Tag Archives: Immigration

PPBF – Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is a new picture book that tells a story rooted in the past that sheds light on issues relevant today.

Title: Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story

Written By: Lesléa Newman

Illustrated By: Amy June Bates

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2019

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes/Topics: immigration, Judaism, Ellis Island, mother-child relationship, bravery

Opening:

“Gittel, will you write to me from America?” Raisa asked.

Brief Synopsis: A young Jewish girl and her mother leave their Eastern European village, but when her mother’s health precludes her from boarding the ship to America, Gittel must journey alone to this strange and faraway land.

Links to Resources:

  • Have you moved to a new house, city, or country? How did you feel? List three things you miss from your old home and three things you like about your new home;
  • Raisa gives Gittel a rag doll to accompany her on the journey. What favorite item or items would you bring on a journey?
  • Interview an older relative or friend to learn about his or her life when s/he was young;
  • Are there items from the past that your family treasures? Ask why those items are important;
  • Gittel arrives to the US at Ellis Island. Learn more about Ellis Island and US immigration.

Why I Like this Book:

With longer text than most current fiction picture books, Gittel’s Journey reads like a story from the era in which it is based. Opening with a scene including a beloved farm animal and best friend, Gittel’s Journey follows Gittel and her mother as they leave their eastern European village and travel to a seaside port. There, Gittel’s mother is refused passage because she appears to have an eye infection. This denial reminded me of the current concern about measles in the US.

I think kids will empathize with Gittel’s fear as she leaves her mother and embarks on the journey to an unknown land. I think they’ll be curious about the candlesticks that Gittel brings with her. They also may be surprised to learn how the story ends and how she reunites with new relatives without the aid of computer databases or smartphone messaging.

As the debate about immigration continues today and as the history of prior waves of immigrants fades from memory, this is an important book for home and classroom discussion and libraries.

Bates’ muted color palette evokes an earlier era. The block-print boarders that surround each page and illustration reminded me of picture frames and contributed to the historical feel.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Newman shares that Gittel’s Journey is based on two true stories from her childhood: the journey of her grandmother and great-grandmother from the “old country” of Poland/Russia to America and a similar journey of a family friend, whose adult companion was denied passage due to health reasons. In an essay in the Jewish Book Council, Newman explains that she remembered these stories from her childhood and decided to write this historical fiction story when she saw images of Syrian refugees in boats. What stories from your past shed light on issues relevant today?

Visit Newman’s website to see more of her adult and children’s books.

Visit Bates’ website to see more of her illustrations. Bates illustrated My Old Pal, Oscar, that I reviewed a few years ago.

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 of Dual-Story Picture Books

Very few picture books involve two separate stories that meet at some point in the book. Interestingly, I discovered two recently that use this structure, so I couldn’t help but pair them.

 

The Diamond and the Boy: The Creation of Diamonds & The Life of H. Tracy Hall

Author: Hannah Holt

Illustrator: Jay Fleck

Publisher/Date: Balzer + Bray (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: diamonds; engineering; STEM; innovation; biography

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Told in a unique dual-narrative format, The Diamond and the Boy follows the stories of both natural diamond creation and the life of H. Tracy Hall, the inventor of a revolutionary diamond-making machine. Perfect for fans of Rosie Revere, Engineer, and On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein.

Before a diamond is a gem, it’s a common gray rock called graphite. Through an intense trial of heat and pressure, it changes into one of the most valuable stones in the world.

Before Tracy Hall was an inventor, he was a boy—born into poverty, bullied by peers, forced to work at an early age. However, through education and experimentation, he became one of the brightest innovators of the twentieth century, eventually building a revolutionary machine that makes diamonds.

From debut author Hannah Holt—the granddaughter of Tracy Hall—and illustrator Jay Fleck comes this fascinating in-depth portrait of both rock and man.

Read a review at Picture Books Help Kids Soar and an interview with Holt at The Picture Book Buzz.

 

Naming Liberty

Author: Jane Yolen

Illustrator: Jim Burke

Publisher/Date: Philomel Books/2008

Ages: 6-9

Themes: immigration; Statue of Liberty; freedom

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A double celebration for Independence Day! In this wonderfully unique book, Jane Yolen and Jim Burke weave two stories at once, as readers see young Gitl in Russia leaving her home for faraway America, wondering what new name she will choose for herself when she arrives, and young artist Frederic Auguste Bartholdi dreaming of a monument he wants to build to honor freedom. It is an arduous journey for Gitl as she and her family travel across land and sea to arrive on this shore, but when she sees the magnificent Statue of Liberty standing in New York Harbor, she knows her name in this great new country must be ?Liberty.

Just in time for Independence Day, Jim Burke’s magnificent paintings capture Yolen’s inspired tale of a girl and an artist and their passionate belief in freedom.

Read a review at Kids Bookshelf.

I paired these books because of their parallel structures.

In The Diamond and the Boy, Holt tells the story of the creation of a natural diamond, from graphite to sparkling gem on the left side of each spread. On the right side, she shares the biography of her grandfather, the scientist and inventor, Tracy Hall, who rose from an impoverished childhood to discover a process of creating man-made industrial diamonds. I love how Holt uses similar adjectives to describe the graphite’s journey to become a diamond and Hall’s life. I also appreciate the terrific backmatter about diamonds and Hall.

In Naming Liberty, Yolen uses the left side of each spread to tell the fictional story of young Gitl and her family as they embark on a journey from a small Russian village to New York City, where they are greeted by the Statue of Liberty. On the right side, Yolen tells the story of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and the creation of the Statue of Liberty. In an Author’s Note, Yolen explains that Gitl’s story is based on that of Yolen’s family as well as the immigration stories of other Eastern European Jewish immigrants. She also provides further information about the Statue of Liberty and its creator.

Although The Diamond and the Boy is pure non-fiction and Naming Liberty is only partially true, I think it’s illuminating how telling two stories side-by-side creates a picture book that is more than the sum of its parts.

PPBF – La Frontera: El viaje con papá~My Journey with Papa

I’ve had this picture book on my radar for a while and was thrilled to find it in the bilingual section of my local library. And now I get to share it with you!

Title: La Frontera: El viaje con papá~My Journey with Papa

Written By: Deborah Mills & Alfredo Alva

Illustrated By: Claudia Navarro

Publisher/Date: Barefoot Books/2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-11

Themes/Topics: immigration; family; coyote; autobiography; bilingual

Opening:

When I was young, my family lived in the small village of La Ceja in central Mexico in the state of Guanajuato. For over 100 years, my family had lived there.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy, Alfredo, recounts the journey he and his father take from their home in Mexico to seek a better life in Texas.

Links to Resources:

  • Alfredo and his father travel by bus, inner tube, walking, and truck. Draw a picture showing one or more of these ways to travel. Can you think of other ways to travel?
  • Alfredo tells the true story of moving from Mexico to Texas and starting a new school there. Have you ever moved? Describe your journey and how you felt about it;
  • Check out the back matter where you can learn more about “borders and culture”, “immigration”, and “Alfredo’s story”;
  • Watch the book trailer -in Spanish with English text.

Why I Like this Book:

La Frontera tells the true story of a young Mexican boy, Alfredo, and his father as they journey from their home in south-central Mexico to a new life in Texas. As the story opens, Alfredo is happy at his home surrounded by a loving family, friends, and even a special donkey, Fernando. But Alfredo’s father worked in the pinyon pine trees with Alfredo’s uncle and grandfather. As the grandfather grew older, he was no longer able to work, the family’s earnings declined, and Alfredo and his brothers were “always hungry”. Because there was no other work in the region, Alfredo’s father sought a better life in the United States, bringing his eldest son, Alfredo, with him.

I think that by setting the idyllic rural scene and showing how the family’s fortunes changed, the authors help readers understand why someone would leave their family and home to undertake an arduous, at times dangerous, journey. I think it also helps readers empathize with Alfredo, and gives a name, and face, to immigrants. Although this true story occurred almost 40 years ago, I think it is relevant today as “illegal immigration” across the southern US border tops headline news.

While the details of the actual journey were eye-opening, including being swindled by the “coyote” smuggler, I found Alfredo’s descriptions of his first days at school most interesting. The reality of not understanding English, of feeling apart and alone, of missing Mama and siblings, are important, I think, for children to understand as they welcome non-English speakers to their classrooms. For new immigrants reading this story, I think it may be helpful for them to see how Alfredo slowly learned English and became “a Texan”, as it may encourage them as they strive to integrate.

Thanks, in part, to Reagan’s immigration amnesty, Alfredo’s story has a happy ending, as readers learn at the end of the story and in the back matter.

Navarro’s brightly-colored graphite, acrylic and collage illustrations bring a Mexican folk art feel to the story, reminding readers of Alfredo’s cultural heritage.

A Note about Craft:

In the back matter, readers learn that La Frontera is a true story about Alfredo and his father, and that Alfredo and a neighbor, Deborah Mills, wrote the story together. As a non-#OwnVoices author, I was intrigued and pleased to learn how a non-#OwnVoices author could help write this timely and important story.

I appreciate that Alva and Mills used first-person point-of-view to bring immediacy to the story. I also appreciate that the editors chose to use English and Spanish side-by-side to render La Frontera more accessible in schools and classrooms with both Spanish and English speakers. And I particularly appreciate the choice of a Mexican illustrator to show, in a way, that Alfredo stayed true to his cultural roots.

Barefoot Books is an independent publisher “founded by two young mothers in England in 1992 and based in Cambridge, MA” that publishes “books for children that encourage discovery, compassion, creativity and global awareness.” Its mission is to “share stories, connect families, inspire children”.

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 of Objects on Journeys

When I saw the haunting cover of Almost to Freedom in my local library, I had to read it. It immediately brought to mind another picture about another child at another time in another part of the world.

 

Almost to Freedom 

Author: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Illustrator: Colin Bootman

Publisher/Date: Carolrhoda Books (a division of Lerner Publishing Group)/2003

Ages: 6-10

Themes: slavery; Underground Railroad; doll; journey

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Lindy and her doll Sally are best friends – wherever Lindy goes, Sally stays right by her side. They eat together, sleep together, and even pick cotton together. So, on the night Lindy and her mama run away in search of freedom, Sally goes too. This young girl’s rag doll vividly narrates her enslaved family’s courageous escape through the Underground Railroad. At once heart-wrenching and uplifting, this story about friendship and the strength of the human spirit will touch the lives of all readers long after the journey has ended.

Read a review at Publisher’s Weekly.

 

The Dress and the Girl

Author: Camille Andros

Illustrator: Julie Morstad

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: immigration; memory; journey

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A little girl and her favorite dress dream of an extraordinary life. They enjoy simple pleasures together on a beautiful Greek island. They watch the sunset, do chores, and pick wildflowers on the way home. One day, the dress and the girl must leave the island and immigrate to the United States. Upon arrival, the girl is separated from the trunk carrying her favorite dress, and she fears her dress is lost forever. Many years later, the girl—now all grown up—spots the dress in a thrift store window. As the two are finally reunited, the memories of their times together come flooding back. While the girl can no longer wear the dress, it’s now perfect for her own daughter—and the new journey of a girl and her dress begins. Featuring lush illustrations, The Dress and the Girl is a stunning picture book about memory and the power of the items we hold most dear.

Read my review.

I paired these books because both recount journeys of important inanimate objects that accompany their special persons through difficult life changes. The main character and narrator in Almost to Freedom is Sally, a rag doll who is “best friends” with Lindy, an enslaved girl, who is by Lindy’s side as Lindy is whipped, and who accompanies Lindy and her family as they flee slavery utilizing the Underground Railroad. In The Dress and the Girl, the unnamed pair do everything together, until they are separated accidentally following a journey to America. In both of these books, I think the presence of these beloved objects brings comfort to the children. I think telling these stories by focusing on the objects rather than on the children enables readers to witness the events but be somewhat removed as well, something that I found particularly helpful when reading about Lindy being whipped.

Looking for similar reads?

See Ella & Monkey at Sea, about a young girl and her stuffed monkey who move to America.

PPBF – Polar Bear Island

As my last Perfect Picture Book post of 2018, I wanted to feature a new picture book that I first learned about from two friends who had interviewed the author and reviewed the book, that concerns welcoming others in a very kid-friendly way, and that is full of wintry fun. I think I’ve succeeded! And, as it’s my last post of 2018, I want to wish all who celebrate a blessed Christmas and everyone a wonderful New Year! See you in 2019!

Title: Polar Bear Island

Written By: Lindsay Bonilla

Illustrated By: Cinta Villalobos

Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books/2018

Suitable for Ages: 3 and up

Themes/Topics: inclusivity; polar bears; penguins; differences; immigration; welcoming others

Opening:

POLAR BEAR ISLAND was peaceful and predictable. Parker, the mayor, planned to keep it that way.

But Kirby waddled where the wind blew, and today she was floating toward paradise.

Brief Synopsis:

When a penguin lands on Polar Bear Island, shares new items and ideas, and then her family joins her, the polar bears are happy to try the newcomers’ treats, except Mayor Parker, at least at first.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the maze, word search, and other activities in the Activity Kit;
  • Become an AmBEARssador and welcome newcomers, learn about other countries, and much more;
  • Check out the Discussion Guide for more ways to explore the themes in Polar Bear Island;
  • Enjoy some wintry fun: sledding, skiing, ice skating, hot cocoa, and maybe even a snow cone or two. Like Kirby and the penguins, you even could design your own wintry gear.

Why I Like this Book:

Polar Bear Island is a fun book to read and reread, but it contains an important message about welcoming others, too. Kids, like young polar bears, are often open to new ideas and new friends. But narrow-minded adults, or polar bear mayors, may have other ideas and try to keep things always the same or to themselves. But when the newcomers come to the rescue, even a grumpy old bear can’t resist.

Among the many picture books about immigration and welcoming newcomers I’ve read (and regular readers know that is many), I think Polar Bear Island is one of the better ones for younger children to help build empathy for newcomers, as it provides concrete examples of how newcomers enrich communities, and it shows how ridiculous and wrong grumpy old bears (and people) can be. I think kids especially will enjoy reading about the penguins’  inventions that are fun to say and try to picture (or even make). Who doesn’t love “Flipper Slippers”? Or a sled that’s a bed?

Villalobos’ illustrations are equally fun and child-friendly. And although the setting is a white snow-covered island set in a blue sea inhabited by, you guessed it, white polar bears, Villalobos manages to include many bright and colorful details, like the bright Flipper Slippers and hats on every penguin.

A Note about Craft:

In Polar Bear Island, Bonilla makes difficult subjects, immigration and welcoming “others”, accessible to young children. How does she do it? First, she introduces readers to Parker, the mayor, who is a caricature of a character: the proverbial grumpy old bear who even underlines “other” in the sign that states they are not welcome. Bonilla then sets up an absurd situation: a penguin, normally found in the Antarctic, travels by boat (suitcase in flipper) to the Artic. As the pair, and others, interact, Bonilla slips in playful language, like Flipper Slippers, my all-time favorite. Finally, Bonilla and the team at Sterling created an awesome Activity Kit, a Discussion Guide for teachers, parents and librarians, and even an AmBEARssadors Program – sign me up!

Visit Bonilla’s website to learn more about this storyteller and children’s author; see also an interview and review of Polar Bear Island at Maria Marshall’s The Picture Book Buzz, and an interview and review by Kathy Halsey at the Grog.

Villalobos is a Spanish illustrator. See more of her work at her website.

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 – The Dress and the Girl

I first learned of today’s Perfect Picture Book from a New York Times review this past August. The title intrigued me, and I knew I had to find and review this picture book. As I’m traveling as this review posts, and as we’re entering into a season when many of us journey to celebrate holidays, I thought it was a Perfect Picture Book for today.

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Title: The Dress and the Girl

Written By: Camille Andros

Illustrated By: Julie Morstad

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigration; memory; journeys

Opening:

Back when time seemed slower and life simpler, there was a dress. A dress much like many others, made for a girl by her mother.

Brief Synopsis:

When a young girl and her family journey from Greece to America, the young girl loses her favorite dress.

Links to Resources:

  • Have you ever moved from one house, town, city or country to another place? Draw or describe something that you remember from the place you left;
  • In the story, the dress and the girl rode in a wagon and sailed in a boat. What types of vehicles have you used to travel?
  • Do you have a favorite outfit that you like to wear or a favorite toy or stuffed animal with whom you do everything? Describe or draw that outfit or object;
  • The young girl and her family arrive to the US at Ellis Island. Learn more about Ellis Island and US immigration;
  • Read the Author’s Note about the inspiration for this book and her hopes for immigrants and refugees today.

Why I Like this Book:

The Dress and the Girl is a gentle, lyrical immigration story, that will appeal to younger and older children. Unlike many immigration stories that focus on the terrors a refugee or family faces or others that focus solely on one aspect of the refugee or immigration experience, The Dress and the Girl provides glimpses into a bucolic life prior to the journey, describes the journey with kid-centric details, and offers hope that the girl, and her beloved dress, settle into their new country at long last.

Parted at Ellis Island, when the dress is placed in a trunk that the girl and her family fail to retrieve, the story follows the dress’ quest to reunite with her beloved girl. As the dress “traveled the world – searching”, days, weeks, months and years passed, and, in illustrations, the reader sees the young girl become a woman and mother. I won’t spoil the ending, but trust me, it’s extraordinary.

Morstad’s soft palette suits the story well. I particularly enjoyed the scenes at Ellis Island, where, utilizing two wordless spreads, Morstad shows first the hubbub of the arrivals hall and then the loneliness of the lost dress.

A Note about Craft:

As is evident from the title, The Dress and the Girl, a beloved object sewn by the girl’s mother takes center stage in this immigration story. Like a stuffed animal or pet, the dress accompanies the girl everywhere until they are parted. By focusing on the dress, instead of the girl, I think Andros is able to summarize the girl’s settlement process more quickly and show how she thrives in her new environment, even as she retains memories shared with the dress.

Andros repeats a series of activities four times: riding in a wagon, sailing in a boat, going to school, jumping rope and playing tag. In the first instance, Andros sets the “life before the journey” scene, showing the reader what the dress and girl did before leaving Greece. The next instance recounts the journey. The dress then embarks on her own journey, where she does some of these activities, but all are mentioned. And, finally, the pair remember these activities together. Although for a picture book this may seem like a lot of repetition, the refrain-like repetition and subtle changes act, in my mind, as a framework that ties the story together.

Monica Edinger reviewed The Dress and the Girl along with other immigration and refugee books in the New York Times earlier this year. Visit Andros’ website to learn more about her and The Dress and the Girl. Visit Morstad’s website to see more of her illustrations.

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 – The Matchbook Diary

When I first read today’s Perfect Picture Book, I was reminded of a journey I shared with my daughters when they were quite young. To help them remember favorite places and to help pass the time on long train rides, I brought along sketch books and encouraged them to record what they saw. As one of my daughters is celebrating her birthday today, I thought it was a perfect day to share today’s Perfect Picture Book.

0763676381.medTitle: The Matchbox Diary

Written By: Paul Fleischman

Illustrated By: Bagram Ibatoulline

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: diary; immigration; intergenerational; family history

Opening:

“Pick whatever you like the most. Then I’ll tell you its story.”

“There’s so many things here.”

“You’ll know when you see it. And then I’ll know something about you. The great-granddaughter I’ve only heard about.”

Brief Synopsis: A young girl discovers her great-grandfather’s matchbox diary, and she learns the history of his journey to America and first years in the country.

Links to Resources:

  • Keep a diary, either by writing entries each day or week, or drawing pictures of noteworthy events;
  • Do you collect anything? What do you collect? How do you store your collection?
  • The great-grandfather in the story journeyed from Italy to Ellis Island, in America. Discover more about these places;
  • View a YouTube video of Fleischman’s Matchbox Theatres and try making your own;
  • For more ideas, see the Teachers’ Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

The Matchbox Diary reads like an afternoon visit with an older relative. Told all in dialogue, the story has an immediacy which I think will resonate with kids. As the unnamed great-granddaughter opens each matchbox, she, and the reader, hear the great-grandfather share his journey to America and his difficult early life in his adopted homeland, including the jobs the entire family did, like canning fish, sorting peaches, shelling peas, peeling shrimp, opening oyster shells, rolling cigars, and “shelling nuts for restaurants, day and night.” I think this will be eye-opening to kids today!

I love how this story unfolds as the contents of each tiny box is revealed. And I love how the great-grandfather relates diary writing to collecting keepsakes, something even young children can do. That learning to read and keeping newspaper scraps with dates is important to the great-grandfather is an important lesson, too, as I think it will show kids the importance of reading.

Ibatoulline’s sepia-toned illustrations with their many details are the perfect accompaniment to the text, as they evoke the past and show the importance of even tiny items in our lives.

A Note about Craft:

In the Teachers’ Guide, Fleischman notes that he first conceived of the idea of a matchbox diary from an illustrator friend. Although he knew immediately that he wanted to write a story about this form of diary-keeping, it took him 15 years to publish the story. Good ideas certainly are worth waiting for!

The matchboxes at the heart of the story are very kid-relatable items. Although kids today may not see matchboxes often, their small size and ability to be repurposed as treasure boxes will resonate with kids, I think.

As noted above, Fleischman relates this tale entirely in unattributed dialogue. I think this draws the reader into the story and makes the slow-moving action more immediate and engaging for kids.

Visit Newbery-winner Fleischman’s website to see more of his books, including Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella, which I reviewed in March 2017.

Visit Ibatoulline’s website to view more of his illustrations.

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!