Tag Archives: Loss

PPBF – A Home Named Walter

For anyone in moving mode, like me, I found a Perfect Picture Book, told from the perspective of a unique character. Enjoy!

TitleA Home Named Walter

Written By: Chelsea Lin Wallace

Illustrated By: Ginnie Hsu

Publisher/DateFeiwel and Friends/2022

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: home, loss, overcoming loss, feelings, moving

Opening:

Walter was once a home.

He treasured the noise. He relished the mess. He liked the hustle and bustle.

But what he loved most was the warmth of family.

Brief SynopsisWhen his family moves away, an empty house named Walter feels sad, and he decides he doesn’t want anyone else to move in, at least at first.

Links to Resources:

  • Does your house have a name? If so, why does it have that name and how do you think that name suits it? If it doesn’t have a name, think of one for it;
  • Plant in or clean up a garden, hang pictures or photographs, or add other decorations to make your house feel loved and more like a home;
  • Check out the Educator’s Guide;
  • Enjoy A Song Named Walter by Tara Trudel, based on A Home Named Walter.

Why I Like this Book:

As many adults know, moving is one of the most difficult life transitions that we undertake. And when a move involves separation from loved ones or other life transitions, as it often does, a move is even more difficult, especially for children. So I was very happy to find A Home Named Walter that, I think, will help children dealing with a move and the many emotions involved.

Starting with the title, Wallace draws a distinction between a home that is cozy, lived in, and loved, and a house that is merely a structure in which people live. I love that the various phases of moving are highlighted: the emptiness when the first family moves out; the feeling that the new house is different, and presumably unsuitable, when Little Girl and her mother first move in; and the feeling of coziness when pictures are hung, plants appear, and boots and jackets find their place near the front door. 

Because Walter is unable to express his feelings except by the way he looks, Hsu’s illustrations have an especially important role to play. I love seeing how Walter’s appearance changes, from a happy home filled with a busy family, to an empty, abandoned-looking house, to a house filled with moving boxes, to a cozy home again. Note that the first family is multiracial, and the second is comprised of a single mother and daughter.

I think A Home Named Walter will appeal to families who are undergoing moves, and is an important book to share with all children as we think about what makes a dwelling a home.

A Note about Craft

Wallace tells Walter’s story from his point-of-view. It’s clear that the unnamed Little Girl and her mother are dealing with a difficult transition, too. But by focusing on the house’s feelings, I think Wallace helps readers who may be dealing with their own traumatic transitions to step back and realize that they aren’t alone, that others, including pets, family members, or friends, may be facing similar issues and experiencing similar emotions.

Because Walter is personified but is unable to move, Wallace and Hsu use a number of techniques to show his feelings: first by stating outright what he likes and dislikes; next by showing how his appearance changed when he “let his grass turn brown” and became a “cold, quiet, empty house”; and then by focusing on actions that a house could do, including blinds and an oven door that don’t open, a fireplace that doesn’t work, and pipes that burst.

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 – Ten Beautiful Things

We’re embarking on another intergenerational journey in today’s Perfect Picture Book. And it involves one of my favorite themes – moving. Enjoy!

Title: Ten Beautiful Things

Written By: Molly Beth Griffin

Illustrated By: Maribel Lechuga

Publisher/Date: Charlesbridge/2021

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: journey, intergenerational, moving, loss, beauty of nature

Opening:

Lily ran her finger across the Iowa map. An X marked Gram’s house on an empty patch of land. Lily’s new home.

Brief Synopsis: Lily’s Gram invites her to find ten beautiful things along the road as they journey to Lily’s new home.

Links to Resources:

  • Take a walk or a bike or car ride and find ten beautiful things. Why do you think they’re beautiful?
  • Try one or more of these 9 road trip games that don’t involve a smart phone or other screened device;
  • Find more resources in this Activity Kit.

Why I Like this Book:

Ten Beautiful Things is a story about a journey undertaken by Lily and her Gram to Lily’s new home, where she’ll live with her grandmother. The reader learns at the outset that the house sits “on an empty patch of land” (emphasis added). Lily feels hollow inside. It’s clear right at the get-go that Lily isn’t happy about her new home. Who would be? Something clearly is amiss.

But Lily’s wise Gram doesn’t focus on what’s wrong. She doesn’t pass the time with idle chatter or platitudes like, “everything will be alright.” Instead, this wise Gram invites Lily to redirect her attentions, to focus outside herself, to find ten beautiful things along the highways and byways of their journey through Iowa.

Many of these beautiful things involve nature, like a young calf, the rising sun, or a gurgling creek. Others are human-made, like a crumbling barn or windmill blades gleaming in sunshine. What they have in common is that they invite Lily to fill the hollow spaces in herself with the beauty that surrounds her.

I think anyone who has experienced a bad mood, a difficult situation, or even depression can relate to the relief, even if it’s temporary, found when they notice small pleasures: rain tip-tapping on a metal roof, a rainbow, or the swoop of a colorful bird near their window. Ten Beautiful Things is a reminder to kids and adults of all ages to “stop and smell the roses”, that regardless of how bad you may feel, there is beauty in this world.

Lechuga’s sweeping vistas provide the perfect backdrop to this tale. I can imagine children finding other beautiful things within these detailed illustrations, including several different species of birds which fly through the spreads.

Ten Beautiful Things is a lovely book for grandparents to share with their grandchildren, or for classroom discussions of difficult situations, like the loss of a loved one, a change in schools, or a difficult move.

A Note about Craft:

Griffin never states in the text why Lily is moving into Gram’s house. The reader also doesn’t know whether this is a temporary or a permanent situation. The reader knows merely that Lily is sad about the move. I think it’s helpful that Griffin doesn’t specify either the reason for the move or its duration, as I think children who may find themselves in a similar situation may be better able to picture themselves in the story and empathize with Lily.

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 – In a Jar

As a serial mover, I’m drawn to tales involving someone who moves houses. Today’s Perfect Picture Book is one of the more lyrical and beautiful recent ones.

Title: In a Jar

Written & Illustrated By: Deborah Marcero

Publisher/Date: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House/2020

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: collecting, wonder, friendship, loss, moving

Opening:

Llewellyn was a collector. He collected things in jars.

Brief Synopsis: When a young collector finds a like-minded friend, they enjoy collecting together, until this new friend moves away.

Links to Resources:

  • Do you collect anything? Draw a picture of something you’ve collected and share it with a friend;
  • Collect a memory by writing about it or by photographing or drawing a picture of the event. If your memory involves a favorite food, try making the special food for your family or a friend;
  • Ask an adult to add beans, marbles, coins, or buttons to a jar. Try to guess how many fit;
  • Find a pen pal and exchange letters with them. Here’s a listing of organizations that encourage letters to people like astronauts, authors, seniors, kids in other countries, and more.

Why I Like this Book:

This heart-warming story features a young rabbit, Llewllyn, who collects ordinary items and some hard-to-capture natural wonders in jars. When he shares a jar filled with a gorgeous sunset with Evelyn, the two become fast friends. They collect so much together, and I think kids will love the spreads filled with illustrations of collected memories in jars.

But when Evelyn and her family move away, “Llewellyn’s heart felt like an empty jar.” Experiencing the loss of a friend or family member because of a move, change of schools, or even death is so difficult for kids. Especially in this year of loneliness and loss, I think this exploration of how Llewellyn and Evelyn deal with loss will comfort many kids, and adults. I won’t ruin the ending, but I will share that Llewllyn found a way to continue the friendship from afar, and even make a new friend.

From the stunning spreads with so many details in the many featured jars and the lyrical language, to the message of friendship and sharing, to showing kids how to overcome loss, In a Jar shines on so many levels and is deserving of the many starred reviews it has received.

A Note about Craft:

I confess that when I first saw the title of this book, I couldn’t imagine what it would be about, although the cover illustration of two rabbits surrounded by bluebells instantly caught my eye and beckoned me to read on. But collecting things in a jar is such a kid-relatable activity. The idea of collecting larger items, memories, or intangible things like rainbows, sounds, and the wind in a jar could also seem plausible to little ones. I can imagine them pouring over the illustrations containing jars of all shapes and sizes filled with all of the wonders of nature and more.

Upon reflection, I think Marcero also uses the jar as a metaphor for memory and emotions. Most poignantly, she compares Llewellyn’s heart to “an empty jar.” How beautiful is that!

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 – Hand in Hand

When I first saw mention to today’s Perfect Picture Book and read a review at Picture Books Help Kids Soar, I knew I had to find, read and share it!

Title: Hand in Hand

Written By: Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum

Illustrated By: Maya Shleifer

Publisher/Date: Apples & Honey Press, an imprint of Behrman House/2019

Suitable for Ages: 7+

Themes/Topics: Holocaust; loss; separation; hope

Opening:

Mama had a smile sweeter than strawberries in summer. So did my little brother, Leib.

Brief Synopsis: When their mother goes missing during wartime, young Ruthi and her brother, Leib, are sent to an orphanage. When Leib is adopted, Ruthi shares a tattered photo and promises to always remember him.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Teacher’s Guide;
  • After the war, Ruthi finds solace by planting in the garden. Grow colorful flowers or favorite vegetables, or gift a plant you pot to a special friend or relative;
  • Check out other ideas at Picture Books Help Kids Soar .

Why I Like this Book:

In Hand in Hand, Rosenbaum introduces two very difficult subjects, the Holocaust and loss, in an empathetic way that, I believe, will enable caregivers to discuss these important subjects with young children. Hinting at some of the more difficult aspects of the Holocaust experience, Rosenbaum notes that Mama left and failed to return, but the reader does not learn her fate. Similarly, soldiers appeared and “hovered over our heads, like tidy rows of storm clouds – threatening to burst”, but there is no indication that the soldiers harmed Ruthi or her family. Most evocative of the Holocaust, Ruthi “walked through Nightmares, in a place where numbers replaced names.”

But, as Ruthi notes, “even in that colorless landscape”, there was hope. Other people took care of her until, finally, “one spring morning the black boots vanished.” Alone, Ruthi journeyed to a different land where, through the restorative powers of gardening, she was “brought back to life”.

The story could have ended at this hope-filled point, but it doesn’t. Instead, Rosenbaum follows Ruthi’s life to adulthood and old age when, readers learn, photo galleries of missing children helped reunite siblings, even after so many years. Experiencing these reunifications leaves readers feeling even more hopeful, and caused at least this reviewer to shed a few tears.

Shleifer’s bright, nature-filled illustrations accompanying happy times in Ruthi’s life and the dark, foreboding spreads when she is scared and alone help capture and further the emotions that Rosenbaum’s text evokes. I found the two-page spread of children at an orphanage standing against a light-colored background particularly haunting. Interestingly, too, the children in Hand in Hand are portrayed as animals, which will, I think, help children distance themselves from the more traumatic aspects of the story.

A Note about Craft:

Rosenbaum relates Ruthi’s story using first-person point-of-view. This enables readers to know from the first page that Ruthi will be there through the entire story, despite the perils she faces. From the start, Rosenbaum also focuses on a few kid-relatable features in the story – a photograph of Ruthi and her brother, including his “strawberry smile,” and holding hands. By honing in on these details, I think Rosenbaum makes it easier for children to relate to Ruthi’s experiences and empathize with her.

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: Christmas is for the Birds (Count)

I think I mentioned at the outset of this blog series that one of my goals is to pair two different books that complement each other because of theme, common author and/or illustrator, or for some other reason. One of today’s books is non-fiction, and the other book is fiction, but they converge on one topic: the Christmas bird count. I think it’s a perfect time to feature these books, as readers can participate in the count now, regardless of whether you live in the country, the city or somewhere in between.

Happy counting, happy holidays to those celebrating Christmas next week, and happy New Year’s to all! As both of the next two Tuesdays are holidays in the US, I’ll be back with my next perfect pairing in January. 

Counting Birds: The Idea that Helped Save our Feathered Friends

Author: Heidi E.Y. Stemple

Illustrator: Clover Robin

Publisher/Date: Sea Grass Press (an imprint of The Quarto Group)/2018

Ages: 3-7

Themes: non-fiction; biography; birds; citizen science; Christmas bird count

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Every day kids learn how they can help protect bird species, near and far, with Counting Birds—the real-life story of bird counting and watching.

What can you do to help endangered animals and make a positive change in our environment? Get counting! Counting Birds is a beautifully illustrated book that introduces kids to the idea of bird counts and bird watches. Along the way, they will learn about Frank Chapman, who used his bird knowledge and magazine Bird-Lore to found the first annual bird count.
 
Bird counting helps professional researchers collect data, share expertise, and spread valuable information to help all kinds of birds around the world, from condors to hawks to kestrels and more.
 
Counting Birds introduces kids to a whole feathered world that will fascinate and inspire them to get involved in conservation and become citizen scientists.

Read a review and an interviewwith Heidi E.Y. Stemple at Picture BookBuzz.

Finding a Dove for Gramps

Author: Lisa J. Amstutz

Illustrator: Maria Luisa Di Gravio

Publisher/Date: Albert Whitman and Company/2018

Ages: 5-7

Themes: Christmas bird count; intergenerational; family; loss

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A boy and his mom continue the family tradition of participating in the annual bird count. Since Gramps went South for the winter, the boy hopes to spot Gramps’s favorite bird for him—a dove! But with so many different birds in the nature preserve, will he be able to spot one? This heart-warming family story about nature celebrates a holiday census that was first started in 1900 and happens every year.

Read a review and an interview with Lisa Amstutz at Picture Book Buzz.

Hawk seen in park across Hudson River from New York City

I paired these books because readers can learn the history of the Christmas bird count in the non-fiction Counting Birds and see its importance to one boy and his family in the fictional story, Finding a Dove for Gramps. Utilizing the information in the back matter of both books, readers then can participate in the bird count themselves.

Looking for similar reads?

See, Owl Moon, Jane Yolen (1987) (the daughter in the story is the author of Counting Birds) and Crow Not Crow, Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple (2018).

Perfect Pairing – Feeling Blue?

In a favorite passage in Emilie Boon’s Ella & Monkey at Sea, young Ella utilized “angry black”, “scared gray” and “cold blue” crayons to color as a storm raged. Since reading these descriptions and writing a review of this awesome, new picture book, these images have haunted me. Blue is a favorite color, and I rarely associate it with coldness, sadness or angry feelings. But depending on shade, blue can be sad or happy, angry or peaceful, and so much more, as evident in these two recent picture books. How do you feel blue?

Blue

Author & Illustrator: Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press/2018

Ages: 3-6 (and older)

Themes: low word count; loss; dogs; blue

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

How many shades of blue are there?

There’s the soft blue of a baby’s cherished blanket, the ocean blue of a romp in the waves, the chilly blue of a cold winter’s walk in the snow, and the true blue of the bond that exists between children and animals.

In this simple, sumptuously illustrated companion to Caldecott Honor Book Green, award-winning artist Laura Vaccaro Seeger turns her attention to the ways in which color evokes emotion, and in doing so tells the story of one special and enduring friendship.

Read a review by Julie Danielson at Kirkus Reviews.

The Blue Hour

Author & Illustrator: Isabelle Simler

Publisher/Date: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers/2017 (originally published in France as Heure Bleue, Éditions courtes et longues, Paris/2015)

Ages:  4-8

Themes: nature; evening; quiet; blue

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A lovely and tranquil celebration of nature

The sun has set, the day has ended, but the night hasn’t quite arrived yet. This magical twilight is known as the blue hour. Everything in nature sky, water, flowers, birds, foxes comes together in a symphony of blue to celebrate the merging of night and day.

With its soothing text and radiant artwork, this elegant picture book displays the majesty of nature and reminds readers that beauty is fleeting but also worth savoring.

Read a review at Waking Brain Cells.

I paired these books because they evoke feelings and emotions through various shades of the color blue. In the almost-wordless Blue, Seeger traces the lifespans and love of a boy and his dog from infancy, with a baby blue blanket, to the end, utilizing differing shades and descriptive words for blue. In The Blue Hour, Simler provides snapshots of many animals preparing for the darkness of night. Both of these picture books are quiet, and because of the illustrations, merit multiple readings and re-readings.

Looking for similar reads?

See Seeger’s Green and Aree Chung’s Mixed: A Colorful Story.

Perfect Pairing Takes on a Tough Subject: The Death of a Pet, 23Oct18

Every pet owner knows that at some point the time arrives to say goodbye to a beloved pet – a dog, cat, hamster or even goldfish who has stolen our hearts. After all, odds aren’t in our favor, as the lifespans of most of these critters is far less than that of humans. And when that dreaded time arises, it’s tough on the adults, and kids. Thankfully, there are some empathetic, pet-loving picture book creators out there. I’ve paired two today.

 

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The Rough Patch

Author & Illustrator: Brian Lies

Publisher/Date: Greenwillow Books (an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers)/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: pets; loss; grieving; nature

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Evan and his dog do everything together, from eating ice cream to caring for their award-winning garden, which grows big and beautiful. One day the unthinkable happens: Evan’s dog dies. Heartbroken, Evan destroys the garden and everything in it. The ground becomes overgrown with prickles and thorns, and Evan embraces the chaos.
But beauty grows in the darkest of places, and when a twisting vine turns into an immense pumpkin, Evan is drawn out of his misery and back to the county fair, where friendships—old and new—await.

Read a review at Picture Book Builders.

 

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A Stone for Sascha

Author & Illustrator: Aaron Becker

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018

Ages: 5-9

Themes: pets; loss; history; wordless picture book; nature; grieving

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A girl grieves the loss of her dog in an achingly beautiful wordless epic from the Caldecott Honor–winning creator of Journey.
This year’s summer vacation will be very different for a young girl and her family without Sascha, the beloved family dog, along for the ride. But a wistful walk along the beach to gather cool, polished stones becomes a brilliant turning point in the girl’s grief. There, at the edge of a vast ocean beneath an infinite sky, she uncovers, alongside the reader, a profound and joyous truth. In his first picture book following the conclusion of his best-selling Journey trilogy, Aaron Becker achieves a tremendous feat, connecting the private, personal loss of one child to a cycle spanning millennia — and delivering a stunningly layered tale that demands to be pored over again and again.

Read a review at Common Sense Media.

I paired these books because they both deal with the loss of a pet, something that’s a difficult topic for children and their parents. In The Rough Patch, Evan, a gardening fox, angrily destroys his garden when his dog dies. But as the garden regrows, first as weeds and then with a pumpkin vine, Evan heals and makes peace with his loss. In A Stone for Sascha, a young girl who lost her pet dog grieves at the beach, but gains peace when a golden stone washes ashore, connecting her loss to those of history.

Looking for similar reads?

See My Old Pal, Oscar (Amy Hest, Amy Bates, 2016); Sammy in the Sky (Barbara Walsh/Jamie Wyeth, 2011); and about aging pets: Big Cat, Little Cat (Elisha Cooper, 2017); Stay: A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List (Kate Klise/M. Sarah Klise, 2017).

Perfect Pairing for the Autumn of the Year

the days grow short
I’m in the autumn of the year

So sang Frank Sinatra in It Was a Very Good Year, one of my favorite Sinatra songs, especially as my son sang it solo in concert on my birthday several years ago (proud Mama moment!).

While for many, fall signals sugary holidays and the promise of family get-togethers, for others, the falling leaves and withered blooms signal mortality. That Halloween, All Saints Day, All Souls Day and Día de los Meurtos all loom may be no coincidence. For our family, both of my parents entered life in September, and my father left us in September 1997 and my mother this past October. My mother-in-law’s passing was 30 Novembers ago. If I read, and review, a few more serious books these next few weeks, perhaps you’ll understand why. And thankfully, there are several heart-filled picture books that tackle the difficult subjects of aging, memory loss and death, and grief.

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Grandad’s Island

Author & Illustrator: Benji Davies

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2016

Ages: 4-8

Themes: loss; death; intergenerational; grandparent

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

With subtlety and grace, Benji Davies paints a poignant and ultimately uplifting picture of loss.

At the bottom of Syd’s garden, through the gate and past the tree, is Grandad’s house. Syd can let himself in any time he likes. But one day when Syd comes to call, Grandad isn’t in any of the usual places. He’s in the attic, where he ushers Syd through a door, and the two of them journey to a wild, beautiful island awash in color where Grandad decides he will remain. So Syd hugs Grandad one last time and sets sail for home. Visiting Grandad’s house at the bottom of the garden again, he finds it just the same as it’s always been — except that Grandad isn’t there anymore. Sure to provide comfort to young children struggling to understand loss, Benji Davies’s tale is a sensitive and beautiful reminder that our loved ones live on in our memories long after they’re gone.

Read my review here.

 

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The Remember Balloons

Author:  Jessie Oliveros

Illustrator:  Dana Wulfekotte

Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/September 2018

Ages:  5-9

Themes: aging; memory loss; intergenerational

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

What’s Happening to Grandpa meets Up in this tender, sensitive picture book that gently explains the memory loss associated with aging and diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

James’s Grandpa has the best balloons because he has the best memories. He has balloons showing Dad when he was young and Grandma when they were married. Grandpa has balloons about camping and Aunt Nelle’s poor cow. Grandpa also has a silver balloon filled with the memory of a fishing trip he and James took together.

But when Grandpa’s balloons begin to float away, James is heartbroken. No matter how hard he runs, James can’t catch them. One day, Grandpa lets go of the silver balloon—and he doesn’t even notice!

Grandpa no longer has balloons of his own. But James has many more than before. It’s up to him to share those balloons, one by one.

Read an interview with Jessie Oliveros on Susanna Leonard Hill’s Tuesday Debut.

I paired these books because both are intergenerational, showcasing the special bond between grandparents and grandchildren. In Grandad’s Island, Davies utilizes a sea journey and a beautiful tropical island as metaphors for death and the afterlife. In The Remember Balloons, Oliveros utilizes balloons as metaphors for memories that pass from the elderly to younger family members. Both deal sensitively with topics that are difficult for children (and adults). It’s clear that both authors had a special relationship with their grandparents – these picture books are filled with heart.

Looking for similar reads?

See Lane Smith’s Grandpa Green, reviewed at Children’s Books Heal; Glenn Ringtved/Charlotte Pardi’s Cry Heart But Never Break, reviewed at Brain Pickings;  Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart and the Bottle, also reviewed at Brain Pickings; and Maria Shriver/Sandra Speidel’s What’s Happening to Grandpa, reviewed by Richard R Blake.

PPBF – Friends Forever

I found today’s Perfect Picture Book at Dussman’s, a large German book store with a large foreign language section in the heart of Berlin, where I’m visiting my son who is studying abroad.

I traveled to Europe last Monday at the last-minute (and with no picture books in my luggage), to support him and several of his friends following the tragic, unexpected death of his close high school friend and former roommate.

While not about death or those dealing with the world-stage events besetting so many children, I believe today’s Perfect Picture Book is a touching reminder that loss, whatever its cause, has consequences, and that many rainy days elapse as we process our grief.

9783899557732Title: Friends Forever

Written By: Roald Kaldestad

Illustrated By: Bjørn Rune Lie

Translated By: Rosie Hedger

Publisher/date: Little Gestalten/2016 (originally published in Norse, Magikon Forlag/2014)

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: loss, moving, friendship, grief

Opening:

Two hundred and sixty-nine rainy days. He watches the leaves as they float and fall from the trees like the pages of a calendar. Two hundred and sixty-nine days. And whenever it rains, he misses his best friend.

Brief Synopsis:

A young boy misses, and reminisces about, his best friend who has moved from his neighborhood, and comes to terms with the separation.

Links to Resources:

  • The Main Character and his friend have buried an object that was special to them. Have you ever buried or set something special in a secret hiding place with a friend?
  • Has one or more of your friends or relatives moved away, or have you moved from friends or relatives? How did you feel? If you felt particularly sad or lonely, what did you do to feel better?

Why I Like this Book:

Friends Forever is a child-centric exploration of loss and the process of grieving and surviving a separation. In the story, the unnamed male main character mourns the loss of his female best friend who has moved away. He thinks of her especially on the many rainy days, which he has counted since she left. As life moves on for his family, the boy continues to think, and dream about, his friend, reminiscing about shared moments and wondering about her new life. But as the skies clear, a new girl moves into the friend’s vacant home, and the reader feels hopeful as the main character views her as a possible new friend.

Although Friends Forever is about a European child in a two-parent home, I can envision children who have lost loved ones to death or separation, or who have experienced traumatic events or moves, to find comfort in the story, much of which happens in the forests where the friends had played together.

With its higher word count and muted color palette, Friends Forever has an older feel to it. Lie, a graphic designer by profession, incorporates a 1950s esthetic, even as he incorporates modern touches, such as the father working on his laptop. While one may question the jacket illustration, which, incidentally was not the original cover in the Norse edition (see below), it brought to my mind the Lost Boys of Peter Pan or the books of my own childhood filled with “western” adventures that, today, seem insensitive.

A Note about Craft:

At 48 pages, Friends Forever is longer than the typical American picture book, with a higher word count as well. American writers may, in fact, wonder that so many extra details and side stories are included. I think Kaldestad was trying to capture the main character’s mood and resignation by drawing out the text, something that I don’t believe the typical American publishers would allow.

Interestingly, the original title, To hundre og Sekstini dagar, or, “Two Hundred and Sixty-nine Days,” is a title that I don’t believe a US publisher would use for a picture book, and even the German publisher has changed it.

Friends Forever is told from the point of view of the child left behind. We learn, though, that the friend who has moved also misses him by the inclusion of packages she sends him.

For more images from Friends Forever, visit Lie’s website.

Friends Forever is available in the US and was reviewed by Kirkus 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 – 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.

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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!