Tag Archives: Nature

PPBF – Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad

I had the pleasure this past March of visiting Cuba, the setting of much of today’s perfect picture book. To prepare for that journey, I read several of the Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle’s historical novels in verse about that lovely island. It was through Margarita’s work that I first learned about José Martí. I also had the pleasure of meeting both today’s debut author, Emma Otheguy, and her agent, Adriana Domíngez, at the recent New Jersey SCBWI conference and seeing a copy of the book there. To say that I’ve been eagerly awaiting its release is an understatement! Without further ado:

9780892393756_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad

Written By: Emma Otheguy

Illustrated By: Beatriz Vidal

Text Translated By: Adriana Domínguez

Publisher/date: Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books Inc/July 2017

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes/Topics: Cuba, biography, poetry, freedom, nature, social justice, bilingual book, #WNDB, #OwnVoices, #debutPB

Opening: 

When José was a young boy,

his father took him to the countryside,

where he listened to the crickets chirp

and the roosters crow.

José bowed to the palmas reales,

the grand royal palms that shaded the path

where he rode his horse.

He chased the river

as it swelled with the rains

and rushed on to the saltwater sea.

José fell in love with his home island, Cuba.

Brief Synopsis: José Martí, a 19th century Cuban poet, writer and political activist, loved nature and fought for the abolishment of slavery and freedom from Spanish rule during his lifetime in Cuba and New York City.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover Cuba, the country of Martí’s birth and death;
  • Martí traveled to the Catskill Mountain region of New York State. Find out more about this forested, natural area near New York City.
  • Take a walk in the woods and write about what you experience and feel.
  • What issue are you passionate or upset about? Think about some ways you could help solve the issue or encourage others to help you bring about change.
  • Write a poem in the style of Martí’s Versos sencillos, his most-famous poem, using Lee & Low’s Activity Guide.
  • An Afterword, Author’s Note, further Excerpts from the Versos sencillos, and a Selected Bibliography accompany the text.

Why I Like this Book:

Debut picture book author Emma Otheguy has written an enlightening biography of a Spanish-language poet that showcases the power of words to bring about positive social change. I especially appreciate that Otheguy highlights Martí’s learning process, how he saw, and abhorred, the treatment of slaves during his Cuban childhood, and how he then went on to fight the Spanish colonial rule that supported slavery.

I also loved learning how the emancipation of slaves during the American Civil War helped shape young Martí’s beliefs and how experiences he had in New York influenced his later writing. I believe that learning from others’ experiences is an important lesson for children, whether it’s learning how to solve an individual problem or how to solve one that affects an entire country or people. That Martí found inspiration in the American fight for emancipation and solace in a natural setting so far from his country of birth are, to me, reasons why cultural interactions are important and why a country that prides itself on its democratic traditions should continue to be welcoming to those who travel here.

While I regrettably am not bilingual, I appreciate that Otheguy has made Martí’s words accessible to those who otherwise couldn’t read them, that Domínguez has translated the English text into Martí’s native tongue, and that Lee & Low has combined the texts in one picture book. To do so, the editors present the lyrical text in verse side by side on the left-side page, with the folk-art illustrations appearing as full-page spreads on the right side. I think this works well for this biography, as the illustrations appear as historic paintings, like one would find in a museum. Two small illustrations, often snippets of nature, appear on each page with text as well, and help carry through the theme of nature as freedom.

spread_3

From Lee & Low’s website

A Note about Craft:

Otheguy writes lyrical free verse text and verses from Martí’s Versos sencillos appear as separate text following her words. By doing so, she has allowed Martí to tell parts of his story in his own words. Otheguy also shows the reader in the first lines what was important to Martí, nature, equality and the freedom exemplified by the swaying of the palms, and carries these themes through the book.

Martí’s Song for Freedom received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. It is a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Visit Emma Otheguy’s website here.

View more of Betriz Vidal’s work here.

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – The Apple-Pip Princess

Today, as many of us recover from turkey hang-overs (at least those in the US), and others rush around to score Black Friday deals, I chose a story that celebrates the bounty and community that are at the heart of Thanksgiving. While it’s not a new book, I think its appeal endures and make it a Perfect Picture Book:

9780763637477_p0_v1_s192x300Title: The Apple-Pip Princess

Written & Illustrated By: Jane Ray

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press/2008 (UK edition: Orchard Books/2007)

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: kindness, sharing, nature, community, princess, apple seeds

Opening: “Let me tell you a story about something that happened a long time ago in a land far from here – a land ruled by an old king who had three daughters.”

Brief Synopsis: An elderly king ruling over a bleak, barren kingdom sets each of his three daughters a task: to build in seven days something that will make her mark, that will make the king proud. Whichever of his daughters builds that thing will inherit his crown.

Links to Resources:

  • Plant an apple-pip (seed) and watch it grow;
  • Make baked apples or apple pie;
  • Plan a picnic (indoors or out): what will you eat? Who will you invite to share your picnic?
  • For older children, discuss the king’s system of choosing his successor. How else could he have done so? Discuss the attributes of a good ruler (or president!).

Why I Like this Book:

The Apple-Pip Princess is a modern fairy tale. Need I say more? Like the best fairy tales, it is an allegory for issues in our own 21st century world: caring for the environment; the hollowness of material possessions; the power of one person to better the world; the power of community. Told by a narrator speaking directly to “you” in lyrical language that flows like the best fairy tales do and accompanied by illustrations fit for a royal tale, including several collages incorporating digital art in a unique manner, The Apple-Pip Princess is a wonderful way to open discussions about our need to care for our world, the effect our actions have on our world and fellow beings, the importance of community, and why being the tallest or the most beautiful really doesn’t matter.

A Note about Craft:

Ms. Ray offers the usual array of fairy tale elements plus a few twists:

  • An omniscient narrator who tells the tale and specifically brings “you” into the story, addressing the reader at the beginning, when the focus shifts to Serenity, the princess with the apple seed, or pip, and how she will complete the king’s task, and at the end;
  • A dead queen, although no evil stepmother nor a fairy godmother;
  • Three sisters with, you guessed it, three different ideas about how to complete the task;
  • They are given seven days and nights to complete the tasks – a nod to Biblical creation, although without the day of rest;
  • An ample dash of magic, in fact, seven dashes, but the magic works only after Serenity unleashes it;
  • The characters are dark skinned, although wearing European-style clothing from an earlier era and living in houses that would be at home in Europe or even parts of rural or small-town America.

Incorporating these twists into the  classic formula, I think, makes The Apple-Pip Princess a fairy tale that will endure.

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 – Circle

As darkness descends a bit earlier each evening, temperatures and leaves begin their slow but steady descent, and apples and pumpkins take pride of place in farm stands, I listen for the tell-tale honk honk honk and scan the sky for the familiar V of Canada Geese heading south. I know that many other birds and animals migrate, too. In today’s Perfect Picture Book, I enjoyed learning about one bird species that migrates across the Pacific, making the “longest unbroken journey of any animal in the world” – the bar-tailed godwits.

9780763679668_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Circle

Written & Illustrated By: Jeannie Baker

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press, 2016 (US), also published by Walker Books UK, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8 or older

Themes/Topics: Migration, Nature, Godwits, Non-Fiction

Opening: “In a place where mud and sand become sea…a godwit with white wing patches flies up with his flock. The moment is right for the long journey north.”

Brief Synopsis: This non-fiction picture book follows one godwit, a bird that migrates on a circular path across the Pacific between a southern home in Australia and New Zealand and a northern home in Alaska.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Author’s Note and map showing the godwits’ migration route;
  • There is a comprehensive teachers guide available through Walker Books that includes an interview with author/illustrator Jeannie Baker;
  • For a coloring page, additional resources, references and quiz, see Walker Books’ classroom guide;
  • Learn more about migration and why animals migrate.

Why I Like this Book:

The cover beckoned: azure sea merging to sky with green island below the line of shore birds and a one word title: Circle. My attention captured, I flipped through the pages of breathtaking artwork, including collage and watercolors, any one of the spreads worthy of a gallery or museum wall. I  wondered about the title – circle of life? circular journey? Maybe both. Only after I savored the scene did I start reading.

While the subject ordinarily may not have captured my attention, an unknown (to me) shorebird that migrates from Australia/New Zealand up to Asia and then heads to Alaska to nest and repopulate, Ms. Baker’s story did. I now know and care much more about godwits and find myself thinking about other migrating animals and the obstacles they overcome in their travels. I think this is a story that will captivate children, too, and hopefully encourage them to learn more, and do more to support, migrating birds and animals across the world.

A Note about Craft:

I mentioned what lured me to pick up Circle in the first place, and what intrigued me enough to start reading. But there’s more. Ms. Baker drew me in by focusing on one godwit, the “godwit with white wing patches,” that she follows on the migration. He appears on the cover and the last spread and many, many places in between. I found myself searching for him in the pictures and caring about his fate. This personalization is a tool non-fiction writers can use to their advantage to build empathy for the cause or species featured. And by writing in clear but lyrical language, this book is a perfect read aloud and mentor text for those writing non-fiction picture books.

Ms. Baker adds a further element.  Before the title page we meet a boy, stretched out on a bed, wheelchair by his side, surrounded by a globe, e-reader with text showing the meaning of godwit, a notebook, and a thought bubble, “Ahhhh- I wish I could fly!” Readers and listeners can search for this child who appears throughout the book, including the last wordless spread.

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: When Green Becomes Tomatoes

I constantly am reminded of how my life has become less and less connected to the seasons in so many ways. As I sit in my air-conditioned home and drive from place to place in the air-conditioned car, eating what had once been considered “seasonal” foods at almost any time of year, I cannot but miss the seasonality of my youth.

The picture book I’ve chosen for today provides a perfect antidote and made me feel like a kid, immersed in nature once again.

 

9781596438521Title: When Green Becomes Tomatoes

Written By: Julie Fogliano

Illustrated By: Julie Morstad

Publisher/date: Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan), 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-10, but I’d say all ages

Themes/Topics: seasons, poetry, nature

Opening:

Spring

march 20

from a snow-covered tree

one bird singing

each tweet poking

a tiny hole

through the edge of winter

and landing carefully

balancing gently

on the tip of spring

Brief Synopsis: A collection of nature poems divided by seasons

Links to Resources:

  • Think of words or images that make you think of a particular season;
  • Write a free-verse poem using the words or images that come to mind;
  • Think of a color, animal, sound, etc. and then pair it to a season;
  • Older children, or the entire family as a group, can keep a nature diary;
  • Take a nature walk;
  • Plant a garden.

Why I Like this Book: This is a beautiful celebration of the seasons. Divided by date, as diary entries, Julie Fogliano’s lyrical poems take the reader and listener from one spring equinox to the next, beginning, and ending, with the image of one small bluebird poking from winter to spring.

The poems vary in length, but all evoke the sights, sounds, smells, touch and even tastes of the four seasons that children will readily recognize (at least those who live in a region with these four distinct seasons). They can be read separately or together, or grouped by season. Any way they are read, the imagery will leap off the pages: “sounds like slippers” (a house in winter), “snowy arms sagging” (an evergreen in winter), “a star…more flicker glow than blinding”, “a day that drips hot and thick like honey”, and many, many more.

Julie Morstad’s lovely illustrations complement the poems so well, and she includes many multicultural children – an added bonus.

9781596438521.IN02

This is a book to own and savor throughout the year. And for those who can’t wait to read the book to find out, when does green become tomatoes? You’ll know because “there will be sky/ and sun/ and possibly a cloud or two….”

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: What in the World? Numbers in Nature

I chose today’s Perfect Picture Book in honor of two women: my mother-in-law and my eldest child.

A nature-loving virologist in an era of few female scientists, my mother-in-law would have turned 100 today. Tragically, she died when our first child was an infant. All of her grandchildren know only “of her.” While none has become a scientist, all have inherited her strong spirit, they are “interested and interesting”, and all love nature.

We moved to England when our elder daughter was entering second grade. She did well in school for the first few years, but struggled in Mathematics during fifth grade. Even though we had practiced the multiplication tables every morning while driving to school, she just didn’t seem to “get it” and started falling behind as algebra loomed. Working with her teacher, we discovered the reason: an important building block to understanding multiplication – sets, was taught in first grade in England and in second in our daughter’s US school. She missed that unit! We quickly remedied the problem using her baby brother’s Duplos, and thankfully, she mastered the concept and caught up to her class. I wish today’s Perfect Picture Book, What in the World? Numbers in Nature, had existed then.

 

9781481400602_p0_v1_s192x300Title: What in the World? Numbers in Nature

Written By: Nancy Raines Day

Illustrated By: Kurt Cyrus

Publisher/date: Beach Lane Books, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Nature, counting, sets.

Opening: “What in the world comes one by one? A nose. A mouth. The moon. The sun.”

Brief Synopsis: This rhyming counting book invites nature exploration, from the single nose, mouth, moon and sun to the “vast amount” of stars in the sky.

Links to Resources:

  • In an author’s note, Nancy Raines Day explains the concept of numerical sets as groups of “similar things that occur together” and invites readers and listeners to “look for a numerical set in the world around you.”
  • Think of other types of sets and go on a scavenger hunt around the house or garden. Look for objects of a certain color, shape, size or even utility (e.g., things we use to cook or to create art).
  • Build sets with Legos, empty boxes or even pantry items.

Why I Like this Book: With the repeated question of “what in the world…”, Nancy Raines Day invites readers and listeners to see and savour nature, to bring order to our chaotic world. This book is a wonderful introduction to the important scientific habit of observation and to the mathematics concept of sets, the precursor to understanding multiplication. The colourful illustrations include other examples of sets that readers and listeners can find together. And spoiler alert: if you are wondering “what in the world” of nature has nine, in an endnote, Ms. Day confesses it took her two years to find the perfect example – the Stickleback Fish. Fun to say & well worth a Google!

 

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: When Spring Comes

imageAnyone living in the Midwest or the Northeastern United States should understand the reason I chose this perfect picture book for today. If there’s any doubt, a very recent picture of some very sad pansies (before a snow blanket covered them) will show you why!

51So8yP1rNL._SX411_BO1,204,203,200_Title: When Spring Comes

Written By: Kevin Henkes

Illustrated By: Laura Dronzek

Publisher/date: Greenwillow Books, February 9, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Seasons, spring, weather, nature, waiting

Opening: “Before Spring comes, the trees look like black sticks against the sky. But if you wait, Spring will bring leaves and blossoms.”

Brief Synopsis: In lyrical language accompanied by vibrant illustrations, this book describes the change from winter to spring.

Links to Resources: As the seasons change,

  • draw what you see outside a window. What color is the grass? Are there leaves on the tree? Do you see flowers? What colors are they?
  • Take a walk and look for signs of spring.
  • Prepare for spring by planting seeds indoors (or outdoors if the snow has melted and the ground isn’t frozen). Tomatoes, cucumbers and marigolds are happy to start indoors and get transplanted outdoors. Sunflowers, beets and onions like to start and finish in one place.
  • There are so many springtime crafts! Try a thumbprint hyacinth or a birds’ nest collage

Why I Like this Book: This quiet concept book captures not only the sights, sounds, smells and feel of Spring, but the sense of anticipation for the earth’s rebirth. With a refrain of “If you wait” repeated throughout the book, the reader and listener are drawn into the change of seasons. The bright and simple illustrations complement the lyrical text and focus on aspects of spring that will delight children. The publisher recommends When Spring Comes for ages 4-8; I think younger children will enjoy it, too.

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 Picture Book Friday: Beyond the Pond

As the days lengthen, as buds and tiny shoots appear, and as a greater variety of birds visit the feeder each day, the urge to wander, to explore outside, returns. What better way to embrace the spirit of adventure and exploration than through this Perfect Picture Book Friday.

 

9780062364272_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Beyond the Pond
 

Written & Illustrated By: Joseph Kuefler

Publisher/date: Balzer + Bray, 2015

 

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Exploration, nature, imagination, adventure

Opening: “Just behind an ordinary house filled with too little fun, Ernest D. had decided today would be the day that he’d explore the depths of his pond.”

Brief Synopsis: A young boy, Ernest D. is bored with his ordinary, too little fun house, so he decides to explore the depths of the pond. He discovers a different, exciting world on the other end. But when he returns home, will he view it the same as when he left?

Links to Resources: Children of all ages love to explore! But what do you need to explore?

Discuss and assemble the tools necessary for an exploration of the back garden, the local park, a body of water, or even the basement or attic of your own home.

Try a scavenger hunt.

Older children in warmer climates could don a mask and explore the bottom of a local pond, stream, or bay.

Why I Like this Book: In this debut picture book, Joseph Kuefler combines words and pictures to describe a perfect day out for any would-be explorer. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Ernest D. leaves his everyday, ho-hum backyard and enters a big, raucous, colourful world. As in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna (Harper Collins, 2009), the doorway to this other world is through Ernest D.’s pond. I especially love that the adventures begin, and end, where all the best ones do: at home (which may just be a little less ordinary than we thought!).

 

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!