Tag Archives: journeys

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 – Out

As this post publishes, I’ll be in London, at the start of a six-day journey with my eldest daughter as she celebrates a new decade (yep! I’m old enough to have birthed a 30-year old!). Thinking about this trip has reminded me of other journeys I’ve undertaken with one or more of my children, including a few rather lengthy rail journeys, several Atlantic crossings, and even a boat journey or two.

Today’s Perfect Picture Book begins with a mother-daughter journey – a journey to a new life, away from a war-torn country. This is the type of journey most of us will never take, but that we must understand, as we welcome new immigrants to our communities.

www.scholasticTitle: Out

Written By: Angela May George

Illustrated By: Owen Swan

Publisher/date: Scholastic Canada Ltd./2017 (originally published by Scholastic Australia/2016)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: refugees; asylum; journeys; family

Opening:

I feel different. It’s the way people stare. I’m called an asylum seeker, but that’s not my name.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl describes her journey fleeing a war-torn region and settling into life in a new country.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Teaching Guides for Grades 2-3 and Grades 4-5;
  • What do you think a new child or family may need if they leave their homeland and move to your town or city?
  • The narrator of this story travels by boat to her new home. Have you ever taken a boat journey? Draw a picture or describe in words the boat and where you traveled;
  • The narrator and her mother play a string game (cat’s cradle) while on their journey. What games do you think you could play with a new child at school who may not speak English?

Why I Like this Book:

In Out, George and Swan provide a sympathetic portrayal of the flight and resettlement of a nameless girl and her mother in a new, nameless, safe city and country. While readers learn why the pair leave their homeland, a war, and accompany them on a long boat journey to the new country, much of the story is an upbeat, hope-filled account of their resettlement experiences.

I think Out will resonate with children who are refugees, and it could help their classmates understand the refugees’ experiences. At one point, the narrator thinks back on the boat ride that “seems so long ago,” and notes that “these days” she runs to “win races” and camps “for fun.” She then explains, though, that “some days, when there’s a loud bang, I drop to the floor.” If a classmate reacts to loud noises or perhaps draws pictures of what s/he has seen, the other kids, and even some teachers, may understand the reason for what otherwise may seem like strange behavior after reading and discussing Out. They then may be better able to support their classmate/student.

Swan’s mix of felt-tipped marker and colored pencil illustrations are, in his words, “rough-around-the-edges” to convey the sense of the roughness and uncertainty of a refugee’s life.

A Note about Craft:

Like several other refugee stories I’ve reviewed recently, George utilizes first-person point of view to draw us into the story, become emotionally connected to the narrator and experience the life of a refugee through her eyes. This is particularly effective when, in the opening scene, the narrator informs us that she is called an “asylum seeker,” but that isn’t her name. I immediately wanted to hug her and call her by name!

Especially as she recounts the narrator’s flight to the new country, George tackles some difficult issues such as war, fear, hunger and thirst. Rather than dwell on them, George instead refers to “horrible things” that show the narrator “what it is to be brave.” When she hears noises at night, she listens to the river, that “knew the way out of the forest.” When hungry, mother and daughter “whispered our favourite foods to each other.” None of these examples, in my mind, minimizes the traumatic events. In each instance, however, the narrator and reader move on and find solace in something, thereby offering hope.

Swan weaves a yellow string through the story that ties the narrator’s former life to her new life. Younger children, in particular, may find comfort in the string as hair bow in an early spread, a game on the long boat journey, and a tie on her backpack towards story’s end. What threads can we, as authors or illustrators, use to show the connections in our stories?

See an author’s note and illustrator’s note in Study Notes that accompanied the first Australian printing.

Visit Owen Swan’s website to learn more about this Australian illustrator.

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 – Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale

It’s the last Perfect Picture Book Friday of April. I considered sharing a picture book of Poetry or about Jazz music/musicians, as both are celebrated in April. But given that funding for the Wall has been in the news so much this week, I just couldn’t resist sharing today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9781419705830_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: Mexico, migrants, folk tale, journeys, coyotes, rabbits

Opening:

One spring the rains did not come and the crops could not grow. So Papá Rabbit, Señor Ram, and other animals from the rancho set out north to find work in the great carrot and lettuce fields. There they could earn money for their families.

Brief Synopsis:

When Pancho Rabbit’s father is delayed on his return from the north, Pancho sets out to find him, “helped” by a coyote who befriends and guides him, until the food runs out.

Links to Resources:

  • Duncan Tonatiuh wrote a fascinating post about Pancho Rabbit & the plight of undocumented migrants;
  • As is indicated in the Author’s Note, the term coyote has two meanings in Spanish: it is the name of an animal, and it is slang for someone who smuggles people across the Mexican-US border. Interestingly, it is the name of the same animal in English. Try to think of words that are the same, or similar, in Spanish and English. For some examples, check here;
  • A Glossary defines other Spanish terms used in the story;
  • Pancho Rabbit packs his father’s favorite meal as he sets out to find him. What would you pack for your father, mother, sibling or friend? Is it similar to the meal of mole, rice, beans, tortillas and aguamiel packed by Pancho? If not, how does it differ?

Why I Like this Book: Although Tonatiuh wrote and illustrated Pancho Rabbit several years ago, it is, sadly, still such a timely topic. Migration, and the need to migrate, are difficult subjects to understand for kids and adults alike, as Tonatiuh comments in the Author’s Note. To make it more accessible to children, he sets the story as a modern-day fable, combines scenes every child can relate to, including a Welcome Home party, complete with Papá’s favorite foods, special decorations and musicians, peoples the story with animal protagonists, and illustrates it in his distinctive, colorful style that draws on the Mixtec Codex. This is a multi-layered picture book, perfect for home & classroom reading and discussion.

A Note about Craft:

I mentioned above that Tonatiuh includes “kid-relatable” occurrences in the fable of Pancho Rabbit and peoples the story with animal protagonists to render a difficult topic more easily understood. But where did the story come from? What can aspiring picture book writers trying to write about difficult subjects learn from this text? Note that Pancho packs a meal, loads it into a back-pack, the modern-day equivalent of a basket, and sets off on a journey to deliver the food to Papá. Sound familiar? I am indebted to Gordon West’s insight about Pancho as Little Red that appeared in an interview with Tonatiuh in Kirkus Reviews.

Pancho Rabbit was honored as:

  • Pura Belpré Author and Illustrator Honor book 2014;
  • New York Public Library’s annual Children’s Books list: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2013;
  • Kirkus Best Books of 2013;
  • Best Multicultural Children’s Books 2013 (Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature);
  • Notable Children’s Books from ALSC 2014;
  • Notable Books for a Global Society Book Award 2014.

For a companion read about migrants that also includes rabbits, see Two White Rabbits.

9781554987412_p0_v1_s192x300

You also may enjoy Diego Rivera: His World and Ours, Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011), about the famous Mexican muralist. Diego’s work, sadly, was rejected for Rockefeller Center in the 1930s for political reasons (not a focus of Tonatiuh’s book; for information about the Rockefeller Center mural, see this 2014 NPR article).9780810997318_s2

 

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!