Tag Archives: Folktale

PPBF – Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale

It’s the last Perfect Picture Book Friday of April. I considered sharing a picture book of Poetry or about Jazz music/musicians, as both are celebrated in April. But given that funding for the Wall has been in the news so much this week, I just couldn’t resist sharing today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9781419705830_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: Mexico, migrants, folk tale, journeys, coyotes, rabbits


One spring the rains did not come and the crops could not grow. So Papá Rabbit, Señor Ram, and other animals from the rancho set out north to find work in the great carrot and lettuce fields. There they could earn money for their families.

Brief Synopsis:

When Pancho Rabbit’s father is delayed on his return from the north, Pancho sets out to find him, “helped” by a coyote who befriends and guides him, until the food runs out.

Links to Resources:

  • Duncan Tonatiuh wrote a fascinating post about Pancho Rabbit & the plight of undocumented migrants;
  • As is indicated in the Author’s Note, the term coyote has two meanings in Spanish: it is the name of an animal, and it is slang for someone who smuggles people across the Mexican-US border. Interestingly, it is the name of the same animal in English. Try to think of words that are the same, or similar, in Spanish and English. For some examples, check here;
  • A Glossary defines other Spanish terms used in the story;
  • Pancho Rabbit packs his father’s favorite meal as he sets out to find him. What would you pack for your father, mother, sibling or friend? Is it similar to the meal of mole, rice, beans, tortillas and aguamiel packed by Pancho? If not, how does it differ?

Why I Like this Book: Although Tonatiuh wrote and illustrated Pancho Rabbit several years ago, it is, sadly, still such a timely topic. Migration, and the need to migrate, are difficult subjects to understand for kids and adults alike, as Tonatiuh comments in the Author’s Note. To make it more accessible to children, he sets the story as a modern-day fable, combines scenes every child can relate to, including a Welcome Home party, complete with Papá’s favorite foods, special decorations and musicians, peoples the story with animal protagonists, and illustrates it in his distinctive, colorful style that draws on the Mixtec Codex. This is a multi-layered picture book, perfect for home & classroom reading and discussion.

A Note about Craft:

I mentioned above that Tonatiuh includes “kid-relatable” occurrences in the fable of Pancho Rabbit and peoples the story with animal protagonists to render a difficult topic more easily understood. But where did the story come from? What can aspiring picture book writers trying to write about difficult subjects learn from this text? Note that Pancho packs a meal, loads it into a back-pack, the modern-day equivalent of a basket, and sets off on a journey to deliver the food to Papá. Sound familiar? I am indebted to Gordon West’s insight about Pancho as Little Red that appeared in an interview with Tonatiuh in Kirkus Reviews.

Pancho Rabbit was honored as:

  • Pura Belpré Author and Illustrator Honor book 2014;
  • New York Public Library’s annual Children’s Books list: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2013;
  • Kirkus Best Books of 2013;
  • Best Multicultural Children’s Books 2013 (Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature);
  • Notable Children’s Books from ALSC 2014;
  • Notable Books for a Global Society Book Award 2014.

For a companion read about migrants that also includes rabbits, see Two White Rabbits.


You also may enjoy Diego Rivera: His World and Ours, Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011), about the famous Mexican muralist. Diego’s work, sadly, was rejected for Rockefeller Center in the 1930s for political reasons (not a focus of Tonatiuh’s book; for information about the Rockefeller Center mural, see this 2014 NPR article).9780810997318_s2


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 Storyteller

I happened upon The Storyteller on its book birthday, while seeking another picture book at a local bookstore. The bright blue cover with golden illustrations immediately grabbed my attention, as did its title. As those who read my posts know, I’m a sucker for folktales, especially new, original ones. With its well-crafted story and stunning illustrations, this one is an especially wonderful example of the genre, making it a Perfect Picture Book.

9781481435185_p0_v1_s192x300Title: The Storyteller

Written & Illustrated By: Evan Turk

Publisher/date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 and older

Themes/Topics: folktale, storytelling, Morocco, water, the power of words

Opening: “Long, long ago, like a pearl around a grain of sand, the fertile Kingdom of Morocco formed near the edge of the great, dry Sahara. It had fountains of cool, delicious water to quench the dangerous thirst of the desert, and storytellers to bring the people together.”

Brief Synopsis: A young boy seeks water in a drought-stricken Moroccan village. An elderly storyteller tells him a tale, quenches his thirst and empowers him to exert the power of his stories, too.

Links to Resources:

  • Ask a relative to tell a story about his or her childhood, the family, or your hometown
  • Try telling a story to your family, friends, or even a pet
  • Try different watercolor techniques and projects
  • Read a story about a place you’ve visited, or would like to visit

Why I Like this Book:

Both the words and the artwork of The Storyteller are intricate and invite multiple readings. Stories appear within stories, woven together through multi-layered artwork. The message of this folktale – that the power of traditional stories and the oral tradition of passing them on is, like water, necessary to sustain the individual spirit and the community – is an important reminder to preserve traditions and local culture in this internet-saturated era.

Turk’s semi-abstract, mixed-media illustrations featuring browns, for the encroaching desert, and blues, for the life-giving water, both enhance and further the tale. I especially appreciate that he learned an indigo/tea painting technique in Morocco and utilizes it to great effect. 9781481435185_p3_v4_s192x300

A Note about Craft:

When I read in a Publisher’s Weekly interview Turk’s explanation of the origins of The Storyteller, I was reminded of advice new authors and author/illustrators often hear: write what you know; write what you’re passionate about; and ideas can be anywhere.

As for idea generation, Turk’s initial exposure to the arts of Morocco occurred at the Morocco country area at Epcot Center in Walt Disney World. Following this introduction, he travelled to Morocco, where he learned about the storyteller tradition and delved further into the artistic techniques he utilizes in The Storyteller.

Had Turk, a Colorado native and current New Yorker, stuck to what he knew, this story could not have been written and illustrated, at least not by him. Instead, he followed the passion stirred by his first exposure to Moroccan arts. The result is an original folktale that is sure to stand the test of time. Incidentally, it far exceeds the low word-count prevalent in so many current picture books. At 48 pages, The Storyteller exceeds the typical 32-page norm as well. Thankfully, both Turk and Atheneum bucked the trends.

The Storyteller is Evan Turk’s debut picture book as author/illustrator. Based on the many starred reviews, this will not be the last we read and see from this 2015 Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor recipient.

PPBF: Elephant in the Dark

A few weeks ago I reviewed Two Parrots in honor of Persian New Year. While researching activities for that post, I discovered another holiday I knew nothing about: the Sikh holiday of Vaisakhi, also called Baisakhi, celebrated each year on 14 April. This harvest festival is celebrated throughout the Punjab region of India and by Sikhs worldwide. Interestingly, I found no picture books featuring Sikh stories or this holiday. If you know of any, please mention them in the comments.


9780545636704_p0_v1_s118x184Title: Elephant in the Dark

Retold By: Mina Javaherbin, based on a poem by Rumi

Illustrated By: Eugene Yelchin

Publisher/date: Scholastic Press, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Folktale; Fable; Elephants

Opening: “Merchant Ahmad had brought a mysterious creature all the way from India! The news spread fast through the village. What could the huge beast be?”

Brief Synopsis: When a merchant brings an unknown beast to the village and houses it in a darkened barn, everyone tries to guess what it is, and what it’s similar to, based on small sections of the animal.

Links to Resources:

  • Read more about Vaisakhi and color pages of Vaisakhi symbols and festivities including bhangra dancing, wheat for the harvest, and lions.
  • Fly a kite: a popular Vaisakhi activity.
  • Play 20 questions or another guessing game, such as discovering what’s in a closed box (based on shape and sound), or with eyes closed, touching one part of an object and trying to guess what it is.
  • Listen to Bhangra music and try a Bhangra dance – for ideas, check out the many youtube videos.

Why I Like this Book: This story is such a visual reminder to beware a tendency that many people share (myself included): to jump to conclusions without all of the evidence and then ignore evidence that doesn’t support those initial conclusions. Rumi’s fable is brought to life by Mina Javaherbin, an American immigrant born in Iran, and through the vibrant illustrations of Eugene Yelchin, also an American immigrant. In the end notes, Mr. Yelchin wrote,

       “I became an artist in Russia during the time when information was routinely obscured or distorted by the government. And that is why I so eagerly embraced the opportunity to illustrate this book. The importance of seeing the complete picture instead of groping for bits and pieces of it in the dark resonated deeply with me.”

I think this folktale will resonate on many levels with readers and listeners as well.

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!