Tag Archives: growing up

Perfect Pairing – Thinks Small

With the rush of shoppers and tourists and selfie-sticks in midtown Manhattan this weekend, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed. Maybe you felt similarly, wherever you ventured.


Small in the City

Author & Illustrator: Sydney Smith

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Holiday House Publishing/2019

Ages: 6-10

Themes: size, city living, feeling lost, pet cat

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

It can be a little scary to be small in a big city, but this child has some good advice for a very special friend in need.

When you’re small in the city, people don’t see you, and loud sounds can scare you, and knowing what to do is sometimes hard. But this little kid knows what it’s like, and knows the neighborhood. That makes for some pretty good advice for an even smaller friend.

Like, alleys can be good shortcuts, but some are too dark.

Or, there are lots of good hiding places in the city, like under a mulberry bush or up a walnut tree.

And, if the city is too loud and scary, a small one can always just go back home, where it’s safe and quiet.

In his first author-illustrated picture book, Sydney Smith tells a contemplative, quiet story from the perspective of a child.

Read a review at Picture Book Builders.


Small World

Author: Ishta Mercurio

Illustrator: Jen Corace

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: size, shapes, growing up, perspective

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When Nanda is born, the whole of her world is the circle of her mother’s arms. But as she grows, the world grows too. It expands outward—from her family, to her friends, to the city, to the countryside. And as it expands, so does Nanda’s wonder in the underlying shapes and structures patterning it: cogs and wheels, fractals in snowflakes. Eventually, Nanda’s studies lead her to become an astronaut and see the small, round shape of Earth far away. A geometric meditation on wonder, Small World is a modern classic that expresses our big and small place in the vast universe.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews and an interview with Mercurio at Writing for Kids (While Raising Them).

I paired these books because both deal with the concept of being small, and they both include amazing illustrations. Smith’s low word-count debut, Small in the City, follows a young child as she navigates a snowy city, reflects on being small in that city, and searches for a special someone. In contrast, Small World, Mercurio’s picture book debut, is more concept book and shows how Nando’s world expands from the circle of her mother’s arms to encompass the entire world.

Looking for similar reads? See Kirkus Reviews list of Best Picture Books of 2019 about Small People in a Big World.


PPBF – A Bird Like Himself

Today is International Dot Day, a world-wide celebration of creativity inspired by Peter H. Reynold’s classic picture book, The Dot, that invites readers to “make your mark, and see where it takes you.”

I chose today’s Perfect Picture Book because I love the themes and the illustrations, because the main character learns to be “himself”, and also because its author/illustrator hails from a wonderfully-creative part of the world about which many readers in the US know little about. For me, the author/illustrator makes her mark with today’s Perfect Picture Book:

abirdlikehimself-300x297Title: A Bird Like Himself

Written & Illustrated By: Anahita Teymorian (Taymourian)

Translated By: Azita Rassi

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd./2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: growing up; foster families; becoming yourself; finding love; #ReadYourWorld


One day something pale and oval was left all on its own and with nobody to look after it. The oval thing was warm, and it rocked a little back and forth before suddenly…CRACK! Out of the egg came a fat little chick.

Brief Synopsis: A menagerie of animals looks after a baby bird that is born alone in their midst, but none of the animals knows how to teach “Baby” to fly.

Links to Resources:

  • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology publishes educator resources about birds;
  • Learn about foster families;
  • Discover more about Iran, where the author/illustrator lives.

Why I Like this Book:

A Bird Like Himself is a deceptively simple, gorgeously illustrated, multi-layered picture book that’s fun to read, and reread. I find more clues to the ending each time I reread it! Baby, the bird that hatches from an abandoned egg, is raised by a group of loving animals that functions like a foster family. The ways they try to care for Baby and teach him to fly are hilarious! But until he finds a fellow bird, and strikes up a friendship with her, he is unable to fly and totally be himself. In a funny, gentle way, A Bird Like Himself shows children that we can learn from many people and many experiences, but until we’re true to ourselves, we won’t be complete. It shows adults that we, as caregivers, need to let children experience life and learn on their own.

The illustrations in A Bird Like Himself look as if they are telling a story within a story. There is no natural background to the illustrations, there is a limited palette, and there is a repeated checkerboard pattern that, in the end, ties everything together.


Illustration from A Bird Like Himself

A Note about Craft:

As writers, we’re often instructed to be specific, but leave room for the illustrations. Teymorian includes several scenes with sparse text illuminated by wonderful illustrations. For instance, Teymorian writes, “They tried this…and this.” Illustrations show an elephant trying to rock Baby on tusks and Baby perched in a loop of a snake or giraffe neck. Similarly, “I’m hungry,” precedes an amusing illustration of Baby scratching his head as he stares at a picnic that may appeal to other animals, but probably not him.

Although the story seemingly occurs in a forest or on a farm (we’re never sure exactly where), Teymorian includes several details that will cause older readers to question the location. It isn’t until the end that we learn where the story has occurred. I think this appeals to young children, as they don’t question finding a cow living with an elephant, for instance, or repeated checkerboard motifs that don’t seem to have anything to do with animals or birds at all (or do they?).

Finally, Teymorian addresses the reader in several instances with open-ended questions, such as “So guess what Baby did?” This helps draw the reader into the story, I believe, and creates instances during group readings to pause and engage with young listeners.

Read reviews and interviews with Teymorian here.

I mentioned above that I chose today’s Perfect Picture Book because of the creativity on display. For another wonderful example of creativity, and a book, I’d argue, should also be celebrated world-wide, see When I Coloured in the World, which I reviewed in April9781910328071-150x150

Discover more books published by Tiny Owl Publishing, “an independent publishing company committed to producing beautiful, original books for children”, founded on the “belief that stories act as bridges – providing pathways to new experiences whilst connecting us to here and there” and publishing a number of books by Iranian authors and illustrators.  Tiny Owl is open to submissions now through 31 October 2017 for authors and illustrators with stories and illustrations on the “theme of finding hope in a scary world.”

While not currently available in US book shops, A Bird Like Himself is available through the Book Depository, which ships for free to the US.

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


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!