs that became the #3000chairs project on Twitter.

See more of Rebecca Cobb’s work here, and read an insightful interview with Cobb about the process of illustrating The Day War Came at Library Mice.

Walker Books is donating one pound from the sale of each book to helprefugees.org.

If you live in the US, The Day War Came is available now via The Book Depository, or Candlewick Press is publishing it in the US in September 2018.

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Why Am I Here?

I found today’s Perfect Picture Book at my local library. Regular readers know that all of the books I’ve reviewed this year have involved refugees, people and stories from areas affected by the US travel ban, and migrants, especially from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Today’s Perfect Picture Book doesn’t exactly fit within these parameters. It is, however, a book first published outside the US. I also think it promotes so much empathy for refugees and migrants that it almost is a book about them. I hope you agree!

9780802854773_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Why Am I Here?

Written By: Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen

Illustrated By: Akin Duzakin

Translated By: Becky Crook

Publisher/date: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers/2016 (first published by Magikon in Norwegian/2014)

Suitable for Ages: 5-9 (or older)

Themes/Topics: empathy, compassion, imagination, philosophy, social justice

Opening:

I wonder why I am here, in this exact place.

Brief Synopsis: A young child journeys to many places, asking what it would be like to live as s/he sees others living.

Links to Resources:

  • Become Globe Smart, and learn about life in other areas of the world;
  • Draw a picture of a person or place that you have visited.

Why I Like this Book:

Why Am I Here? is a book that begs to be read, and reread. Many of us have a child who has asked questions non-stop, who has stumped us time and time again with one three-letter word: WHY. While I think of the “why” stage for younger children more than for the school-aged kids for whom this book is written, curious children, and adults, never stop wondering.

Rather than wondering just about the natural world, Why Am I Here? invites us to consider differences in time, place, and social circumstance. In one poignant spread, the narrator asks what it would be like to live in a large city, alone, “on the street or under a bridge.” Similarly, the narrator wonders what it would be like to leave home as a refugee, to survive a natural disaster and be without food or water, or to labor as children do in other places in the world.

This is an introspective book, sensitive and thought-provoking. But while many of the places and peoples visited are suffering, the overall tenor is positive and hopeful, in large part, most likely, due to the dreamy, peaceful watercolor illustrations that help soften the reality of the words.

HEJH-Øy_båt.R-210x210

Interior spread, reprinted from Duzakin’s website

HEJH-By.R.W_edited-1-210x210

Interior spread, reprinted from Duzakin’s website

A Note about Craft:

Why Am I Here? has an other-world feel to it, in part, I think, because the “I” in the story is alone and identified by neither name nor gender. I think this helps readers identify better with the narrator and imagine themselves in his or her situation.

In Reading Picture Books with Children, Megan Dowd Lambert invites readers to contemplate the Whole Book when sharing picture books with children. In Why Am I Here? the text appears solely on the left side and the illustrations, looking like landscape paintings, appear on the right side of the gutter. This invites the reader, I believe, to think about the words before seeing what the words imply. For an introspective book, when author, illustrator and editor want the reader to contemplate the text, I think this is a wonderful technique that adds to the reading experience.

Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen is a Norwegian freelance jouralist and children’s author.

Akin Duzakin is a Turkish illustrator living since 1987 in Norway.

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 Elephant’s Umbrella

It’s been a rainy spring in the northeastern US. I’ve found myself reaching again and again for my umbrella – a common response of people all over the world when it rains. A common response, I’d wager, in Iran, too, the country in which both the author and illustrator of today’s Perfect Picture Book live:

61w7a8KNDLL._SL160_Title: The Elephant’s Umbrella

Written By: Laleh Jaffari

Illustrated By: Ali Khodai

Translated By: Azita Rassi

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd/2017 (first published by Chekkeh Publishers, Iran)

Suitable for Ages: 3-8

Themes/Topics: sharing, elephants, umbrella, empathy, Iran, translated Picture Book

Opening:

The elephant loved his umbrella. Whether it drizzled or poured, he’d open his umbrella and walk into the rain, proud to ask anybody he saw to join him under it.

Brief Synopsis: The elephant loves and shares his umbrella. But when she’s whisked from his grasp, the umbrella ends up in the hands of less-generous creatures, a leopard and a bear.

Links to Resources:

  • Make and decorate a paper-plate umbrella; better yet, make two and share one with a friend;
  • Explore Iran, where both the author and illustrator live;
  • The leopard and brown bear in the story both want to eat under the umbrella. Host an umbrella picnic and serve weather-related foods: sun-colored grilled cheese sandwiches or lemon cookies or maybe raindrop blueberries;
  • See more illustrations from The Elephant’s Umbrella and other Iranian picture books in a 2015 gallery in The Guardian newspaper.

Why I Like this Book:

The Elephant’s Umbrella is a lovely story of sharing and generosity that, I think, will appeal to the youngest of listeners. I found the jungle scenes bright and engaging, and I think kids and parents will enjoy them, too.

Unlike other sharing books that posit sharing as a win for the recipient with the donor sacrificing something (think Rainbow Fish giving its beautiful scales to others), The Elephant’s Umbrella presents sharing as a win-win situation: when the Elephant invites other creatures to sit under the umbrella with him, he stays dry and he gains friends. He shows, in a sense, that by cooperating, we help not only ourselves, but we make the pie bigger, so that all can benefit.the-elephants-umbrella-1024x512

A Note about Craft:

At first glance, The Elephant’s Umbrella is a simple story of sharing. From the title and opening lines, it seems clear: a caring Elephant has an umbrella, loses her (Jaffari uses the feminine pronoun) to a leopard and then to a bear, and finally gets her back. But how? Did either the leopard or bear steal her? And who is the main character anyway?

In a brilliant twist that’s a lesson for authors, the umbrella is the star of this story. When the wind blows her away from the elephant, the umbrella asks first the leopard and then the bear of their plans. Becoming aware of their pride and greediness, the umbrella asks the wind to “take me with you!”

By flipping the story in this way, I think Jaffari adds another layer to what could have been a very simple story. It causes me to wonder how seemingly inanimate objects or non-human creatures, like natural resources or animals, feel when misused or mistreated, whether on the playground or in the wider world. I think this opens up great discussion possibilities with kids who so often anthropomorphise pets, toys, or other objects.

Tiny Owl Publishing is “an independent publishing company committed to producing beautiful, original books for children.” Tiny Owl publishes “a range of books from Iranian authors and illustrators,” including When I Coloured in the World, which I reviewed in April 2017.

Per a review in Outside in World, “Iranian author Laleh Jaffari is an author, translator and TV director and has written 25 children’s books. Iranian illustrator Ali Khodai…has illustrated over 80 books and has won many national awards in his home country of Iran.”

Books Go Walkabout reviewed The Elephant’s Umbrella here and Tiny Owl references other reviews here.

The Elephant’s Umbrella is available for purchase in the US with free shipping via the Book Depository.

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!