Tag Archives: loneliness

PPBF – Robinson

Regular readers may think that I’m deviating from my focus on books about refugees, regions experiencing conflict or natural disasters, and regions affected by immigration bans. But as I read today’s Perfect Picture Book by a noted author-illustrator who, himself, was born in the former Czechoslovakia and was granted asylum as an adult in the US, I couldn’t help but think the themes of this book are so important for today’s refugees or any other kids feeling alone or hopeless. I hope you agree!

9780545731669_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Robinson

Written & Illustrated By: Peter Sís

Publisher/date: Scholastic Press/September 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Courage, loneliness, independence, friendship, adventure, bullying

Opening:

My friends and I love adventure. We play pirates all the time. Together, we rule the high seas!

Brief Synopsis: Peter, a young boy who loves Robinson Crusoe, falls ill after dressing as his hero for a school costume party and being mocked for his costume. He then dreams of a journey that mimics that of his hero.

Links to Resources:

  • A costume party is a key feature of this story. Have you ever dressed as a literary hero? Find some ideas here.
  • Have you ever worn a costume that you really liked, but others found it funny or too different? How did you feel?
  • Read a child’s version of Robinson Crusoe here.

Why I Like this Book: Robinson is a gorgeous picture book with an important message for kids who feel alone and/or different.

How will I survive on my own?” Peter asks in one dark spread, as he looks fearfully around an imposing forest. I think Peter speaks for all kids who are alone, or who feel alone due to lack of friends or bullying, or who are in an unfamiliar place due to a natural or manmade disaster or even are lost near home. As kids see Peter adapt to island life and emulate the lifestyle of his hero, I think they will feel hope, too, that their situations will improve. As in all good adventure stories, Sís circles back to the beginning, and in the end, we leave Peter and his friends ready for another adventure.

In true Sís style, the text is minimal and the illustrations are incredible. This is a dream adventure, and Sís’ depiction of the transition from reality to dream is stunning as Peter’s bed transforms into a ship, and he approaches the island after floating in and out of hours, or maybe days.

A mix of smaller panels and larger one- and two-page spreads, Sís’ pen, ink and watercolor illustrations were designed to capture the “colorful, dreamlike first impression” he had when he first read Robinson Crusoe, per an About the Art note. I believe he succeeded, and I think you’ll agree!

A Note about Craft:

As authors or author-illustrators, we learn the importance of ideas and idea generation. We also learn they can come from anywhere – even our own past. Sís mined his past for Robinson. He states, in an Author’s Note, that Robinson is inspired by a true story from his childhood. Sís wore a Crusoe costume fashioned by his mother and recalled being ridiculed by friends. He even includes a photograph of himself in that costume in the book (you’ll have to read Robinson to see it!). What memories of yours can become picture books?

From the opening above, the point of view is clear: the main character of Robinson narrates his own story. I think this works well to bring immediacy to the story.

Robinson is a 48-page picture book published by a major commercial publisher. While the word-count is low, the page count is high, showing that the “rules” can be broken.

Finally, I confess to having had trouble pulling the main themes from Robinson. It is so multi-layered! I listed those from the jacket cover first, but then realized how bullying, not listed on the cover, plays such a pivotal role in the story, and how imagination, which isn’t even listed above, pops from each page.

Robinson has justifiably received many starred reviews. Learn more about its acclaimed author/illustrator, Peter Sís at his website and Scholastic Author Page.

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 Christmas Boot

It’s that time of year again! Yep, time to visit that local bookstore and pretend to search for a gift for “that special someone” while really checking out the new holiday picture books. For the next few weeks, I’ll be featuring holiday titles, because they are, truly, Perfect Picture Books:

9780803741348_p0_v2_s192x300Title: The Christmas Boot

Written By: Lisa Wheeler

Illustrated By: Jerry Pinkney

Publisher/date: Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Group)/2016 (an earlier version of this book was published by Mitten Press/2006)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Christmas, Santa Claus, poverty, wishes, giving and receiving, loneliness, the elderly

Opening: “Deep in the forest on Christmas morning, Hannah Greyweather gathered bundles of kindling wood. For her, this day was no different from any other. As she went about her chores, she chatted to the forest, she talked to the mountains, but mostly she spoke to herself.”

Brief Synopsis: When a lonely, elderly woman finds a boot in the forest, she wishes for its mate and other things to ease her difficult life. But when the rightful owner of the boot appears, Hannah gratefully gives up her treasures and asks for only one thing that she truly desires.

Links to Resources:

The holidays are a season of joy. For the poor or lonely, though, they are difficult times, especially when accompanied by cold and snowy weather.

  • Make a holiday card or send a letter to an elderly or homebound person.
  • Bake and decorate boot and mitten-shaped cookies and share them.
  • Donate warm clothing or gently-used toys or books to those in need.

Think about what’s at the top of your Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa list. Why do you want it? Think about what’s really important to you and your family.

Why I Like this Book:

Tis the season of giving and receiving. The Christmas Boot asks the important question, what do you “truly desire”, ie, what is most important.  Hannah answers that what she truly wants is someone to talk to – not the large, fancy house, “fabulous foods” and “fluffy feather bed” that had appeared when she wished for them. Somehow, these “didn’t seem fully right”; they “didn’t seem to ‘fit’”. I love how Hannah rejects material comforts that aren’t true necessities and seeks, instead, companionship.

Mr. Pinkney’s gorgeous, homey, old-fashioned illustrations, the folktale feeling of the illustrations and text, and the inclusion of holiday magic make this a book that will become a holiday classic. The message of asking what’s most important and the focus on a poor, lonely, elderly woman make this a book that deserves to become a classic.

A Note about Craft:

The Christmas Boot is a modern folktale. But Ms. Wheeler doesn’t start this tale in classic “once upon a time” fashion. Instead, her opening paragraph jumps right in to Hannah Greyweather’s gritty life. It sets the scene and prepares us for what is to come: we immediately learn the who, what, where of the story and the central problem to be solved: the main character is lonely.

And who is the main character? Unlike many picture books, the main character here is an elderly woman. Hannah easily could have been a young “matchstick girl” or shepherd. Featuring an elderly, lonely woman brings another dimension to the story, focusing on the oft-forgotten elderly for whom a holiday may be a day “no different from any other.”

Finally, I love that Ms. Wheeler has chosen a character name that brings to mind other traditions: Hannah is a popular Jewish name, and Greyweather could easily be an American Indian name.

The Christmas Boot received starred reviews in Kirkus Reviews and Publisher’s Weekly. View the book trailer here. And for an interview with Ms. Wheeler, including the story behind this story and its republication, see Picture Book Builders.

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!