Tag Archives: friendship

PPBF – Friends Forever

I found today’s Perfect Picture Book at Dussman’s, a large German book store with a large foreign language section in the heart of Berlin, where I’m visiting my son who is studying abroad.

I traveled to Europe last Monday at the last-minute (and with no picture books in my luggage), to support him and several of his friends following the tragic, unexpected death of his close high school friend and former roommate.

While not about death or those dealing with the world-stage events besetting so many children, I believe today’s Perfect Picture Book is a touching reminder that loss, whatever its cause, has consequences, and that many rainy days elapse as we process our grief.

9783899557732Title: Friends Forever

Written By: Roald Kaldestad

Illustrated By: Bjørn Rune Lie

Translated By: Rosie Hedger

Publisher/date: Little Gestalten/2016 (originally published in Norse, Magikon Forlag/2014)

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: loss, moving, friendship, grief

Opening:

Two hundred and sixty-nine rainy days. He watches the leaves as they float and fall from the trees like the pages of a calendar. Two hundred and sixty-nine days. And whenever it rains, he misses his best friend.

Brief Synopsis:

A young boy misses, and reminisces about, his best friend who has moved from his neighborhood, and comes to terms with the separation.

Links to Resources:

  • The Main Character and his friend have buried an object that was special to them. Have you ever buried or set something special in a secret hiding place with a friend?
  • Has one or more of your friends or relatives moved away, or have you moved from friends or relatives? How did you feel? If you felt particularly sad or lonely, what did you do to feel better?

Why I Like this Book:

Friends Forever is a child-centric exploration of loss and the process of grieving and surviving a separation. In the story, the unnamed male main character mourns the loss of his female best friend who has moved away. He thinks of her especially on the many rainy days, which he has counted since she left. As life moves on for his family, the boy continues to think, and dream about, his friend, reminiscing about shared moments and wondering about her new life. But as the skies clear, a new girl moves into the friend’s vacant home, and the reader feels hopeful as the main character views her as a possible new friend.

Although Friends Forever is about a European child in a two-parent home, I can envision children who have lost loved ones to death or separation, or who have experienced traumatic events or moves, to find comfort in the story, much of which happens in the forests where the friends had played together.

With its higher word count and muted color palette, Friends Forever has an older feel to it. Lie, a graphic designer by profession, incorporates a 1950s esthetic, even as he incorporates modern touches, such as the father working on his laptop. While one may question the jacket illustration, which, incidentally was not the original cover in the Norse edition (see below), it brought to my mind the Lost Boys of Peter Pan or the books of my own childhood filled with “western” adventures that, today, seem insensitive.

A Note about Craft:

At 48 pages, Friends Forever is longer than the typical American picture book, with a higher word count as well. American writers may, in fact, wonder that so many extra details and side stories are included. I think Kaldestad was trying to capture the main character’s mood and resignation by drawing out the text, something that I don’t believe the typical American publishers would allow.

Interestingly, the original title, To hundre og Sekstini dagar, or, “Two Hundred and Sixty-nine Days,” is a title that I don’t believe a US publisher would use for a picture book, and even the German publisher has changed it.

Friends Forever is told from the point of view of the child left behind. We learn, though, that the friend who has moved also misses him by the inclusion of packages she sends him.

For more images from Friends Forever, visit Lie’s website.

Friends Forever is available in the US and was reviewed by Kirkus in 2016.

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 – Robinson

Regular readers may think that I’m deviating from my focus on books about refugees, regions experiencing conflict or natural disasters, and regions affected by immigration bans. But as I read today’s Perfect Picture Book by a noted author-illustrator who, himself, was born in the former Czechoslovakia and was granted asylum as an adult in the US, I couldn’t help but think the themes of this book are so important for today’s refugees or any other kids feeling alone or hopeless. I hope you agree!

9780545731669_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Robinson

Written & Illustrated By: Peter Sís

Publisher/date: Scholastic Press/September 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Courage, loneliness, independence, friendship, adventure, bullying

Opening:

My friends and I love adventure. We play pirates all the time. Together, we rule the high seas!

Brief Synopsis: Peter, a young boy who loves Robinson Crusoe, falls ill after dressing as his hero for a school costume party and being mocked for his costume. He then dreams of a journey that mimics that of his hero.

Links to Resources:

  • A costume party is a key feature of this story. Have you ever dressed as a literary hero? Find some ideas here.
  • Have you ever worn a costume that you really liked, but others found it funny or too different? How did you feel?
  • Read a child’s version of Robinson Crusoe here.

Why I Like this Book: Robinson is a gorgeous picture book with an important message for kids who feel alone and/or different.

How will I survive on my own?” Peter asks in one dark spread, as he looks fearfully around an imposing forest. I think Peter speaks for all kids who are alone, or who feel alone due to lack of friends or bullying, or who are in an unfamiliar place due to a natural or manmade disaster or even are lost near home. As kids see Peter adapt to island life and emulate the lifestyle of his hero, I think they will feel hope, too, that their situations will improve. As in all good adventure stories, Sís circles back to the beginning, and in the end, we leave Peter and his friends ready for another adventure.

In true Sís style, the text is minimal and the illustrations are incredible. This is a dream adventure, and Sís’ depiction of the transition from reality to dream is stunning as Peter’s bed transforms into a ship, and he approaches the island after floating in and out of hours, or maybe days.

A mix of smaller panels and larger one- and two-page spreads, Sís’ pen, ink and watercolor illustrations were designed to capture the “colorful, dreamlike first impression” he had when he first read Robinson Crusoe, per an About the Art note. I believe he succeeded, and I think you’ll agree!

A Note about Craft:

As authors or author-illustrators, we learn the importance of ideas and idea generation. We also learn they can come from anywhere – even our own past. Sís mined his past for Robinson. He states, in an Author’s Note, that Robinson is inspired by a true story from his childhood. Sís wore a Crusoe costume fashioned by his mother and recalled being ridiculed by friends. He even includes a photograph of himself in that costume in the book (you’ll have to read Robinson to see it!). What memories of yours can become picture books?

From the opening above, the point of view is clear: the main character of Robinson narrates his own story. I think this works well to bring immediacy to the story.

Robinson is a 48-page picture book published by a major commercial publisher. While the word-count is low, the page count is high, showing that the “rules” can be broken.

Finally, I confess to having had trouble pulling the main themes from Robinson. It is so multi-layered! I listed those from the jacket cover first, but then realized how bullying, not listed on the cover, plays such a pivotal role in the story, and how imagination, which isn’t even listed above, pops from each page.

Robinson has justifiably received many starred reviews. Learn more about its acclaimed author/illustrator, Peter Sís at his website and Scholastic Author Page.

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 – Four Feet, Two Sandals

Yesterday was the United Nations’ International Day of Peace. The theme this year is “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All.” This theme honors “the spirit of TOGETHER , a global initiative that promotes respect, safety and dignity for everyone forced to flee their homes and those leaving in search of a better life.”

I chose a “classic” story of two refugees in honor of the Day of Peace Together theme and to further my pledge to take action to promote peace in our world. Please join me in the United States Institute of Peace’s #PeaceDayChallenge!

ResizeImageHandlerTitle: Four Feet, Two Sandals

Written By: Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed

Illustrated By: Doug Chayka

Publisher/date: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)/2007

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: refugees; friendship; sharing; Afghanistan; loss

Opening:

Lina raced barefoot to the camp entrance where relief workers threw used clothing off the back of a truck. Everyone pushed and fought for the best clothes. Lina squatted and reached, grabbing what she could.

Brief Synopsis: When two young refugee girls without shoes find one pair of sandals, they become friends and alternate wearing the sandals.

Links to Resources:

  • Wear one shoe only & walk around the house and/or neighborhood. How does it feel to wear only one shoe? Try switching one shoe or both shoes with a family member or friend. How does it feel to wear shoes that don’t fit quite correctly and/or to wear shoes that fit differently?
  • Learn about Afghanistan, the country where this story occurs.
  • View the Teacher’s Guide here.

Why I Like this Book:

Four Feet, Two Sandals is one of the first picture books dealing with the refugee situation and was published even before that situation became what we now term the “refugee crisis”. Much has changed in the ten years since its publication, but, sadly, much remains the same: only the numbers and countries seem to increase each year. Because it focuses on the day-to-day experiences of two young girls and because it concerns a kid-relatable topic, ie, what do you do when there isn’t enough of something for two or more kids, I think it remains an important book for classroom and family reading.

The sepia-toned illustrations transported me to the camp and helped me envision the experiences the two friends shared. An Author’s Note provides context and information about the refugee experience.

A Note about Craft:

The theme of leaving one’s home, losing family members to war, terror attacks or a natural disaster, and settling in a camp or center with few possessions or food is overwhelming for adults, let alone children. By focusing on one detail of that experience, the shoes Lina needs, finds, and ultimately shares with Feroza, Williams and Mohammed help us empathize with the main characters and, if you will, walk along in their shoes as they experience the trials and tribulations of life in a refugee camp. By emphasizing the particular over the general, these authors draw us into the story and build empathy for their characters. What detail(s) can you highlight in your works in progress to help draw your readers into the story and help them empathize with the main character(s)?

Not only do Williams and Mohammed focus on shoes, something kids will understand, but they provide a further description to make them more appealing: “yellow with a blue flower in the middle”. Not only does this description add more kid appeal, but the shoes stand out in each spread of the book. This reminds me that as we add details in our text, we should think about how these details will appear in illustrations throughout the book.

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 Friend Ship

The sun and the moon aligned recently, and I enjoyed the distinct pleasure of being in lower Manhattan and able to attend the book launch of today’s Perfect Picture Book. And as we’re still in the holiday season, and there are at least two holiday connections, I just had to share it with you today:

9781484707265_p0_v3_s192x300Title: The Friend Ship

Written By: Kat Yeh

Illustrated By: Chuck Groenink

Publisher/date: Disney Hyperion (Disney Book Group)/December 2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes/Topics: friendship; journey; hedgehogs; loneliness

Opening:

Hedgehog was curled up in a prickly little ball in the lonely little nook of a lonely little tree when she heard someone say her name.

“Poor Hedgehog seems so lonely!”

“I know, but it will get better. Friendship is out there – all she has to do is look.”

Brief Synopsis: A lonely hedgehog sets sail to find the friend ship. She meets animals on her journey who join in her search, until they all discover what friendship really is.

Links to Resources:

  • Plan a journey: What would you bring along? Who would you invite to share your journey?
  • Friendship or Friend Ship? Homemade or Home Made? Sometimes when two words are put together they acquire a meaning distinct from the two words used separately. Can you think of others?

Why I Like this Book: This is a simple tale of misunderstanding. Hedgehog thinks that friendship is a thing – a ship full of friends. So like anyone seeking something, she sets out to find it. She sets sail and along the way meets others who also seek friends. In classic style, Hedgehog finds what she’s seeking – friends, even though she never realizes she’s mistaken about the meaning of friendship.

Warm, sunny illustrations complement this sweet story – and Groenink even added a few surprises to add to the fun.

A Note about Craft:

Friendship is an evergreen topic (holiday connection #1), but how do you make it fresh? In Kat’s case, she cleverly looked at the word, broke it apart, added a misunderstanding, and voila! The MC is off on a quest to find the Friend Ship. Brilliant!

I also think her choice of MC is ingenious. Hedgehogs are prickly, but not as prickly as porcupines. They can curl up into a ball, like a shy or lonely child. What a perfect choice to lead a journey to find friends. And what’s the holiday connection, you ask? When our son was young and we were living in England, he desperately wanted a hedgehog. While we never agreed to his request, we did get him a hedgehog ornament to hang on the Christmas tree. To this day, I cannot see a hedgehog without thinking of the holidays!

If you enjoyed The Friend Ship, you may also enjoy Salina Yoon’s Be a Friend (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2016).

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 – Shy

I first caught a glimpse of today’s Perfect Picture Book during the New England SCBWI conference this past Spring. One look at the title and the gorgeous cover and I was hooked – I was a shy child hiding in books (and some would argue I still am) who raised three book-loving introverts. How could I not love this book? With its stunning artwork and heart-warming story, though, I think everyone will love this Perfect Picture Book – whether you’re shy…or not!

9780451474964_p0_v1_s118x184Title: Shy

Written & Illustrated By: Deborah Freedman

Publisher/date: Viking (Penguin Young Readers Group), September 2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes/Topics: shyness, friendship, birds, overcoming fear, books

Opening: “Shy was happiest between the pages of a book.”

Brief Synopsis: Shy, a timid creature, hides in books until he hears a songbird sing. He sets out to meet her, and in so doing, faces his fears.

Links to Resources:

  • Have you ever felt shy? Draw or describe a time you felt shy or afraid to do something;
  • Download Shy postcards and a Shy writing page here;
  • Do you have a shy friend or sibling? Describe a time when you encouraged her or him to join an activity or go on an adventure;
  • Learn more about birds and bird songs;
  • Share a favorite book with a friend.

Why I Like this Book:

Shy is a quiet book that presents a character who has read about birds and thinks he will love them, but who has “never actually heard a bird,” and when he does, worries that he may not “know how to talk” to one and “what if” he stuttered, blushed, or…

The gentle story of overcoming one’s fear to find a friend will resonate, I think, with shy children (and adults!) as well as friends and family of shy children. 

With its pastel palette and low word count, Shy is a perfect bedtime story or read-aloud to a class simmering down after lunch or recess.  And I love how the story invites friends to share favorite books together.

To quote a starred Kirkus review, “Freedman’s fine pencil lines, graceful animals, superb compositions, and spare text are virtuosic, but the backgrounds are the soul of Shy’s tale: breathtaking watercolor washes blend hues softly from one section of the natural color spectrum to another, opaquely connoting desert, mountains, skies, dawn, and night.”

A Note about Craft:

“Show don’t tell” – a directive that picture book authors hear again and again. If you’re writing about a shy character who hides in books, how do you show this? A pile of books perhaps? A head poking out of the top of an open book perhaps? Or, perhaps, if you’re the talented Deborah Freedman, you hide the character within the book itself. And what better place to hide a character than smack in the middle of that book – the gutter.  As many shy people disappear in the middle of a classroom, party or other gathering, so Shy hides right in the middle of his own book. Brilliant!

Hiding the main character presents a problem and an opportunity. The problem, of course, is that with your main character less present in the beginning pages, the narrator and illustrations must work harder to help the readers picture and empathize with him or her. At the same time, this is an opportunity, building tension, as your readers and listeners wonder who, or what, the main character is. It’s also an opportunity to drop visual clues, so that when the first reading ends, the reader and listener will want to go back to the beginning and see who is the first to find Shy hiding in plain sight.

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 – Friend or Foe?

The best children’s books appeal to, and resonate with, not only the children listening to the story but also to, and with, the adults reading them. Since I’ve acquired today’s Perfect Picture Book, I can’t help thinking that themes of the book – wondering about people who are different than us; using clues to discover their natures; finding the courage to cross barriers that divide us – ring true on the playground, in the classroom, in the workplace, and even in the larger world, whether we are 5, 25, 55 or older. I think you’ll agree.

51ailoxr49l-_sx485_bo1204203200_Title: Friend or Foe?

Written By: John Sobel

Illustrated By: Dasha Tolstikova

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press/11 October 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-7 & older

Themes/Topics: Wonder, friendship, courage, mice, cats, social situations

Opening: “This is how it was…A lonely mouse lived in a small house beside a great palace. In the great palace lived a cat.”

Brief Synopsis: Night after night, a lonely mouse on the roof of a small house and a cat in a castle tower stare at each other. The mouse wonders whether the cat is a friend or foe, and, conquering his fear, sets off to discover the answer.

Links to Resources:

  • Discuss or draw pictures of animal species that generally are friends. Why do they get along? Do the same for species that generally are foes. Why do they fight or avoid each other?
  • Discuss visual and verbal clues that help you decide whether someone or something is a friend or foe (and why sometimes the clues can be misleading);
  • Describe a time you overcame fear to discover or find something.

Why I Like this Book:

This is a simple story, told with straightforward prose, but with a fairy tale aspect – “This is how it was…” It’s also an ambiguous tale, as judgments about the nature of others often are. 

The muted palate of grays and creams with a few pops of reds and yellows furthers the air of mystery in this quiet book. Readers/listeners aren’t quite sure where the palace and small house are or when the story takes place. We don’t know whether the cat is lonely, too. And we know little about their lives apart from the nightly encounter: is the cat a Rapunzel character or a princess happy in the tower; does the smallness of the house represent poverty or just difference from the imposing palace. Neither author nor illustrator answer these questions, but I think that’s ok. Friend or Foe? presents characters that wonder and enables readers and listeners to ponder these questions, too. Many interesting family and classroom discussions inevitably will take place after reading this tale of would-be friends, or foes.

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, Friend or Foe? is a tale filled with ambiguity. At its heart, it is an examination of friendship: how do we discover and assess whether someone is a friend or foe. But rather than placing the two potential friends together, as is the case with most picture books examining friendship, Sobel separates the two, leaving the pair, and the readers/listeners, with only visual clues to answer the question.

Setting is a key character in the story. The pair are separated not by a busy road or body of water that is difficult to cross. Rather, the “palace had only one entrance, and it was carefully guarded.” “Not even the cat” could enter or leave, but the mouse noticed a tiny hole. After squeezing through this hole, the mouse still had to climb to the top of a tower, because not just a wall but also vertical distance separate the pair. Could this vertical distance be a metaphor for class difference? I don’t know, but this detail lends an interesting layer to this tale.

I received an advance copy of Friend or Foe? from the publisher; the opinions and observations expressed in this review are my own and were not influenced by anyone.

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 -By Mouse & Frog

I purchased By Mouse & Frog at a conference I recently attended and where I had the pleasure of meeting the delightful Deborah Freedman, its talented author/illustrator. I was instantly drawn to this book based on the cover artwork, but it’s the story of the creative process told within its covers that makes By Mouse & Frog a Perfect Picture Book.

T9780670784905itle: By Mouse & Frog

Written & Illustrated By: Deborah Freedman

Publisher/date: Viking Penguin Young Readers Group/2015

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes/Topics: friendship; cooperation; creativity

Opening: “One morning, Mouse woke up especially early, eager to write a brand-new story.”

Brief Synopsis: Quiet, organized Mouse is writing a quiet story when his exuberant friend, Frog, arrives, interrupts and inserts his own jumble of characters and events into the story. When Mouse cries “Stop,” and hurts Frog’s feelings, the two must learn to work together to create their own story.

Links to Resources:

Deborah Freedman has a study guide for By Mouse & Frog. Ideas include:

  • Pass on the Story: each child takes a turn adding a sentence or two to a group story;
  • Finish Mouse’s story that begins “Once upon a time, Mouse woke up early and set the table…”
  • Siblings, friends or classmates together create a large picture together with each person adding to the scene. This could be a terrific rainy day activity.

Why I Like this Book:

At its heart, this is a story about two friends who learn to work together to create something that combines the best of their styles. On another level, it’s an insight into the creative process: from the barebones, straightforward story that Mouse envisions to the thoroughly chaotic world that Frog conjures up, to the balanced story that results when they combine their talents and work together.

This book would work well in a classroom setting with young children, as a roadmap for siblings to work together, and even as an example of give-and-take team building for teens and adults. As Mouse and Frog come to realize, structure without imagination is boring while exuberance without structure quickly gets out of hand. By blending the two, with some negotiating between siblings/friends/teammates, a better story, or project, results.

By Mouse & Frog combines simple text, primarily dialogue, and amazing artwork. The book begins with Mouse’s uncluttered pencil drawings against a white backdrop, crescendos as Frog’s characters and story elements appear as line drawings against a pastel background, and culminates with…you’ll have to read the book to find out!

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!

Susanna takes a break during the summer months. I plan to post – although I reserve the right to skip from time to time during particularly sunny spells and maybe even shake the format up a bit.