Tag Archives: polar bears

PPBF – Leaf

I discovered today’s Perfect Picture Book at my local library and was, frankly, surprised I hadn’t learned of it sooner. Not only does it include themes of current importance and interest, it’s also beautiful. Enjoy!

Leaf_RGB-728x623Title: Leaf

Written & Illustrated By: Sandra Dieckmann

Publisher/Date: Flying Eye Books (an imprint of Nobrow Ltd)/2017

Suitable for Ages: 3-5 (or older)

Themes/Topics: newcomer; polar bears; nature; global warming

Opening:

Crow saw it first. The strange white creature, carried upon the dark waves towards the shore.

Brief Synopsis:

When a solitary polar bear arrives in a forest, the woodland creatures are afraid and avoid him because he is different, until some clever crows realize the reason he’s there and how they may help him.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about polar bears and the disappearance of polar ice;
  • Draw some of the gorgeous leaves shown in the illustrations, or visit a garden or park to find leaves you can draw and color;
  • Sometimes people are afraid of people, places or things that seem different. Describe or draw a picture of a time when you encountered something or someone “different;”
  • See a lesson plan using Leaf to help children think about differences and overcoming prejudices.

Why I Like this Book:

Leaf is a contemporary fairy tale, set in a lush, exotic forest, inhabited by a community of animals. A polar bear arrives to this strange woodland, retreats to a cave on a hill, and keeps apart from the woodland creatures. They, however, view and judge the bear, fleeing “in fear” when he approaches, calling him “monster,” and naming him Leaf, not only due to his strange habit of collecting leaves but also “because they wanted him to leave”.

I think kids will notice right away that the animals rush to judgment about this newcomer without learning Leaf’s story. Particularly poignant and instructive is a two-page spread in which a few small creatures voice compassion and offers of help while others term him “dangerous” and “destructive” and focus on his “teeth.”

I think kids also will be happy to see how the crows, a bird species not generally thought of as compassionate (at least not by me), lead the efforts to learn the truth about Leaf and help him. This made me realize that it isn’t always the creature that we expect to be a hero who steps up to help, and that sometimes small creatures can have big impacts.

Finally, I think the environmental message of Leaf, of animals separated from their native environment and of other animal groups learning to live with these newcomers, will resonate with kids and offer important opportunities to discuss global warming and its effects on nature and people, and to discuss the current refugee and immigration crises.

Dieckmann’s detailed and colorful spreads are gorgeous! The deep blues are haunting, and the contrast of the white polar bear against the lush background focused my attention immediately on the main character. The image of Leaf covered in leaves made me cheer his determination to fly home, even as it reminded me of the mythological Icarus.

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Interior spread from Leaf, reproduced from Dieckmann’s website

A Note about Craft:

Dieckmann populates her modern fairy tale with animals instead of people.  I think using animals as protagonists helps kids relate to the issues of non-acceptance and fear of newcomers who are different. Because climate change is affecting animals, especially those in the colder climes, so much, I think the choice of a polar bear as the main character is particularly effective.

Interestingly, Leaf engages in almost no dialogue in the story. We learn what he’s feeling through the illustrations and the crows’ comments. While this could, arguably, provide distance from his plight, it also has the laudable effect of encouraging children to think about how they perceive newcomers and to see that they, like many of the animals depicted, view newcomers through a lens of prejudice.

Dieckmann is a German-born, London-based illustrator/author and artist, “deeply inspired by all that’s weird and wonderful in nature, drifting thoughts and dreams”. Leaf, her debut picture book, has been “nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal, long listed for the Klaus Flugge Prize and short listed for the Waterstones Children’s book prize as well as the AOI World Illustration Award.”

Flying Eye Books focuses “on the craft of children’s storytelling and non-fiction” and is the children’s imprint of London-based, “award-winning visual publishing house” Nobrow Ltd.

For a picture book presenting similar themes, see Barroux’ Welcome.

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 – Welcome

As the days lengthen and snows begin to melt, and as we learn of yet another ice chunk breaking off from an ice shelf in Antarctica, a book about polar bears marooned on an iceberg seems to be a timely Perfect Picture Book:

9781499804447_p0_v10_s192x300Title: Welcome

Written & Illustrated By: Barroux

Publisher/date: Little Bee Books (Simon & Schuster)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-6 (4-8, per publisher)

Themes/Topics: refugees, sharing, global warming, polar bears, modern fable

Opening:

I am a polar bear.

That’s me with my feet in the water near my friends.

Life is quiet and peaceful on the ice,

But wait a minute—

            what’s that noise?

Brief Synopsis: When an iceberg breaks off and a group of polar bears drifts out to sea, the group searches for a new home but are turned away by the animals that already inhabit those islands.

Links to Resources:

  • Explore polar bear activities, including Polar Bear  Hot Cocoa and Cupcakes (great to share while reading together!);
  • Make and study your own iceberg;
  • Be a Climate Kid and learn about global warming

Why I Like this Book:

This is a simple fable about some not-so-simple problems: global warming and its effect on species like polar bears, and the refugee situation. Although one reviewer questioned the over-simplification of these issues (Refugees forced to find a new home—sadly, an always timely subject—deserve better storytelling than this. Kirkus Reviews), I’d argue that it’s exactly the over-simplification that will help adults discuss these difficult subjects with younger children. As pointed out in a  New York Times review, Welcome is also appropriate for children starting a new school or facing some other new situation.

An illustrator and cartoonist, Barroux‘s bright, bold illustrations bring the sparse text to life. His large, leafy plants reminded me of Matisse’s work, lending an exotic air to the story.

A Note about Craft:

Barroux utilizes a very conversational tone in his first-person account of the bears’ search for a new home. I think first person is a wonderful way to lure the reader to empathize with these bears.

Like all good stories, we start with the “normal,” in this case sitting with our feet in the water, enjoying the day with our friends, and then the change occurs – But wait a minute—what’s that noise? Turning the page, we learn that the noise is a giant CRACK, splayed across a two-page spread, as three of four bears float away on the iceberg. Separating the friend group also is an effective technique to highlight refugees’ plights, as something, in this case someone, is always left behind.

Finally, Barroux presents several reasons for not welcoming the Bears: their fur and height, being “too bear-ish”, being “too many”, and it’s “too much trouble” to even see that they’re asking to land. Each of these reasons presents a discussion opportunity about issues of difference, attitude and what’s the right thing to do when someone needs our help.

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!