Tag Archives: History

Perfect Pairing Takes on a Tough Subject: The Death of a Pet, 23Oct18

Every pet owner knows that at some point the time arrives to say goodbye to a beloved pet – a dog, cat, hamster or even goldfish who has stolen our hearts. After all, odds aren’t in our favor, as the lifespans of most of these critters is far less than that of humans. And when that dreaded time arises, it’s tough on the adults, and kids. Thankfully, there are some empathetic, pet-loving picture book creators out there. I’ve paired two today.

 

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The Rough Patch

Author & Illustrator: Brian Lies

Publisher/Date: Greenwillow Books (an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers)/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: pets; loss; grieving; nature

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Evan and his dog do everything together, from eating ice cream to caring for their award-winning garden, which grows big and beautiful. One day the unthinkable happens: Evan’s dog dies. Heartbroken, Evan destroys the garden and everything in it. The ground becomes overgrown with prickles and thorns, and Evan embraces the chaos.
But beauty grows in the darkest of places, and when a twisting vine turns into an immense pumpkin, Evan is drawn out of his misery and back to the county fair, where friendships—old and new—await.

Read a review at Picture Book Builders.

 

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A Stone for Sascha

Author & Illustrator: Aaron Becker

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018

Ages: 5-9

Themes: pets; loss; history; wordless picture book; nature; grieving

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A girl grieves the loss of her dog in an achingly beautiful wordless epic from the Caldecott Honor–winning creator of Journey.
This year’s summer vacation will be very different for a young girl and her family without Sascha, the beloved family dog, along for the ride. But a wistful walk along the beach to gather cool, polished stones becomes a brilliant turning point in the girl’s grief. There, at the edge of a vast ocean beneath an infinite sky, she uncovers, alongside the reader, a profound and joyous truth. In his first picture book following the conclusion of his best-selling Journey trilogy, Aaron Becker achieves a tremendous feat, connecting the private, personal loss of one child to a cycle spanning millennia — and delivering a stunningly layered tale that demands to be pored over again and again.

Read a review at Common Sense Media.

I paired these books because they both deal with the loss of a pet, something that’s a difficult topic for children and their parents. In The Rough Patch, Evan, a gardening fox, angrily destroys his garden when his dog dies. But as the garden regrows, first as weeds and then with a pumpkin vine, Evan heals and makes peace with his loss. In A Stone for Sascha, a young girl who lost her pet dog grieves at the beach, but gains peace when a golden stone washes ashore, connecting her loss to those of history.

Looking for similar reads?

See My Old Pal, Oscar (Amy Hest, Amy Bates, 2016); Sammy in the Sky (Barbara Walsh/Jamie Wyeth, 2011); and about aging pets: Big Cat, Little Cat (Elisha Cooper, 2017); Stay: A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List (Kate Klise/M. Sarah Klise, 2017).

PPBF – The Darkest Dark

As nights become longer and Halloween looms, my thoughts turn to things-that-go-bump in the night. Who can say that they’ve never been afraid of the dark? Whether down in a cobweb-covered basement, along a deserted sidewalk, or even in your own bedroom (true confession: to this day, I can’t sleep with a closet door open), I think it’s safe to say that everyone, at some point in her or his life, has been afraid of the dark.  Which is why I’ve chosen to feature Today’s Perfect Picture Book:

 

9780316394727_p0_v1_s192x300Title: The Darkest Dark

Written By: Chris Hadfield & Kate Fillion

Illustrated By: The Fan Brothers

Publisher/date:  Little Brown and Company/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: darkness, fears, dreams, space exploration, history, first steps on the moon

Opening: “Chris was an astronaut. An important and very busy astronaut. When it was time to take a bath, he told his mother, “I’d love to, but I’m saving the planet from aliens.”

Brief Synopsis: Based on a true story, astronaut Chris Hadfield shares incidents from his childhood when he was afraid of the dark, and how he overcame that fear to realize his dream of becoming an astronaut.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon;
  • Ask an adult to share recollections of that first moon walk, or another historical event

Why I Like this Book:

I well remember Apollo 11 and those first steps on the moon (am I dating myself?). In an era when many of us worry about children watching newscasts, and in an era when we often view news instantaneously, alone on individual phones, tablets or computer screens, I loved reliving the moonwalk and experiencing it through the eyes of a space-loving child surrounded by family and friends huddled in front of one black and white television. And while I’ve never dreamed about becoming an astronaut, I love books that show kids how someone can achieve his or her dreams when they overcome fear or other obstacles.

With their blue-gray, moody palette, the Fan Brothers are the perfect choice to illustrate this story. The illustrations combine fantasy, including the dark-loving aliens of Chris’ imagination, and more realistic, almost photographic, images. Befitting a book about darkness, the palette is understandably dark. As befitting a book about an historical occurrence, the illustrations at times are granular, much like the 1960s television images of the first steps on the moon.

A Note about Craft:

Chris Hadfield is a real-life astronaut who has teamed with collaborator Kate Fillion to highlight a problem of his childhood, fear of the dark, and the incident/realization that helped him overcome his fear. The story follows a typical arc: MC wants something, overcomes a problem, and changes. In order, The Darkest Dark presents Chris’ dream, to become an astronaut (see Opening, above, which shows young Chris playing at being an astronaut), explores his fear of the dark and the problems it causes, and offers the solution via the incident that changed everything for him, in this case one of the most momentous events in history. By focusing on this one childhood weakness and showing how he overcame it, Chris offers a way for children to think about overcoming their own fears and realizing their dreams. I think this broadens the scope, and market, of the book beyond the particulars of an astronaut and space, to encompass all dreaming children who overcome fear to realize their dreams.

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list.

PPBF – The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window

September is a month of beginnings, school and fall come to mind; endings, summer with its carefree, shoe-free, sunshiny days; and remembering, those who labor and those we’ve lost, either personally or in the unfathomable horror that is seared into our hearts and divides time into pre-9/11, post-9/11 worlds.  For today’s Perfect Picture Book, I’ve chosen a book that helps us remember another unfathomable horror and reminds us of the hope that can endure tragedy.

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Title: The Tree in the Window: Looking through Anne Frank’s Window

Written By: Jeff Gottesfeld

Illustrated By: Peter McCarty

Publisher/date: Alfred A. Knopf (Random House)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: History, World War II, Anne Frank, Holocaust, chestnut tree, bearing witness

Opening: “The tree in the courtyard lived for 172 years. She was a horse chestnut. Her leaves were green stars; her flowers foaming cones of white and pink.”

Brief Synopsis: The Tree in the Window is the biography of a tree that grew in the courtyard outside the attic where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

As Anne Frank is the “Every Child” serving as a face and bringing a narrative to the horror of the Holocaust, the tree that endured outside her window serves as the “fly on the wall,” bearing witness to Anne’s life and ultimate demise. While Anne and her family were hiding in the attic, the tree also was a source of nature, beauty and comfort for Anne. Which raises an important question to discuss with young listeners: how can we both witness suffering and bring comfort to those who suffer?

This is a gentle introduction to the Holocaust, as gentle as anything can be, that ends with a note of hope: despite her death in 2010 at age 172, saplings from the tree live on around the world, notably at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, in New York City.

A Note about Craft:

On his website, Jeff Gottesfeld writes that he first learned about the tree in a New York Times article and was drawn to its “life-affirming story.” He admits, though, that he “wasn’t sure how to tell” that story. He started a few times, struggled for a few weeks, then set it aside for two years. He returned to the story in August 2012, submitted the manuscript to his agent in November 2012, and Knopf/Random House acquired it a few weeks after that. As he shows, sometimes story ideas need to sit, to jell, before we as writers are able to write them.

Both the text and Peter McCarty’s sepia-toned illustrations imbue the story with the gravitas it deserves. Interestingly, while Anne’s story is told in its entirety, neither the author nor illustrator name the place or time period, nor do they identify the country of origin of the soldiers.

Finally, as a writer who often tackles so-called “difficult subjects,” I think The Tree in the Courtyard serves as a valuable mentor text on point-of-view. By drawing the reader and listeners outside the attic, I believe it affords some distance from a horror that is incomprehensible. As we mark the 15th anniversary of 9/11, and as books about it for even young children are being written, I can’t help wondering what point-of-view will help tell that story while providing hope in the face of overwhelming tragedy.

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!

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Greyfriars Bobby

As Snowmaggedon looms, at least for those of us in the path of Winter Storm Jonas, I think it’s time to “get out of Dodge.” I propose a journey – and what better destination than Scotland in honour of Robert Burns’ birthday next week (25 January). So grab your kilt and woollies, nab some shortbread and a cup of your favourite steaming beverage, and come along…

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Title: Greyfriars Bobby

Written & Illustrated By: Ruth Brown

Andersen Press, 1995

Suitable for Ages: 3-8

Themes/Topics: Animals; Dogs; Loyalty; Travel; Scotland; History

Opening: “I’m fed up with sightseeing,” moaned Tom. “It’s too hot and I’m thirsty.”

 
Brief Synopsis: Tom and Becky, two young tourists, discover the statue of a Skye Terrier next to Greyfriar’s Churchyard, Edinburgh, Scotland. A friendly gardener relates the tale of the loyal dog, Bobby, who guarded his master’s remains for 14 years, and of the townspeople who cared for him.

 
Links to Resources: Most of us aren’t in a position to visit Bobby’s statue anytime soon, but anyone who has ever travelled with children can relate to the impatience of young travellers and their fixation with the small details that adults often overlook. Whether we journey to a foreign land, a neighbouring city or state, a local landmark or even around our own home, we can create our own stories about the things we discover. I’ve also created travel “diaries” with my children – pictures they’ve drawn and then I collected and captioned. Learning more about Skye Terriers and life in 19th century Edinburgh will add to any child’s enjoyment of this tale. In addition, Disney (1961) and Piccadilly Pictures/Ursus Films (2005) released movies based on slightly different versions of this story. Both appear to be available in the US.

 
Why I Like this Book: Whether or not Greyfriars Bobby is a true tale (and the jury is out on this), the statue exists, and the story of Bobby’s loyalty, and the care the townspeople show him after his master’s death, add up to a heart-warming story. Generally, I would prefer a book told from the point of view of someone experiencing the events firsthand- perhaps a child in 19th century Edinburgh. In this case, though, the lens of modern children discovering the past adds a rich layer to the story. Like Bobby who befriends his master, Old Jock, and the café owner who feeds Bobby, a gardener who tends the cemetery befriends the modern travellers. He becomes storyteller, relating Bobby’s saga and providing a glimpse into 19th century Edinburgh. Author/illustrator Ruth Brown adds charming spreads at the beginning and end of this book with 19th century children in the same settings as Tom and Becky. And although this is an older book with quite a bit of text, Brown includes several wordless spreads that evoke Victorian Edinburgh.

 
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!