Tag Archives: immigrant

Perfect Pairing – of Female Scientists

It’s March – Women’s History Month! I’m looking forward to celebrating by reading and pairing some recent picture book biographies of some fascinating women, including the scientists featured today.

Queen of Physics: How WuChien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom

Author: Teresa Robeson

Illustrator: Rebecca Huang

Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books/2019

Ages: 5 and up

Themes: physics, #STEM, biography, immigrant, Women’s History, prejudice, perseverance

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Meet Wu Chien Shiung, famous physicist who overcame prejudice to prove that she could be anything she wanted.

When Wu Chien Shiung was born in China 100 years ago, most girls did not attend school; no one considered them as smart as boys. But her parents felt differently. Giving her a name meaning “Courageous Hero,” they encouraged her love of learning and science. This engaging biography follows Wu Chien Shiung as she battles sexism and racism to become what Newsweek magazine called the “Queen of Physics” for her work on beta decay. Along the way, she earned the admiration of famous scientists like Enrico Fermi and Robert Oppenheimer and became the first woman hired as an instructor by Princeton University, the first woman elected President of the American Physical Society, the first scientist to have an asteroid named after her when she was still alive, and many other honors.

Read a review by Kathy Halsey at Group Blog.

 

What Miss Mitchell Saw

Author: Hayley Barrett

Illustrator: Diana Sudyka

Publisher/date: Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: astronomy, #STEM, biography, Women’s History, perseverance

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Discover the amazing true story of Maria Mitchell, America’s first professional female astronomer.

Every evening, from the time she was a child, Maria Mitchell stood on her rooftop with her telescope and swept the sky. And then one night she saw something unusual—a comet no one had ever seen before! Miss Mitchell’s extraordinary discovery made her famous the world over and paved the way for her to become America’s first professional female astronomer.

Gorgeously illustrated by Diana Sudyka, this moving picture book about a girl from humble beginnings who became a star in the field of astronomy is sure to inspire budding scientists everywhere.

Read a review at Gathering Books.

I paired these books because they recount the lives of two female scientists who were trailblazers in their fields. Although Maria Mitchell received more recognition in her field in the 19th century than the 20th century physicist Wu Chien Shiung did in her field, both battled prejudice in their male-dominated professions, both had parents who kindled and supported their love of science, and both endured to excel in their chosen fields and become faculty at prestigious American universities.

Looking for similar reads? See any of Laurie Wallmark’s excellent picture book biographies of female scientists.

 

 

PPBF – A Map into the World

I saw today’s Perfect Picture Book on one of the many “best of” lists that have begun popping up these past few weeks. When I read the reviewer’s description and the synopsis, I just had to read, and review, it!

Title: A Map into the World

Written By: Kao Kalia Yang

Illustrated By: Seo Kim

Publisher/Date: Carolrhoda Books, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group/2019

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes/Topics: Hmong, seasons, maps, moving, death, intergenerational, new siblings, immigrant, #OwnVoices

Opening:

The first time we saw the swing and the slide and the garden of the green house with the big windows, my mother sat down in a chair in the backyard and said she did not want to get up. Tais Tais and I looked at the garden, and she pointed out tomatoes, green beans, and a watermelon round as my mother’s belly.

Brief Synopsis: When the narrator, Paj Ntaub, and her family move to a new house, she experiences the seasons and the phases of life, including birth and death.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

A Map into the World follows the narrator, Paj Ntaub, as she adjusts to life in a new home and the arrival of twin baby brothers. But even as life is beginning in Paj Ntaub’s house, an elderly neighbor passes away, leaving her husband of over 60 years alone. How does this sensitive young narrator deal with these three big changes? Frankly any one of them on its own would be difficult for any person, let alone a young child, to process.

But young Paj Ntaub is observant. She notes the changes in nature, and she takes comfort in the Hmong story cloth that graces her new home and tells the story of how her family had left its homeland in southeast Asia. Bringing these threads together, she draws a map to show her neighbor how he can navigate the loss of his lifelong partner and find joy in the world once again.

I love the sensitivity exhibited by young Paj Ntaub, and I love how immigrant culture provides a way for the elderly neighbor, a non-immigrant, to process his grief.

A Map into the World is a perfect read for anyone dealing with a life-changing occurrence and for anyone interested in learning more about Hmong culture.

With soft yellows and greens, Kim’s nature-filled illustrations created with “digital graphite, pastels, watercolor, and scanned handmade textures” render a soothing setting for the story and are a gentle reminder that life is filled with seasons of beginnings and endings.

A Note about Craft:

Per an end note, A Map into the World is based upon the author’s actual neighbors, Ruth and Bob, and the author’s own family. She also is an #OwnVoices writer, familiar with Hmong culture and, presumably, problem-solving. I love how she uses aspects of this culture to problem solve and uses the metaphor of a map as a means to adapt to difficult life changes. This is her first picture book.Visit Yang’s website to see more of her books.

Visit Kim’s website to view more of her 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!

PPBF – Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

I confess that the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book was not familiar to me. Nor did I know about the performance noted in the title. So I’m so happy that Margarita Engle discovered young Teresa and shared this heart-warming story.

Title: Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

Written By: Margarita Engle

Illustrated By: Rafael López

Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: music, refugee, immigrant, courage, biography

Opening:

When Teresa was a little girl in Venezuela, Mamá sang lullabies while Papá showed Teresita how to let her happy hands dance across all the beautiful dark and light keys of a piano.

Brief Synopsis: The story of how a young pianist, the “Piano Girl” Teresa Carreño, performed for President Lincoln and his family at the White House during the dark days of the Civil War, as the family was grieving the death of their son.

Links to Resources:

  • Teresa was born in Venezuela. Find out more about this South American country;
  • Teresa performed a song about a Mockingbird. Learn more about this bird;
  • Listen to the Mockingbird was a popular song in America in the mid-19th century. Listen to a recording of it;
  • Learn more about Teresa in the Historical Note and see the Curriculum Guide for further insights;
  • Teresa played the piano to cheer up President Lincoln and his family. What can you do to cheer up a friend, family member, or neighbor?

Why I Like this Book:

In Dancing Hands, Engle introduces readers to a famous 19th century pianist, Teresa Carreño. Readers learn that Teresa loved playing the piano as a young child in Venezuela, but that sometimes she “had to struggle” to play the “stubborn music”. Despite these struggles, Teresa persisted and became an accomplished pianist at a young age.

When Teresa was eight years old, her family fled conflict and sailed to New York City, where Teresa “felt lost”, lonely, and sad, especially as no one spoke Spanish and the US was embroiled in the Civil War. But when Teresa acquired a piano in New York, her life and playing skills improved. Soon, she was performing in concerts, culminating with a performance at the White House before President Lincoln and his family, shortly after the death of his son and during the bleak days of the Civil War.

I think any child who has felt shy speaking before strangers, nervous before a music recital or worried about a big game will relate to Teresa’s predicament. That a child could brighten a President’s life and bring comfort to him and his family is an important lesson for children and adults that young people, including those who are recent arrivals to a country, can make the world better by sharing their talents.

I also think Dancing Hands reminds readers that music has the power to soothe people in times of trouble, acting as a balm for creators, performers and listeners.

López’s mixed media illustrations reflect Teresa’s moods throughout the story, with bright, tropical colors prevalent when she was happy and darker blues and grays dominating scenes of worry and concern.

A Note about Craft:

Dancing Hands is a biography of a pianist who had a long international career as a professional pianist and singer. But Engle has focused solely on the start of that career, when Teresa was still a child, culminating with this one special performance for President Lincoln. I think by limiting the timespan and focus in this way, Engle has created a picture book that will appeal even to younger children and to which children will more readily relate. Also, by honing in on this one important performance early in her stay in the United States, Engle widens the subject of the book from just the story of a gifted pianist to include her journey as a refugee and immigrant who shared her talents and enriched her new home.

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 – a Triple Treat!

It’s a special week! Not just because we celebrate a national holiday on Thursday, fire crackers and all, and not just because my music-loving son celebrates a birthday, but because for the first and maybe only time, I’m “pairing” three picture books! Strike up the band – you’re in for a triple treat!

 

God Bless America: The Story of an Immigrant Named Irving Berlin

Author: Adah Nuchi

Illustrator: Rob Polivka

Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, composer, refugee, immigrant, patriotism, music, singing, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

An inspiring portrait of an immigrant and the gift he gave his new home.
Persecuted as Jews, Izzy Baline and his family emigrated from Russia to New York, where he fell in love with his new country. He heard music everywhere and was full to bursting with his own. Izzy’s thump-two-three, ting-a-ling, whee tunes soon brought him acclaim as the sought-after songwriter Irving Berlin. He ignited the imaginations of fellow countrymen and women with his Broadway and Hollywood numbers, crafting tunes that have become classics we still sing today.
But when darker times came and the nation went to war, it was time for Irving to compose a new kind of song:
boom-rah-rah song.
A big brass belter.
A loud heart-melter.
A song for America.
And so “God Bless America” was born, the heart swelling standard that Americans have returned to again and again after its 1918 composition.
This is the tale of how a former refugee gave America one of its most celebrated patriotic songs. With stirring, rhythmic text by Adah Nuchi and delightful, energetic art by Rob Polivka, readers will be ready to hum along to this exuberant picturebook.

Read a review in The Jewish Book Council.

Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing

Author: Nancy Churnin

Illustrator: James Rey Sanchez

Publisher/Date: Creston Books/2018

Ages: 7-12

Themes: biography, composer, refugee, immigrant, patriotism, music, singing, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Irving Berlin came to the United States as a refugee from Tsarist Russia, escaping a pogrom that destroyed his village. Growing up on the streets of the lower East Side, the rhythms of jazz and blues inspired his own song-writing career. Starting with his first big hit, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” Berlin created the soundtrack for American life with his catchy tunes and irresistible lyrics. With “God Bless America,” he sang his thanks to the country which had given him a home and a chance to express his creative vision.

Read my review.

Write On, Irving Berlin!

Author: Leslie Kimmelman

Illustrator: David C. Gardner

Publisher/Date: Sleeping Bear Press/2018

Ages: 6-9

Themes: biography, composer, immigrant, patriotism, music, singing, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

2019 Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Younger Readers 2018 Eureka! California Reading Association Honor Book Award
Escaping persecution for being Jewish, the Baline family fled Russia and arrived by ship in New York City harbor in September 1893. Little Israel Isidore Baline is only five years old. After arriving at Ellis Island, the first stop for all immigrants, Israel and his family are ready to begin a new life in America. His family settles in the Lower East Side and soon Israel (now nicknamed Izzy) starts school. And while he learns English, he is not a very good student. According to his teachers he daydreams and sings in class. But while these may not be traits that are helpful in the classroom, these are wonderful tools for a budding singer and composer. And by the time that Izzy (now known as Irving) is a young man, he is well on his way to becoming one of the most well-known composers in America. This vivid picture-book biography examines the life of Irving Berlin, the distinguished artist whose songs, including “God Bless America,” continue to be popular today.

Read a review in The Jewish Book Council.

I “paired” these books because they recount the life and music of the composer of “God Bless America”. Although all are “cradle-to-grave” biographies, and although they feature the iconic Berlin song, I loved reading the three together, as I appreciated the various nuances: Nuchi utilizes onomatopoeia to achieve musicality in the text; Churnin begins her exploration as Berlin and his family are sailing away from Russia and towards America and references Berlin’s inclusion of Jewish prayer in the melody; and Kimmelman, who also introduces the tragic scene in Russia at the outset, repeats the phrase, “God bless America” throughout the text.

And while the reason for three picture book biographies published virtually simultaneously may be the 100th anniversary of Berlin’s composition, I think it’s important to consider other aspects of Berlin’s life that resonate today, such as his status as refugee and immigrant and the important role his Jewish faith played in life and music.

I am indebted to Maria Marshall, who reviews picture books and interviews authors and illustrators at The Picture Book Buzz, for alerting me to the existence of these three biographies and for her fabulous interview with the three authors. See a wonderful review of these books by Marjorie Ingall in The Tablet.

PPBF – Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing

Happy Flag Day! To celebrate, let’s wave our flags, raise our voices in song, and celebrate the immigrants who contribute so much to our country, like the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing

Written By: Nancy Churnin

Illustrated By: James Rey Sanchez

Publisher/Date: Creston Books/2018

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes/Topics: biography, composer, immigrant, patriotism, singing

Opening:

Irving stood on tiptoe to see over the rail. Behind him, too far to glimpse, was Russia where angry Cossacks had burned his family’s home to ashes. Ahead was America. What would they find there?

Brief Synopsis: A cradle-to-grave biography of Irving Berlin, a young Jewish immigrant who shared his love of his adopted homeland by composing a beloved anthem.

Links to Resources:

  • Listen to some of the over 1,500 songs that Irving Berlin composed. Do you have a favorite?
  • Listen to Kate Smith’s first performance of God Bless America;
  • Churnin features a Make America Sing page on her website, where she encourages readers to celebrate their heritage and that of classmates and friends;
  • Check out the Curriculum Guide found at Creston Books for more ideas.

Why I Like this Book:

Churnin has written a lyrical biography that introduces young readers to the composer who wrote a song that most, if not all, will recognize. But many, including adult readers,  may not know that Irving Berlin was a Jewish immigrant who as a young child fled Russia with his family to escape persecution, that he left home at 13 to support himself after his father’s death, and that he sold newspapers and was a singing waiter before composing the first of over 1,500 songs, including many popular Broadway shows. And though Berlin became rich and famous for his catchy tunes, Churnin informs readers that “he never took a penny for ‘God Bless America.’” All proceeds from that song he donated to the Girl and Boy Scouts. As Churnin notes, it was his way of sharing the “music in his heart’, his “thank you” to America, the country that opened its doors to him and other refugees in the late 19th century.

I think Churnin’s focus on Berlin’s difficult childhood will help young readers to empathize with Berlin. I think, too, that her focus on his persistence will resonate. Music lovers of all ages will enjoy learning about Berlin. Irving Berlin will make a welcome addition to classroom and home libraries.

Sanchez’ muted-tone illustrations add an early-to-mid 20th century feel to the text. I love the sense of crowding in the early, tenement scenes, and I especially love the pop of red that punctuates the drab backgrounds, generally on a long red scarf that mimics the flow of the Hudson River and the notes on a music staff.

A Note about Craft:

In a StoryStorm post this past January, Churnin advised writers interested in exploring historical topics to “make a date with history” and research important anniversaries when trying to determine who, or what, to write about. She followed her own advice, as Irving Berlin appeared on bookshelves in 2018, the 100th anniversary of God Bless America. Churnin’s latest picture book biography, Martin & Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank, was published in time for the 100th anniversary of the birthdays of these two important people. Who, or what, will you choose as your next non-fiction picture book topic?

In an interview on The Picture Book Buzz recently, Churnin mentioned that an “aha” moment for her occurred when a friend noted that Berlin incorporated a Jewish melody into God Bless America. This became Churnin’s “way into” the story. Identifying that “tidbit” that resonates and becomes a theme in a story is so important for any writer, but especially for someone trying to condense a long life into limited text, all while trying to make it interesting and accessible to young children. It also could be something that sets your book apart from others, just in case, as happened with the anniversary of God Bless America, you aren’t the only one writing and publishing a picture book about it.

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

Perfect Pairing – of Ice Cream Adventures

I was walking in the city a few days ago and was pleasantly surprised to pass not one, not two, but three ice cream trucks. Listening to their jingly tunes compete with church bells, car horns and the other city sounds reminded me of long-ago summer evenings when I’d race down my suburban street, chasing the jingly-jangly music and a cool ice cream cone.

Saffron Ice Cream

Author & Illustrator: Rashin Kheiriyeh

Publisher/Date: Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc./June 2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: immigrant, moving home, summer, beach, ice cream, customs, friendship

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Rashin is excited about her first visit to the beach in her family’s new home. On the way there, she remembers what beach trips were like in Iran, the beautiful Caspian Sea, the Persian music, and most of all, the saffron ice cream she shared with her best friend, Azadeh. But there are wonderful things in this new place as well — a subway train, exciting music… and maybe even a new friend!

Read my review.

Scoop the Ice Cream Truck

Author & Illustrator: Patricia Keeler

Publisher/Date: Sky Pony Press/2018

Ages: 3-6

Themes: ice cream, being needed, friendship

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Scoop the Ice Cream Truck has seen a lot of summers selling his vanilla ice cream cones across the city. But he’s getting old, and the new trucks are getting fancier. Now they have waffle cones, jumbo sundaes, flash frozen ice cream, twenty-seven flavors and six special toppings. Feeling like he’s fallen behind, Scoop decides that it’s time for a redesign. But when his old frame can’t handle the new upgrades, can Scoop discover his own value and find the right spot to sell his vanilla cones?

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because of the focus on ice cream, and because they both are written by illustrator-authors. But, thinking about them together, I realize there’s a bigger connection, too. In Saffron Ice Cream, the main character, young Rashin, leaves her homeland and journeys to the United States where she discovers that ice cream trucks exist here, even if they don’t feature her favorite flavor, saffron, as do new friends. In Scoop, where the ice cream truck itself is the main character, the journey is less about distance than about time: Scoop feels left behind by a world that prefers super-sized treats of more flavors and types than I remember from my childhood (or even my kids’ childhoods). But even if “old fashioned”, Scoop has a role to fulfill and a young child to befriend. I hope you enjoy both books – with a scoop or two of your favorite ice cream!

Looking for similar reads?

See, The Ice Cream King, Steve Metzger/Julie Downing (Tiger Tales/2011).

Perfect Pairing – Thinks about Spring Flowers

It’s my eldest daughter’s birthday today, so to celebrate, I thought I’d give her flowers, or more precisely, share two picture books with greenery and blossoms at their heart.

Florette

Author & Illustrator: Anna Walker

Publisher/Date: Clarion Books/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: gardening; nature in urban areas; moving; friendship

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When Mae’s family moves to a new home, she wishes she could bring her garden with her. She’ll miss the apple trees, the daffodils, and chasing butterflies in the wavy grass. But there’s no room for a garden in the city. Or is there?

Read a review at Design of the Picture Book .

 

The Seeds of Friendship

Author & Illustrator: Michael Foreman

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2015

Ages:  4-8

Themes: gardening; nature in urban areas; moving; friendship; immigrant

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Adam felt alone in the strange, new city. He missed the colours and friendships of his faraway home. But when a teacher at school gives him a few seeds, she plants an idea in him – an idea that could transform his grey world forever. Michael Foreman’s beautifully-illustrated story is a powerful fable of how friendship can grow in our world.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because they both feature children who have moved to gray urban spaces and who strive to bring nature’s greenery to the city. In Florette, Mae draws trees on empty moving boxes, races to visit pebble-covered parks, and then rescues a small sprout from outside a florist shop window. From that sprout, she grows both a garden and finds friends. In The Seeds of Friendship, Adam, a young immigrant, seeks to adapt to life in a cold, gray city. When a teacher gifts him some seeds, he grows a rooftop garden, bringing color to the city and finding friends. I especially liked how both books depict nature-loving children who persevere to bring what they love to their new homes.

Looking for similar reads?

See A Piece of Home.