Tag Archives: kindness

PPBF – Martin & Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank

I remember as a child being inspired by the words of the subjects of today’s Perfect Picture Book. As a child, and even as an adult who has taken more than my fair share of history courses, I didn’t grasp the parallels in their lives. I’m so glad that the author of today’s Perfect Picture Book saw these parallels, and wrote this book.

Title: Martin & Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank

Written By: Nancy Churnin

Illustrated By: Yevgenia Nayberg

Publisher/Date: Creston Books/2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-14

Themes/Topics: biography; the power of words; kindness; hope

Opening:

In 1929, two babies were born on opposite sides of the ocean. They never met. They didn’t even speak the same language. But their hearts beat with the same hope.

Brief Synopsis: The biographies of Anne Frank and Martin Luther King, Jr., both born in 1929, and the parallels of their lives and legacies.

Links to Resources:

  • Think of someone who shares your birthday or who was born in the year you were born. How are your lives the same? How do they differ?
  • Anne Frank is known to many because of her diary. Try writing (or drawing) a diary for a week, a month, a year, or forever!
  • One of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most well-known speeches begins, “I have a dream”. Do you have a dream? Describe your dream in words or pictures.
  • Participate in The Kindred Spirits Project, which encourages children and class rooms to discover and share what they have in common with children from other regions, schools or countries.
  • Find more suggestions in the Curriculum/Discussion Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

Utilizing parallel structure, Churnin explores the lives of two well-known historical figures born in 1929: Anne Frank and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Although the two never met, they shared life features, such as being born into loving families but facing hatred at an early age. For King, it was being shunned and being barred from “Whites Only” spaces because of his skin color. For Frank, it was being shunned and being barred from school, first in Germany, from which her family fled, and then in Holland, because of her Jewish faith and heritage. Both King and Frank found their voices as teenagers, King as an orator who spoke of “black and white children playing together in harmony”, and Frank as a diarist who reflected on “how light could brighten the deepest darkness”. Despite the challenges they faced, both remained hopeful of a better world. Frank believed in people’s innate goodness, and King believed in the power of peaceful protest to bring about justice for all.

Churnin traces the lives of these peace builders through to their untimely deaths. But rather than dwelling on their early deaths, she leaves readers with hope, as “no one could kill the way Martin inspired others”, and “Anne’s words will never die”.

Many children’s books have been written about the lives and legacies of Martin and Anne. By pointing out the parallels in their lives and in their hopes in the face of hatred, I think Churnin has brought a new perspective to both of their legacies that will empower children to view their own circumstances with hope and treat others with kindness and love.

Because Martin & Anne involves two storylines in distinct locations an ocean apart, the illustrations play an important role in bringing a sense of unity to the whole. Nayberg’s soft, earth-toned, stylized art works well to convey the worlds of both of these historical figures. Her inclusion of a brighter palette towards the end of the book left me feeling hopeful that King’s and Frank’s legacies will endure.

A Note about Craft:

Although children’s biographies of both King and Frank exist, Churnin brings new life to their legacies by showing the parallels in their lives. For those of us writing picture book biographies, this illustrates that finding a fresh way into a story, even if that way involves combining two biographies into one book, enables authors to explore even well-known figures and contribute to our understanding of them.

Visit Churnin’s website to read more about the inspiration behind Martin & Anne and see her other works.

Visit Nayberg’s website to see more of her artwork.

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!

PPBF – Thank You, Omu!

Regular readers won’t be surprised that I maintain a to-be-read list of picture books. I also maintain a stack of to-be-reviewed picture books, and I try to maintain a schedule of reviews that reflect some sort of logic. Today’s selection was on that stack, and I couldn’t resist bumping it up on the review schedule after learning the wonderful news that its creator, Oge Mora, received the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award this past Monday, and today’s Perfect Picture Book is a 2019 Caldecott Honor Book. I wasn’t surprised by this news, and I don’t think you’ll be either, as Mora’s debut picture book truly is a Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Thank You, Omu!

Written & Illustrated By: Oge Mora

Publisher/Date: Little Brown Young Readers, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc./2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: kindness; sharing; community; stew; multigenerational; multicultural

Opening:

On the corner of First Street and Long Street, on the very top floor, Omu was cooking a thick red stew in a big fat pot for a nice evening meal. She seasoned and stirred it and took a small taste.

Brief Synopsis:

Smelling Omu’s delicious red stew, neighbors arrive at Omu’s apartment, and she shares with all of them until there’s nothing left.

Links to Resources:

  • With the help of an adult, cook a “thick red stew”;
  • Ask an older relative or friend about special foods they enjoyed preparing or eating as a child. Make, and share, that special food;
  • Does your family have a special name for a grandparent or older relative? Discover the language and meaning of that term, and why your family uses it;
  • View a Book Chat video with Mora.

Why I Like this Book:

Thank You, Omu! is a joyous book of community and caring. Debut author-illustrator Mora shows readers the meaning of that old adage, that “it’s in giving that we receive”, as Omu shares bowl after bowl of her thick red stew.

Readers learn at the outset that Omu (pronounced AH-moo) means “queen” in the Igbo language spoken in parts of Nigeria. To Mora, per an Author’s Note, that term also signifies “grandma.” As is clear in the text and illustrations, Omu is a caring woman, who shares willingly with neighbors and community members until “it was finally time for dinner” but the pot “was empty.” I think kids will relate to Omu’s generous spirit and especially to her feelings of disappointment when she discovers that she has nothing to eat for dinner. I think they’ll especially appreciate the book’s ending (which I won’t reveal here!).

Mora invites readers to experience Thank You, Omu! with all of our senses. “[S]crumptious scent[s]” and a “most delicious smell” of “thick red stew” simmering waft their way to hungry neighbors. I could almost smell and feel the stew on my tongue as I read. Likewise, the visitors showed their hunger by licking lips and watering mouths. Mora illustrates her text with colorful cut-out collage artwork incorporating floral patterns, acrylic paint, pastels, patterned paper, and clippings from old books. I think this conveys an upbeat, joyful feeling. The image of Omu, clad in sunny yellow, radiates, like her sharing disposition, throughout the story.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Mora recounts the memory of her grandmother cooking “what was often a large pot of stew” as she danced and swayed to the radio. She further relates that “[e]veryone in the community had a seat at my grandmother’s table.” It’s clear that not only has this memory had a significant impact on Mora’s life but that she’s recreated that sense of sharing and community in Thank You, Omu! I think because these scenes are etched in Mora’s heart, they resonate with readers. What caring characters fill your memories that can help bring heart to your stories? And what terms, such as Omu, can you use in your writing to add layers, such as multiculturalism, to the story?

The Main Character of Thank You, Omu! is Omu, an elderly woman. So how is this story kid-centric? First, I think children (and adults) like to read about caring elders. I also believe that Omu’s willingness to share is child-like, as she never questions whether her visitors are hungry or whether they don’t have other sources of food. Finally, the first visitor is a young child with whom, I think, kids will identify. Interestingly, he also has the last word of the story (but I won’t spoil it & tell you what that is).

Visit Mora’s website to see more of her artwork and find out about upcoming picture books.

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!

PPBF – A Drop of the Sea

From the sea as a Blue Road, as in last week’s Perfect Picture Book (Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea) to the sea as a dreamed-of destination, I’ve been enjoying quite a few “sea” stories lately. Here’s the latest!

Title: A Drop of the Sea

Written By: Ingrid Chabbert

Illustrated By: Raúl Nieto Guridi

Publisher/Date: Kids Can Press/2018 (originally published in France as Un bout de mer, Éditions Frimousse/2017)

Suitable for Ages: 4-7 (and older)

Themes/Topics: sea; desert; dreams; gift; kindness; intergenerational; aging; book in translation; #ReadYourWorld.

Opening:

Ali lives at the edge of the desert, not far from a hundred-year-old palm tree. He likes climbing it to snack on fresh dates. He never forgets to pick a few for his great-grandmother, too.

Brief Synopsis: Ali’s aging great-grandmother has always wanted to visit the sea. With bucket in hand, Ali journeys to the sea and and back to share the sea with her.

Links to Resources:

  • Fill a bucket with water. Try not to spill any! How far can you carry it? Why is a bucket full of water heavier than an empty bucket?
  • What place do you dream about? Draw a picture or write a description of that place;
  • Think of good deeds you can do for a family member or friend;
  • This story takes place in a desert, where there is little water. Learn about water scarcity and what you can do to help.

Why I Like this Book:

What would you do for someone you love? This question is at the heart of A Drop of the Sea. When Ali learns that his aging great-grandmother has always wanted to visit the sea but is no longer physically able to journey there, he sets off on a two-day journey to the coast, bucket in hand, to bring the sea to her: if she can’t journey there, he’ll bring the sea to her. But carrying a bucket brimming with sea water for two days is no easy task, especially in the hot sun and dry air of North Africa, the setting of the story.

As is evident from the title, Ali delivers mere drops of the sea. And the result? The elderly woman “starts to cry,” not because she is sad or upset, but because “this is one of the most beautiful days of my life!” And Ali? His “heart soars.”

Focused as it is on Ali’s kindness, the grandmother’s dreams, the “failed” attempt, and the reactions, I think A Drop of the Sea is a thought-provoking reminder of what it means to give and receive, to fail and succeed, to grow more infirm or stronger, and of the importance of actions & experiences over objects. In the midst of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Green Monday and SALE signs accosting us everywhere, perhaps we’d do well to remember that a drop of the sea is all that we, and the children in our lives, need.

Like the text and the setting, Gurudi’s digitally-rendered gouache and pencil illustrations are sparse and evocative. Much of the time, the sand appears more like lined-paper than actual sand, and in one spread, the route of the journey appears as a map underfoot. Is Guridi implying that this story is, in fact, a fairy tale or fable, set down here to make us think about timeless issues of aging, water-scarcity, dreams, and gifts? While I don’t know the answer, I believe the illustrations add an additional layer to discuss after reading  A Drop of the Sea.

A Note about Craft:

As noted above, the title, A Drop of the Sea, almost reveals the outcome of the story. It also, though, is very intriguing, especially when combined with the overwhelmingly simple and beige cover illustration. As authors or editors, we know that we need to weigh the pros and cons of revealing too much or not enough with a title. In this case, I think they made the right choice.

A Drop of the Sea is a simple, straightforward story, with only two characters depicted and little indication of time period, contemporary or historical, or place (we know only that it’s a vast desert, a two-day walk from a sea coast, and we presume it’s North Africa). Clearly Ali does not live alone with his great-grandmother in a vast desert with no other family, friends or neighbors anywhere near. But as these other characters are not essential to the story, the author and illustrator haven’t cluttered the story with them. By leaving others out, I think the author and illustrator have enabled readers to focus better on the issues that matter, namely, the great-grandmother’s dream, Ali’s attempt to fulfill it, and the outcome. What clutters your story, and what can you strip away to enable readers to experience its heart?

Per the book jacket, French author Chabbert has published “dozens” of books, including several picture book collaborations with Guridi. Spanish illustrator Guridi is an “award-winning illustrator of many children’s books”.

Read an insightful review of A Drop of the Sea in CM: Canadian Review of Materials.

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 – There’s Room for Everyone

We celebrated World Kindness Day this past Tuesday. In the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving next Thursday, and family and friends will travel on crowded planes, trains and roads to enjoy festive meals together. With these two special days in mind, I want to share this new Perfect Picture Book.

Title: There’s Room for Everyone

Written & Illustrated By: Anahita Teymorian

Publisher/Date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4+

Themes/Topics: kindness; sharing; hope; peace

Opening:

Before I was born, there was only a little space in my mummy’s tummy…But there was enough room for me.

Brief Synopsis: As a boy grows from a baby to old age, he reflects on how people and animals interact with our environments and concludes that with love and kindness, “there’s room for everyone”.

Links to Resources:

  • Have you ever been told that there’s no room for you to sit with your friends or play a game with them? Or have you ever told someone that there’s no room for her or him? How did you feel? Think about how you could add a chair, move to a larger table, find another game piece, or otherwise find space for yourself or someone else;
  • Practice being kind, by performing acts of kindness;
  • Visit Teymorian’s studio and see how she makes room for all of her illustrations and stories;
  • Watch the book trailer;
  • In a Message at the back of the book, Teymorian explains how the idea for this book began: she was angry at the images on the television showing people fighting for a piece of land. What makes you angry? What do you do when you’re angry? Draw a picture of something that helps you feel less angry.

Why I Like this Book:

With kid-relatable text and images, Teymorian invites children to think about physical spaces, those they inhabit, like their homes, those that are public, like a library, and those in nature, like the sky, seas, and land. The unnamed narrator notes that there’s enough room in all of those spaces for whatever needs to be there – even for plentiful things, like stars and the moon, for necessary things, like books, and for large things, like giant animals. So why isn’t there enough room for everyone here?

Teymorian shows people arguing over physical spaces, like an elevator or train, or even a bathroom. Some of these arguments are squabbles over a small space, some escalate to armed conflict, and some involve beliefs about which public restroom is appropriate to use.

As the narrator points out, though, he knows a “secret” that he wants to share – and what child can resist a secret! And what parent, caregiver or teacher can resist a picture book with such a positive message: if we love and act with kindness, “there’s room for everyone”.

Photo of interior spread

An author-illustrator, Teymorian spreads her message as much through the vibrant, colorful, full-page illustrations as through the simple text. Using repeated patterns and elongated limbs, Teymorian depicts people, animals and objects fitting into a variety of spaces, discovering room for everyone.

A Note about Craft:

Teymorian utilizes first-person point-of-view that brings an immediacy to the action and that made me feel like I was with the narrator, visiting the many spaces referenced. The narrator also addresses the reader directly, imparting the book’s message in a straight-forward call to join in with “those in the know” and act with kindness and love. This call to action empowers children, I think, to be the change, to ensure that “there’s room for everyone”.

The narrator is a young child through part of the book, but he also grows up and travels the world as a sailor. Although this life-spanning story is unusual for a picture book, I think it works well here as it enables Teymorian to show aspects of life that a child generally would not experience first-hand. The narrator, depicted as a kindly, grandfather-like man at the end of the story, can then also share his secret, discovered through his many years of life and travels.

Teymorian is an Iranian illustrator-author. Read an interview with her here. See my review of Teymorian’s A Bird Like Himself.

There’s Room for Everyone is the first in Tiny Owl Publishing’s Hope in a Scary World series that is intended to “show hope and how to cope with the problems in this scary world in a very simple and subtle and childish way.”

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 – Cinderella of the Nile

Many of us in the US are heading out for the start of the summer holidays this weekend. And what better thing to pack than a good book, especially if that book transports us to a land far away and to a time long, long ago…

cinderellacover350Title: Cinderella of the Nile

Written By: Beverley Naidoo

Illustrated By: Marjan Vafaeian

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 or older

Themes/Topics: fairy tale; #ReadYourWorld; #OneStoryManyVoices; kindness; love

Opening:

Long, long ago when pirates roamed the seas around Greece, a beautiful baby girl was born in a village to the north. She had eyes like sapphires and fine red curls. The happy parents, who had waited many years for this child, called her ‘Rhodopis’ because her cheeks were so rosy.

Brief Synopsis:

In this retelling of an early Greek version of the Cinderella story, a kind-hearted young girl is transported to a land far from home. There she toils as a slave, until a new owner treats her as a daughter and gifts her red slippers, and a wife-seeking pharaoh falls in love with her.

Links to Resources:

  • Rhodopis traveled from northern Greece, to an island, to Egypt along the Nile River. Trace her journey on a map of the eastern Mediterranean Sea;
  • Read one or more of the Cinderella stories listed below. How are they the same? What’s different?
  • In a forward, One Story, Many Voices, Naidoo writes that “tales change when they are told and retold” as that is the “freedom of the storyteller.” Write your own Cinderella story.

Why I Like this Book:

Like many other young and not-so-young readers, I love fairy tales. I especially love seeing how versions differ across regions and eras, even as the story themes remain the same.

In Cinderella of the Nile, I found several aspects of the storyline that differed from the popular version of my youth. For instance, this story lacks an evil stepmother and a fairy godmother. Instead, Rhodopis begins life with loving parents in a simple village in northern Greece where she herds goats. Then, pirates kidnap her and she enters a life where slave traders and owners determine her fate. Interestingly, she starts life in Europe and ends up as a slave in Africa – opposite to the slave route that most slaves endured, and opposite to the route that many refugees and migrants now travel. The inclusion of piracy, slavery and the reversal of this route will, I think, lead to thought-provoking discussions, especially with older children.

In lieu of a fairy godmother, Naidoo includes a well-known storyteller/philosopher, Aesop, who befriends Rhodopis and counsels her to “bend, not break” when faced with difficulties. That and her kindness to various creatures lead to her meeting, and union with, the princely pharaoh.

The themes of Cinderella, the power of kindness, adapting to one’s circumstances, and love, shine through in Cinderella of the Nile. I think children also will enjoy seeing how this tale features characters of varying skin tones and ethnicities, how a noted storyteller, Aesop, plays a role in the outcome, and how kindness to all creatures benefits Cinderella, even without the flick of a magic wand or the transformation of a pumpkin into a carriage.

Vafaeian’s colorfully rich illustrations not only complement but complete Naidoo’s retelling. With her “fine red curls,” Rhodopis is a focal point of every illustration, standing out even among the vibrant flora and fauna that fill every page.

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Interior spread, reprinted from Tiny Owl’s website

I also love that Cinderella and her pharaoh are an interracial couple, as shown in the last gorgeous spread.

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Interior spread, reprinted from Tiny Owl’s website

A Note about Craft:

Cinderella of the Nile is the first of Tiny Owl Publishing’s One Story, Many Voices series, which showcases the universality of fairy tale themes as evident in many similar stories told by “voices from around the world” that reflect the circumstances of particular times and places. How would you rewrite the Cinderella story, or some other favorite fairy tale, to reflect where and when you live or to better include people like yourself?

Learn more about Carnegie Award-winning author Beverley Naidoo at her website and in this article about Cinderella of the Nile.

Iranian illustrator Marjan Vafaeian also illustrated The Parrot and the Merchant and Bijan & Manije.

Cinderella of the Nile was named one of 10 picture books that promote empathy by book reviewer Mamma Filz. A reviewer in The Telegraph noted how this Cinderella overcame adversity “without a fairy godmother or a fancy frock.”

Read Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story and Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella to see how this story changes at differing times and places, even as its themes remain universal.

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 Apple-Pip Princess

Today, as many of us recover from turkey hang-overs (at least those in the US), and others rush around to score Black Friday deals, I chose a story that celebrates the bounty and community that are at the heart of Thanksgiving. While it’s not a new book, I think its appeal endures and make it a Perfect Picture Book:

9780763637477_p0_v1_s192x300Title: The Apple-Pip Princess

Written & Illustrated By: Jane Ray

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press/2008 (UK edition: Orchard Books/2007)

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: kindness, sharing, nature, community, princess, apple seeds

Opening: “Let me tell you a story about something that happened a long time ago in a land far from here – a land ruled by an old king who had three daughters.”

Brief Synopsis: An elderly king ruling over a bleak, barren kingdom sets each of his three daughters a task: to build in seven days something that will make her mark, that will make the king proud. Whichever of his daughters builds that thing will inherit his crown.

Links to Resources:

  • Plant an apple-pip (seed) and watch it grow;
  • Make baked apples or apple pie;
  • Plan a picnic (indoors or out): what will you eat? Who will you invite to share your picnic?
  • For older children, discuss the king’s system of choosing his successor. How else could he have done so? Discuss the attributes of a good ruler (or president!).

Why I Like this Book:

The Apple-Pip Princess is a modern fairy tale. Need I say more? Like the best fairy tales, it is an allegory for issues in our own 21st century world: caring for the environment; the hollowness of material possessions; the power of one person to better the world; the power of community. Told by a narrator speaking directly to “you” in lyrical language that flows like the best fairy tales do and accompanied by illustrations fit for a royal tale, including several collages incorporating digital art in a unique manner, The Apple-Pip Princess is a wonderful way to open discussions about our need to care for our world, the effect our actions have on our world and fellow beings, the importance of community, and why being the tallest or the most beautiful really doesn’t matter.

A Note about Craft:

Ms. Ray offers the usual array of fairy tale elements plus a few twists:

  • An omniscient narrator who tells the tale and specifically brings “you” into the story, addressing the reader at the beginning, when the focus shifts to Serenity, the princess with the apple seed, or pip, and how she will complete the king’s task, and at the end;
  • A dead queen, although no evil stepmother nor a fairy godmother;
  • Three sisters with, you guessed it, three different ideas about how to complete the task;
  • They are given seven days and nights to complete the tasks – a nod to Biblical creation, although without the day of rest;
  • An ample dash of magic, in fact, seven dashes, but the magic works only after Serenity unleashes it;
  • The characters are dark skinned, although wearing European-style clothing from an earlier era and living in houses that would be at home in Europe or even parts of rural or small-town America.

Incorporating these twists into the  classic formula, I think, makes The Apple-Pip Princess a fairy tale that will endure.

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!