Tag Archives: multicultural

PPBF – Alma and How She Got Her Name

What’s in a name? A lot, if you ask most kids, and even some adults. I’m one of those adults who still wonders about my Irish first name since neither I, nor the parents who adopted me as an infant, are Irish (although I do have a March birthday and like spring green). I also chose names for my own children that aren’t immediately shortened into nicknames nor readily identifiable as a particular nationality. But they all have a middle name from a grandparent, in a nod to family history. Because isn’t family what it’s all about?

Title: Alma and How She Got Her Name

Written & Illustrated By: Juana Martinez-Neal

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: name; identity; family history; Latinx; multicultural; Caldecott honor

Opening:

Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela had a long name—too long, if you asked her.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl unhappy with her long name learns the story of each of the relatives whose names she bears and learns to embrace her history and her future.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Alma and How She Got Her Name is such a sweet, kid-relatable story with such heart. I immediately fell in love with Alma and her story-telling father. Through the introduction of Alma’s ancestors, readers meet the strong family that came before her, and learn about Alma’s heritage. We also see how each of their many attributes come together to form a new, unique person, Alma, who is ready to tell her own story.

I love the message of celebrating each person’s unique talents while cherishing what we have in common with family members. I also love how the story ends on a forward-looking note as Alma prepares to write her story. In an Author’s Note, Martinez-Neal asks readers about the story of their names and asks what story they’d like to tell.

Alma and How She Got Her Name is a 2019 Caldecott Honor Book – not surprisingly. An illustrator-author, Martinez-Neal shows so much of the story in the graphite, colored pencil and print transfer illustrations. For instance, nowhere in the text does it mention Peru as the country from which Alma’s ancestors hail, but the bookshelves contain many references to Peru, including a piggy bank with PERU on its flank, perhaps to collect coins to save for a trip to visit family. The books gracing many of the pages bear titles in
Spanish, and other items, like dolls and toys, are South American folk art pieces. For curious young listeners, a small bird appears somewhere in almost every spread – I loved watching it accompany Alma and her father on her journey of discovery.

A Note about Craft:

In the Author’s Note, Martinez-Neal shares that she, too, has a too-long name that she felt was “the most old-fashioned, harsh, ugly, and way-too-Spanish name in all of Lima, Peru”. Alma, then, is somewhat autobiographical. I think it’s a wonderful lesson to authors to mine their own past to write stories that show universal themes.

At its most basic, Alma’s story is one conversation that occurs in one room. But by showing Alma interacting with her ancestors and at times mimicking their actions, the illustrations caused at least this reader to feel as if I’d undertaken a journey – both in time and distance.

Learn more about Martinez-Neal and her other work, including La Princesa and the Pea, the winner of the 2018 Pura Belpré Medal for Illustration, by visiting her website.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Thank You, Omu!

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

Title: Thank You, Omu!

Written & Illustrated By: Oge Mora

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

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

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

Opening:

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

Brief Synopsis:

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

Links to Resources:

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

Why I Like this Book:

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

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

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

A Note about Craft:

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

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

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

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Bookjoy Wordjoy

Before National Hispanic Heritage Month draws to a close, I want to share a recently published book of poetry that bridges languages and celebrates the power of words to bring joy to all.

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Title: Bookjoy Wordjoy

Written By: Pat Mora

Illustrated By: Raul Colón

Publisher/Date: Lee & Low Books Inc./2018

Suitable for Ages: 6-12 (or younger)

Themes/Topics: reading; writing; poetry; multicultural

Opening:

Books and Me

We belong/ together,/ books and me,/ like toast and jelly/ o queso y tortillas./ Delicious! ¡Delicioso!/ Like flowers and bees,/ birds and trees,/ books and me.

Brief Synopsis: In a series of 14 poems, Mora explores the joys of reading and writing.

Links to Resources:

  • Mora defines “bookjoy” as the “fun of reading” in her “Welcome” to Bookjoy Wordjoy; share a book you enjoy with a friend or family member;
  • Wordjoy is the “fun of listening to words, combining words, and playing with words – the fun of writing”, Mora explains in the “Welcome”. Think of the words you enjoy hearing or speaking aloud. Try to combine them in a fun, silly or serious poem;
  • Mora is a founder of a literacy initiative called “Children’s Day, Book Day, in Spanish, El día de los niños, el día de los libros, [which] is a year-long commitment to celebrating all our children and to motivating them and their families to be readers, essential in our democracy”; check out the Día resources;
  • Discover Mora’s tips to create a bookjoy family.

Why I Like this Book:

This is a fun book to read aloud and share in the home, library or classroom. As Mora reveals in an acrostic poem entitled “Wordjoy”, it’s “música” she hears when she reads and writes. And it’s her love of words, reading and writing that fill this book with the joy that leaps from each page.

In a poem entitled “Writing Secrets”, Mora shares tips to encourage children of all ages and abilities to think about their own unique experiences, write and revise what they’ve written, and then share their stories with “family and friends.” In “Jazzy Duet/Dueto de jazz”, she follows each English line with its Spanish translation, which, I think, will help English or Spanish speakers learn the other language and find beauty in it: Play/ Juega/ with sounds./ con sonidos.

Most of the poems appear opposite Colón’s full-page, watercolor and Prismacolor pencil illustrations that capture the exuberant joy of Mora’s poetry.

A Note about Craft:

Bookjoy Wordjoy is a compilation of 14 poems about the joys of reading and writing. I love how the poems differ but follow this theme. As readers and creators, I think it’s important to consider how reading and creating inform each other.

Mora is a Latina of Mexican heritage and Colón was born and lived as a child in Puerto Rico. From Spanish words sprinkled through the poetry to Colón’s inspiration from “the works of some Central American artists, including Rufino Tamayo”, Latinx heritage flows through the pages.

Visit Mora’s website to see more of her many books. Read a recent interview with Colón in Publishers Weekly and see a recent interview with Mora and Colón about Bookjoy Wordjoy.

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!

Perfect Pairing – Focuses on the Little Things in Life

Sometimes, when life gets hectic or the newsfeed seems overwhelming, I find it helps me to take a deep breath, take a walk, and look for the beauty that is everywhere in nature. And when we can share the beauty of nature with others, that’s even better.

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Sidewalk Flowers

Author: Jon Arno Lawson

Illustrator: Sydney Smith

Publisher/Date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2015

Ages: 4-7

Themes: wordless picture book; finding beauty; nature; generosity

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In this wordless picture book, a little girl collects wildflowers while her distracted father pays her little attention. Each flower becomes a gift, and whether the gift is noticed or ignored, both giver and recipient are transformed by their encounter. “Written” by award-winning poet JonArno Lawson and brought to life by illustrator Sydney Smith, Sidewalk Flowers is an ode to the importance of small things, small people, and small gestures.

Read a review at Katie Reviews Books.

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tiny, perfect things

Author: M.H. Clark

Illustrator: Madeline Kloepper

Publisher/Date: Compendium, Inc./2018

Ages: 3-7

Themes: finding beauty; nature; intergenerational; multicultural

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The whole world is a treasure waiting to be found. Open your eyes and see the wonderful things all around. This is the story of a child and a grandfather whose walk around the neighborhood leads to a day of shared wonder as they discover all sorts of tiny, perfect things together. With rhythmic storytelling and detailed and intricate illustrations, this is a book about how childlike curiosity can transform ordinary days into extraordinary adventures.

Read a review at Brain Pickings.

I paired these books because both feature walks by a child and adult, in which small things are noted, such as the flowers growing between the cracks of sidewalks, birds, leaves and even shadows. To be present in the moment and to appreciate nature and one’s neighborhood are gifts for children, and adults, to share.

Looking for similar reads?

See Ask Me (Bernard Waber/Suzy Lee, 2015) and Be Still, Life (Ohara Hale, 2017).