Tag Archives: Non-fiction

PPBF -Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist

March is Music in our Schools Month– a time to celebrate the role music plays in enhancing life, the educational benefit of learning to appreciate and play music, and the composers and musicians whose works speak to us. As stated on the National Association of Music Education site:

The purpose of MIOSM is to raise awareness of the importance of music education for all children – and to remind citizens that schools is where all children should have access to music.  MIOSM is an opportunity for music teachers to bring their music programs to the attention of the school and the community, and to display the benefits that school music brings to students of all ages.

As both the subject and illustrator of today’s selection lived on both sides of the Mexican and US border and as their contributions to the arts enhance life for Mexicans and US citizens, I think this is a Perfect Picture Book to kick off MIOSM:

9781580896733_p0_v1_s192x300Title: ESQUIVEL! Space-Age Sound Artist

Written By: Susan Wood

Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/date: Charlesbridge/2016

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: music, composer, bandleader, Mexican immigrant, non-fiction, biography

Opening:

When Juan Garcia Esquivel was a small boy, he lived with his family in Tampico, Mexico, where whirling mariachi bands let out joyful yells as they stamped and strummed.

Brief Synopsis: Bandleader Esquivel! (1918-2002) composed and played music in his native Mexico where he rose to fame, and then gained prominence in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States.

Links to Resources:

  • Listen to music, make instruments, or try one of the many other activities suggested in the Esquivel!  Educator’s Guide
  • Listen to Esquivel!’s compositions, including music composed for short films
  • Learn about other musicians who immigrated to the US (David Bowie; George Harrison; John Lennon; Bob Marley, to name just a few)

Why I Like this Book: Esquivel! is a multi-sensory exploration of a talented but little-known composer, bandleader and musician who began his craft as a child, disabling the paper roll in a player piano at age 6 so he could play it; who combined traditional folk music and jazz with “space age” innovations, including the newly-invented stereo system; who pushed the boundaries of his craft by utilizing different instruments and sound combinations; and who built a fan base and successful career in his native Mexico and in the United States.

Like Esquivel! (who dropped his first names and adopted the name Esquivel!), Tonatiuh combines tradition, in this case the artistic style found in the Mixtec Codex, with collaged textures and photographs that are inserted via computer. The inclusion of psychedelic word-art and fashion from the 1950s and 1960s is particularly effective.

An Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note and Resources page are included.

A Note about Craft:

Esquivel! was a successful composer, bandleader and musician whose genre was “lounge music” and who liked art, fast cars, elegant clothes and “especially pretty women” – not generally the “stuff” of picture books! So how did Wood, with a background in music journalism, and Tonatiuh render this story kid-friendly?

  • Starting at the beginning when Esquivel! was a child & showing how his talents were evident then and how he worked to achieve success;
  • Focusing on the era when Esquivel! first achieved his lasting success, the 1950s and 1960s, and using language and images to place Esquivel! and his music in context – starting with the subtitle “Space Age…” and using similes to compare his music to era-specific items, e.g., it “sounded like a crazy rocket ride…”;
  • Incorporating similes that render the story understandable to even those who don’t understand musical composition:

He was an artist, using dips and dabs of color to create a vivid landscape. But instead of paint, Juan used sound. Weird and wild sounds! Strange and exciting sounds!

Esquivel! was a 2017 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book. Esquivel! is also available in Spanish.

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 – Sail Away

Earlier this week, I learned of efforts to preserve Langston Hughes’ Harlem brownstone. The group spearheading the efforts, I, Too Arts Collective, @ITooArts, is a “nonprofit organization committed to nurturing voices from underrepresented communities in the creative arts”. According to its statement of purpose on generosity.com, the group’s “first major project is to provide a space for emerging and established artists in Harlem to create, connect, and showcase work”. Its “goal is to lease and renovate the brownstone where Langston Hughes lived in Harlem as a way to not only preserve his legacy but to build on it and impact young poets and artists.” You can find out more and donate at generosity.com.

When I came across the featured collection of poetry by Langston Hughes, newly illustrated by Ashley Bryan, I knew this was the Perfect Picture Book to showcase I, Too Arts Collective’s campaign and celebrate summer on the water.

9781481430852_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Sail Away

Written By: Langston Hughes

Illustrated By: Ashley Bryan

Publisher/date: Atheneum Books for Young Children/2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (and beyond)

Themes/Topics: poetry, sea, sailing, travel, adventure, non-fiction

Opening:

Catch

Big Boy came

Carrying a mermaid

On his shoulders

And the mermaid

Had her tail

Curved

Beneath his arm.

Being a fisher boy,

He’d found a fish

To carry-

Half fish,

Half girl

To marry.

Brief Synopsis: This is a collection of 15 poems about water and the sea penned by Langston Hughes and newly illustrated by Ashley Bryan.

Links to Resources:

  • Use paper collage techniques to draw a picture;
  • Visit the sea, a river, lake or pond and describe what you see. What was it like?

Why I Like this Book:

As other reviewers have noted, Langston Hughes (1902-1967), a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, is most remembered for his writings about racial and national identity. This collection of poetry, while containing one that is specific to the African-American experience (see, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, the last poem in the collection), shows another side of Hughes. It is a celebration of seafaring, mermaids, rivers, fish, bridges – really all things nautical. These poems on the whole are joyful, especially as the very talented artist Ashley Bryan has illustrated them using bright paper collages. At times they are whimsical, almost childlike, as in the poem entitled simply “F”, about a fish “with a greedy eye/Who darted toward/A big green fly.” But the fly was simply “bait on a hook!/So the fisherman took/The fish home to cook.”

A Note about Craft:

The genesis of this book was not Langston Hughes, who died long before publication. Rather, the illustrator, Ashley Bryan, is the protagonist here. As stated on the front flap, Mr. Bryan is “one of Langston Hughes’s greatest admirers.” His illustrations truly bring this poetry to life.

9781481430852_p3_v4_s192x300In an illustrator’s note, Mr. Bryan states that the “scissors shown on the endpapers are the scissors that my mother used in sewing and embroidery and that I, in turn, used in cutting the colored papers for all the collage compositions in this book.” An author in his own right, Mr. Bryan created this artwork at the ripe young age of 91, meaning the scissors most likely date to the late 19th or early 20th century. Truly an inspiration for young and old!

If You Liked this Book:

Check out Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph, reviewed here.

One of Ashley Bryan’s many other books for children, found here.

PPBF – Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

As we head into the most-American of holiday weekends and what, for many, is the true start of the summer season, I thought a picture book about a very-American genre of music set where family and friends gather on steamy summer days would be perfect. I hope you agree!

0763669547.medTitle: Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

Written By: Roxane Orgill

Illustrated By: Francis Vallejo

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes/Topics: Non-fiction, Jazz, Harlem, 1950s America, photography, poetry

Opening: from the introduction, “In 1958, Art Kane had a crazy idea. Gather as many jazz musicians as possible in one place for a big black-and-white photograph, like a kind of graduation picture.”

Brief Synopsis: A book of poems that tell the story of Harlem 1958, a photograph of the largest gathering of jazz musicians on the steps of a Harlem, NYC brownstone.

0763669547.int.3Links to Resources:

  • Find a photograph of family, friends, or any other group. Try to tell a story about that picture: why is everyone there? What are they wearing and why? What else is in the picture and what does it tell you about the people or the photographer?
  • Listen to Jazz music.

Why I Like this Book:

A picture book that starts with an image – nothing unique about that. But what’s unique about Jazz Day is precisely that image, an actual photograph of 57 of the greatest jazz musicians in 1950s NYC (Harlem 1958), and how the author of this picture book determined to tell its story.

Rather than write what may well have been a plodding, dry account of this historic photograph that appeared first in Esquire magazine, Ms. Orgill tells the story in poems – short, jazz-infused vignettes of the events leading up to and through the morning. By choosing poetry as her medium, Ms. Orgill is able to highlight the special aspects of the story embedded in the photograph and share some of the backstory, about Harlem 1958 and the lives and careers of the musicians pictured and Art Kane, the man who dreamt up and organized it all.

Speaking of backstory, this much longer-than-average picture book (55 pages, plus endpapers) contains an Author’s Note, biographies of several people photographed, a note about Harlem 1958’s legacy, source notes, a bibliography and perhaps best of all, a two-page spread of the actual photo. No wonder Jazz Day is Boston Globe-Horn Book’s choice for Picture Book of the Year.

The illustrations of debut picture-book illustrator Francis Vallejo vibrantly capture the excitement of the morning and the spirit of these great musicians, and they add greatly to the appeal of this book.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Ms. Orgill shares that she started with the photograph, Harlem 1958, an image of which she’d been aware for as long as she’s been listening to jazz. She “wanted to tell the story of how the photo got made and some of the people who happened to be in it. What I didn’t expect was that I’d begin writing poems. I write prose, not poetry. But this story demanded a sense of freedom, and intensity, and a conciseness that prose could not provide.” (p 44)

What medium best captures the story you’re trying to tell? If a story isn’t working, perhaps try another viewpoint, or even think out of the box, as Ms. Orgill did, and try a totally different approach.