Tag Archives: intergenerational

PPBF – King of the Sky

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

kingofthesky_thumbTitle: King of the Sky

Written By: Nicola Davies

Illustrated By: Laura Carlin

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

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

Opening:

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

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

Links to Resources:

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

Why I Like this Book:

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

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

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

0763695688.int.2

Reprinted from: Candlewick Press

A Note about Craft:

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

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

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

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

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

PPBF – Grandma’s Gift

I couldn’t think of a better holiday book to feature this year, as I’ve been focusing on the stories of refugees, migrants, and generally those making journeys from areas of conflict or poverty and trying to navigate new lives. I look forward to continuing to focus on picture books dealing with these themes in 2018.

This is the last post of 2017, as I journey to South America later today to spend the holidays in Brazil with our son-in-law’s family and friends. Happy holidays dear readers. I hope you receive a special gift this season, too!

GGcoverTitle: Grandma’s Gift

Written & Illustrated By: Eric Velasquez

Publisher/date: Bloomsbury Children’s Books/2013 (originally published, Walker & Company, 2010)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Puerto Rico; intergenerational; art; holiday foods; journeys

Opening:

“Feliz Navidad, Eric!” My teacher walked me to the classroom door, where my grandmother was waiting to take me back to her apartment for my winter break. I used to spend all my school vacations with her so she could take care of me while my parents worked.

Brief Synopsis: Eric helps his grandmother prepare a special Puerto Rican food for Christmas, and she accompanies him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to complete a school project.

Links to Resources:

  • A Teacher’s Guide provides several ideas, including identifying gifts or other items kids value and describing and discussing them;
  • The narrator’s Grandma hailed from Puerto Rico. Find out more about this US territory;
  • Eric and his grandmother visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they viewed Diego Velázquez’ portrait of Juan de Pareja. Try drawing a portrait or self-portait;
  • Grandma makes pasteles, a traditional Puerto Rican dish. Try making pasteles using Velasquez’ recipe and/or make a holiday food that is important in your family or culture.

Why I Like this Book:

I love the many layers of this holiday picture book. Not only does Grandma’s Gift include heartwarming intergenerational interactions, but it also features two journeys of discovery: Grandma shares La Marqueta with Eric, and he helps her navigate a trip out of El Barrio to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There, they discover a famous painting that Grandma remembered from her Puerto Rican school days and that Eric realizes was “painted by someone we might see walking around El Barrio.”

Velasquez is an illustrator-author and his realistic, detailed paintings bring the words to life. Particularly poignant is a double-page spread showing Grandma and Eric starting up the grand steps to the Museum while men who clearly are more comfortable there face them, arms folded, as if to indicate that Grandma and Eric are not welcome to enter. I think this spread could generate some wonderful classroom discussions about how our body language makes others feel and how someone entering an unfamiliar institution may feel.

A Note about Craft:

Grandma’s Gift was published seven years ago, and it’s interesting to note a few differences from works published today. While there is inclusion of Spanish text, in italics, the text is much longer than much of what is included today, and the translations appear in parentheses directly afterwards. The word count generally is higher than that of today’s picture books, too.

Grandma’s Gift would pair well with Last Stop on Market Street (Matt de la Peña/Christian Robinson, 2016).

Visit Eric Velasquez’ website to see more of his books and illustrations. Grandma’s Gift was awarded the Pura Belpré Medal for illustration in 2011. I reviewed Grandma’s Records last week. These two would pair nicely for classroom discussion, too.

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 – Grandma’s Records

Even though it first was published over 15 years ago, I chose today’s Perfect Picture Book because I think it still is timely, especially as so many Puerto Ricans escape the post-hurricane Maria devastation of their beloved island home.

Grandmas-recordsTitle: Grandma’s Records

Written & Illustrated By: Eric Velasquez

Publisher/date: Bloomsbury Children’s Books/2004 (originally published, Walker & Company, 2001)

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: Puerto Rico; intergenerational; music

Opening:

Every year, right after the last day of school, I’d pack a suitcase with my cool sketchbook. Then my dog, Daisy, and I were off to Grandma’s apartment in El Barrio. Because my parents worked, Grandma’s apartment was my summer home.

Brief Synopsis: The young narrator and his grandmother share a love of Latino music and attend a special concert together.

Links to Resources:

  • A Teacher’s Guide provides several ideas, including oral history and memoir-writing projects;
  • The narrator’s Grandma hailed from Puerto Rico. Find out more about this US territory;
  • Back matter includes the lyrics to Grandma’s special song, “In My Old San Juan” (En mi Viejo San Juan) by Noel Estrada (1918-1979) in English and Spanish, and a note about the musicians who appear in the story. Listen to En mi Viejo San Juan in a video that features photographs from the 1920s;
  • Describe a visit or an experience you shared with a grandparent or elderly family member or friend. How did you feel about the visit or experience? How do you think s/he felt?

Why I Like this Book:

Grandma’s Records is a feel-good exploration of the ties that bind generations and of Puerto Rican music and culture. I love the details that Velasquez included, especially that Grandma “even made me get a haircut” before attending a show. I think this detail will help kids understand the importance that Grandma, and the narrator, placed on the concert.

Velasquez is an illustrator-author whose realistic paintings add rich details to the story. I especially like that he pictured Grandma in pink house shoes, something adults of a certain age may remember their own mothers or grandmothers wearing.

A Note about Craft:

First published in 2001, Grandma’s Records has a much higher word count than most picture books published today. The story still resonates, though, and I think it would make a wonderful read-aloud to older elementary students. I also think it would be an interesting exercise for picture book writers to determine what they would cut to align better with today’s word count norms.

Velasquez wrote Grandma’s Records, an autobiographical tribute to his Puerto Rican grandmother, utilizing first-person point of view. I think this works well for this reflective, personal story and, as mentioned under “Links to Resources” above, could be a great mentor text for classroom memoir writing exercises.

Visit Eric Velasquez’ website to see more of his books and 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!