Tag Archives: Family

PPBF – Sing to the Moon

I’ve reviewed a few books set in Africa, including, most recently, Cinderella of the Nile, but none set in Uganda – until today. The cover illustration beckoned. The gently rhyming text paired with detail-filled illustrations kept me reading, and re-reading. I hope you enjoy this Perfect Picture Book as much as I do!

Sing-to-the-Moon-promos-768x768

Title: Sing to the Moon

Written By: Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl

Illustrated By: Sandra van Doorn

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing/October 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: wishes; rainy day; intergenerational story; #ReadYourWorld; rhyming; family.

Opening:

If I had one wish, I would reach the stars, then ride a supernova straight to Mars! Jjajja tells me, “Sing to the moon,” and perhaps my wish will be granted soon.

Brief Synopsis:

On a rainy day in Uganda, a grandfather shares memories and stories with his grandson.

Links to Resources:

  • This story occurs in Uganda, a country in Africa; learn more about Africa and Uganda;
  • If you had one wish, what would you wish? Describe or draw a picture of what you wished;
  • In a note to readers, Isdahl asks if you’ve “ever been stuck at home on a rainy day.” Discover some rainy day activities;
  • The narrator’s grandfather in Sing to the Moon shares stories from his childhood. Ask a grandparent or an elderly relative, neighbor or family friend about her or his childhood.

Why I Like this Book:

Sing to the Moon is a heart-warming, intergenerational picture book that provides a window into life in Uganda, a country I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting. Told in gentle rhyme, Sing to the Moon begins with the young, unnamed narrator wishing for intergalactic adventure only to awaken to another dreary, rainy day. But is it? Not if Jjajja, the narrator’s grandfather, has his way. As the pair undertake mundane, everyday tasks, Jjajja recounts stories from his childhood. And as the day ends, “night adventures” begin. Jjajja reads stories of adventure, treasure, fables, and “African kingdoms.” But Jjajja keeps the best to last: His own storytelling followed by the stories of nature that surround us.

img_1613.jpg

Photograph of interior page from Sing to the Moon

Isdahl fills our journey through this rainy day with details of Ugandan life, and van Doorn’s soft, pastel illustrations contain further glimpses of Uganda, including local produce, vegetation and scenery. With soft blues throughout, sprinkled with flecks of night stars and splashes of bright color, van Doorn transports readers to Uganda and into the narrator’s dreams and his grandfather’s stories. Throughout, a small white dog appears on most every spread, a small detail that younger listeners, in particular, will enjoy spotting.

A Note about Craft:

Isdahl utilizes first-person point-of-view to relate the story, which brings an immediacy to the day’s events. Sharing first his fantastical wishes and then his disappointment at the reality of “the patter of rain”, clouds spreading “like a charcoal stain” and “hours with nothing to do”, the narrator sets the reader up for the “aha” moment, “[b]ut then” he hears Jjajja, his grandfather. The “meat” of the story follows: A shared romp through Jjajja’s memories and stories that transport the narrator far from the rainy day.

As mentioned above, Isdahl uses gentle rhyme to tell her story. Not only does the rhyming text provide momentum to transport the reader through this quiet day, but it’s also lulling, perfect for a bedtime read.

The title of Sing to the Moon appears twice in the text, once in the beginning and once at the end, as bookends to the day. We learn from the context that singing to the moon is a means of ensuring that wishes come true. I love that Isdahl chose this presumably Ugandan practice as her title – similar to the “wishing upon a star” with which I’m familiar, but rooted in the place where this story occurs.

Per the book jacket, Isdahl “was born in the US to Ugandan parents and works in international development in East and Southern Africa.” See interviews with her at the Brown Bookshelf and Mater Mea following the release of her debut picture book, Sleep Well, Siba and Saba (Lantana Publishing, UK/2017, US/2018), also set in Uganda and illustrated by French-native van Doorn, who lives and works in Australia. See more of van Doorn’s illustrations on her website.

UK-based Lantana Publishing “is a young, independent publishing house producing inclusive picture books for children.” Lantana’s books are distributed in the US and Canada by Lerner Publisher Services.

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! And I’ll be linking this post to a new, #ReadYourWorld initiative coming soon, Kids Read the World: Africa.

PPBF – Out

As this post publishes, I’ll be in London, at the start of a six-day journey with my eldest daughter as she celebrates a new decade (yep! I’m old enough to have birthed a 30-year old!). Thinking about this trip has reminded me of other journeys I’ve undertaken with one or more of my children, including a few rather lengthy rail journeys, several Atlantic crossings, and even a boat journey or two.

Today’s Perfect Picture Book begins with a mother-daughter journey – a journey to a new life, away from a war-torn country. This is the type of journey most of us will never take, but that we must understand, as we welcome new immigrants to our communities.

www.scholasticTitle: Out

Written By: Angela May George

Illustrated By: Owen Swan

Publisher/date: Scholastic Canada Ltd./2017 (originally published by Scholastic Australia/2016)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: refugees; asylum; journeys; family

Opening:

I feel different. It’s the way people stare. I’m called an asylum seeker, but that’s not my name.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl describes her journey fleeing a war-torn region and settling into life in a new country.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Teaching Guides for Grades 2-3 and Grades 4-5;
  • What do you think a new child or family may need if they leave their homeland and move to your town or city?
  • The narrator of this story travels by boat to her new home. Have you ever taken a boat journey? Draw a picture or describe in words the boat and where you traveled;
  • The narrator and her mother play a string game (cat’s cradle) while on their journey. What games do you think you could play with a new child at school who may not speak English?

Why I Like this Book:

In Out, George and Swan provide a sympathetic portrayal of the flight and resettlement of a nameless girl and her mother in a new, nameless, safe city and country. While readers learn why the pair leave their homeland, a war, and accompany them on a long boat journey to the new country, much of the story is an upbeat, hope-filled account of their resettlement experiences.

I think Out will resonate with children who are refugees, and it could help their classmates understand the refugees’ experiences. At one point, the narrator thinks back on the boat ride that “seems so long ago,” and notes that “these days” she runs to “win races” and camps “for fun.” She then explains, though, that “some days, when there’s a loud bang, I drop to the floor.” If a classmate reacts to loud noises or perhaps draws pictures of what s/he has seen, the other kids, and even some teachers, may understand the reason for what otherwise may seem like strange behavior after reading and discussing Out. They then may be better able to support their classmate/student.

Swan’s mix of felt-tipped marker and colored pencil illustrations are, in his words, “rough-around-the-edges” to convey the sense of the roughness and uncertainty of a refugee’s life.

A Note about Craft:

Like several other refugee stories I’ve reviewed recently, George utilizes first-person point of view to draw us into the story, become emotionally connected to the narrator and experience the life of a refugee through her eyes. This is particularly effective when, in the opening scene, the narrator informs us that she is called an “asylum seeker,” but that isn’t her name. I immediately wanted to hug her and call her by name!

Especially as she recounts the narrator’s flight to the new country, George tackles some difficult issues such as war, fear, hunger and thirst. Rather than dwell on them, George instead refers to “horrible things” that show the narrator “what it is to be brave.” When she hears noises at night, she listens to the river, that “knew the way out of the forest.” When hungry, mother and daughter “whispered our favourite foods to each other.” None of these examples, in my mind, minimizes the traumatic events. In each instance, however, the narrator and reader move on and find solace in something, thereby offering hope.

Swan weaves a yellow string through the story that ties the narrator’s former life to her new life. Younger children, in particular, may find comfort in the string as hair bow in an early spread, a game on the long boat journey, and a tie on her backpack towards story’s end. What threads can we, as authors or illustrators, use to show the connections in our stories?

See an author’s note and illustrator’s note in Study Notes that accompanied the first Australian printing.

Visit Owen Swan’s website to learn more about this Australian illustrator.

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 – Papi’s Gift

I chose today’s Perfect Picture Book before I knew what the big news story would be this week. Sadly, the United States continues to grapple with the issue of who should, or should not, be allowed to move here from outside our borders, either temporarily or permanently, alone or with their families.

Books like today’s Perfect Picture Book put a human face to the issues and will, I hope, foster empathy for those who make difficult choices, whether to stay with family or migrate in hopes of a better life.

9781590784228_1Title: Papi’s Gift

Written By: Karen Stanton

Illustrated By: René King Moreno

Publisher/date: Boyds Mills Press (an imprint of Highlights)/2007

Suitable for Ages: 7-9

Themes/Topics: family; migrant; Guatemala; disappointment

Opening:

It is hot and dry on the day that Papi tells me about the box.

“Graciela,” he says, “I have sent you a box—a big box full of wonderful things for my girl on her seventh birthday.”

Brief Synopsis:

Graciela’s father, who has left their Guatemalan home to pick crops in California, promised to send a big box of birthday presents to Graciela. Disappointed when the box doesn’t arrive in time, Graciela recognizes that she is not the only one longing to be together.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Guatemala;
  • Did you ever expect a package to arrive and it didn’t? How did you feel? What did you do?
  • When you realize that someone else is sad, what can you do to help them feel better?
  • Have you ever shared something that you love to make someone else feel better?

Why I Like this Book:

Papi’s Gift is a sensitive story about the effects of migration on a Guatemalan family whose father is forced to seek work in the US because of a long drought that ruins the family’s crops. Told from the perspective of young Graciela, the reader experiences her sadness and anger that her father isn’t there to celebrate her birthday, and that even his promised package does not arrive. But hearing him cry on the telephone helps her, and the reader, realize that separation is difficult for both those left behind and those who leave.

Particularly poignant is a scene in which young Graciela asks her mother to share wedding photos with her; Papi “has been gone so long that I am forgetting his face.” Papi’s Gift puts a human face to migration and family separation and, hopefully, will foster empathy in young readers for migrants and immigrants who toil alone in the US in hopes of improving the lives of those in their home countries.

Moreno’s soft, pastel illustrations evoke the desert setting, as the family awaits the rains that will allow Papi to return to the family.

A Note about Craft:

Although neither Stanton nor Moreno appear to be Own Voice authors, it’s clear from the text and illustrations that the pair have traveled to Guatemala and understand the plight of families separated by migration.

While the central feeling of Papi’s Gift primarily is sadness and longing for a loved one’s return, Graciela also becomes angry when her father’s promised gift does not arrive for her birthday and sulks for the entire day. By including these emotions, I think Stanton presents Graciela as a complete child, not just a “poster child” for the children of migrants. I think this makes her more relatable to other children who, perhaps, have reacted similarly when things haven’t gone their way.

Finally, I love the dual meaning of the title, Papi’s Gift, as it could refer either to the gift sent by Papi, that doesn’t arrive, or a gift given to Papi. Which is it? You’ll have to read Papi’s Gift to decide for yourself!

Visit Karen Stanton’s website and view more of René King Moreno’s illustrations 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 – Miguel and the Grand Harmony

A true confession: I picked up today’s Perfect Picture Book before I realized it’s based on the Pixar movie Coco that released this week. Sometimes happy coincidences happen!

615U6mYKdwL._SX414_BO1,204,203,200_Title: Miguel and the Grand Harmony

Written By: Matt de la Peña

Illustrated By: Ana Ramírez

Publisher/date: Disney Press/2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-8

Themes/Topics: music, Mexico, family, #WNDB

Opening:

First comes the sound. A single string plucked or a note blown or beat rapped.

And suddenly I am. Where there is music, there is color.  And where there is color, there is life.

Brief Synopsis: A boy living with no music in his home longs for it and finally finds a way to play and share it with his family and community.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover the musical instruments used to create Mexican music;
  • Make your own Maracas, guitar or drum;
  • Listen to Mexican children’s music and poetry;
  • View the Coco trailer. How are Coco and Miguel and the Grand Harmony the same? How do they differ?

Why I Like this Book:

Miguel and the Grand Harmony is a lovely story that celebrates the roles of music and family in Mexican culture. Told from the point of view of the music itself (more about that below), La Musica embarks on an exploration of the many facets of Mexican music before introducing us to the main character, Miguel, whose great-grandmother, Mamá Coco, abhors music due to bad memories associated with it. Not surprisingly, in the end music triumphs, and even Mamá Coco is happy.

The illustrator, Ana Ramírez, also worked on Coco, and brings the exuberant colors of the film to the printed page. Read an interview with Ramírez, to learn more about this young, Latina Pixar artist.

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, Miguel and the Grand Harmony is told from the point of view of La Musica, the music itself. This enables Newberry Medal-winner de la Peña to explore the many facets of Mexican music and culture and tell the particular story of Miguel and his family, too. La Musica acts, in a way, as an omniscient narrator, which works well to provide a context and enrich the story.

Also as mentioned above, Miguel and the Grand Harmony is “inspired by Disney Pixar’s Coco”, and features the family from that film. Per the New York Times and NPR reviews I’ve read (I haven’t had the opportunity to see the film yet), death figures prominently in the movie, with ghosts and dia de los muertos celebrations taking center stage, and Miguel embarking on a journey to the afterlife. De la Peña has eliminated the fantastical afterlife and focuses, instead, on the community, Miguel’s family, and Miguel’s desire to experience music. By doing so, he enables Miguel to play more of a role in his own transformation. I also think this renders the story more universally appealing, and, I believe, will resonate better with young listeners and music and culture lovers.

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 – All the Way to Havana

I had the pleasure of visiting Havana earlier this year with my husband and riding in a vintage automobile like the one featured in today’s Perfect Picture Book. Since then, I’ve been eagerly awaiting its Book Birthday. Thankfully, that day arrived last week, and today’s Perfect Picture Book zoomed into my mailbox a few days ago. My husband, who barely notices the piles of books “decorating” my workspaces, oohed and aahhed at this one. I know you will, too!

9781627796422Title: All the Way to Havana

Written By: Margarita Engle

Illustrated By: Mike Curato

Publisher/date: Godwin Books (Henry Holt and Company/Macmillan Publishing Group)/August 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: Cuba; family; vintage automobiles; journey; resourcefulness

Opening:

We have a gift, and we have a cake, and today we’re going to drive all the way to the big city to see my new baby cousin on his zero-year birthday!

Some of this island’s old cars purr like kittens, but ours is so tired that she just chatters like a busy chicken – cara cara, cara cara, cluck, cluck, cluck…

Brief Synopsis:

A boy and his family drive from the Cuban countryside to the big city of Havana in their vintage automobile to welcome a new baby to the family.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Cuba;
  • View the book trailer here;
  • View an interview with Mike Curato on All the Wonders;
  • Color a car, like Cara Cara, the classic car of All the Way to Havana.

Why I Like this Book:

All the Way to Havana is a beautifully written and illustrated book that brought back wonderful memories of the few days I spent in Havana, Cuba this past spring. Its simple tale of a boy helping his father fix an old car to carry them to visit a new family member paired with the lovely old cars in the picturesque city will appeal to kids and car lovers of all ages, I think. And the messages of family togetherness and caring for family treasures, like the old car, will resonate with young and old, too.

In a blog post, Curato stated that he loved drawing cars as a young child and still enjoys it today. That love shines through in All the Way to Havana, from the cover, to the end papers filled with many colorful makes and models, to the 1950s color palette, and even to a surprise if you “lift the hood” by peeling back the jacket cover.

In that same blog post, Curato wrote:

Margarita said this book is about peace, about bringing two neighbors together: the Cubans in the book, and the Americans reading it. Neighbors should be friends. While some of this book may seem very foreign to some, I hope that they can also see the universal themes of family and the roads we take, some bumpy and others smooth. If one neighbor can see the road the other is traveling on and discover a familiar feeling, then maybe that is enough for me.

A Note about Craft:

The opening lines of All the Way to Havana are among the best I’ve read as they set the scene and highlight the issues of the story. There is a gift and a cake, so the reader is on alert that there’s a party, without mention of that term. We learn that the narrator is driving “all the way” to the big city – ie, a long distance, to celebrate a “zero-year birthday”. What a lovely way to herald a birth! Reading further, we meet Cara Cara, a character in herself, and learn that she doesn’t purr like a kitten, but clucks like a chicken. What wonderful images these words evoke! And these images will be easily recognized by children and evoke the rural setting of the story’s beginning. What a wonderful way to hook readers in the first lines!

All the Way to Havana garnered four starred reviews and considerable attention in the press. Justifiably so!

Visit Mike Curato’s website here and Margarita Engle’s site here, and read an interview with both in Publisher’s Weekly .

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 – Deep in the Sahara

My local library is displaying books about Islam in the wake of the recent immigration ban. I found today’s featured book there. It also appears on a helpful list of children’s books, Refugees Welcome Here, published recently by Horn Book.

Without further ado, today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9780375870347_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Deep in the Sahara

Written By: Kelly Cunnane

Illustrated By: Hoda Hadadi

Publisher/date: Schwartz & Wade Books (Random House)/2013

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Islam; clothing; Mauritania; family; growing up; Sahara

Opening:

Deep in the Sahara, sky yellow with heat,

rippled dunes slide and scorpions scuttle.

In a pale pink house the shape of a tall cake,

you watch Mama’s malafa

flutter as she prays.

More than all the stars in a desert sky,

You want a malafa so you can be beautiful too.

Brief Synopsis: A young Muslim girl dreams of wearing the malafa garment worn by the women in her Mauritanian village.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Deep in the Sahara is a lovely, non-didactic introduction to Islamic practices in a part of the world Americans typically know little about. It also helps answer the question of why women wear clothing that partially or totally covers their hair and/or faces. I appreciate the desire of young Lalla to emulate the women she admires in her village, and I think Ms. Cunnane does a wonderful job explaining this. Written in lovely, poetic language, Deep in the Sahara provides a glimpse into village life as well. A glossary of the Hassaniya words (an oral dialect of Arabic) that are sprinkled through the text is included.

Hadadi’s bright, collaged images upend the stereotype of dark, drab Islamic female dress, and showcase each woman’s individuality. As noted in several reviews, Deep in the Sahara is an important introduction to Islamic practices for young children, that highlights the regional differences in the Muslim world.

A Note about Craft:

Ms. Cunnane wrote Deep in the Sahara after she lived and taught in Mauritania. She refers to the main character, Lalla, in the second person, thus helping young readers empathize with Lalla’s quest to don the malafa. By doing so, I think she also broadens the appeal of this book to include children in Mauritania and perhaps other Muslim countries.

The issue of who can tell a person’s story rages within the Kidlit world. Kelly Cunnane is a caucasian American, writing about a practice and region to which she is an outsider. To her credit, she includes an author’s note about her preconceptions about covering, ie, wearing a veil or other head/face-covering item of clothing and how her perceptions changed after living in Mauritania. She also thanks many native Mauritanians for sharing “wonderful stories” and explaining their religion.

The editors at Schwartz & Wade Books chose Hoda Hadadi, an Iranian illustrator who resides in Tehran, to illustrate Deep in the Sahara. While also an outsider to Mauritania, according to the short bio on the book jacket, Ms. Hadadi has worn a head scarf since childhood, and so, presumably, understands Lalla’s desire to emulate her mother and other women.

Among other accolades, Deep in the Sahara received a Kirkus starred review and was a Kirkus Best Children’s Book of 2013.

See an interesting review on a site that only reviews children’s books about Africa (a good site to keep bookmarked!).

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 -Have you seen Elephant?

I spent many enjoyable hours reading picture books by English authors and author/illustrators with my young family when we lived outside London many years ago. When I have the good fortune to find an English picture book on this side of the Pond, I’m eager to share it. Sometimes it’s the setting, sometimes the English humour, and sometimes it’s a word or scene that transports me back.

Today’s Perfect Picture Book reminded me of the humour evident in such British classics as Monty Python or Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean series – but targeted to the playground set. And for those in the mood for some hysterical English-American word comparisons, check out a wonderfully witty post at Picture Book Den.


9781776570089_p0_v1_s192x300-1Title
: Have you seen Elephant?

Written & Illustrated By: David Barrow

Publisher/date: Gecko Press, NZ/2015

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes/Topics: hide and seek, elephants, playtime, family, all-dialogue, humorous

Opening: “Would you like to play hide and seek?” “OK. You hide.” “I must warn you though. I’m VERY good.”

Brief Synopsis: An elephant who is very good at hiding challenges his human friend to find him in a game of hide and seek.

Links to Resources:

  • Play hide and seek with a friend or family member
  • Hide something and challenge a friend, family member or even a pet to find it
  • Elephant is good at hiding. Is there something you are very good at that would surprise others? Show these friends or family members what you are good at & ask them to show you what they can do well.

Why I Like this Book:

Have you seen Elephant? is an engagingly simple picture book with a humorous plot. Young hide-and-seek fans will delight in finding the elephant that the unnamed boy and his parents don’t see (or perhaps choose not to see – a possibility raised by Barrow in a 2015 interview on the Playing by the Book blog). Their parents will enjoy the message that someone can be good at something even if he/she doesn’t fit a stereotype of someone who would succeed at that task.

A Note about Craft:

Have you seen Elephant? is a story with a very low word count, told all in dialogue, with 13 of its 28 pages comprised solely of engaging water colour illustrations. While the story could, perhaps, have been told wordlessly, the sparse dialogue adds tension and humor as the unnamed boy asks first his father, then his mother if they’ve seen Elephant. The observant dog is the perfect foil to the clueless family. And the twist at the end leaves this reader hoping that a sequel will be forthcoming.

This is a perfect example of a mentor text for all-dialogue, low word count, humorous picture books.

David Barrow was the winner of the Sebastian Walker Prize from Cambridge School of Art for most promising children’s illustrator in 2015. This is his debut picture book, and it’s short-listed for the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize 2016 and long-listed for the Klaus Flugge Prize 2016.