Tag Archives: Journey

PPBF – All the Way to Havana

I had the pleasure of visiting Havana earlier this year with my husband and riding in a vintage automobile like the one featured in today’s Perfect Picture Book. Since then, I’ve been eagerly awaiting its Book Birthday. Thankfully, that day arrived last week, and today’s Perfect Picture Book zoomed into my mailbox a few days ago. My husband, who barely notices the piles of books “decorating” my workspaces, oohed and aahhed at this one. I know you will, too!

9781627796422Title: All the Way to Havana

Written By: Margarita Engle

Illustrated By: Mike Curato

Publisher/date: Godwin Books (Henry Holt and Company/Macmillan Publishing Group)/August 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: Cuba; family; vintage automobiles; journey; resourcefulness

Opening:

We have a gift, and we have a cake, and today we’re going to drive all the way to the big city to see my new baby cousin on his zero-year birthday!

Some of this island’s old cars purr like kittens, but ours is so tired that she just chatters like a busy chicken – cara cara, cara cara, cluck, cluck, cluck…

Brief Synopsis:

A boy and his family drive from the Cuban countryside to the big city of Havana in their vintage automobile to welcome a new baby to the family.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Cuba;
  • View the book trailer here;
  • View an interview with Mike Curato on All the Wonders;
  • Color a car, like Cara Cara, the classic car of All the Way to Havana.

Why I Like this Book:

All the Way to Havana is a beautifully written and illustrated book that brought back wonderful memories of the few days I spent in Havana, Cuba this past spring. Its simple tale of a boy helping his father fix an old car to carry them to visit a new family member paired with the lovely old cars in the picturesque city will appeal to kids and car lovers of all ages, I think. And the messages of family togetherness and caring for family treasures, like the old car, will resonate with young and old, too.

In a blog post, Curato stated that he loved drawing cars as a young child and still enjoys it today. That love shines through in All the Way to Havana, from the cover, to the end papers filled with many colorful makes and models, to the 1950s color palette, and even to a surprise if you “lift the hood” by peeling back the jacket cover.

In that same blog post, Curato wrote:

Margarita said this book is about peace, about bringing two neighbors together: the Cubans in the book, and the Americans reading it. Neighbors should be friends. While some of this book may seem very foreign to some, I hope that they can also see the universal themes of family and the roads we take, some bumpy and others smooth. If one neighbor can see the road the other is traveling on and discover a familiar feeling, then maybe that is enough for me.

A Note about Craft:

The opening lines of All the Way to Havana are among the best I’ve read as they set the scene and highlight the issues of the story. There is a gift and a cake, so the reader is on alert that there’s a party, without mention of that term. We learn that the narrator is driving “all the way” to the big city – ie, a long distance, to celebrate a “zero-year birthday”. What a lovely way to herald a birth! Reading further, we meet Cara Cara, a character in herself, and learn that she doesn’t purr like a kitten, but clucks like a chicken. What wonderful images these words evoke! And these images will be easily recognized by children and evoke the rural setting of the story’s beginning. What a wonderful way to hook readers in the first lines!

All the Way to Havana garnered four starred reviews and considerable attention in the press. Justifiably so!

Visit Mike Curato’s website here and Margarita Engle’s site here, and read an interview with both in Publisher’s Weekly .

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!

Journey to Rutabaga Rock – a Journey in 48 Precious Words

In honor of THE Dr. Seuss, the incomparable Vivian Kirkfield is hosting the second annual 50 Precious Words contest on her blog. Hurry on over to read some short-&-very-sweet stories!

In Vivian’s words:

March 2nd is the birthday of the incredible Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. Last year I put together a little contest based on Bennet Cerf’s challenge to Seuss to write a children’s book using only 50 words. And the classic Green Eggs and Ham was born. It’s true that the story has over 700 words…but only 50 unique words.

I thought it would be fun to try to write a story for kids with ONLY 50 words. With a beginning, a middle, and an end. I wondered if I could do it. And then I opened the challenge to everyone. Much to my surprise and amazement, there were 128 entries! A year has passed…and it’s time to DO IT AGAIN.

My 50-word story began as a rewrite of a purposely bland journey sentence for a lyrical language exercise. When I thought of journeys, I thought about one of my happy places, St. John, USVI, and a favorite hike we’ve done there, to Ram Head, part of the Virgin Islands National Park.

img_8155(spoiler alert: this is Francis Bay on the north shore of St John; Ram Head is on the south shore –
I couldn’t find any good photos in my library…)

 

Now, while Ram Head is a beautiful hike, the name wasn’t quite lyrical enough for the assignment. I took some writer’s license and thought first of Rooster Hill, but it didn’t quite roll off my tongue.

img_0319

(a favorite blue cobble beach on the Ram Head trail)

 

Then inspiration erupted and the name rose from my mind like lava turning to stone: Rutabaga Rock was born – an island in my brain.

img_0308

(Bubbly Pool with outcropping lava rock, Jost van Dyke, British Virgin Islands)

 

When I realized that we were no longer hiking but sailing to reach our destination, a certain theme song replayed in my mind with rough weather and a tiny ship tossed and lost.

img_8062

(traffic jam @ White Bay Beach, Jost van Dyke, BVI, on a not-stormy day)

 

I completed the sentence rewrite, vowing to revisit the journey to Rutabaga Rock one day.

Voila! That day is here.  May I present a sentence-turned-poem:

Journey to Rutabaga Rock – a Voyage in 48 Precious Words

Picnics packed; dingy leaves dock –

Kids depart for Rutabaga Rock.

Winds whip waves, lashing at sail;

Kids’ knees knock as rains transform to gale.

Seas subside; sun shines at last.

Kids debarking – thankful journey’s past.

Picnics soaked! Salty, slimy feasts!

Kids contented – GOATS aren’t picky beasts.

PPBF – The Riddlemaster

I first saw and read today’s Perfect Picture Book at my local library over a month ago. I confess to finding it puzzling at first (pardon the pun!), but found myself returning to it again and again. I decided to feature it today, Inauguration Day in the US, as changes in administration are often puzzling. Without further ado (or political commentary), I present today’s Perfect Picture Book:

new-cover_-riddlemaster-508x600Title: The Riddlemaster

Written By: Kevin Crossley-Holland

Illustrated By: Stéphane Jorisch

Publisher/date: Tradewind Books/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes/Topics: reading, riddles, journey, island

Opening:

Anouk and Ben and Cara stood on the scribbly tideline and watched waves breaking into blues.

“Blue of blue,” said Anouk.

“Every blue there is,” Ben said.

“Even the ones without names,” added Anouk.

Side by side they stood and stared across the bouncy sea at the little island.

Brief Synopsis: Three children spy a golden island across the sea. An older man offers them passage on a boat filled with animals, but only if they correctly answer seven riddles.

Links to Resources:

  • Solve riddles
  • Plan a journey on a boat filled with your favorite storybook animals. Who would you invite? Why?

Why I Like this Book:

Reading The Riddlemaster is like reading a long-lost fairytale, complete with a mysterious man who offers to help three young heroes embark on a journey of discovery. As in the classic fairytales, nothing is free: the children must complete a task, in this case correctly answering seven riddles, to obtain the treasure at their destination. That the treasure involves books and reading is a particularly satisfying outcome. The author, Kevin Crossley-Holland, is a well-known author and chronicler of myths and legends, mostly written for middle grade readers and up. Jorisch’s illustrations amplify the sense of being in a far-off land, and he includes multiethnic/multi-racial children. Kids will particularly enjoy trying to identify the animal “characters” who journey on the boat.

A Note about Craft:

The first things that struck me about The Riddlemaster were its title and the cover – with the Master himself in the fore and the three children clearly looking at him. This seemingly breaks a picture book rule, that the children should be the main characters. But, despite the emphasis initially being on the Master, I think the children move the story forward: by desiring to visit the island, by agreeing to the offer, and, most importantly, by answering the riddles. Despite the title, The Riddlemaster is, indeed, a heroes’ journey.

After several readings, I’d also argue that The Riddlemaster is a wonderful example of adding in enough creepiness (I’m not sure I’d join the Master in his boat!) but not too much (the animals lick lips and bare teeth, but they never harm the children nor is it ever stated explicitly that they would do so). That Jorisch illustrates in a Tim Burtonesque style adds to the creepy/not-too-scary feel of this unique picture book.

The Riddlemaster received starred reviews in School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews.

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 Friend Ship

The sun and the moon aligned recently, and I enjoyed the distinct pleasure of being in lower Manhattan and able to attend the book launch of today’s Perfect Picture Book. And as we’re still in the holiday season, and there are at least two holiday connections, I just had to share it with you today:

9781484707265_p0_v3_s192x300Title: The Friend Ship

Written By: Kat Yeh

Illustrated By: Chuck Groenink

Publisher/date: Disney Hyperion (Disney Book Group)/December 2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes/Topics: friendship; journey; hedgehogs; loneliness

Opening:

Hedgehog was curled up in a prickly little ball in the lonely little nook of a lonely little tree when she heard someone say her name.

“Poor Hedgehog seems so lonely!”

“I know, but it will get better. Friendship is out there – all she has to do is look.”

Brief Synopsis: A lonely hedgehog sets sail to find the friend ship. She meets animals on her journey who join in her search, until they all discover what friendship really is.

Links to Resources:

  • Plan a journey: What would you bring along? Who would you invite to share your journey?
  • Friendship or Friend Ship? Homemade or Home Made? Sometimes when two words are put together they acquire a meaning distinct from the two words used separately. Can you think of others?

Why I Like this Book: This is a simple tale of misunderstanding. Hedgehog thinks that friendship is a thing – a ship full of friends. So like anyone seeking something, she sets out to find it. She sets sail and along the way meets others who also seek friends. In classic style, Hedgehog finds what she’s seeking – friends, even though she never realizes she’s mistaken about the meaning of friendship.

Warm, sunny illustrations complement this sweet story – and Groenink even added a few surprises to add to the fun.

A Note about Craft:

Friendship is an evergreen topic (holiday connection #1), but how do you make it fresh? In Kat’s case, she cleverly looked at the word, broke it apart, added a misunderstanding, and voila! The MC is off on a quest to find the Friend Ship. Brilliant!

I also think her choice of MC is ingenious. Hedgehogs are prickly, but not as prickly as porcupines. They can curl up into a ball, like a shy or lonely child. What a perfect choice to lead a journey to find friends. And what’s the holiday connection, you ask? When our son was young and we were living in England, he desperately wanted a hedgehog. While we never agreed to his request, we did get him a hedgehog ornament to hang on the Christmas tree. To this day, I cannot see a hedgehog without thinking of the holidays!

If you enjoyed The Friend Ship, you may also enjoy Salina Yoon’s Be a Friend (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2016).

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 Journey

Over the river and through the woods…

‘Tis the season for journeys – whether fighting cross-town traffic to bag bargains, purchase perfect presents, or track down tasty treats, or joining the millions of Americans journeying by plane, train or automobile to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends. It’s also, sadly, a season when migrants, those fleeing violence and/or lack of employment, continue to risk their lives and undertake perilous journeys in hopes of a better life.

This is such a difficult subject for young children and even adults, but I believe we must try to understand it, to picture ourselves in the story, to discuss it with children, which is why I’ve chosen today’s Perfect Picture Book.

9781909263994_p0_v1_s192x300Title: The Journey

Written & Illustrated By: Francesca Sanna

Publisher/date: Flying Eye Book (Nobrow Ltd)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-7 and older

Themes/Topics: refugees, migrants, journey, birds

Opening: “I live with my family in a city close to the sea. Every summer we used to spend many weekends at the beach. But we never go there anymore, because last year, our lives changed forever…”

Brief Synopsis: An unnamed narrator and her family flee from a warn-torn region.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about the refugee experience with materials from Amnesty International and UNHCR;
  • Choose three favorite toys or books that you’d bring on a journey;
  • Discuss journeys you and your family have undertaken;
  • Learn about animal migration.

Why I Like this Book:

The refugee crisis is such a difficult subject, but one that is, sadly, so timely. With a fairy-tale, storybook quality, particularly in the graphic, fantastical illustrations, this “collage” of refugee stories will, hopefully, enable adults to discuss the refugee experience with children and build empathy for those who have made journeys like the one described in The Journey. Spoiler alert: It also ends on a note of hope, of a new story in a new land for the child narrator and her family.

A Note about Craft:

In this debut picture book by author/illustrator Francesca Sanna, she has chosen to not name the Main Character, the place from which the family flees, or the place to which they journey, thus providing an Everyman-type of story. She also weaves references to books, stories, and storytelling throughout the text and illustrations, bolstering a theme that the journey described is just one of many journeys being undertaken. In an Author’s Note, Ms. Sanna shares that the story is a collage of stories learned by interviewing refugees.

Ms. Sanna tells much of the story in illustrations only. Her use of light and darkness and her inclusion of birds and sea creatures that undertake long journeys, as well as scary forest creatures during the border-crossing scenes, act as metaphors of the journeying family and provide a way to help adults discuss the story with children. By ending the story with a reference to, and an illustration of, migrating birds, Ms. Sanna leaves us with an image of safe nests and a sense of hope.

The Journey received starred reviews in Kirkus ReviewsPublishers Weekly, and the School Library Journal. The New York Times Book Review also highlighted The Journey in an article about explaining the refugee crisis to children. To that list, I’d also add Two White Rabbits, which also uses animals as a metaphor for the migrating narrator.

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!

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Two White Rabbits

4cd78f1910As those of you who have read this book already will have guessed, and those who read on will find out, I didn’t choose to review Two White Rabbits today to prolong the Easter festivities (spoiler alert: this review does not contain chocolate) nor because I mistakenly think Easter is in April this year. The two white rabbits have nothing to do with this or any other holiday, although I did choose to publish this review on the eve of International Children’s Book Day. Instead, these rabbits have everything to do with those seeking a life in which celebrations are possible.

 

9781554987412_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Two White Rabbits

Written By: Jairo Buitrago

Illustrated By: Rafael Yockteng

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-7 (per the publisher)

Themes/Topics: Migration, refugees, counting, journey

Opening: “When we travel, I count what I see. Five cows, four hens and one chucho, as my dad calls them.”

Brief Synopsis: Like the two white rabbits of the title, a young girl and her father journey together trying to find a way to, and across, a border.

Links to Resources: The unnamed narrator counts what she sees as she travels. Young listeners can also count what they see, either in the illustrations, in a room, house or garden, or during a journey. The narrator also counts clouds and finds shapes there, another possible activity for a young listener.

As I mentioned in my review of Mama’s Nightingale, there are a few teacher and classroom resources available online to explore immigration: Scholastic’s Immigration Stories: Yesterday and Today, focuses primarily on the Ellis Island experience, but includes oral histories, including child immigrants from more recent eras; TeachersFirst provides fiction lists by topic by age, including immigration–themed picture books.

Groundwood Books made a donation to IBBY to mark the publication of Two White Rabbits. To find out more about this not-for-profit organization that brings books and children together, click here. For a selection of other picture books exploring the theme of Latin American migration, click here.

Finally, for those looking to celebrate International Children’s Book Day, find ideas at Busyteacher.org, or read something by, or about,  Hans Christian Andersen, whose birthday was 2 April 1805.

Why I Like this Book: “Haunting” and “understated” are two words that run through online reviews. I would agree. We never quite know where the young narrator and her father come from, to where they journey, nor even the reason for the journey. We do know they are alone, except for a stuffed rabbit, the coyote (chucho) that joins them early in the story and the two white rabbits, a gift from an unnamed boy. The girl also alludes to the difficulty of the journey, “’Where are we going?’ I ask sometimes, but no one answers.”

Much of the reality of the situation is revealed through the illustrations: a tent city along railroad tracks; people riding atop the trains; soldiers; a toy “train” with soldiers and riders atop the carriages; the two rabbits heading towards a fence – will they be able to find a way through?

The plight of migrants is a topic that many adults don’t understand let alone are able to explain to young children. This is a timely book that could help spur discussion on many levels.

 

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!