Tag Archives: Loss

PPBF – Alive Again

 

Yesterday was National Poetry Day in the UK. What better time to celebrate a picture book by a noted Iranian poet and picture book author that was published in the UK!

cover-alive-again-294x300Title: Alive Again

Written By: Ahmadreza Ahmadi

Illustrated By: Nahid Kazemi

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing, Ltd/2105 (first published in Persian, Salis Publisher, Tehran, Iran/2013)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: loss, regeneration, poetry, WNDB, ReadYourWorld, Iran

Opening:

Last night the wind blew the blossom from the trees.

“When blossom goes, does the word ‘blossom’ die?” asked a boy.

“Can there ever be blossom again?”

Brief Synopsis: (from the publisher’s website)

When the blossom disappears, a little boy wonders, will it ever return? And when the rains stop, have they gone forever? This is a story about understanding the world and learning to trust. How do we find that grain of hope that good things might return?

Links to Resources:

  • Discover more about Iran, where the author and illustrator live.
  • Make a list of things, like flowers or migrating animals, that seem to disappear and then reappear.
  • Draw a tree in summer and winter. What’s the same? What’s different?
  • Kazemi uses fabric swatches to make collage illustrations. Try making a bug from photographs in food magazines.

Why I Like this Book:

Alive Again is a deceptively simple book that poses the question of what happens to things when they disappear or cease to happen. Are they gone forever? And if they’re gone, do we still need their names? For instance, if no one travels, do we need the word “journey”? Will that word cease to exist?

Alive Again is a wonderful book to share with children in the “why”, “what if”, questioning phase. I think it’s also a great introduction to discussing seasons or other cyclical events, and, perhaps most importantly, it’s a sympathetic introduction to concepts of loss and holding on to what or who we love.

Kazemi’s collaged artwork pares well with the sparse text. I especially loved the blossoms that reminded me of winged insects or birds and made me wonder about the connections among the plant and animal inhabitants of the natural world.

11698637_865324406854261_7817611382904294293_n-e1447672008740

Illustration from Alive Again, reprinted from Tiny Owl’s website

A Note about Craft:

With his thought-provoking, sparse text, Ahmadi causes the reader to wonder not only about the things that disappear, like the blossom, but also about the boy and his father, the only characters in the story. In an afterward, the publisher reminds us that “it is exactly those gaps in the narrative that leave room for the child’s imagination to fill out the story”. How do we as authors and/or illustrators leave room for children’s imaginations?

Find out more about Ahmadreza Ahmadi here , one of Iran’s “greatest and most famous contemporary poets” and see my review of his book When I Coloured in the World here.9781910328071-150x150

Discover more books published by Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd, “an independent publishing company committed to producing beautiful, original books for children”, founded on the “belief that stories act as bridges – providing pathways to new experiences whilst connecting us to here and there” and publishing a number of books by Iranian authors and illustrators.

While not currently available in US book shops, Alive Again is available through the Book Depository which ships for free to the US.

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 – Four Feet, Two Sandals

Yesterday was the United Nations’ International Day of Peace. The theme this year is “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All.” This theme honors “the spirit of TOGETHER , a global initiative that promotes respect, safety and dignity for everyone forced to flee their homes and those leaving in search of a better life.”

I chose a “classic” story of two refugees in honor of the Day of Peace Together theme and to further my pledge to take action to promote peace in our world. Please join me in the United States Institute of Peace’s #PeaceDayChallenge!

ResizeImageHandlerTitle: Four Feet, Two Sandals

Written By: Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed

Illustrated By: Doug Chayka

Publisher/date: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)/2007

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: refugees; friendship; sharing; Afghanistan; loss

Opening:

Lina raced barefoot to the camp entrance where relief workers threw used clothing off the back of a truck. Everyone pushed and fought for the best clothes. Lina squatted and reached, grabbing what she could.

Brief Synopsis: When two young refugee girls without shoes find one pair of sandals, they become friends and alternate wearing the sandals.

Links to Resources:

  • Wear one shoe only & walk around the house and/or neighborhood. How does it feel to wear only one shoe? Try switching one shoe or both shoes with a family member or friend. How does it feel to wear shoes that don’t fit quite correctly and/or to wear shoes that fit differently?
  • Learn about Afghanistan, the country where this story occurs.
  • View the Teacher’s Guide here.

Why I Like this Book:

Four Feet, Two Sandals is one of the first picture books dealing with the refugee situation and was published even before that situation became what we now term the “refugee crisis”. Much has changed in the ten years since its publication, but, sadly, much remains the same: only the numbers and countries seem to increase each year. Because it focuses on the day-to-day experiences of two young girls and because it concerns a kid-relatable topic, ie, what do you do when there isn’t enough of something for two or more kids, I think it remains an important book for classroom and family reading.

The sepia-toned illustrations transported me to the camp and helped me envision the experiences the two friends shared. An Author’s Note provides context and information about the refugee experience.

A Note about Craft:

The theme of leaving one’s home, losing family members to war, terror attacks or a natural disaster, and settling in a camp or center with few possessions or food is overwhelming for adults, let alone children. By focusing on one detail of that experience, the shoes Lina needs, finds, and ultimately shares with Feroza, Williams and Mohammed help us empathize with the main characters and, if you will, walk along in their shoes as they experience the trials and tribulations of life in a refugee camp. By emphasizing the particular over the general, these authors draw us into the story and build empathy for their characters. What detail(s) can you highlight in your works in progress to help draw your readers into the story and help them empathize with the main character(s)?

Not only do Williams and Mohammed focus on shoes, something kids will understand, but they provide a further description to make them more appealing: “yellow with a blue flower in the middle”. Not only does this description add more kid appeal, but the shoes stand out in each spread of the book. This reminds me that as we add details in our text, we should think about how these details will appear in illustrations throughout the book.

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 Three Lucys

I first learned of today’s Perfect Picture Book when I read a Lee & Low Books blog post last summer about tackling heavy themes in children’s stories. As this is a debut picture book by Lebanese-American author, editor and poet Hayan Charara and as it features an international setting and main character, I think it’s a Perfect Picture Book to help us celebrate the fourth annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day.

9781600609985_p0_v2_s192x300Title: The Three Lucys

Written By: Hayan Charara

Illustrated By: Sara Kahn

Publisher/date: Lee & Low Books/2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-9 or older

Themes/Topics: war, loss, cats, Lebanon, diversity

Opening:

On the hill behind our house in Lebanon, there is an olive tree. I like to sit in the shade of the tree with the three Lucys: Lucy the Fat, Lucy the Skinny, and Lucy Lucy.

Brief Synopsis: When war breaks out in Lebanon, a young Luli and his parents must remain at the home of relatives, even as Luli worries about the pet cats that are waiting at home. Upon Luli’s return home, at least two of the cats are found to be safe.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Lebanon;
  • Make & eat traditional Lebanese cookies;
  • Discussing war, hateful speech or actions, and tragedies with children is never easy; a few sites I found that may help include a Unicef site, Race to Peace, a site that includes links to many peace-promoting organizations, and a Parent Resource on the Fred Rogers Organization site.

Why I Like this Book:

The Three Lucys begins and ends with a description of domestic life and pet ownership that I think will captivate any child. I loved the glimpse into Luli’s life and the reminder that even in regions which many of us consider “war torn,” there is beauty. Luli “learned to catch fish” in the sea to the west; Beirut is “full of taxicabs, buses, and honking cars…falafel sandwiches and freshly squeezed fruit drinks.” And like kids anywhere, Luli loves his pet cats and takes good care of them.

When fighting erupts, Charara shows readers the war through Luli’s perspective. We learn that the school is badly damaged, but that a tree in the schoolyard remains. We also learn that Luli’s heart “feels as heavy as an apple falling from a tree,” an image that shows Luli’s grief so vividly.

The images of Sara Kahn, a cat-loving Iranian-American, capture the bond between Luli and the Lucys, the terror felt by the family as bombs fill the sky, and the destruction left in their wake.

A Note about Craft:

Presumably because of the difficult subject matter, the older target audience and the relative unfamiliarity of many American readers with this region and subject matter, at 1854 words, the word count of The Three Lucys is notably longer than the average picture book. I think books of this nature generally are longer, as more background is necessary to place the events and emotional journey into context.

War and loss are never easy subjects, especially in picture books. To soften the blow, while maintaining the messaging, I think Mr. Charara’s choice of loss is insightful. As a pet owner & lover, I understand that the loss of a pet is never easy, but unlike a person, the cat could have wandered or been frightened away – Lucy disappears but Charara never states that she dies. This leaves open the possibility that Lucy could be living happily elsewhere, which generally couldn’t be true if Lucy were a person. I think this glimmer of hope is important. Additionally, including three Lucys with two survivors enables Charara to circle back to the beginning, even as Luli remembers Lucy and grieves for her.

Finally, The Three Lucys is written in the first person, bringing immediacy to the story but also letting Luli show us that he is surviving, even as he grieves for Lucy.

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: My Old Pal, Oscar

It’s been a tough year in our house for older pets. First, we lost our most senior dog, Daisy, one year ago, one month shy of her 15th birthday. Although her daughter, Jazmine, was much younger, she faded swiftly and passed away a month ago, just after her 12th birthday. Despite realizing that in both cases, they are more comfortable and happy now, and despite the presence of a dear young pup in our home, we still feel their loss, especially the one who works from home, walks dogs most days, and is feeder-in-chief – aka, me!image

Jazmine, Chili and Daisy, summer 2015

When I found the book highlighted below, I knew it was perfect to help ease the pain. I’ve also included a few other titles that I found helpful. If you know of others, please add them in the comments.

9781419719011_p0_v1_s192x300Title: My Old Pal, Oscar

Written By: Amy Hest

Illustrated By: Amy Bates

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-7

Themes/Topics: dogs, loss, overcoming grief, bibliotherapy

Opening: “Hello, you. Who are you?

No tags? No name?

You sure are little. Except for those feet.

Those four big feet making footprints in the sand.”

Brief Synopsis: A young child grieving for his deceased dog meets a stray puppy who follows him on the beach.

Links to Resources:

  • Take a walk on a beach (or some other favourite place – like a park);
  • Collect things (that are free and won’t be harmed, of course!) while you walk;
  • Do you have a favourite pet or person? Draw a picture of your favourite pet/person and place it by your bedside.

Why I Like this Book:

With simple text and stunning watercolour illustrations, Amy Hest and Amy Bates tell the story of a young child grieving a deceased pet and finding new love. My Old Pal, Oscar is sure to soothe anyone, of any age, who is grieving a loss, whether from moving away, death, or any other reason. And while it’s clear that the young child’s grief subsides as the story progresses, it’s also clear that the “old pal” is far from forgotten – an important reminder for all of us.

A Note about Craft:

My Old Pal, Oscar has a very low word count and is told entirely in dialogue, or more precisely monologue, by the young child missing Oscar. While all the words are said by the child, the stray pup answers via his looks and actions – making this a great example of letting the illustrations tell part of the story.

If You Liked this Book:

If you’re missing a pet or otherwise coping with loss, I also recommend:

9780763649272_p0_v1_s118x184Sammy in the Sky, Barbara Walsh with paintings by Jamie Wyeth (Candlewick Press, 2011)

9781423103004_p0_v3_s192x300city dog, country frog, Mo Willems, illustrated by Jon J Muth (Hyperion Books for Children, 2010).

PPBF – It’s Tough to Lose your Balloon

As we head into summer, I plan to lighten things up a bit and add a craft component to the reviews. I saw this Perfect Picture Book on my favourite Library shelf – the NEW books shelf, and thought back to the New England SCBWI conference in late April at which Jarrett Krosoczka was a keynote speaker. Having heard his story of perseverance and seen his amazing illustrations, I quickly picked this fairly recent picture book up. I’m so glad I did, not just because of its scenes of summer mishaps and fun but also because of its positive message for youngsters and adults of all ages.

9780385754798Title: It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon

Written & Illustrated By: Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Publisher/date: Alfred A. Knopf/2015

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: Loss, calamities, coping with loss

Opening: “It’s tough to lose your balloon…but it’ll make Grandma smile from the sky.”

Brief Synopsis: A series of vignettes in which a diverse group of kids overcomes troubles by looking on the bright side of things.

Links to Resources:

Try some awesome balloon activities, art, experiments, and crafts;

Think of something that has gone wrong; describe, draw or write about how that bad thing did or could have turned into something good.

Why I Like this Book:

In a series of vignettes, veteran author/illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka shows some common childhood obstacles or problems and then, when the pages turn, shows the bright sides of the situations. In one sense, this is a Concept Book about opposites: happy/sad; not fun/fun; worst/best. On a different level, though, this is an advice book showing readers and listeners how to cope when calamity strikes. None of the calamities rises to the level of awful; this is a fun-filled romp through those situations that often cause tears and tantrums, but, with a bit of coaching, could bring smiles and laughter. This is a book to have on hand when disaster strikes your own young child to help him or her see the bright side of the situation. It also could help bolster those coping skills all of us need to deal with troubles big and small.

A Note about Craft:

Krosoczka notes in an endnote that he had written a version of this book about the injustices of childhood back in 1999, but it had lain there, not quite working. Until one day, the title event happened to his daughter, and his ever-resourceful wife remarked that Grandma was on an airplane and she would see the lost balloon. Krosoczka followed his own advice to view an obstacle as an opportunity, and made lemonade from lemons – turning a potentially day-ruining event and a long-dormant story into a delightfully simple, but oh so effective, picture book. To all my writer friends: pour some lemonade and pour through those mothballed manuscripts – who knows what opportunities await.

 

 

 

 

PPBF: Grandad’s Island

The colourful cover of this perfect picture book drew me in, the title intrigued me, and the story mesmerized me. I discovered Grandad’s Island on the NEW shelf at my local library, but it is a book that I will purchase for my home library very soon.

9780763690052_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Grandad’s Island

Written & Illustrated By: Benji Davies

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Loss, death, grandparent, travel, tropical islands

Opening: “At the bottom of Syd’s backyard, through the gate and past the tree, was Grandad’s house. There was a key under a flowerpot, and Syd could let himself in anytime he liked.”

Brief Synopsis: A boy and his grandfather journey by ship to a tropical island, which we explore together and which Grandad comes to call “home.”

Links to Resources:

  • If possible, go for a boat ride – what do you see? How does it feel to float on the river, lake or ocean?
  • Prepare for a real or pretend journey: look at a map – where will you go? What will you bring to wear, eat or use while you are there?
  • Write a letter or draw a picture to let a loved one know you are ok and that you love her or him.

Why I Like this Book: Benji Davies lives in London, one of my old haunts, and this book was published there first (Simon & Schuster, 2015). When I opened the book to find a child in red jumper (ie, pullover) and gray shorts scampering through a walled garden surrounded by row houses, I felt like I’d journeyed back to my old north London neighbourhood. Given that England is home to a nanny who floats from the sky with an umbrella, a boy who never grows old, and a boy who passes through a brick wall with his school mates to a train (among many other endearing characters), a ship on the roof seems only natural as does the journey in that ship to a tropical island.

Primarily an illustrator, including of Tara Lazar’s I Thought This was a Bear Book (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2015), Mr. Davies creates an island paradise that anyone would want to visit and live in. He provides many visual clues showing that Grandad, whose choice it is to visit the island with his grandson, is happier and healthier once they arrive. Spoiler alert: grandson and Grandad part ways, but the knowledge that Grandad is in a better place and the ties they continue to share provide hope.

This is a wonderful and comforting book for anyone separated from a loved one, due to moving or death, or concerned about the happiness of an elderly relative or friend. For me it was made more poignant by the knowledge that Grandad is based on Mr. Davies’ own grandfather, with whom he corresponded via letters.

 

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: Looking for Bongo

I discovered today’s perfect picture book on the “New” shelf at the local library yesterday. The cover drew me in; I brought it home, read it right away, and decided that the sprinkling of Spanish words is perfect for the day after Cinco de Mayo, this is a wonderful example of a diverse book, and it shows an elderly person in a positive light (see Lee & Low Books’ the open book for a fascinating discussion of ageism in children’s literature).

9780823435654_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Looking for Bongo

Written & Illustrated By: Eric Velasquez

Publisher/date: Holiday House, February 2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-6

Themes/Topics: Loss, intergenerational family, reunion, persistence, multiculturalism

Opening: “Where is Bongo? I need Bongo to watch TV with me.”

Brief Synopsis: When a young Afro-Latino boy’s favourite stuffed animal goes missing, he asks family members for help and searches for it; when he finds the animal, he takes the further step of trying to discover how it went missing.

Links to Resources:

  • Color a Bongo
  • The grandmother, called Wela, plays a significant role in this story (per the Endnote, Wela is derived from the Spanish word for grandmother, “abuela”). Discuss the different names children call their grandparents and the roles they play in their lives and/or homes. Check out grandparents.com for a listing of names used for grandparents throughout the world.
  • Velasquez provides clues to the boy and his family through illustrations. Draw a picture of yourself, a family member or your home and include clues to describe yourself, that person or place.

Why I Like this Book: This is a simple story of a favourite toy gone missing and what the owner does to find and protect if from further loss. I love, though, how the boy persists in his quest, even asking the family pets where Bongo has disappeared. I also love how the boy journeys from family member to family member of this intergenerational family and throughout the apartment. In detailed illustrations, the apartment comes alive and we get to know the family through their possessions that show them to be readers, lovers of music and lovers of fashion. A few Spanish phrases are included, just as one would expect to hear in a multi-lingual family. And in an endnote we learn that there’s a real animal called a Bongo – who knew!

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!