Tag Archives: Family

PPBF – La Frontera: El viaje con papá~My Journey with Papa

I’ve had this picture book on my radar for a while and was thrilled to find it in the bilingual section of my local library. And now I get to share it with you!

Title: La Frontera: El viaje con papá~My Journey with Papa

Written By: Deborah Mills & Alfredo Alva

Illustrated By: Claudia Navarro

Publisher/Date: Barefoot Books/2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-11

Themes/Topics: immigration; family; coyote; autobiography; bilingual

Opening:

When I was young, my family lived in the small village of La Ceja in central Mexico in the state of Guanajuato. For over 100 years, my family had lived there.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy, Alfredo, recounts the journey he and his father take from their home in Mexico to seek a better life in Texas.

Links to Resources:

  • Alfredo and his father travel by bus, inner tube, walking, and truck. Draw a picture showing one or more of these ways to travel. Can you think of other ways to travel?
  • Alfredo tells the true story of moving from Mexico to Texas and starting a new school there. Have you ever moved? Describe your journey and how you felt about it;
  • Check out the back matter where you can learn more about “borders and culture”, “immigration”, and “Alfredo’s story”;
  • Watch the book trailer -in Spanish with English text.

Why I Like this Book:

La Frontera tells the true story of a young Mexican boy, Alfredo, and his father as they journey from their home in south-central Mexico to a new life in Texas. As the story opens, Alfredo is happy at his home surrounded by a loving family, friends, and even a special donkey, Fernando. But Alfredo’s father worked in the pinyon pine trees with Alfredo’s uncle and grandfather. As the grandfather grew older, he was no longer able to work, the family’s earnings declined, and Alfredo and his brothers were “always hungry”. Because there was no other work in the region, Alfredo’s father sought a better life in the United States, bringing his eldest son, Alfredo, with him.

I think that by setting the idyllic rural scene and showing how the family’s fortunes changed, the authors help readers understand why someone would leave their family and home to undertake an arduous, at times dangerous, journey. I think it also helps readers empathize with Alfredo, and gives a name, and face, to immigrants. Although this true story occurred almost 40 years ago, I think it is relevant today as “illegal immigration” across the southern US border tops headline news.

While the details of the actual journey were eye-opening, including being swindled by the “coyote” smuggler, I found Alfredo’s descriptions of his first days at school most interesting. The reality of not understanding English, of feeling apart and alone, of missing Mama and siblings, are important, I think, for children to understand as they welcome non-English speakers to their classrooms. For new immigrants reading this story, I think it may be helpful for them to see how Alfredo slowly learned English and became “a Texan”, as it may encourage them as they strive to integrate.

Thanks, in part, to Reagan’s immigration amnesty, Alfredo’s story has a happy ending, as readers learn at the end of the story and in the back matter.

Navarro’s brightly-colored graphite, acrylic and collage illustrations bring a Mexican folk art feel to the story, reminding readers of Alfredo’s cultural heritage.

A Note about Craft:

In the back matter, readers learn that La Frontera is a true story about Alfredo and his father, and that Alfredo and a neighbor, Deborah Mills, wrote the story together. As a non-#OwnVoices author, I was intrigued and pleased to learn how a non-#OwnVoices author could help write this timely and important story.

I appreciate that Alva and Mills used first-person point-of-view to bring immediacy to the story. I also appreciate that the editors chose to use English and Spanish side-by-side to render La Frontera more accessible in schools and classrooms with both Spanish and English speakers. And I particularly appreciate the choice of a Mexican illustrator to show, in a way, that Alfredo stayed true to his cultural roots.

Barefoot Books is an independent publisher “founded by two young mothers in England in 1992 and based in Cambridge, MA” that publishes “books for children that encourage discovery, compassion, creativity and global awareness.” Its mission is to “share stories, connect families, inspire children”.

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 – Aliana Reaches for the Moon

I don’t often have the pleasure of introducing an about-to-be-published book to readers, but sometimes the moon and stars align (pun intended), and today is one of those days.

Title: Aliana Reaches for the Moon

Written By: Laura Roettiger

Illustrated By: Ariel Boroff

Publisher/Date: Eifrig Publishing/February 2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: STEAM; family; moon; creativity

Opening:

Aliana lives in the Rocky Mountains, where the night sky holds more stars than you can dream of and the moon shimmers like gold.

Brief Synopsis:

Aliana uses scientific knowledge and everyday objects to create the perfect birthday present for her younger brother.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Aliana Reaches for the Moon features a spunky young scientist who experiments to find just the right birthday present for her beloved younger brother. I love how Aliana researched the moon, prisms and light, and then put that research into practice by repurposing everyday objects, including bottles from the recycling bin, into an experience her brother would never forget. I think kids will enjoy following along with Aliana as she experiments. I particularly appreciate that Aliana “thought outside the box” and, in fact, used no kits to create her gift. I also love that her creation was a shared experience, rather than a material object. Finally, I love that Aliana’s family is Latinx, as evidenced in the illustrations and the terms she uses for her parents, Papá and Mamá, but that the story doesn’t raise difficult issues like discrimination or immigration, but rather celebrates creativity, acting as a mirror for young Latinx children that they, too, can reach for the moon.

Although the story’s climax and several other scenes occur at night, Boroff injects light to brighten these night scenes by adding light to the characters’ faces and by depicting them wearing light-colored clothing. Look for the orange family cat that adds a bit of whimsy to most spreads.

A Note about Craft:

At its heart, Aliana Reaches for the Moon is a book about a creative and science-loving young girl AND a loving family. In almost every scene, readers see Aliana researching and creating. They also see her as part of a loving family in which the parents put up with her messiness, younger brother Gus tags along to the library and to the treehouse, and Aliana uses her newly-gained knowledge and skills to create the perfect birthday present for Gus. I think by combining these layers, Roettinger creates a picture book that is more than the sum of its parts.

Visit Roettiger’s website to learn more about this debut picture book author, and read an interview with Roettiger on Susanna Hill’s Tuesday Debut to learn about the creation of Aliana Reaches for the Moon.

Visit Boroff’s website to see more of this debut illustrator’s work.

Eifrig Publishing is an independent publisher whose mission “is creating books that are good for our kids, good for our environment, and our good for our communities.”

I received an electronic copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

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: Christmas is for the Birds (Count)

I think I mentioned at the outset of this blog series that one of my goals is to pair two different books that complement each other because of theme, common author and/or illustrator, or for some other reason. One of today’s books is non-fiction, and the other book is fiction, but they converge on one topic: the Christmas bird count. I think it’s a perfect time to feature these books, as readers can participate in the count now, regardless of whether you live in the country, the city or somewhere in between.

Happy counting, happy holidays to those celebrating Christmas next week, and happy New Year’s to all! As both of the next two Tuesdays are holidays in the US, I’ll be back with my next perfect pairing in January. 

Counting Birds: The Idea that Helped Save our Feathered Friends

Author: Heidi E.Y. Stemple

Illustrator: Clover Robin

Publisher/Date: Sea Grass Press (an imprint of The Quarto Group)/2018

Ages: 3-7

Themes: non-fiction; biography; birds; citizen science; Christmas bird count

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Every day kids learn how they can help protect bird species, near and far, with Counting Birds—the real-life story of bird counting and watching.

What can you do to help endangered animals and make a positive change in our environment? Get counting! Counting Birds is a beautifully illustrated book that introduces kids to the idea of bird counts and bird watches. Along the way, they will learn about Frank Chapman, who used his bird knowledge and magazine Bird-Lore to found the first annual bird count.
 
Bird counting helps professional researchers collect data, share expertise, and spread valuable information to help all kinds of birds around the world, from condors to hawks to kestrels and more.
 
Counting Birds introduces kids to a whole feathered world that will fascinate and inspire them to get involved in conservation and become citizen scientists.

Read a review and an interviewwith Heidi E.Y. Stemple at Picture BookBuzz.

Finding a Dove for Gramps

Author: Lisa J. Amstutz

Illustrator: Maria Luisa Di Gravio

Publisher/Date: Albert Whitman and Company/2018

Ages: 5-7

Themes: Christmas bird count; intergenerational; family; loss

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A boy and his mom continue the family tradition of participating in the annual bird count. Since Gramps went South for the winter, the boy hopes to spot Gramps’s favorite bird for him—a dove! But with so many different birds in the nature preserve, will he be able to spot one? This heart-warming family story about nature celebrates a holiday census that was first started in 1900 and happens every year.

Read a review and an interview with Lisa Amstutz at Picture Book Buzz.

Hawk seen in park across Hudson River from New York City

I paired these books because readers can learn the history of the Christmas bird count in the non-fiction Counting Birds and see its importance to one boy and his family in the fictional story, Finding a Dove for Gramps. Utilizing the information in the back matter of both books, readers then can participate in the bird count themselves.

Looking for similar reads?

See, Owl Moon, Jane Yolen (1987) (the daughter in the story is the author of Counting Birds) and Crow Not Crow, Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple (2018).

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!