Tag Archives: empathy

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!