Tag Archives: family history

Perfect Pairing – of Chocolate-filled Picture Books

School ends this week in much of the northeast, where I currently live. To celebrate, I think chocolate is in order. I hope you agree!

Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, From Farm to Family 

Author & Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon

Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury Childrens Books/May 2019

Ages: 3-6

Themes: grandparents, chocolate, family history

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This beautifully illustrated story connects past and present as a girl bakes a chocolate cake with her father and learns about her grandfather harvesting cacao beans in West Africa.
Chocolate is the perfect treat, everywhere!
As a little girl and her father bake her birthday cake together, Daddy tells the story of her Grandpa Cacao, a farmer from the Ivory Coast in West Africa. In a land where elephants roam and the air is hot and damp, Grandpa Cacao worked in his village to harvest cacao, the most important ingredient in chocolate. “Chocolate is a gift to you from Grandpa Cacao,” Daddy says. “We can only enjoy chocolate treats thanks to farmers like him.” Once the cake is baked, it’s ready to eat, but this isn’t her only birthday present. There’s a special surprise waiting at the front door . . .

Read my review.

 

No Monkeys, No Chocolate

Authors: Melissa Stewart and Allen Young

Illustrator: Nicole Wong

Publisher/Date: Charlesbridge/2013

Ages: 5-8

Themes: chocolate, non-fiction, nature

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Everyone loves chocolate, right? But how many people actually know where chocolate comes from? How it’s made? Or that monkeys do their part to help this delicious sweet exist?
This delectable dessert comes from cocoa beans, which grow on cocoa trees in tropical rain forests. But those trees couldn’t survive without the help of a menagerie of rain forest critters: a pollen-sucking midge, an aphid-munching anole lizard, brain-eating coffin fly maggots—they all pitch in to help the cocoa tree survive. A secondary layer of text delves deeper into statements such as “Cocoa flowers can’t bloom without cocoa leaves . . . and maggots,” explaining the interdependence of the plants and animals in the tropical rain forests. Two wise-cracking bookworms appear on every page, adding humor and further commentary, making this book accessible to readers of different ages and reading levels.
Back matter includes information about cocoa farming and rain forest preservation, as well as an author’s note.

Read a review at The Classroom Bookshelf.

I paired these books because they discuss aspects of chocolate production. In Grandpa Cacao, the emphasis is on the people involved in growing and harvesting cacao beans, in particular the main character’s grandfather in West Africa. In No Monkeys, No Chocolate, the emphasis is on the growth of cocoa trees in the rainforest and the interaction of the many rainforest creatures that enable these trees to continue to grow. Read together, readers learn about the origins of a favorite food.

PPBF – Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, from Farm to Family

I have a yummy, new picture book to feature today, that I think you’ll agree is a Perfect Picture Book in so many ways!

Title: Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, From Farm to Family

Written & Illustrated By: Elizabeth Zunon

Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury Children’s Books/May 2019

Suitable for Ages: 3-6

Themes/Topics: grandparents, chocolate, family history

Opening:

Chocolate is my most favorite thing ever. For my birthday, Daddy and I are making our family’s special celebration cake while Mommy goes to pick up another treat.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl learns about her grandfather, a cacao farmer in Africa, as she and her father prepare a special birthday cake and await a special treat.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover how cacao is grown and harvested;
  • Learn about the history of cacao and try these chocolate challenges, including coloring pages;
  • The narrator guesses several times throughout the story about what treat her mother is bringing home for her birthday. Describe or draw a picture of your favorite treat or treats – is it something to eat or drink? A special thing or a special activity?
  • Make some chocolaty treats.

Why I Like this Book:

Grandpa Cacao is a fascinating exploration of cacao bean farming in western Africa and a heart-warming tale of a granddaughter’s love for a grandfather she’s never met. I love how the unnamed narrator and her father mix and bake a special chocolate cake for her birthday, and, while doing so, Daddy shares details about Grandpa Cacao’s farm and their own family history. The anticipation builds as the narrator guesses again and again what “treat” her mother is picking up. What do you think it may be? I think many kids, and adults, will have fun guessing.

I particularly love Zunon’s stunning and colorful artwork – how she brings details of Africa into the house and shows the farm and Grandpa Cacao as the narrator imagines them.

For those who want to learn more of the story behind the story, there’s an Author’s Note, and “Chocolate Chunks” that explains the science, history, and production of chocolate. Zunon even shares the recipe for the Chocolate Celebration Cake so readers and their families can make and enjoy it, too.

A Note about Craft:

In an agent’s submission guidelines I recently read, she asked anyone submitting to include why s/he is the best person to write the submitted manuscript. While I think most kidlit creators and reviewers understand the concept of #OwnVoices, this directive, I believe, means something more: a personal connection to a particular story. How do you know if you, or if the person who has created a story, has that connection? I think the many details a creator can include and the emotion that oozes, like chocolate, from the text and/or illustrations are two indicators evident in Grandpa Cacao. What are some other features that you think show when someone is the right person to share a story?

Zunon is the illustrator of Baptiste & Miranda Paul’s I Am Farmer, among many other picture books. Visit her website to see more of her work. Grandpa Cacao is her debut as author and illustrator. Read a post she shared as a guest on the Nerdy Book Club blog about the genesis of Grandpa Cacao.

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 – Alma and How She Got Her Name

What’s in a name? A lot, if you ask most kids, and even some adults. I’m one of those adults who still wonders about my Irish first name since neither I, nor the parents who adopted me as an infant, are Irish (although I do have a March birthday and like spring green). I also chose names for my own children that aren’t immediately shortened into nicknames nor readily identifiable as a particular nationality. But they all have a middle name from a grandparent, in a nod to family history. Because isn’t family what it’s all about?

Title: Alma and How She Got Her Name

Written & Illustrated By: Juana Martinez-Neal

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: name; identity; family history; Latinx; multicultural; Caldecott honor

Opening:

Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela had a long name—too long, if you asked her.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl unhappy with her long name learns the story of each of the relatives whose names she bears and learns to embrace her history and her future.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Alma and How She Got Her Name is such a sweet, kid-relatable story with such heart. I immediately fell in love with Alma and her story-telling father. Through the introduction of Alma’s ancestors, readers meet the strong family that came before her, and learn about Alma’s heritage. We also see how each of their many attributes come together to form a new, unique person, Alma, who is ready to tell her own story.

I love the message of celebrating each person’s unique talents while cherishing what we have in common with family members. I also love how the story ends on a forward-looking note as Alma prepares to write her story. In an Author’s Note, Martinez-Neal asks readers about the story of their names and asks what story they’d like to tell.

Alma and How She Got Her Name is a 2019 Caldecott Honor Book – not surprisingly. An illustrator-author, Martinez-Neal shows so much of the story in the graphite, colored pencil and print transfer illustrations. For instance, nowhere in the text does it mention Peru as the country from which Alma’s ancestors hail, but the bookshelves contain many references to Peru, including a piggy bank with PERU on its flank, perhaps to collect coins to save for a trip to visit family. The books gracing many of the pages bear titles in
Spanish, and other items, like dolls and toys, are South American folk art pieces. For curious young listeners, a small bird appears somewhere in almost every spread – I loved watching it accompany Alma and her father on her journey of discovery.

A Note about Craft:

In the Author’s Note, Martinez-Neal shares that she, too, has a too-long name that she felt was “the most old-fashioned, harsh, ugly, and way-too-Spanish name in all of Lima, Peru”. Alma, then, is somewhat autobiographical. I think it’s a wonderful lesson to authors to mine their own past to write stories that show universal themes.

At its most basic, Alma’s story is one conversation that occurs in one room. But by showing Alma interacting with her ancestors and at times mimicking their actions, the illustrations caused at least this reader to feel as if I’d undertaken a journey – both in time and distance.

Learn more about Martinez-Neal and her other work, including La Princesa and the Pea, the winner of the 2018 Pura Belpré Medal for Illustration, by visiting 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!

Perfect Pairing of Poetry Picture Books

I’ve been serving as a Round 1 panelist for the Cybils Awards poetry section these past few months, reading almost 50 picture book, middle grade and young adult books of poetry and novels in verse. I had known about the first book I feature below, but hadn’t had the pleasure of reading it until it was nominated to that list. I’m so glad I’ve now read it! Not only was the publication of this collection a gift from a daughter to her late mother, but the haiku themselves are a gift to kids young and old. I hope you read and enjoy both of these picture books – I certainly did.

H is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z

Author: Sydell Rosenberg

Illustrator: Sawson Chalabi

Publisher/Date: Penny Candy Press/2018

Ages: 5-11

Themes: haiku; poetry; nature

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z, the late poet Sydell Rosenberg, a charter member of the Haiku Society of America and a New York City public school teacher, and illustrator Sawsan Chalabi offer an A-Z compendium of haiku that brings out the fun and poetry in everyday moments.

Read a review and interview with Rosenberg’s daughter, Amy Losak, at Picture Books Help Kids Soar.

 

Poems in the Attic

Author: Nikki Grimes

Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon

Publisher/Date: Lee & Low Books/2015

Ages: 7-8

Themes: poetry; family history; intergenerational

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

During a visit to her grandma’s house, a young girl discovers a box of poems in the attic, poems written by her mother when she was growing up. Her mother’s family often moved around the United States and the world because her father was in the Air Force. Over the years, her mother used poetry to record her experiences in the many places the family lived. Reading the poems and sharing those experiences through her mother’s eyes, the young girl feels closer to her mother than ever before. To let her mother know this, she creates a gift: a book with her own poems and copies of her mother’s. And when she returns her mother’s poems to the box in the attic, she leaves her own poems too, for someone else to find, someday. Using free verse for the young girl’s poems and tanka for her mother’s, master poet Nikki Grimes creates a tender intergenerational story that speaks to every child’s need to hold onto special memories of home, no matter where that place might be.”

Read a review and an interview with Nikki Grimes about this book in the Horn Book.

I paired these books because they are both poetry collections, perfect for reading together, and because they offer differing perspectives on an intergenerational theme: In H is for Haiku, Rosenberg wrote the poems for children, but they were collected and published by her daughter, Amy Losak – an act of filial love and a gift to readers. In Poems in the Attic, a grandchild exploring her grandmother’s attic finds letters written by her mother as a girl and through them learns more about her mother. It also involves a gift, in this case, the original poems and the daughter’s responses, compiled into a book.

Looking for similar reads?

See Nikki Grimes’ A Pocketful of Poems (2001), which pairs haiku and free verse poems; Seeing Into Tomorrow, Nina Crews (2018), the haikus of Richard Wright with photographs by Crews; Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up, Sally M. Walker (2018).

Perfect Pairing is Sharing Memories

I love how small treasures are often at the heart of family get-togethers. Whether it’s a tattered photo, a battered object, or a collection of keepsakes, the item often sparks a story and memories pass from generation to generation.

Nanna’s Button Tin

Author: Dianne Wolfer

Illustrator: Heather Potter

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018 (originally published in Australia, Walker Books/2017)

Ages: 4-6

Themes: intergenerational; family history

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

I love nanna’s button tin. It is full of stories.
Nanna’s button tin is very special. It has buttons of all shapes and sizes and they all have a different story to tell. But today, one button in particular is needed. A button for teddy. A beautiful story about memories and the stories that shape a family.

Read a review at Reading Time.

 

The Matchbook Diary

Author: Paul Fleischman

Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2013

Ages: 6-9

Themes: Intergenerational; family history; diary

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Newbery Medalist Paul Fleischman and Bagram Ibatoulline tell a breathtaking immigration tale with appeal across generations.
“Pick whatever you like most. Then I’ll tell you its story.” 
When a little girl visits her great-grandfather at his curio-filled home, she chooses an unusual object to learn about: an old cigar box. What she finds inside surprises her: a collection of matchboxes making up her great-grandfather’s diary, harboring objects she can hold in her hand, each one evoking a memory. Together they tell of his journey from Italy to a new country, before he could read and write — the olive pit his mother gave him to suck on when there wasn’t enough food; a bottle cap he saw on his way to the boat; a ticket still retaining the thrill of his first baseball game. With a narrative entirely in dialogue, Paul Fleischman makes immediate the two characters’ foray into the past. With warmth and an uncanny eye for detail, Bagram Ibatoulline gives expressive life to their journey through time — and toward each other.

Read my review.

I paired these books because they are intergenerational and feature the sharing of family history. In Nanna’s Button Tin, the unnamed narrator and her Nanna search through the button tin for a “perfect brown button for a perfect brown bear”, but also remember family stories about other buttons they find. In The Matchbook Diary, the great-grandfather purposely used matchboxes as a diary, and the focus of the conversation is his life and journey to America. In both, small “treasures” are the lens for sharing family history – what might you see and share when you visit a grandparent or great-grandparent?

Looking for similar reads? See The Remember Balloons (Jessie Oliverios, 2018) and Grandad’s Island (Benji Davies, 2016).

 

 

PPBF – The Matchbook Diary

When I first read today’s Perfect Picture Book, I was reminded of a journey I shared with my daughters when they were quite young. To help them remember favorite places and to help pass the time on long train rides, I brought along sketch books and encouraged them to record what they saw. As one of my daughters is celebrating her birthday today, I thought it was a perfect day to share today’s Perfect Picture Book.

0763676381.medTitle: The Matchbox Diary

Written By: Paul Fleischman

Illustrated By: Bagram Ibatoulline

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: diary; immigration; intergenerational; family history

Opening:

“Pick whatever you like the most. Then I’ll tell you its story.”

“There’s so many things here.”

“You’ll know when you see it. And then I’ll know something about you. The great-granddaughter I’ve only heard about.”

Brief Synopsis: A young girl discovers her great-grandfather’s matchbox diary, and she learns the history of his journey to America and first years in the country.

Links to Resources:

  • Keep a diary, either by writing entries each day or week, or drawing pictures of noteworthy events;
  • Do you collect anything? What do you collect? How do you store your collection?
  • The great-grandfather in the story journeyed from Italy to Ellis Island, in America. Discover more about these places;
  • View a YouTube video of Fleischman’s Matchbox Theatres and try making your own;
  • For more ideas, see the Teachers’ Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

The Matchbox Diary reads like an afternoon visit with an older relative. Told all in dialogue, the story has an immediacy which I think will resonate with kids. As the unnamed great-granddaughter opens each matchbox, she, and the reader, hear the great-grandfather share his journey to America and his difficult early life in his adopted homeland, including the jobs the entire family did, like canning fish, sorting peaches, shelling peas, peeling shrimp, opening oyster shells, rolling cigars, and “shelling nuts for restaurants, day and night.” I think this will be eye-opening to kids today!

I love how this story unfolds as the contents of each tiny box is revealed. And I love how the great-grandfather relates diary writing to collecting keepsakes, something even young children can do. That learning to read and keeping newspaper scraps with dates is important to the great-grandfather is an important lesson, too, as I think it will show kids the importance of reading.

Ibatoulline’s sepia-toned illustrations with their many details are the perfect accompaniment to the text, as they evoke the past and show the importance of even tiny items in our lives.

A Note about Craft:

In the Teachers’ Guide, Fleischman notes that he first conceived of the idea of a matchbox diary from an illustrator friend. Although he knew immediately that he wanted to write a story about this form of diary-keeping, it took him 15 years to publish the story. Good ideas certainly are worth waiting for!

The matchboxes at the heart of the story are very kid-relatable items. Although kids today may not see matchboxes often, their small size and ability to be repurposed as treasure boxes will resonate with kids, I think.

As noted above, Fleischman relates this tale entirely in unattributed dialogue. I think this draws the reader into the story and makes the slow-moving action more immediate and engaging for kids.

Visit Newbery-winner Fleischman’s website to see more of his books, including Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella, which I reviewed in March 2017.

Visit Ibatoulline’s website to view more of his illustrations.

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!