Tag Archives: home

PPBF – King of the Sky

I’ve been meaning to review this book ever since I first saw it last year. As it’s Earth Day on Sunday, and as a pigeon that travels between sunny, southern Italy and a bleak, northern town that smells of coal dust is the title character, I thought it was a Perfect Picture Book for today:

kingofthesky_thumbTitle: King of the Sky

Written By: Nicola Davies

Illustrated By: Laura Carlin

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigrant, intergenerational, homing pigeons; home; loneliness

Opening:

It rained and rained and rained. Little houses huddled on the humpbacked hills. Chimneys smoked and metal towers clanked. The streets smelled of mutton soup and coal dust and no one spoke my language.

Brief Synopsis: A young immigrant is befriended by an elderly neighbor who shares his knowledge and love of homing pigeons, and helps him settle into his new home.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover homing pigeons;
  • Find Wales and Italy, the two places where the narrator has lived, on a map of Europe;
  • Map a route between home and school, or to a friend’s or relative’s house;
  • The narrator misses gelato from his home in Italy. Draw a picture of a favorite food you missed when you traveled or moved;
  • Find more ideas in the Teachers’ Notes.

Why I Like this Book:

King of the Sky is a lovely picture book that will help children gain empathy for newcomers to their school or neighborhood and that will offer hope to children who are migrants or have recently moved.

The narrator, an unnamed Italian boy who has moved from a southern land of sun, fountains and gelato to a northern land of chimneys, towers and coal mines, finds pigeons there that remind him of home. He gradually learns English from their owner who, after a “lifetime working in a coal mine” speaks “slow enough” for the narrator to understand.  I love how the two become friends, bonding over their love of pigeons, and that each brings something to the intergenerational relationship: The “crumpled,” weakening Mr. Evans shares his language and pigeon-racing knowledge with the narrator as the narrator takes over the pigeon racing tasks. That an elderly, working class man shares his passion with a young immigrant is especially poignant, given the immigration debates in many regions today. It’s also very moving that the aptly-named pigeon, King of the Sky, travels to the narrator’s beloved Italy, but then finds his way home to the boy in the gritty, coal-filled village.

Carlin’s dreamy, mixed-media illustrations switch from landscapes to small vignettes, at times focusing in on small details, while at other times soaring at pigeon-level above the action. King of the Sky is 42 pages, and includes five wordless spreads, plus 16 other wordless pages.

0763695688.int.2

Reprinted from: Candlewick Press

A Note about Craft:

Davies tells King of the Sky using first-person point of view. As is evident from the very descriptive opening, this point of view helps draw the reader into the story, to stand in the narrator’s shoes, to feel the sadness of no one speaking his language, of not belonging. Interestingly, the point of view changes to third person on the last page, perhaps to allow the reader to step back and leave the narrator’s world, happy to see that he now belongs.

In the opening scene, Davies utilizes descriptive, lyrical language to show the perceived bleakness of the narrator’s new home: the repetitive rain, “houses huddled”, smoking chimneys and towers that “clanked.” She even brings in smells, of acrid coal dust and mutton soup, which must have been a huge disappointment compared to the “vanilla smell of ice cream in my nonna’s gelateria” that the narrator mentions later in the story.

Finally, as is evident from the many themes and topics listed above, King of the Sky is a multi-layered picture book: the story of an immigrant adjusting to life in a new country; an intergenerational story, with a weakening, presumably soon-to-be-dying older man; a story about pigeons, that find their way home; a story of contrasts between a sunny, southern country and a bleak, northern region.

Visit Davies’ website to see more of her books. Visit Carlin’s website. King of the Sky was named a New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2017.

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 – Alfredito Flies Home

Happy New Year! It’s amazing to think that the holidays are “done and dusted”, as many of my English friends say. Did you travel over the holidays? Our family journeyed to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – my first, but hopefully not last, visit to Brazil and South America. In addition to sightseeing and enjoying sun and warm temperatures, we celebrated our daughter’s recent marriage to a Brazilian with his family and friends. Like the main character in today’s Perfect Picture Book, I’m sure my son-in-law anticipated the trip with much excitement. Hopefully, too, he also feels that New York, although much, much colder than Rio, is now a home where he belongs.

9780888995858_1024x1024Title: Alfredito Flies Home

Written By: Jorge Argueta

Illustrated By: Luis Garay

Translated By: Elisa Amado

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2007

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes/Topics: El Salvador; immigrants; home

Opening:

My name is Alfredo, just like my father, but everyone calls me Alfredito. I am as happy as a bird today because I’m going back home. Finally, after four whole years in San Francisco, my mother, Adela, my father, my grandmother Serve and I are going to climb on a plane tomorrow and fly back to El Salvador.

Brief Synopsis:

A young boy and his family who fled their home in El Salvador journey back to visit relatives and friends.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about El Salvador, the country from which Alfredito’s family fled and to which they journey back;
  • Alfredito and his family enjoy many native dishes when they visit their family, including pupusas, corn tortillas with a filling. Make pupusas y su curtido (filled corn tortillas with pickled cabbage);
  • Describe in words or pictures a visit to family or friends. How did you feel before the journey? How did you feel when it was time to go back home?
  • Alfredito knows he is close to home when he spies Quezaltepec, a beloved volcano in El Salvador. Learn about volcanoes.

Why I Like this Book:

Although the word count is high by today’s standards, Alfredito Flies Home is a heart-warming story about refugees who journey back for a visit to their home country several years later. I found it particularly interesting that Alfredito’s family fled initially overland with the aid of smugglers, but journeyed back via plane. I think it’s also important for kids, both those who fled and those learning about refugees, to see that, as in Alfredito’s case, only part of his family left El Salvador. Upon his return, he was able to see his older sister for the first time in four years, see cousins and meet some who were born while he was in the US, visit the grave of a grandmother whose funeral they could not attend, and reunite with a beloved pet dog. Most importantly, by journey’s end, Alfredito comes to the realization that he has not one, but two homes, one in El Salvador and one in San Francisco.

Garay’s colorful acrylic on canvas paintings complement Argueta’s descriptions of Alfredito’s life in San Francisco and El Salvador.

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, Alfredito Flies Home has a much higher word count than many picture books published today. A native El Salvadoran and Pipil Nahua Indian, Jorge Argueta is an Own Voices poet and children’s author who inserts many details into the story that someone less familiar with El Salvador may have overlooked, such as how Alfredito’s family home looks, including the parakeets in the hibiscus bush that squawk to welcome the family back. Luis Garay is of Nicaraguan descent, and has also lived in Canada. That both men know what it’s like to leave one country and straddle cultures adds to the authenticity of Alfredito Flies Home.

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 – Amelia’s Road

I’m enjoying the late summer bounty at local farmers’ markets, reveling in the many fruits and vegetables available. My favorite market is at an orchard where late-harvest peaches, a variety of plums, and early apples can be picked now. I have many fond memories of apple picking with my children when they were young, and I even remember picking grapes as a child for my father’s attempts to make “wine.” It was hard work, but it was once a year, for a few hours only, and we kept what we picked.

Today’s Perfect Picture Book also involves picking fruits and vegetables, but as a job, not for fun, and by families who follow the harvests, who mark time, not in calendar months or days, but by harvest cycles.

9781880000274_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Amelia’s Road

Written By: Linda Jacobs Altman

Illustrated By: Enrique O. Sanchez

Publisher/date: Lee & Low Books/1993

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: migrant farm workers; Latina; home; #WNDB

Opening:

Amelia Luisa Martinez hated roads. Straight roads. Curved roads. Dirt roads. Paved roads. Roads leading to all manner of strange places, and roads leading to nowhere at all. Amelia hated roads so much that she cried every time her father took out the map.

Brief Synopsis: Amelia, the daughter of migrant farm workers, dreams of a permanent home.

Links to Resources:

  • Draw your home, or a place you’d like to live;
  • Amelia doesn’t like maps, because they are a sign the family is moving again; maps can be fun, though, especially when you learn mapping skills
  • Find a small box (shoe boxes work well); decorate the outside of the box with pictures of things you like; fill the box with things that are important to you;
  • Check out the Teacher’s Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

Amelia’s Road is a realistic look at the lives of migrant farm families, who move from place to place following the harvests. Despite the difficulty of the topic matter, Altman imbues the story with a note of hope, in the form of a sympathetic teacher who welcomes Amelia into her classroom, bothers to learn her name and praises the drawing of something Amelia holds most dear: a white house with blue shutters with a large tree in the yard. I think this shows the impact an act of kindness can have to better the life of another. I also loved that Amelia stumbled upon a large tree in a field, at the end of a path-like, “accidental” road, a place where Amelia could feel at home, where she buried a treasure box, as a sign that she would return to this place she belonged.

Sanchez’ acrylic on canvas illustrations work well with the rural setting and difficult lives of the migrant farm workers.

spread-02

A Note about Craft:

Altman’s opening provides clues about the issues of the story and piques the reader’s interest. She uses Amelia’s full name, thus letting us know that Amelia is a Latina. We also learn that Amelia hates roads, leaving us to wonder why. Finally, Altman provides a subtle clue: Amelia cries when her father takes out a map. Could it be that Amelia’s family is on the road too much? If so, is that why the book is entitled Amelia’s Road? Could a road be both a problem and provide a solution? I, for one, wanted to read on & find out.

Even without looking at its publication date, it’s clear from the longer text, almost 1,100 words, that Amelia’s Road is an older picture book. Despite its length and slower pacing, however, I think its subject matter, migrant farm workers, and themes, including the desire for home and community, a sense of “belonging”, make it relevant for today’s readers. By addressing multiple themes, ie, adding layers, I think Altman has lengthened the shelf life of Amelia’s Road.

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books https://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/list provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – The Map of Good Memories

I thought I’d kick off Memorial Day weekend with a book from across the Pond, from Spain, to be exact. What does Spain have to do with Memorial Day, you ask? Probably not much, as there doesn’t seem to be a comparable holiday there. But Memorial Day is about remembering, and it’s also the “official” start of the summer vacation season, at least here in the United States. Both relate in certain ways to today’s Perfect Picture Book.

First, today’s Book is about remembering. It also reminded me of a special vacation journey I took one summer with my two older children when they were 4 and 6 (my husband met us mid-trip). We traveled among several German, Czech and Austrian cities by train. While I kept a written diary, the girls drew pictures of their favorite activities each day – a kind of Book of Good Memories.

May you make and remember many good memories this Memorial Day weekend and on your travels this summer. And now, today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9788416147823_p0_v2_s192x300Title: The Map of Good Memories

Written By: Fran Nuño

Illustrated By: Zuzanna Celej

Translated By: Jon Brokenbrow

Publisher/date: Cuento de Luz/2016 (Spanish edition also available)

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; home; maps; remembering; saying farewell

Opening:

Zoe had lived in the city since she was born. But now, because of the war, she had to flee with her family and take refuge in another country.

Brief Synopsis: As her family prepares to flee the war-torn city of her birth, Zoe maps out the favorite places where she has spent the happiest times of her life.

Links to Resources:

  • Map your classroom, home, city or favorite picture book;
  • Learn mapping skills; a good resource to learn is a newly-published picture book, Mapping My Day, written by Julie Dillemuth, illustrated by Laura Wood, and published by Magination Press (2017);
  • When you travel, keep a “favorite places” diary by drawing a picture each evening of someplace you enjoyed seeing or something you enjoyed doing;
  • In the Author’s Note, Nuño states that The Map of Good Memories is “about saying farewell.” Think about what or to whom you would say “farewell” if you were traveling or moving house.

Why I Like this Book:

This is a poignant story about treasuring the little things you enjoy about the place where you live. On the eve of her family’s departure, ten year-old Zoe looks back at all of the happy times she has enjoyed in her hometown.

Unlike other refugee books that focus on the journey (The Journey and Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey come to mind) or a better life ahead, The Map of Good Memories focuses on the past, on the positive aspects of life in Zoe’s home city before the war. Most of these are small, everyday occurrences that kids will relate well to, like going to school, visiting the library and bookstore, playing in the park, and enjoying favorite films in the movie theatre. As Zoe maps out the special memories of her childhood, she finds a special surprise and comes to the realization that these memories will always be with her, wherever she lives, and that someday she will return.

I love this hopeful message for refugee children. I also think it’s a good reminder for all of us that places that currently are wracked by war or other disasters have a history, and potential future, that are peaceful and positive.

Celej’s soft, watercolor images impart a sense of peacefulness and reflection to the story, and will encourage multiple readings.

Images and text about the war are few, so this is a wonderful book to share with kids who are moving for other reasons as well.

Source: Cuenta de Luz

 

A Note about Craft:

Interestingly, neither Nuño’s text nor Celej’s illustrations clearly reveal the setting or era of The Map of Good Memories. While the city appears European and while most people depicted are fair-haired Caucasians who wear neither veils nor headscarves, the time period is not obvious. In a review reprinted by Barnes & Noble, one reviewer guesses World War II. I’d guess the Bosnian conflict instead, given that Zoe is portrayed in jeans in one scene and wearing a bike helmet in another. Regardless, by not naming the conflict or even the city, I think Nuño makes the action more immediate: this could happen anywhere, at any time, to any of us.

Even though they leave two key elements of the story vague, Nuño and Celej weave many small details into The Map of Good Memories. For instance, not only does Zoe remember many films she enjoyed at the movie theatre, but Nuño mentions “the candy counter, the big seats, the lady who showed you to your seat with a flashlight…” Despite this detailed description, he leaves room for the illustrations, with bookshelves “full of real treasures” that Celej then fills in with dreamy characters surrounding Zoe as she reads. Nuño also leaves the depiction of the theatre to Celej, who completes it with a marquee heralding The Wizard of Oz, a brilliant cultural reference, as, after all, “there’s no place like home.”

Cuento de Luz, “based in Madrid, Spain but with an international outlook,” is a publishing company specializing in children’s literature, primarily picture books. Its philosophy is to publish stories that are “full of light that bring out the inner child within all of us. Stories that take the imagination on a journey and help care for our planet, respect differences, eliminate borders and promote peace.” Cuento de Luz is a B Corporation that uses “stone paper” in the production of its books – no trees, no water, no bleach.

Fran Nuño is the author of over 30 children’s books and owner of a bookstore in Seville, Spain.

Zuzanna Celej is a children’s book illustrator of Polish descent, educated and working in Spain.

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 – Blue Rabbit and Friends

As a pre-published picture book author, I seek out the newest releases at my local library and in bookstores. At every conference and in every webinar, we’re told to read, read, read, BUT only books published in the past few years, as the market constantly evolves and, for picture books especially, the optimum word counts change.

Every once in a while, though, an older book captures my interest, and I find that it could as easily have been published today as back in the day. I’m happy to feature one of these “oldies but still goodies” as a Perfect Picture Book.

9780142300794_p0_v1_s118x184Title: Blue Rabbit and Friends

Written & Illustrated By: Christopher Wormell

Publisher/date: Jonathon Cape Ltd/1999 (UK); Phyllis Fogelman Books (Penguin Books for Young Readers)/2000 (US)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8, or younger

Themes/Topics: home, trading, problem-solving

Opening: “Once there was a Blue Rabbit who lived in a cave in the middle of a dark forest.”

Brief Synopsis: Blue Rabbit decides he doesn’t like living in a cave in a dark forest and sets off to find a new home. He finds that Bear, Goose and Dog are also unhappy in their homes, and together, the animals reach a solution that suits everyone – with a twist.

Links to Resources:

  • Draw your perfect home – what makes it perfect for you?
  • Build your perfect home using found materials like empty boxes, old blankets, etc.
  • Try block printing

Why I Like this Book: This is a simple story about finding one’s place in the world, exploring the concept of home – what makes one setting or dwelling perfect for one person (or animal) but not another. It’s also a terrific lesson in the power of group problem solving. With all of the text on the left side and the vibrant linoleum block print illustrations on the right, it’s also a lovely book to read aloud.

A Note about CraftAs noted above, Blue Rabbit and Friends is an older book, but for me, at least, its style and story still resonate. While its word count, around 600, is longer than the norm and while, arguably, some repetitive language could be cut, on the whole, the text does not seem too long.

In addition, Blue Rabbit has a problem, and it’s an age-old problem – he isn’t happy at home, something just isn’t right. Through the course of the book, he realizes he isn’t the only one with that problem; and he solves the problem on his own. The story then ends with a twist that could, and in fact did, lead to a sequel. To this reader, at least, Blue Rabbit and Friends seems just like the sort of well-executed picture book story line popular today.

Christopher Wormell is a prolific English illustrator, artist and children’s author. Check out his other books 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: A Piece of Home

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New skill –  driven from NJ to lower Manhattan & Brooklyn, summer 2016

Strange but true fact about me: I love to move. Really! I’m the “go to” parent when my kids move (all three are doing so this summer), and I’ve even contemplated starting a moving consultancy to help seniors downsize. So when I see a book about moving, I can’t resist. Once you see this week’s Perfect Picture Book, you won’t be able to either – whether you enjoy moving or not.

9780763669713_p0_v1_s192x300Title: A Piece of Home

Written By: Jeri Watts

Illustrated By: Hyewon Yum

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press, June 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: immigration, moving, Korea, extended family, home, gardening

Opening: “In Korea, my grandmother was a wise and wonderful teacher. When students bowed, she held her shoulders erect, but her eyes sparkled.”

Brief Synopsis: A young boy and his family relocate from urban Korea to West Virginia and he struggles to adapt to life in their new home.

Links to Resources:

  • What reminds you of home? Draw a picture or write a story about it and share it with a friend, classmate or family member
  • Welcome a new student to your school or a new family to your neighbourhood
  • Ask an elderly relative or neighbour about their favourite plants; plant one in your home garden

Why I Like this Book:

A Piece of Home is a lovely intergenerational story of adapting and settling in to a new home in a new country. The main character and narrator, Hee Jun, worries not just about the challenges he faces, but about how his grandmother, who lives and moves with the family, giving up her career to do so, will thrive. While moving and adapting to a new home are the subject of several picture books (see below), A Piece of Home is unique insofar as both the narrator and his grandmother in this intergenerational family must adapt. I also love that a plant, the Rose of Sharon, plays an important role in the resolution of the story.

Ms. Yum’s soft watercolour illustrations and especially the expressive faces of Hee Jun, his family and classmates perfectly complement Watts’ text.19bookshelf-4-master1050-1
A Note about Craft:

Jeri Watts includes some awesome juxtapositions in this tale, including using the terms ordinary, extraordinary & different to great effect. I especially liked her observation that grandmother “could find the extraordinary held within the ordinary”, like the bright red centers in the Rose of Sharon flowers. And Hee Jun observes that in Korea, he was “ordinary,” not different, as he is upon arrival in the US.

The action in A Piece of Home occurs both in Korea and in the US. To separate the two, Ms. Watts relates the Korean scenes in past tense, but then switches to present tense in the US. To tie them together, she subtly points out similarities, most notably in the gardens.

Other Recent Books about Moving:

In a review in the New York Times Book Review, Maria Russo reviewed A Piece of Home and several other 2016 releases about moving, including

9781626720404_p0_v1_s118x184Before I Leave, Jessixa Bagley (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook), about a hedgehog who moves from his anteater friend

9781580896122_p0_v2_s118x184I’m New Here, Anne Sibley O’Brien (Charlesbridge, 2015) follows three recent immigrants who struggle to adapt and fit in at their new school in the US. Ms. Sibley has created a website, imyourneighborbooks.org, that showcases “children’s books and reading projects building bridges between ‘new arrivals’ and ‘long-term communities.’”

9780763678340_p0_v1_s118x184The Seeds of Friendship, Michael Foreman (Candlewick Press, 2015), is about a boy who immigrates to England and finds solace, and friendship, by planting gardens

9780544432284_p0_v4_s192x300My Two Blankets, Irena Kobald & Freya Blackwood (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), uses an old and new blanket as metaphors for language and the acquisition of a new language in a new home.