Tag Archives: imagination

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Renato and the Lion

I’ve had today’s Perfect Picture Book on my “to review” shelf for a while. Hearing the news about Notre Dame Cathedral made me think of it, and review it today.

Title: Renato and the Lion

Written & Illustrated By: Barbara DiLorenzo

Publisher/Date: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group/2017

Suitable for Ages: 5-7

Themes/Topics: war; art; national treasures; refugee; imagination; intergenerational story

Opening:

Renato loved his home in Florence, Italy. He loved the people there. And the food there. But he especially loved the art there. It was everywhere.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy worries about the fate of a stone lion in his hometown of Florence, Italy, as the Nazis invade during World War II, and he and his family must flee to America.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the coloring pages with background information about Renato and the Lion;
  • Visit a museum or sculpture garden;
  • Create your own sculpture.

Why I Like this Book:

In Renato and the Lion, DiLorenzo tells a gentle story that deals with difficult topics in a child-friendly way. Set in Florence, Italy during World War II, the story features young Renato and the stone lion sculpture in the Piazza della Signoria that he loves. Although readers see soldiers patrolling the streets and although Renato’s father vocalizes his fears, the focus is on Renato, his love for the lion, and the steps he, and his father, take to protect the lion from harm.

Including a glimpse into the many Renaissance treasures of Florence, a dream-like, magical journey through Florence at night, young Renato’s journey to America as a war refugee, and his journey back to Florence years later, Renato and the Lion touches on many themes that will appeal to children. These themes also make it a valuable addition to art and social studies curricula.

DiLorenzo’s soft, watercolor illustrations bring Florence and Renato’s story to life, and further the feeling of love and hope that run through the story.

A Note about Craft:

At its heart, Renato and the Lion is the story of a relationship between a boy and his beloved sculpture. But there are so many layers to this story! Readers discover Florentine artwork and learn about sculpture restoration. We learn how Italians protected precious art during World War II. We experience the fear and dread of leaving one’s home and venturing to a large, new city. We also accompany Renato and his granddaughter back to Florence decades later and are left with a feeling of hope that all ends well. These layers not only add up to a well-told story, but they help make a central problem of the story, war, more child friendly.

In an Author’s Note, DiLorenzo recounts the backstory that includes a family trip to Florence and a documentary about protecting artistic treasures during World War II. What inspires your stories?

Visit DiLorenzo’s website to see more of her award-winning artwork.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing is Moonstruck

With the fiftieth anniversary of the first lunar landing approaching, there’s been increased interest in stories about our relationship with the moon. I recently read two new picture books that had me moonstruck, too.

A Kite for Moon

Authors: Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple

Illustrator: Matt Phelan

Publisher/Date: Zonderkidz/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: moon; historical fiction; space exploration; friendship

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A Kite for Moon, written by New York Times bestselling author of How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? Jane Yolen and her daughter, Heidi E. Y. Stemple, tells a heartfelt story about a young boy’s fascination and unlikely friendship with the moon. With whimsical illustrations by award-winning artist Matt Phelan, the story begins when the little boy, who is flying his kite, notices a sad Moon. He sends up kites to her, even writing notes to Moon promising he will come see her someday. This promise propels him through years and years of studying, learning, and training to be an astronaut! Dedicated to Neil Armstrong, and a perfect children’s book to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first United States moon landing, the cover of this book will captivate readers with eye-catching spot UV, foil, and embossing.

Read a review and an interview with Yolen and Stemple at Writing for Kids (While Raising Them).

Music for Mister Moon

Author: Philip C. Stead

Illustrator: Erin E. Stead

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books (Holiday House Publishing, Inc.)/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: moon; shyness; friendship; music; courage; imagination

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

What if you threw your teacup out your window…and what if it accidentally knocked the moon out of the sky? 
A girl named Harriet longs to play her cello alone in her room. But when a noisy owl disrupts her solitude, Harriet throws her teacup out the window and accidentally knocks the moon out of the sky in frustration. Over the course of an evening, Harriet and the moon become fast friends. Worried that he’ll catch a chill, Harriet buys the moon a soft woolen hat, then takes him on a boat ride across a glistening lake, something he’s only dreamed of. But can she work up the courage to play her music for the moon?

Read a review at The Picture Book Buzz.

I paired these books because they are dreamy, lyrical books, perfect for bedtime, that personify the moon and treat it as a character (a her, in A Kite for Moon and a him, in Music for Mister Moon). Interestingly, the moon is envisioned as lonely in both books, and friendship is a strong theme in both. As the unnamed boy in A Kite for Moon works hard to realize his dream to visit the moon as an adult, shy Hank works hard to overcome her fear of performing as she plays her cello on the moon in Music for Mister Moon. Both books thus show children that dreams are attainable.

Looking for similar reads?

To find out more about our quest to reach the moon, see Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon by Suzanne Slade/Thomas Gonzalez (Peachtree Publishers/2018), and a “galaxy” of fiction and non-fiction children’s books about space exploration in a recent post in Publishers Weekly.

PPBF – When the Horses Ride By: Children in the Times of War

April is National Poetry Month, so I’ve chosen a poetry collection this week, by a wonderful writer, Eloise Greenfield, whose picture book, Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me, I reviewed last year (and it’s now available for US readers to enjoy!).

Title: When the Horses Ride By: Children in the Times of War

Written By: Eloise Greenfield

Illustrated By: Jan Spivey Gilchrist

Publisher/Date: Lee & Low Books/2006

Suitable for Ages: 8-9

Themes/Topics: war; peace; dreams; imagination; resilience; diverse books

Opening:

I Think I Know

I think I know what war/ is all about./ Listen:/ This one was mad at that one,/ and that one was angry, too./ Then the others said,/ “Since you two are mad, we’re going to be mad at you.”/ Now, everyone’s mad/ at somebody else,/ and everyone wants to be right./ And how to decide/ who the winner is?/ They fight.

Brief Synopsis: A collection of 17 poems about children and war throughout history.

Links to Resources:

  • Write an acrostic poem in celebration of peace, using the letters in PEACE as the first letters of each line;
  • As a foreword to When the Horses Ride By, Greenfield quotes a portion of Langston Hughes’ “Dreams” (©1994, Estate of Langston Hughes): Hold fast to dreams/ For if dreams die/ Life is a broken-winged bird/ That cannot fly. Describe or draw your dreams for peace;
  • Think about a time in your family, classroom, school or neighborhood when you or others were angry. What did you do? Think of 3 ways you could promote a peaceful resolution to this conflict;
  • Make and share a peace crane;
  • Celebrate National Poetry Month by reading & writing poems and participating in other activities in your school or town.

Why I Like this Book:

When the Horses Ride By explores a difficult topic, children during times of war. But rather than leaving readers feeling sad and hopeless, Greenfield uses free-verse poetry to explore children’s resilience and show us that even in terrible circumstances, there is hope of a better tomorrow. Arranged in roughly chronological order, the poems provide glimpses into the relationship of children to war from ancient China, through early American conflicts, to world wars, Vietnam, apartheid in South Africa, and the Gulf War of the early 2000s.

Teachers and parents will appreciate this great geographical and historical breadth and the inclusion of a diverse group of children and experiences. There’s also a wonderful range of feelings about wartime, including poems about being on the sidelines of war zones, being afraid in war zones, missing parents, understanding soldier parents who return home with injuries, and celebrating the end of war and apartheid.

I particularly enjoyed A Child Like Me, that encourages children to empathize with other children in other places who share the same “scary thoughts”. But “[i]f we laugh, our laughter will meet in the middle of the ocean, and we will be friends.”

Gilchrist’s colorful collages combine site and era specific details, including photographs, with images of children’s faces and child-like pursuits, including toys.

A Note about Craft:

Greenfield uses poetry to describe the many varied ways that war affects children and how children react to war. I think this medium enables Greenfield to explore this difficult topic in a way that doesn’t leave readers feeling hopeless. Using poems about different wars, both geographically and throughout history, also enables readers to distance themselves somewhat from the conflicts and to come to the realization that “surrounded by love” that takes them “through the danger days”, the children will survive with their wonder, wisdom, laughter and hope, as they “are the children…still”.

Greenfield is the author of almost 50 books for children, and has received many awards, including the 2018 Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children from the National Council of Teachers of English. Read a 2007 interview by Don Tate in The Brown Bookshelf, including a discussion about When the Horses Ride By.

Visit Gilchrist’s website to see more of her award-winning books and illustrations.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

 

Perfect Picture Book Friday – The Patchwork Bike

I thought I’d celebrate the first day of March optimistically, as it’s the month when spring arrives in the northern hemisphere, and cyclists tune up their bikes in anticipation of the return (hopefully) of warmer weather. I hope you’re all able to hit the roads on your favorite two or three wheelers soon!

Title: The Patchwork Bike

Written By: Maxine Beneba Clarke

Illustrated By: Van Than Rudd

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018 (first published in Australia by Hachette Australia/2016)

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: bicycle; resourcefulness; play; poverty; imagination; North Africa; multicultural

Opening:

This is the village where we live inside our mud-for-walls home.

These are my crazy brothers, and this is our fed-up mum.

Brief Synopsis: The young narrator and her brothers in an unnamed village near a desert create a bike out of used items and take readers on a joy-filled journey.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

With its sparse text and roll-off-your-tongue language, The Patchwork Bike is a joy-filled read-aloud that will have kids wanting to build their own patchwork bike. The bike’s handlebar branches “shicketty shake” and “wood-cut wheels” “winketty wonk” when the children ride it. Who wouldn’t want to “bumpety bump” through the village under the “stretching-out sky”?

But along with this joy and exuberance, astute children and adults will notice that these children live in a “mud-for-walls home” and have a “fed-up mum”, perhaps because the kids use “Mum’s milk pot” (her only milk pot?) for a bell. And they make their bike not out of a purchased kit but from what most of us would term trash. I think the inclusion of these signs of poverty adds a rich layer to this story that makes this a perfect book for classroom or home discussion.

Van Than Rudd’s expressive acrylic illustrations on recycled cardboard add so many details to the text including picturing dark-skinned Mum with a head covering and robe, indicative of clothing from North Africa, including the initials BLM on the bike’s license plate in reference to the Black Lives Matter movement, and an image of the boys standing on an abandoned police car. Pointing out these details to children provides, in my opinion, a wonderful discussion opportunity. As Rudd relates in “A Note About the Illustrations”, “[t]o me, the kids painting ‘BLM’ on a bark license plate was their way of showing pride in what they had created out of limited resources and also linking themselves to a long history of rebellion.”

A Note about Craft:

In sparse, poetic text, author Beneba Clarke transports readers to an unnamed, probably North African village and describes the building of a bicycle out of used materials. Interestingly, she doesn’t mention anything that indicates a geographical region, except the existence of a “no-go desert”, nor that identifies the family as being from a particular race or religion. Instead, these details are left to the illustrator, Rudd, who brings this story to life.

In an “Author’s Note”, Beneba Clarke relates that she included a child with a bike made from scrap pieces in a short story for adults. The image of that child and the experience of bike riding stayed with her and formed the basis of The Patchwork Bike. What characters or situations can you pull from existing manuscripts and repurpose into a new story?

Per Candlewick’s website, Beneba Clarke is “an Australian writer and slam poet champion of Afro-Caribbean descent”. For more information about Beneba Clarke, see a recent Picture Book Author feature in The Brown Bookshelf. This is her first picture book.

Also from Candlewick’s website, Rudd “is an Australian street artist and activist”. This is his first picture book. Read an interview with Rudd at Let’s Talk Picture Books.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing – Travels Wordlessly through the World

As the biggest holiday in the United States looms and as many of you dear readers may be jostling through airports, cramming into trains or sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, take a deep breath and imagine journeys that are much more pleasant, like the ones paired today. Happy Thanksgiving! 

Chalk Eagle

Author & Illustrator: Nazli Tahvili

Publisher/Date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: imagination; flight; adventure; wordless

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A young boy living in the heart of a busy city spots an eagle swooping overhead. He dreams of what it would be like to fly away from the noise and soar over mountains and rivers. Climbing onto the roof, he uses chalk to draw his own eagle – and then himself – into existence. The two fly away together and embark on a wonderful adventure of the boy’s imagination.

Read my review.

 

Door

Author & Illustrator: JiHyeon Lee

Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books/2018 (originally published in South Korea, Iyagikot Publishing Co/2017)

Ages: 3-5

Themes: imagination; friendship; adventure; wordless

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

What’s on the other side of the door? There’s only one way to find out: You’ll have to go through it.

JiHyeon Lee’s debut book, Pool, was lauded as a wordless masterpiece. Here she takes readers on another journey into an unexpected world. Delicate drawings transform from grays to vivid color as a curious child goes through a mysterious door and discovers that open-mindedness is the key to adventure and friendship.

Read a review at Brainpickings.

I paired these books because they are wordless picture books involving imaginative journeys. In Chalk Eagle, a young boy views an eagle and draws an eagle and himself with chalk to experience the joys of flying over serene, forested mountains. With a palate of blues and greens, Tahvili evokes vast mountains and sky, leaving many details to the readers’ imaginations. In Door, a young boy finds a key to a locked garden, enters, and discovers a colorful, exuberant world filled with welcoming creatures on the other side. Leaving the black and white reality of frowning adults, the boy enters the colorful, detail-filled garden to frolic with a cast of merry characters. While both main characters undertake imaginative journeys, the look and feel of these journeys differ, perhaps because Tahvili and Lee hail from different parts of the world: Iran and South Korea.

Looking for similar reads?

See Circle, Jeannie Baker (2016) or the Journey series by Aaron Becker.

Perfect Pairing: There’s a What???

Did you ever wonder what would happen if a wild animal suddenly appeared? As adults, it’s often difficult to set reality aside and consider the possibilities. But kids, and picture book creators who think like kids, can do so, as these fun picture books show!

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 There’s a Tiger in the Garden

 Author & Illustrator: Lizzy Stewart

Publisher/Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/2018 (originally published, Francis Lincoln Children’s Books/2016)

Ages: 4-7

Themes: imagination; intergenerational

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When Grandma says she’s seen a tiger in the garden, Nora doesn’t believe her. She’s too old to play Grandma’s silly games! Everyone knows that tigers live in jungles, not gardens.
So even when Nora sees butterflies with wings as big as her arm, and plants that try and eat her toy giraffe, and a polar bear that likes fishing, she knows there’s absolutely, DEFINITELY no way there could be a tiger in the garden . . .
Could there?

Read a review at Book Share Time.

 

walrus_in_my_bed_0

There’s a Walrus in My Bed!

Author & Illustrator: Ciara Flood

Publisher/Date: Andersen Press USA/2017

Ages: 4-8

Themes: bedtime; imagination; humor

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Flynn has longed for his first big boy bed, but now that it’s here, there’s one rather large problem: a walrus!

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because they are humorous examples of imaginative picture books that deal with kid-relatable life situations, and both have fun twist endings. In There’s a Tiger in the Garden, it’s Grandma who first mentions the possibility of the tiger, as well as other unusual creatures, in the garden to her bored granddaughter. Nora then meets these other creatures and this tiger – or is it a real tiger? In There’s a Walrus in My Bed, Flynn’s parents believe he is imagining the walrus to avoid sleeping in a new bed for the first time – until they don’t think so. I think kids and adults will enjoy the twist endings of both books. What unusual creatures are lurking in your home?

Looking for similar reads?

See There’s a Bear on My Chair (Ross Collins, 2016); There’s an Alligator under my Bed (Mercer Meyer, 1987).

PPBF – Sand Sister

As the warm summer days draw to a close and teachers start preparing classrooms, I couldn’t help focusing on one more summer-filled picture book, choosing a Perfect Picture Book about a fun day at the beach. Enjoy!

sand-sister_fc_pb_wTitle: Sand Sister

Written By: Amanda White

Illustrated By: Yuyi Morales

Publisher/Date: Barefoot Books/2004

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: sisters; beach; imagination

Opening:

One hot, bright summer day Paloma’s Mom and Dad told her, “We are going to a very special beach.”

Sure enough, when they got there Paloma thought it was the most beautiful place in the whole wide world.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl wishes for a sister to play with at the beach, and thanks to the magic of Old Daddy Rock, her wish is realized, but just for the day.

Links to Resources:

  • Imagine a perfect day at the beach. Who would be with you? What would you do?
  • Create sand art;
  • Can’t travel to the beach? Grab a swim suit, towel and picnic, and head to a local pool, a backyard pool or sprinkler, or even your tub!

Why I Like this Book:

In Sand Sister, White combines imagination, art and magic in the form of Old Daddy Rock to create a sister, Sandy, for an only child, Paloma, visiting a beach with her parents. The two enjoyed a variety of beach pursuits, but, like real sisters, they also “became silly”, “started pushing each other”, and “went their separate ways”. Realizing that Sandy would disappear when the tide came back in, Paloma finds Sandy, apologizes, and the two part as friends. And while Sandy does, indeed, disappear with the incoming tide, Paloma learns that playing with and resolving disputes with her sand sister may be good practice for getting along with a real sibling.

I think that whether they are only children or have several siblings, kids will relate to Paloma’s desire for a sister and recognize the scenes of playfulness and anger. I think they also will enjoy the bits of magic that permeate the “special beach” where Paloma’s adventures occur.

Morales’ soft, acrylic paintings capture the movement of the waves upon the beach and the love reflected in the sisters’ eyes.

A Note about Craft:

The first line of Sand Sister had me hooked – I knew something special, something magical was about to take place when I read that this was a “very special beach.” While leaving the particulars of how the scene looked to the illustrator, White put the reader on notice that this was going to be a special day for Paloma, somehow. I was eager to learn more.

When I read Sand Sister and met Old Daddy Rock, I couldn’t help thinking of the magical beings in so many fairy tales, like the fairy godmother in Cinderella.  As in a fairy tale, Old Daddy Rock is a magical being who grant wishes. His name conjures up images of ancient wisdom – seemingly as old as the rocks. But while Old Daddy Rock conjures Sandy into being for the day, it’s Paloma who first draws the image of a sister in the sand, thus showing the power of art & imagination in helping her dreams come true.

Visit Morales’ website to see more of her illustrations and books.

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!