Tag Archives: poverty

Perfect Pairing – is Bicycling

Tomorrow is my husband’s birthday, and he loves to bicycle. So I thought I’d share two picture books featuring children who also love to cycle.

 

In a Cloud of Dust

Author: Alma Fullerton

Illustrator: Brian Deines

Publisher/Date: Pajama Press/2015

Ages: 4-8

Themes: bicycles, diversity, education, disappointment, compassion

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In a Tanzanian village school, Anna struggles to keep up. Her walk home takes so long that when she arrives, it is too dark to do her homework. Working through the lunch hour instead, she doesn’t see the truck from the bicycle library pull into the schoolyard. By the time she gets out there, the bikes are all gone. Anna hides her disappointment, happy to help her friends learn to balance and steer. She doesn’t know a compassionate friend will offer her a clever solution—and the chance to raise her own cloud of dust. Brought to life by Brian Deines’ vivid oil paintings, Alma Fullerton’s simple, expressive prose captures the joy of feeling the wind on your face for the first time. Inspired by organizations like The Village Bicycle Project that have opened bicycle libraries all across Africa, In a Cloud of Dust is an uplifting example of how a simple opportunity can make a dramatic change in a child’s life.

Read my review.

 

 

The Patchwork Bike

Author: Maxine Beneba Clarke

Illustrator: Van T. Rudd

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018 (first published in Australia by Hachette Australia/2016)

Ages: 6-9

Themes: bicycle, resourcefulness, play, poverty, imagination, North Africa, multicultural

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

What’s the best fun in the whole village? Riding the patchwork bike we made! A joyous picture book for children by award-winning author Maxine Beneba Clarke.

When you live in a village at the edge of the No-Go Desert, you need to make your own fun. That’s when you and your brothers get inventive and build a bike from scratch, using everyday items like an old milk pot (maybe mum is still using it, maybe not) and a used flour sack. You can even make a numberplate from bark, if you want. The end result is a spectacular bike, perfect for going bumpity-bump over sandhills, past your fed-up mum and right through your mud-for-walls home.

A delightful story from multi-award-winning author Maxine Beneba Clarke, beautifully illustrated by street artist Van T Rudd.

Read my review.

I paired these books because they feature bicycles and children, and, in both cases, economic hardship necessitates the use of either a homemade or donated bicycle. While the focus of In a Cloud of Dust is riding bikes to and from a rural school, the children in A Patchwork Bike use their creation to explore and have fun. In both books, I think readers learn the importance and joy of bicycles, even if they aren’t shiny and new.

PPBF – Neema’s Reason to Smile

I was fortunate to win today’s Perfect Picture Book in a giveaway late last year from Pragmatic Mom. It was reviewed for Children’s Multicultural Book Day this past January by my friend, Vivian Kirkfield, so I wanted to wait until just the right time to review it, too. Because so many kids are returning to school this month, I think today is the perfect time. I hope you agree!

Title: Neema’s Reason to Smile

Written By: Patricia Newman

Illustrated By: Mehrdokht Amini

Publisher/Date: Lightswitch Learning, a Sussman Education company/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: school, Africa, poverty, dreams

Opening:

Mama and I climb the hill to our favorite rock overlooking the savanna. We dream of the future while elephant take mud baths in the fading light.

Brief Synopsis:

Young Neema dreams of attending school to better her life, and, with her Mama, works hard to fill the Dream Basket to collect money for school fees.

Links to Resources:

  • Create your own Dream Basket, by following the instructions in the book. What will you do with the money you collect? Buy something for yourself, a family member or friend? Donate to a favorite cause?
  • Neema walks to and from school each day. How do you get to school? Describe in words or pictures your route to school;
  • Describe in words or pictures something that makes you smile;
  • Learn about the real school on which Neema’s school is based, the Jambo Jipya School in Mtwapa, Kenya, and see how you might support its work through the reason2smile organization.

Why I Like this Book:

As children in much of the world head back to school this month, I think this is a perfect book to explore how much education means to so many in this world. Set in an unnamed African village, Neema’s Reason to Smile follows young Neema as she dreams of attending school. But attending school in her region costs money, for school fees, supplies, and a uniform. So Neema helps by selling fruit that she carries on her head to the village, and Mama sews to add, slowly, to the Dream Basket of coins.

Just as Neema worries that they’ll never earn enough to pay for school, they learn that maybe the Basket holds enough after all (I won’t spoil the ending by sharing any details).

Newman peppers the story with references to local characters and comparisons to animals found in the savannah, like the lion, gazelle, egret, and zebra.

Amini’s vibrant and colorful illustrations made me feel like I was journeying with Neema to the village and school.

Whether you read this at home with your school-aged child or in a classroom setting, I think kids and adults will enjoy learning about how one girl dreams of a better future and how she works hard to achieve that goal. Included are Discussion Questions, Activities, a Group Activity, Author’s Note and Glossary to further your knowledge.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Newman informs readers that the idea for Neema’s Reason to Smile arose from a phone call with a librarian in New York City who wanted to share the story of a real school in Kenya, on which Neema’s school is based. After many telephone calls with the school’s founders and teachers and after viewing many videos of the school and students, Newman wrote this fictional story which highlights the desire for learning exhibited by the real students and their perseverance to attend school. Creating a fictional main character and story while remaining true to the experiences of actual students enables Newman to draw a more complete picture of the school, I think, and better incorporate universal themes into the story.

Visit Newman’s website to see more of her books that “empower young readers to act”.

Amini was born in Iran but currently lives in England. Visit her website to see more of her work.

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 Picture Book Friday – The Patchwork Bike

I thought I’d celebrate the first day of March optimistically, as it’s the month when spring arrives in the northern hemisphere, and cyclists tune up their bikes in anticipation of the return (hopefully) of warmer weather. I hope you’re all able to hit the roads on your favorite two or three wheelers soon!

Title: The Patchwork Bike

Written By: Maxine Beneba Clarke

Illustrated By: Van Than Rudd

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018 (first published in Australia by Hachette Australia/2016)

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: bicycle; resourcefulness; play; poverty; imagination; North Africa; multicultural

Opening:

This is the village where we live inside our mud-for-walls home.

These are my crazy brothers, and this is our fed-up mum.

Brief Synopsis: The young narrator and her brothers in an unnamed village near a desert create a bike out of used items and take readers on a joy-filled journey.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

With its sparse text and roll-off-your-tongue language, The Patchwork Bike is a joy-filled read-aloud that will have kids wanting to build their own patchwork bike. The bike’s handlebar branches “shicketty shake” and “wood-cut wheels” “winketty wonk” when the children ride it. Who wouldn’t want to “bumpety bump” through the village under the “stretching-out sky”?

But along with this joy and exuberance, astute children and adults will notice that these children live in a “mud-for-walls home” and have a “fed-up mum”, perhaps because the kids use “Mum’s milk pot” (her only milk pot?) for a bell. And they make their bike not out of a purchased kit but from what most of us would term trash. I think the inclusion of these signs of poverty adds a rich layer to this story that makes this a perfect book for classroom or home discussion.

Van Than Rudd’s expressive acrylic illustrations on recycled cardboard add so many details to the text including picturing dark-skinned Mum with a head covering and robe, indicative of clothing from North Africa, including the initials BLM on the bike’s license plate in reference to the Black Lives Matter movement, and an image of the boys standing on an abandoned police car. Pointing out these details to children provides, in my opinion, a wonderful discussion opportunity. As Rudd relates in “A Note About the Illustrations”, “[t]o me, the kids painting ‘BLM’ on a bark license plate was their way of showing pride in what they had created out of limited resources and also linking themselves to a long history of rebellion.”

A Note about Craft:

In sparse, poetic text, author Beneba Clarke transports readers to an unnamed, probably North African village and describes the building of a bicycle out of used materials. Interestingly, she doesn’t mention anything that indicates a geographical region, except the existence of a “no-go desert”, nor that identifies the family as being from a particular race or religion. Instead, these details are left to the illustrator, Rudd, who brings this story to life.

In an “Author’s Note”, Beneba Clarke relates that she included a child with a bike made from scrap pieces in a short story for adults. The image of that child and the experience of bike riding stayed with her and formed the basis of The Patchwork Bike. What characters or situations can you pull from existing manuscripts and repurpose into a new story?

Per Candlewick’s website, Beneba Clarke is “an Australian writer and slam poet champion of Afro-Caribbean descent”. For more information about Beneba Clarke, see a recent Picture Book Author feature in The Brown Bookshelf. This is her first picture book.

Also from Candlewick’s website, Rudd “is an Australian street artist and activist”. This is his first picture book. Read an interview with Rudd at Let’s Talk 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 – The Christmas Boot

It’s that time of year again! Yep, time to visit that local bookstore and pretend to search for a gift for “that special someone” while really checking out the new holiday picture books. For the next few weeks, I’ll be featuring holiday titles, because they are, truly, Perfect Picture Books:

9780803741348_p0_v2_s192x300Title: The Christmas Boot

Written By: Lisa Wheeler

Illustrated By: Jerry Pinkney

Publisher/date: Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Group)/2016 (an earlier version of this book was published by Mitten Press/2006)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Christmas, Santa Claus, poverty, wishes, giving and receiving, loneliness, the elderly

Opening: “Deep in the forest on Christmas morning, Hannah Greyweather gathered bundles of kindling wood. For her, this day was no different from any other. As she went about her chores, she chatted to the forest, she talked to the mountains, but mostly she spoke to herself.”

Brief Synopsis: When a lonely, elderly woman finds a boot in the forest, she wishes for its mate and other things to ease her difficult life. But when the rightful owner of the boot appears, Hannah gratefully gives up her treasures and asks for only one thing that she truly desires.

Links to Resources:

The holidays are a season of joy. For the poor or lonely, though, they are difficult times, especially when accompanied by cold and snowy weather.

  • Make a holiday card or send a letter to an elderly or homebound person.
  • Bake and decorate boot and mitten-shaped cookies and share them.
  • Donate warm clothing or gently-used toys or books to those in need.

Think about what’s at the top of your Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa list. Why do you want it? Think about what’s really important to you and your family.

Why I Like this Book:

Tis the season of giving and receiving. The Christmas Boot asks the important question, what do you “truly desire”, ie, what is most important.  Hannah answers that what she truly wants is someone to talk to – not the large, fancy house, “fabulous foods” and “fluffy feather bed” that had appeared when she wished for them. Somehow, these “didn’t seem fully right”; they “didn’t seem to ‘fit’”. I love how Hannah rejects material comforts that aren’t true necessities and seeks, instead, companionship.

Mr. Pinkney’s gorgeous, homey, old-fashioned illustrations, the folktale feeling of the illustrations and text, and the inclusion of holiday magic make this a book that will become a holiday classic. The message of asking what’s most important and the focus on a poor, lonely, elderly woman make this a book that deserves to become a classic.

A Note about Craft:

The Christmas Boot is a modern folktale. But Ms. Wheeler doesn’t start this tale in classic “once upon a time” fashion. Instead, her opening paragraph jumps right in to Hannah Greyweather’s gritty life. It sets the scene and prepares us for what is to come: we immediately learn the who, what, where of the story and the central problem to be solved: the main character is lonely.

And who is the main character? Unlike many picture books, the main character here is an elderly woman. Hannah easily could have been a young “matchstick girl” or shepherd. Featuring an elderly, lonely woman brings another dimension to the story, focusing on the oft-forgotten elderly for whom a holiday may be a day “no different from any other.”

Finally, I love that Ms. Wheeler has chosen a character name that brings to mind other traditions: Hannah is a popular Jewish name, and Greyweather could easily be an American Indian name.

The Christmas Boot received starred reviews in Kirkus Reviews and Publisher’s Weekly. View the book trailer here. And for an interview with Ms. Wheeler, including the story behind this story and its republication, see Picture Book Builders.

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!