Tag Archives: loneliness

PPBF – Boat of Dreams

Today’s perfect picture book has been on my “to review” shelf for a while now, awaiting the right time to review it. It’s not about refugees, those affected by immigration bans, or even by an author from a region affected by war. But its haunting illustrations, focus on journeys, and ambiguous storyline make it a perfect read as leaves begin to fall in the northern hemisphere, nights grow longer, and imaginations run wild.

Title: Boat of Dreams

Written & Illustrated By: Rogério Coelho

Publisher/Date: Tilbury House Publishers/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4 and up

Themes/Topics: wordless, aging, dreams, journeys, imagination, fantasy, loneliness

Opening: (from jacket flap)

How does an old man with an umbrella come to live on a desert island, his only companion a seagull? Ho do a boy and his cat come to live in an apparently deserted city? Are the man and the boy separated only by distance, or also by time? Are they the same person – the boy dwelling in the man’s memory? Between them, in a stoppered bottle, floats a piece of paper on which the man draws a flying boat and the boy imagines himself aboard.

Brief Synopsis: A fantastical, wordless picture book in which an older gentleman draws a ship and sends it to a young boy who adds himself to the picture, and then visits the man.

Links to Resources:

  • Design your own ship;
  • Plan a visit to an older relative or friend. How will you journey there? What will you do once you arrive?
  • Draw a picture for an older relative or friend of something you’d like to do with her or him;
  • Start a “chain” picture, with each person in the chain adding something to the original artwork until, at the end, you have a masterpiece created by two or more persons.

Why I Like this Book:

With its haunting, sepia-toned, intricate images and ambiguous storyline, Boat of Dreams is a wordless picture book that has stayed in my mind long after each reading.

As the story begins, an elderly man on a seemingly deserted island finds an empty piece of paper in a bottle. He draws a detailed flying boat and launches his creation into the sea by setting it afloat in the bottle. When an unnamed young boy living somewhere in an unnamed city finds the picture on his doorstep, he adds himself and his sidekick cat to the image. Either dreaming while asleep or actually journeying in this fantastical tale, the boy and his cat visit the gentleman, hand him the completed drawing, and then depart, leaving the picture behind, fastened to the wall above the man’s bed.

Coehlo never reveals who the two characters are or whether they’re one person at different stages of life. We never know where the story occurs, or if the journey actually happens. But the reader does know that two seemingly lonely people come together to create a piece of art that reflects both of them.

I personally would like to believe that the boy and the older man are grandson and grandfather, separated by distance but drawn together by a love of each other and creativity. I view the story as a way to show how togetherness is possible, despite distance or possibly even political barriers.

What’s wonderful about Boat of Dreams is that it’s open to interpretation, so children reading it may come to a different meaning that speaks to them.

A Note about Craft:

Whether the title refers to an imaginary journey undertaken while asleep, whether the aspirations of the young boy culminate in the life of the older man, or whether the older man is reflecting on the hopes he felt as a boy, I think the title, Boat of Dreams, is an apt one. I also think Coehlo’s use of color to indicate moods, from sepia to shades of blue, serves as a tool to further his storytelling and alert the reader to important happenings in the story.

Visit Coelho’s website to view more of this Brazilian illustrator’s work.

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!

Perfect Pairing – Loves to Dance

I love to dance into a new month, don’t you? Here’s two picture books to help!

Lena’s Slippers

Author & Illustrator: Ioana Hobai

Publisher/Date: Page Street Kids/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: ballet, dancing shoes, perseverance, economic hardship, determination

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Lena can’t wait to twirl and swirl on stage for her school dance recital, but her family does not have the money to pay for new dance slippers. Despite this, nothing is going to stop Lena from dancing. As the day of the recital draws closer, Lena works hard come up with a creative solution and enjoys her shining moment on stage, learning along the way that what you do is more important than what you wear.

Lena’s passion for performing will inspire readers, especially aspiring dancers. Parents will love that it teaches kids not to get caught up in artificial, materialistic ideals. With lovely illustrations, this heartwarming story highlights the power of perseverance and the joy of creativity.

Read a review at The Picture Book Buzz.

 

The Wonder Shoes

Author: Eva Bernatová

Illustrator: Fiona Moodie

Publisher/Date: Farrar Straus Giroux/1990

Ages:  4-8

Themes: ballet, dancing shoes, loneliness, persistence

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A story of a young girl named Emma who is enraptured by the Circus Umberto, which has come to her village featuring a beautiful young dancer wearing bright red dancing shoes. Emma dreams of becoming a dancer herself, and wonderful things happen when she receives her own pair of dancing shoes.

Because of the date of publication, I didn’t find a review of The Wonder Shoes, but my kids loved it when they were young.

I paired these books because both feature dancers and the desire to obtain dance shoes. In Lena’s Slippers, economic hardship and the realities of life in a country with bare-shelved stores leaves Lena scrambling to find the right white dance slippers to join with her ballet classmates. In The Wonder Shoes, lonely newcomer Emma dreams of life as a dancer, and finds friends, and an opportunity to dance, through perseverance and creativity. Both books highlight the joys of dancing and the desire to be part of a group.

Looking for similar reads?

See Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins (Michelle Meadows/Ebony Glenn, 2019) and Firebird: Ballerina Misty Copeland Shows a Young Girl How to Dance Like the Firebird (Misty Copeland/Christopher Myers, 2014), featured here last spring, and Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México (Duncan Tonatiuh, 2017).

Perfect Pairing – of Friendly Ships

During the recent Reading for Research month, I saw the first book featured here in a post about quiet books. When I read that book, it brought to mind another book I’d read, and reviewed, a few years ago. I think you’ll understand why when you read these books together.

The Antlered Ship

Author: Dashka Slater

Illustrator: The Fan Brothers

Publisher/Date: Beach Lane Books/2017

Ages: 4-8

Themes: Curiosity, adventure, animals, and friendship.

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

An inquisitive fox sets off on a seafaring voyage with a crew of deer and pigeons in this enchanting tale of friendship and adventure.
Marco the fox has a lot of questions, like: how deep does the sun go when it sinks into the sea? And why do birds have such lizardy feet? But none of the other foxes share his curiosity. So when a magnificent ship adorned with antlers and with a deer for a captain arrives at the dock looking for a crew, Marco volunteers, hoping to find foxes who are as inquisitive as he is that can answer his questions. The crew finds adventure and intrigue on their journey. And, at last, Marco finds the answer to his most important question of all: What’s the best way to find a friend you can talk to?

Read a review at The Picture Book Buzz.

The Friend Ship

Author: Kat Yeh

Illustrator: Chuck Groenink

Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion/2016

Ages: 3-5

Themes: friendship; journey; hedgehogs; loneliness

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Little Hedgehog is very lonely. But then she overhears passersby talking about something that gives her hope-something called a Friend Ship!
Hedgehog imagines a ship filled with friends of all kinds, and soon she’s ready to hit the open seas in a boat of her own to track it down. Along the way, she meets other lonely animals eager to join her quest.
They search north. They search south. They search east. But Hedgehog and her new friends can’t find the Ship anywhere! Until she realizes she knows just where the Friend Ship is. . .
This heartwarming tale by Kat Yeh, with charming illustrations by Chuck Groenink, proves that sometimes, what you’re searching for is right in front of you.

Read my review.

I paired these books because they involve animal characters seeking something and embarking on journeys. In The Antlered Ship, the deer seek an island with tasty food, the pigeons seek adventure, and Marco the fox seeks answers to his many questions. In The Friend Ship, Hedgehog undertakes a journey to find friendship and ends up finding it on a ship filled with friends. Both books feature imaginative journeys that aren’t quite what the travelers, and the readers, expect at the outset.

PPBF – Beegu

Today, many of us in the US head out for the last weekend of summer before the kids start back to school. So when I found a book that includes travel and a school yard setting, I couldn’t resist. And a big “thank you” to the friend who recommended today’s Perfect Picture Book!

w204Title: Beegu

Written & Illustrated By: Alexis Deacon

Publisher/Date: Red Fox/2004 (originally published by Hutchinson, an imprint of Random House Children’s Publishers, UK/2003)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: alien; differences; friendship; loneliness; belonging

Opening:

Beegu was not supposed to be here. She was lost.

Brief Synopsis: A young alien crashes her ship on earth. Lonely, she seeks her family and friendly creatures.

Links to Resources:

  • Beegu is an alien, something that is not native to an area, in this case, earth. Draw what you think an alien looks like;
  • Look at the book’s cover that includes a picture of Beegu. Does she remind you of any other creature? Does how she looks make you more or less interested in meeting her? More or less afraid of her?
  • Have you ever been lost? Can you describe or draw where you were and/or how you felt?

Why I Like this Book:

Beegu is a sweet story that brought to mind sitcoms from my childhood (anyone else remember My Favorite Martian?). I think most people at some point in their lives have wondered about life on other planets and about what would happen if any creatures from another planet visited earth. I think, too, that most kids would find it perfectly reasonable to have a three-eyed creature that appears fuzzy as a lovey show up in their school yard. Which is one reason, I think, kids will enjoy reading Beegu.

Because only the kids and a few puppies welcome Beegu, with adults either ignoring her or shooing her away, Beegu offers an opportunity to discuss how we treat those different from us – especially those who may not speak our language or dress and look like us. With few words and expressive illustrations, Deacon has created a story that may help even young children understand that we should welcome others, like migrants or refugees, into our schools and communities, and that differences and language barriers can be overcome. If you’re looking for a book to approach the topic of the refugee crisis without including dark images of war or sea crossings, Beegu is a great choice.

Deacon is an illustrator/author whose bright yellow creation stands out against the drab blues and grays of earth.

A Note about Craft:

Beegu is such an appealing character. But what makes one empathize with her? The first things I noticed were her eyes – big, bright and searching. Her long, trailing ears make her look like a rabbit, a creature that is totally non-threatening. That these ears can shoot up when Beegu is excited and/or happy, and drag on the ground when she is sad, lonely and/or scared helps convey her emotions and helps tell the story with few words – an important feature when the intended audience is so young.

Deacon draws a sharp distinction between the welcoming attitude of puppies and young children and the unwelcoming attitude of adults in this story. With few words (Beegu has eight wordless pages and only a few words on the other pages), Deacon shows how we can welcome others: by snuggling (the puppies) and welcoming others into our play (the kids). As for the adults, they either ignore her or kick her out. Which leads Beegu to observe, towards the end of the story, that “Earth creatures were mostly big and unfriendly, but there were some small ones who seemed hopeful.”

Check out Deacon’s website and read answers to questions about his illustration and storytelling style here. View a CLPE video of Deacon here. Among other picture books, Deacon is the author of I Am Henry Finch, which I reviewed in 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 – 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 – 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!