Tag Archives: #ReadYourWorld

PPBF – Bijan & Manije: A Story from the Book of Kings

As the chill winds blow, I love reading stories from long ago that transport me to another time and place. I hope you agree that today’s Perfect Picture Book does just that.

Title: Bijan & Manije: A Story from the Book of Kings

Written By: Ali Seidabadi

Edited By: Nicolette Jones

Illustrated By: Marjan Vafaian

Publisher/Date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4 and up

Themes/Topics: fairy tale, #ReadYourWorld, Persia, courage, hero

Opening:

Once upon a time the people of Iran and the people of neighbouring Turan were enemies. Turan was ruled by a tyrant, King Afrasaib, who made his subjects tremble and threatened the country next door. Iran was a land of colour and perfume and beauty, ruled over by good King Khosrow.

Brief Synopsis:

A tale from Persia featuring a boar-hunting young knight, a princess from an opposing kingdom, and their love that overcomes all obstacles.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about the Shahnameh, a poem that gathered the “historical stories and myths of Persia” in the 10th century;
  • Write your own story that begins “once upon a time”;
  • Watch the book trailer.

Why I Like this Book:

Bijan & Manije features many elements found in classic fairy tales: monstrous creatures that terrorize helpless people; a brave, young knight; a quest to subdue the creatures; a cowardly general; a lonely princess; a tyrannical king; and a love that conquers all. But the setting, in ancient Iran and Turan, and the colorful illustrations lend an exotic air to the story, and they transported this reader into a fantastic world. I especially appreciated the loyalty of Princess Manije, who kept watch over the imprisoned Bijan, and her strength and courage as she helped Bijan escape and fled with him from her tyrannical father. No helpless female here!

I also enjoyed thinking about who the true hero of this tale is and what it means to be a hero. Is it Bijan, who subdues the monstrous boars? Or Manije, who defies her father and stays true to Bijan? Or is it the cowardly General Gorgin, who confesses that he led Bijan to the enemy lands? Or, perhaps, it’s the clever and courageous Rostam, who tracks down Bijan and helps the lovers escape? Maybe all of these are heroes who, by working together, help ensure the happy ending. I leave it for you to decide!

I think all children will enjoy this heroic love story, but children with a Persian heritage will truly love reading this tale set in the lands where their families lived and adapted from an ancient text.

With their jewel tones, Vafaian’s colorful and intricate illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to Seidabadi’s text.

A Note about Craft:

Bijan & Manije is a retelling of an older story into modern language, and then it’s been translated into English. Although the endnotes don’t reveal how or how much Seidabadi changed the story, I think updating an older story for modern readers is a wonderful way to preserve stories from the past and share a cultural heritage with children.

Read an interview with Seidabadi here and visit his Facebook page. Seidabadi is also the author of A Rainbow in my Pocket and collaborated with Iranian illustrator Vafaeian on The Parrot and the Merchant. Vafaeian is also the illustrator of Cinderella of the Nile.

Discover more books published by Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd , an independent publishing company in the UK “committed to producing beautiful, original books for children”, founded on the “belief that stories act as bridges – providing pathways to new experiences whilst connecting us to here and there”.

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 – Sleep Well, Siba & Saba

I’m keeping with the back-to-school theme this week, as I always think of school in September. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that they both start with the letter S, as do the names of the main characters of today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Sleep Well, Siba & Saba

Written By: Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl

Illustrated By: Sandra van Doorn

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing Ltd./2017

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: school, lost possessions, dreams, #ReadYourWorld

Opening:

Siba and Saba lost things. Not a day slipped by when the sisters hadn’t lost something…somewhere.

Brief Synopsis: Two sisters in Uganda dream of items they’ve lost each day, until one day their dreams are of the future.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover Uganda, in central Africa, the setting for this story;
  • Have you ever lost something? What did you do? Describe or draw something you’ve lost. Did you find it? How did you feel?
  • Describe or draw a dream you’ve had.

Why I Like this Book:

With its two loving sisters and snippets of their lives in Uganda, Sleep Well, Siba & Saba acts as a window into a place and lifestyle that many of us probably may never experience. As the story begins, the reader learns that the two sisters constantly are losing things, like scarves and shoes, everything except what really matters: each other. Each night, the sisters dream of the items they’ve lost. Often these dreams incorporate colorful scenes from Uganda, including the savannah and landmarks like Sipi Falls and Ssese Islands.

But one night, the girls’ dreams turn from past lost items to the future, including, for Saba, a new school uniform. In the final spread, the sisters encounter a signpost with several international cities, Mount Everest and the moon featured – as they dream of the future, who knows what they’ll see.

I love the positivity of this story. Incorporating Ugandan phrases and names and utilizing lyrical language, Sleep Well, Siba & Saba transported me into their fantasy-filled world. I especially loved the whimsical and colorful illustrations filled with the fabrics, wildlife and plants native to Uganda. And I think younger children will enjoy finding their pet dog in most scenes. Even she dreams of future treats!

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, Isdahl includes Ugandan phrases, names, and landmarks to place us in the story. Van Doorn furthers this by including sweeping savannahs and colorful fabrics throughout the spreads. By incorporating dreams and fantastical illustrations, I think the author and illustrator heighten the sense that we’re visiting a unique world where dreams, in fact, come true. That a school uniform is part of that dream shows, I think, that education is the way for Siba and Saba, and all readers, to reach their goals – even the moon.

Sleep Well, Siba & Saba is Isdahl’s debut picture book. Isdahl, an American-born writer of Ugandan descent who now lives and works in Africa, is also the author of Sing to the Moon, illustrated by van Doorn. View more of van Doorn’s illustrations at her website.

Lantana Publishing is an independent UK publisher, “an award-winning social enterprise with a mission to see all children reflected in the books they read.”

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 – Tahmineh’s Beautiful Bird

As we near the “unofficial” end of summer with September looming and kids heading back to school, I want to feature a Perfect Picture Book that captures the joy and beauty of summer landscapes. I think today’s choice does just that.

Title: Tahmineh’s Beautiful Bird

Written and Illustrated By: Parviz Kalantari

Publisher/Date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd./2015 (originally published in Persian, Chekkeh Publisher, Tehran, Iran/2012)

Translated By: Azita Rassi

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Iran, nature, handicrafts, memory, #ReadYourWorld

Opening:

It was summer, and Tahmineh’s tribe were living with their animals on the grassy high pastures. When winter came they would pack everything up, and move down to the lower plains. But Tahmineh liked the summer pastures best.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl tries to preserve the lovely sounds of a beautiful bird of summer using her artistic skills.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

In this vibrantly illustrated picture book, Kalantari introduces readers to a little-known people, the nomadic Qahqai tribespeople, while exploring a universal theme, the desire to capture beauty, but doing so in a way that doesn’t harm the natural world. Like the main character, Tahmineh, I think children will be charmed by the appearance of a beautiful songbird that shares its gorgeous melody. I think, too, that they will be intrigued by the idea of capturing the “memory” of the bird and by Tahmineh’s method of doing so.

Although capturing the memory as Tahmineh does may not occur to many young readers, they will understand the need to keep the memory, while allowing the bird to remain free. And the magical ending is sure to please young and old readers alike.

A Note about Craft:

While focusing on the lives and traditional crafts of a little-known nomadic tribe, Kalantari manages to explore a universal issue, too: enjoying nature without harming it. I think Kalantari manages this duality well: I was intrigued to learn more about Tahmineh and her tribal culture, and I was so happy to learn that she and her family care about something that I care about. I think that by showing how we are similar to Tahmineh and her fellow Qahqai tribespeople, it encourages readers to want to learn more about them.

Per the publisher, Kalantari is a prominent Iranian writer, illustrator and painter who focuses on the “everyday life of nomad tribes, desert people, and those living by the sea.”

Tiny Owl Publishing is a UK-based independent publisher of beautiful and thought-provoking picture books, many of them by Iranian authors and/or illustrators.

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

Perfect Pairing – of Soccer Stories

The children’s soccer leagues restarted for the season at the sports fields near my home recently. To mark their return, I’m featuring two diverse soccer stories today.

The Field

Author: Baptiste Paul

Illustrator: Jacqueline Alcántara

Publisher/Date: North-South Books/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: soccer, teamwork, play, St. Lucia (Caribbean), #WNDB, #ReadYourWorld

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Vini! Come! The field calls!” cries a girl as she and her younger brother rouse their community—family, friends, and the local fruit vendor—for a pickup soccer (futbol) game. Boys and girls, young and old, players and spectators come running—bearing balls, shoes, goals, and a love of the sport.

“Friends versus friends” teams are formed, the field is cleared of cows, and the game begins! But will a tropical rainstorm threaten their plans?

Read my review.

 

Pelé: King of Soccer (El rey del fútbol)

Author: Monica Brown

Illustrator: Rudy Gutiérrez

Publisher/Date: Rayo, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers/2009

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, dual-language (English & Spanish), soccer, #WNDB, #ReadYourWorld

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Monica Brown and Rudy Gutierrez team up to deliver what Kirkus called, in a starred review, an “inspiring blend of art and story,” about the most famous soccer star in the world, Pelé. This bilingual picture book will inspire, teach, and amaze readers as they learn about the man who revolutionized the sport of soccer.

Do you know how a poor boy from Brazil who loved fútbol more than anything else became the biggest soccer star the world has ever known? This is the true story of Pelé, King of Soccer, the first man in the history of the sport to score a thousand goals and become a living legend. Rudy Gutierrez’s dynamic illustrations make award-winning author Monica Brown’s story of this remarkable sports hero come alive!

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because soccer is the main subject of both. Although The Field is fiction and Pelé is a biography, both feature language that made me feel the motion and emotion of a soccer match. Both also feature children who play soccer on improvised fields, in Pelé’s case using a grapefruit or “an old sock with newspapers”.  I love how the fictional players found happiness playing soccer in The Field  and how the real Pelé loved soccer and found success playing it.

For more soccer books, see Pragmatic Mom’s recent #OwnVoices Diversity Soccer Books for Kids list.

PPBF – A Drop of the Sea

From the sea as a Blue Road, as in last week’s Perfect Picture Book (Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea) to the sea as a dreamed-of destination, I’ve been enjoying quite a few “sea” stories lately. Here’s the latest!

Title: A Drop of the Sea

Written By: Ingrid Chabbert

Illustrated By: Raúl Nieto Guridi

Publisher/Date: Kids Can Press/2018 (originally published in France as Un bout de mer, Éditions Frimousse/2017)

Suitable for Ages: 4-7 (and older)

Themes/Topics: sea; desert; dreams; gift; kindness; intergenerational; aging; book in translation; #ReadYourWorld.

Opening:

Ali lives at the edge of the desert, not far from a hundred-year-old palm tree. He likes climbing it to snack on fresh dates. He never forgets to pick a few for his great-grandmother, too.

Brief Synopsis: Ali’s aging great-grandmother has always wanted to visit the sea. With bucket in hand, Ali journeys to the sea and and back to share the sea with her.

Links to Resources:

  • Fill a bucket with water. Try not to spill any! How far can you carry it? Why is a bucket full of water heavier than an empty bucket?
  • What place do you dream about? Draw a picture or write a description of that place;
  • Think of good deeds you can do for a family member or friend;
  • This story takes place in a desert, where there is little water. Learn about water scarcity and what you can do to help.

Why I Like this Book:

What would you do for someone you love? This question is at the heart of A Drop of the Sea. When Ali learns that his aging great-grandmother has always wanted to visit the sea but is no longer physically able to journey there, he sets off on a two-day journey to the coast, bucket in hand, to bring the sea to her: if she can’t journey there, he’ll bring the sea to her. But carrying a bucket brimming with sea water for two days is no easy task, especially in the hot sun and dry air of North Africa, the setting of the story.

As is evident from the title, Ali delivers mere drops of the sea. And the result? The elderly woman “starts to cry,” not because she is sad or upset, but because “this is one of the most beautiful days of my life!” And Ali? His “heart soars.”

Focused as it is on Ali’s kindness, the grandmother’s dreams, the “failed” attempt, and the reactions, I think A Drop of the Sea is a thought-provoking reminder of what it means to give and receive, to fail and succeed, to grow more infirm or stronger, and of the importance of actions & experiences over objects. In the midst of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Green Monday and SALE signs accosting us everywhere, perhaps we’d do well to remember that a drop of the sea is all that we, and the children in our lives, need.

Like the text and the setting, Gurudi’s digitally-rendered gouache and pencil illustrations are sparse and evocative. Much of the time, the sand appears more like lined-paper than actual sand, and in one spread, the route of the journey appears as a map underfoot. Is Guridi implying that this story is, in fact, a fairy tale or fable, set down here to make us think about timeless issues of aging, water-scarcity, dreams, and gifts? While I don’t know the answer, I believe the illustrations add an additional layer to discuss after reading  A Drop of the Sea.

A Note about Craft:

As noted above, the title, A Drop of the Sea, almost reveals the outcome of the story. It also, though, is very intriguing, especially when combined with the overwhelmingly simple and beige cover illustration. As authors or editors, we know that we need to weigh the pros and cons of revealing too much or not enough with a title. In this case, I think they made the right choice.

A Drop of the Sea is a simple, straightforward story, with only two characters depicted and little indication of time period, contemporary or historical, or place (we know only that it’s a vast desert, a two-day walk from a sea coast, and we presume it’s North Africa). Clearly Ali does not live alone with his great-grandmother in a vast desert with no other family, friends or neighbors anywhere near. But as these other characters are not essential to the story, the author and illustrator haven’t cluttered the story with them. By leaving others out, I think the author and illustrator have enabled readers to focus better on the issues that matter, namely, the great-grandmother’s dream, Ali’s attempt to fulfill it, and the outcome. What clutters your story, and what can you strip away to enable readers to experience its heart?

Per the book jacket, French author Chabbert has published “dozens” of books, including several picture book collaborations with Guridi. Spanish illustrator Guridi is an “award-winning illustrator of many children’s books”.

Read an insightful review of A Drop of the Sea in CM: Canadian Review of Materials.

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 – Sing to the Moon

I’ve reviewed a few books set in Africa, including, most recently, Cinderella of the Nile, but none set in Uganda – until today. The cover illustration beckoned. The gently rhyming text paired with detail-filled illustrations kept me reading, and re-reading. I hope you enjoy this Perfect Picture Book as much as I do!

Sing-to-the-Moon-promos-768x768

Title: Sing to the Moon

Written By: Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl

Illustrated By: Sandra van Doorn

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing/October 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: wishes; rainy day; intergenerational story; #ReadYourWorld; rhyming; family.

Opening:

If I had one wish, I would reach the stars, then ride a supernova straight to Mars! Jjajja tells me, “Sing to the moon,” and perhaps my wish will be granted soon.

Brief Synopsis:

On a rainy day in Uganda, a grandfather shares memories and stories with his grandson.

Links to Resources:

  • This story occurs in Uganda, a country in Africa; learn more about Africa and Uganda;
  • If you had one wish, what would you wish? Describe or draw a picture of what you wished;
  • In a note to readers, Isdahl asks if you’ve “ever been stuck at home on a rainy day.” Discover some rainy day activities;
  • The narrator’s grandfather in Sing to the Moon shares stories from his childhood. Ask a grandparent or an elderly relative, neighbor or family friend about her or his childhood.

Why I Like this Book:

Sing to the Moon is a heart-warming, intergenerational picture book that provides a window into life in Uganda, a country I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting. Told in gentle rhyme, Sing to the Moon begins with the young, unnamed narrator wishing for intergalactic adventure only to awaken to another dreary, rainy day. But is it? Not if Jjajja, the narrator’s grandfather, has his way. As the pair undertake mundane, everyday tasks, Jjajja recounts stories from his childhood. And as the day ends, “night adventures” begin. Jjajja reads stories of adventure, treasure, fables, and “African kingdoms.” But Jjajja keeps the best to last: His own storytelling followed by the stories of nature that surround us.

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Photograph of interior page from Sing to the Moon

Isdahl fills our journey through this rainy day with details of Ugandan life, and van Doorn’s soft, pastel illustrations contain further glimpses of Uganda, including local produce, vegetation and scenery. With soft blues throughout, sprinkled with flecks of night stars and splashes of bright color, van Doorn transports readers to Uganda and into the narrator’s dreams and his grandfather’s stories. Throughout, a small white dog appears on most every spread, a small detail that younger listeners, in particular, will enjoy spotting.

A Note about Craft:

Isdahl utilizes first-person point-of-view to relate the story, which brings an immediacy to the day’s events. Sharing first his fantastical wishes and then his disappointment at the reality of “the patter of rain”, clouds spreading “like a charcoal stain” and “hours with nothing to do”, the narrator sets the reader up for the “aha” moment, “[b]ut then” he hears Jjajja, his grandfather. The “meat” of the story follows: A shared romp through Jjajja’s memories and stories that transport the narrator far from the rainy day.

As mentioned above, Isdahl uses gentle rhyme to tell her story. Not only does the rhyming text provide momentum to transport the reader through this quiet day, but it’s also lulling, perfect for a bedtime read.

The title of Sing to the Moon appears twice in the text, once in the beginning and once at the end, as bookends to the day. We learn from the context that singing to the moon is a means of ensuring that wishes come true. I love that Isdahl chose this presumably Ugandan practice as her title – similar to the “wishing upon a star” with which I’m familiar, but rooted in the place where this story occurs.

Per the book jacket, Isdahl “was born in the US to Ugandan parents and works in international development in East and Southern Africa.” See interviews with her at the Brown Bookshelf and Mater Mea following the release of her debut picture book, Sleep Well, Siba and Saba (Lantana Publishing, UK/2017, US/2018), also set in Uganda and illustrated by French-native van Doorn, who lives and works in Australia. See more of van Doorn’s illustrations on her website.

UK-based Lantana Publishing “is a young, independent publishing house producing inclusive picture books for children.” Lantana’s books are distributed in the US and Canada by Lerner Publisher Services.

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! And I’ll be linking this post to a new, #ReadYourWorld initiative coming soon, Kids Read the World: Africa.

PPBF – Cinderella of the Nile

Many of us in the US are heading out for the start of the summer holidays this weekend. And what better thing to pack than a good book, especially if that book transports us to a land far away and to a time long, long ago…

cinderellacover350Title: Cinderella of the Nile

Written By: Beverley Naidoo

Illustrated By: Marjan Vafaeian

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 or older

Themes/Topics: fairy tale; #ReadYourWorld; #OneStoryManyVoices; kindness; love

Opening:

Long, long ago when pirates roamed the seas around Greece, a beautiful baby girl was born in a village to the north. She had eyes like sapphires and fine red curls. The happy parents, who had waited many years for this child, called her ‘Rhodopis’ because her cheeks were so rosy.

Brief Synopsis:

In this retelling of an early Greek version of the Cinderella story, a kind-hearted young girl is transported to a land far from home. There she toils as a slave, until a new owner treats her as a daughter and gifts her red slippers, and a wife-seeking pharaoh falls in love with her.

Links to Resources:

  • Rhodopis traveled from northern Greece, to an island, to Egypt along the Nile River. Trace her journey on a map of the eastern Mediterranean Sea;
  • Read one or more of the Cinderella stories listed below. How are they the same? What’s different?
  • In a forward, One Story, Many Voices, Naidoo writes that “tales change when they are told and retold” as that is the “freedom of the storyteller.” Write your own Cinderella story.

Why I Like this Book:

Like many other young and not-so-young readers, I love fairy tales. I especially love seeing how versions differ across regions and eras, even as the story themes remain the same.

In Cinderella of the Nile, I found several aspects of the storyline that differed from the popular version of my youth. For instance, this story lacks an evil stepmother and a fairy godmother. Instead, Rhodopis begins life with loving parents in a simple village in northern Greece where she herds goats. Then, pirates kidnap her and she enters a life where slave traders and owners determine her fate. Interestingly, she starts life in Europe and ends up as a slave in Africa – opposite to the slave route that most slaves endured, and opposite to the route that many refugees and migrants now travel. The inclusion of piracy, slavery and the reversal of this route will, I think, lead to thought-provoking discussions, especially with older children.

In lieu of a fairy godmother, Naidoo includes a well-known storyteller/philosopher, Aesop, who befriends Rhodopis and counsels her to “bend, not break” when faced with difficulties. That and her kindness to various creatures lead to her meeting, and union with, the princely pharaoh.

The themes of Cinderella, the power of kindness, adapting to one’s circumstances, and love, shine through in Cinderella of the Nile. I think children also will enjoy seeing how this tale features characters of varying skin tones and ethnicities, how a noted storyteller, Aesop, plays a role in the outcome, and how kindness to all creatures benefits Cinderella, even without the flick of a magic wand or the transformation of a pumpkin into a carriage.

Vafaeian’s colorfully rich illustrations not only complement but complete Naidoo’s retelling. With her “fine red curls,” Rhodopis is a focal point of every illustration, standing out even among the vibrant flora and fauna that fill every page.

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Interior spread, reprinted from Tiny Owl’s website

I also love that Cinderella and her pharaoh are an interracial couple, as shown in the last gorgeous spread.

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Interior spread, reprinted from Tiny Owl’s website

A Note about Craft:

Cinderella of the Nile is the first of Tiny Owl Publishing’s One Story, Many Voices series, which showcases the universality of fairy tale themes as evident in many similar stories told by “voices from around the world” that reflect the circumstances of particular times and places. How would you rewrite the Cinderella story, or some other favorite fairy tale, to reflect where and when you live or to better include people like yourself?

Learn more about Carnegie Award-winning author Beverley Naidoo at her website and in this article about Cinderella of the Nile.

Iranian illustrator Marjan Vafaeian also illustrated The Parrot and the Merchant and Bijan & Manije.

Cinderella of the Nile was named one of 10 picture books that promote empathy by book reviewer Mamma Filz. A reviewer in The Telegraph noted how this Cinderella overcame adversity “without a fairy godmother or a fancy frock.”

Read Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story and Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella to see how this story changes at differing times and places, even as its themes remain universal.

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!