Tag Archives: immigrant

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.

PPBF – Me and My Fear

When I saw today’s Perfect Picture Book advertised, I couldn’t wait to find, read  and review it. I hope you find it as captivating as I did!

MeandMyFear_RGB-644x728

Title: Me and My Fear

Written & Illustrated By: Francesca Sanna

Publisher/Date: Flying Eye Books (an imprint of Nobrow Ltd.)/September 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5+

Themes/Topics: fear; immigrant; moving; empathy

Opening:

I have always had a secret. A tiny friend called Fear.

Brief Synopsis:

When a young girl and her family arrive in a new country, the girl’s fear grows and keeps her from making friends and adjusting to her new life, until she realizes that she’s not the only one with fear.

Links to Resources:

  • Sometimes we all are afraid. What scares you? What do you do when you’re scared?
  • How do you welcome newcomers to your neighborhood or school? Try one or more of the 20 Simple Acts to learn more about refugees or help one or more of them feel welcome;
  • See the Classroom Guide for more ideas.

Why I Like this Book:

With warm, retro-feeling illustrations and short text, Sanna personifies the fear that everyone experiences at times in a very kid-relatable way. As the story begins, Fear is a “tiny friend”, a helpful being that keeps the unnamed MC safe. But after “we came to this new country,” Fear grows and keeps the girl from experiencing the new neighborhood and making friends at school. It’s Fear that “hates” the new school, that “grows angry” when the girl’s name is mispronounced, that keeps the girl alone at break times. Through sharing art with another student, though, the young girl begins to reach out and then discovers that others have their own fears. As she does so, Fear reverts to its old, smaller self as “school is not so difficult anymore”.

I think Me and My Fear will help kids who experience fear in unfamiliar situations understand that they aren’t alone. It also will help other kids empathize with newcomers or those who keep to themselves, when they understand that it may be fear that holds these loners back. While the young MC is a newcomer to a country and school, I think the story will resonate with others, too, as they face any new situations.

Sanna’s warm color palate and the rounded curves she uses to depict Fear exude a feeling of comfort.

A Note about Craft:

As in her debut picture book, The Journey, Sanna has chosen to not name the Main Character, thus providing an Everyman-type of story. She also uses first-person point of view which, I think, brings an immediacy to the story. Interestingly, the MC in Me and My Fear is the same MC as in The Journey, so that this book is, in effect, a continuation of the refugee’s journey.

An illustrator-author, Sanna tells much of the story in illustrations only, and it’s a low word-count picture book. Sanna pictures Fear as a ghost-like creature, similar, in my mind, to Beekle, in Dan Santat’s The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. By making Fear a character, Sanna can show readers how Fear accompanies the young girl, demonstrate how it grows, and even, in one full-page spread, show how the MC must carry Fear on her back.

When I first read the title, Me and My Fear, I was a bit perplexed. Wouldn’t “I and My Fear,” or “My Fear and Me” be more grammatically correct? But then it struck me: the title hearkens back to an old song title: Me and My Shadow. It thus puts the MC’s experience into context: Fear has accompanied people throughout history and in many places, and it continues to do so.

From the publisher’s website, I learned that Me and My Fear “is based on research that creator Francesca Sanna did in classrooms—asking children to draw their fears and encouraging them to talk about what made them afraid.” I also learned that Amnesty International has endorsed it.

The publisher, Flying Eye Books (FEB, for short),  “is the children’s imprint of award-winning visual publishing house Nobrow. Established in early 2013, FEB sought to retain the same attention to detail in design and excellence in illustrated content as its parent publisher, but with a focus on the craft of children’s storytelling and non-fiction.”

Visit Sanna’s website to see more of her work, including illustrations from The Journey, one of the first picture books to shed light on the current refugee crisis in Europe.

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 – Saffron Ice Cream

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is perfect in so many ways as we head into summer and as Muslims across the world celebrate Eid Al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan (the holy month of fasting).

saffron-ice-cream_1340_cTitle: Saffron Ice Cream

Written & Illustrated By: Rashin Kheiriyeh

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

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigrant; moving home; summer; beach; ice cream; customs; friendship

Opening:

My name is Rashin. And this is my first trip to the beach!

Brief Synopsis:

A young girl remembers beach visits with her friend in Iran, as she and her family visit a beach in America for the first time, and she learns that while some things may differ in her new home, some pleasures remain the same.

Links to Resources:

  • Make and eat saffron ice cream;
  • Saffron is part of the saffron crocus (crocus sativus) and is the world’s most expensive spice. Discover other edible flowers;
  • Discover Iran, the birthplace of Rashin;
  • Visit a beach! Make a list of how it’s the same as or different from the beaches shown in Saffron Ice Cream.

Why I Like this Book:

The subject of Saffron Ice Cream, a family beach outing, can’t help but make anyone who reads it smile, especially as Rashin’s colorful illustrations are so joyful. Whether it’s a first beach day or the last of the summer, what child doesn’t love going to the beach and eating ice cream?

But Saffron Ice Cream is not just a romp at the beach. It’s also a window into life in Iran, an insightful exploration of cultural differences, and a story of how one act of kindness to welcome a stranger can lead to friendship.

Through her vibrant oil and acrylic illustrations, Rashin brings this story to life, making it one that families will want to read and reread.

17_1340_c

Reprinted from Rashin’s website

A Note about Craft:

Rashin focuses on a very kid-friendly topic, a favorite ice cream flavor, and uses that as a lens to explore universal themes: missing one’s homeland, cultural differences, welcoming newcomers, and friendship. I think food is a great lens to explore these themes, especially as saffron ice cream seems exotic to at least this reader.

Visit Rashin’s website to view more of her art. Kathy Temean interviewed Rashin on Illustrator Saturday in February 2017. Saffron Ice Cream is Rashin’s debut as author/illustrator in English. See my reviews of two of the many picture books that Rashin illustrated, Ramadan and Two Parrots.

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 – 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!