Tag Archives: refugee

PPBF – Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

I confess that the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book was not familiar to me. Nor did I know about the performance noted in the title. So I’m so happy that Margarita Engle discovered young Teresa and shared this heart-warming story.

Title: Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

Written By: Margarita Engle

Illustrated By: Rafael López

Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: music, refugee, immigrant, courage, biography

Opening:

When Teresa was a little girl in Venezuela, Mamá sang lullabies while Papá showed Teresita how to let her happy hands dance across all the beautiful dark and light keys of a piano.

Brief Synopsis: The story of how a young pianist, the “Piano Girl” Teresa Carreño, performed for President Lincoln and his family at the White House during the dark days of the Civil War, as the family was grieving the death of their son.

Links to Resources:

  • Teresa was born in Venezuela. Find out more about this South American country;
  • Teresa performed a song about a Mockingbird. Learn more about this bird;
  • Listen to the Mockingbird was a popular song in America in the mid-19th century. Listen to a recording of it;
  • Learn more about Teresa in the Historical Note and see the Curriculum Guide for further insights;
  • Teresa played the piano to cheer up President Lincoln and his family. What can you do to cheer up a friend, family member, or neighbor?

Why I Like this Book:

In Dancing Hands, Engle introduces readers to a famous 19th century pianist, Teresa Carreño. Readers learn that Teresa loved playing the piano as a young child in Venezuela, but that sometimes she “had to struggle” to play the “stubborn music”. Despite these struggles, Teresa persisted and became an accomplished pianist at a young age.

When Teresa was eight years old, her family fled conflict and sailed to New York City, where Teresa “felt lost”, lonely, and sad, especially as no one spoke Spanish and the US was embroiled in the Civil War. But when Teresa acquired a piano in New York, her life and playing skills improved. Soon, she was performing in concerts, culminating with a performance at the White House before President Lincoln and his family, shortly after the death of his son and during the bleak days of the Civil War.

I think any child who has felt shy speaking before strangers, nervous before a music recital or worried about a big game will relate to Teresa’s predicament. That a child could brighten a President’s life and bring comfort to him and his family is an important lesson for children and adults that young people, including those who are recent arrivals to a country, can make the world better by sharing their talents.

I also think Dancing Hands reminds readers that music has the power to soothe people in times of trouble, acting as a balm for creators, performers and listeners.

López’s mixed media illustrations reflect Teresa’s moods throughout the story, with bright, tropical colors prevalent when she was happy and darker blues and grays dominating scenes of worry and concern.

A Note about Craft:

Dancing Hands is a biography of a pianist who had a long international career as a professional pianist and singer. But Engle has focused solely on the start of that career, when Teresa was still a child, culminating with this one special performance for President Lincoln. I think by limiting the timespan and focus in this way, Engle has created a picture book that will appeal even to younger children and to which children will more readily relate. Also, by honing in on this one important performance early in her stay in the United States, Engle widens the subject of the book from just the story of a gifted pianist to include her journey as a refugee and immigrant who shared her talents and enriched her new home.

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 Pairing – of Artist Biographies

I love reading biographies, and when they feature the lives of artists, including illustrations that mimic the work of artists, they’re beautiful to read, too.

Out of this World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington

Author: Michelle Markel

Illustrator: Amanda Hall

Publisher/Date: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, female artist, surrealism, refugee

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Ever since she was a little girl, Leonora Carrington loved to draw on walls, in books, on paper—and she loved the fantastic tales her grandmother told that took her to worlds that shimmered beyond this one, where legends became real.

Leonora’s parents wanted her to become a proper English lady, but there was only one thing she wanted, even if it was unsuitable: to become an artist. In London, she discovered a group of artists called surrealists, who were stunning the world with their mysterious creations. This was the kind of art she had to make. This was the kind of person she had to be.

From life in Paris creating art alongside Max Ernst to Mexico, where she met Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Leonora’s life became intertwined with the powerful events and people that shaped the twentieth century.

Out of This World is the fascinating and stunningly illustrated story of Leonora Carrington, a girl who made art out of her imagination and created some of the most enigmatic and startling works of the last eighty years.

Read my review.

Through the Window: Views of Marc Chagall’s Life and Art

Author: Barb Rosenstock

Illustrator: Mary Grandpré

Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, modern art, refugee, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A gorgeous, expressive picture-book biography of Marc Chagall by the Caldecott Honor team behind The Noisy Paint Box.

Through the window, the student sees . . .
His future–butcher, baker, blacksmith, but turns away.
A classmate sketching a face from a book. His mind blossoms.
The power of pictures. He draws and erases, dreams in color while Papa worries.
A folder of pages laid on an art teacher’s desk. Mama asks, Does this boy have talent?
Pursed lips, a shrug, then a nod, and a new artist is welcomed. 
His brave heart flying through the streets, on a journey unknowable.

Known for both his paintings and stained-glass windows, Marc Chagall rose from humble beginnings to become one of the world’s most renowned artists. Admired for his use of color and the powerful emotion in his work, Chagall led a career that spanned decades and continents, and he never stopped growing. This lyrical narrative shows readers, through many different windows, the pre-WWI childhood and wartime experiences that shaped Chagall’s path.

From the same team behind the Caldecott Honor Book The Noisy Paint Box, which was about the artist Kandinksy, Through the Window is a stunning book that, through Chagall’s life and work, demonstrates how art has the power to be revolutionary.

Read my review.

I paired these books because both feature artists who defied familial and societal expectations to fulfill their dreams of creating gorgeous art. They also both left their homelands to achieve artistic success. And while readers may be more familiar with the work of Marc Chagall, Leonora Carrington was a gifted artist whose work remains popular today.

Looking for similar reads?

See, Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky (Rosenstock/GrandPré, 2017), The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art (Rosenstock/GrandPré, 2014).

PPBF – Out of this World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington

When I read a recent article about the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book and realized that she, like so many other artists, fled Europe and the Nazis during World War II, I knew that I had to find, and review, this new picture book biography.

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Title: Out of this World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington

Written By: Michelle Markel

Illustrated By: Amanda Hall

Publisher/Date: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: biography, female artist, surrealism, refugee

Opening:

Leonora’s parents wanted her to be like every other well-bred English girl.

But she was not.

At the age of four, Leonora started scribbling on the walls, then on paper, and soon the pictures came flooding out….

Brief Synopsis: The biography of Leonora Carrington, an English artist who created colorful, fantasy-filled art featuring strong females.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about surrealism and try creating your own surrealistic artwork;
  • Carrington’s art features strong females. Think of a woman that you consider strong (either someone you know or someone you’ve learned about, like a politician, actor or artist). Use your imagination to think of some objects that remind you of that woman. Draw a picture combining that female and these objects.

Why I Like this Book:

Out of this World combines beautiful text and gorgeous illustrations to tell the life of an artist who defied societal norms to follow her imagination. Markel shares that Leonora found inspiration in nature, in the legends told by her Irish grandmother, and in fantastic tales. Leonora drew from a young age, even scribbling on walls at age 4, and kept drawing, letting her imagination spill forth, throughout her life.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that she was the youngest and only female in a group of Surrealist artists in Paris early in her career. But after fleeing the Nazis and settling in Mexico, she became friends with a fellow female artist, and went on to create fantastic artwork featuring strong females. As Markel concludes, art “was a way to love the universe and understand it.”  It was also a way to share her perception that “women have special gifts; they can do things beyond anybody’s wildest dreams”, which, as Markel notes, “is marvelous, and it’s powerful, and it’s true.” I think young artists and young feminists will be inspired by this biography to follow their imaginations, wherever they may lead.

Hall’s colorful watercolor inks and gouache illustrations are filled with images that evoke those that Leonora herself created. Many are two-page spreads that act as a window into Leonora’s imagination and art.

A Note about Craft:

Markel uses words such as imagination, dreaminess, magic, fantastic, and mystical throughout the text. These terms could also be used to describe the artwork Leonora created. It makes me think that Markel viewed Leonora’s work, jotted down words that came to mind, and then used them to describe her life. Doing so helps the reader understand Leonora’s life and work better, too, and is a technique writers can use, I think, when writing non-fiction.

For an informative recent interview with Hall about the creation of Out of this World including its genesis and the challenges of depicting the life of someone whose artwork is still protected by copyright, see Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating.

Markel and Hall also collaborated on The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers/2012).

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 – a Triple Treat!

It’s a special week! Not just because we celebrate a national holiday on Thursday, fire crackers and all, and not just because my music-loving son celebrates a birthday, but because for the first and maybe only time, I’m “pairing” three picture books! Strike up the band – you’re in for a triple treat!

 

God Bless America: The Story of an Immigrant Named Irving Berlin

Author: Adah Nuchi

Illustrator: Rob Polivka

Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, composer, refugee, immigrant, patriotism, music, singing, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

An inspiring portrait of an immigrant and the gift he gave his new home.
Persecuted as Jews, Izzy Baline and his family emigrated from Russia to New York, where he fell in love with his new country. He heard music everywhere and was full to bursting with his own. Izzy’s thump-two-three, ting-a-ling, whee tunes soon brought him acclaim as the sought-after songwriter Irving Berlin. He ignited the imaginations of fellow countrymen and women with his Broadway and Hollywood numbers, crafting tunes that have become classics we still sing today.
But when darker times came and the nation went to war, it was time for Irving to compose a new kind of song:
boom-rah-rah song.
A big brass belter.
A loud heart-melter.
A song for America.
And so “God Bless America” was born, the heart swelling standard that Americans have returned to again and again after its 1918 composition.
This is the tale of how a former refugee gave America one of its most celebrated patriotic songs. With stirring, rhythmic text by Adah Nuchi and delightful, energetic art by Rob Polivka, readers will be ready to hum along to this exuberant picturebook.

Read a review in The Jewish Book Council.

Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing

Author: Nancy Churnin

Illustrator: James Rey Sanchez

Publisher/Date: Creston Books/2018

Ages: 7-12

Themes: biography, composer, refugee, immigrant, patriotism, music, singing, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Irving Berlin came to the United States as a refugee from Tsarist Russia, escaping a pogrom that destroyed his village. Growing up on the streets of the lower East Side, the rhythms of jazz and blues inspired his own song-writing career. Starting with his first big hit, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” Berlin created the soundtrack for American life with his catchy tunes and irresistible lyrics. With “God Bless America,” he sang his thanks to the country which had given him a home and a chance to express his creative vision.

Read my review.

Write On, Irving Berlin!

Author: Leslie Kimmelman

Illustrator: David C. Gardner

Publisher/Date: Sleeping Bear Press/2018

Ages: 6-9

Themes: biography, composer, immigrant, patriotism, music, singing, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

2019 Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Younger Readers 2018 Eureka! California Reading Association Honor Book Award
Escaping persecution for being Jewish, the Baline family fled Russia and arrived by ship in New York City harbor in September 1893. Little Israel Isidore Baline is only five years old. After arriving at Ellis Island, the first stop for all immigrants, Israel and his family are ready to begin a new life in America. His family settles in the Lower East Side and soon Israel (now nicknamed Izzy) starts school. And while he learns English, he is not a very good student. According to his teachers he daydreams and sings in class. But while these may not be traits that are helpful in the classroom, these are wonderful tools for a budding singer and composer. And by the time that Izzy (now known as Irving) is a young man, he is well on his way to becoming one of the most well-known composers in America. This vivid picture-book biography examines the life of Irving Berlin, the distinguished artist whose songs, including “God Bless America,” continue to be popular today.

Read a review in The Jewish Book Council.

I “paired” these books because they recount the life and music of the composer of “God Bless America”. Although all are “cradle-to-grave” biographies, and although they feature the iconic Berlin song, I loved reading the three together, as I appreciated the various nuances: Nuchi utilizes onomatopoeia to achieve musicality in the text; Churnin begins her exploration as Berlin and his family are sailing away from Russia and towards America and references Berlin’s inclusion of Jewish prayer in the melody; and Kimmelman, who also introduces the tragic scene in Russia at the outset, repeats the phrase, “God bless America” throughout the text.

And while the reason for three picture book biographies published virtually simultaneously may be the 100th anniversary of Berlin’s composition, I think it’s important to consider other aspects of Berlin’s life that resonate today, such as his status as refugee and immigrant and the important role his Jewish faith played in life and music.

I am indebted to Maria Marshall, who reviews picture books and interviews authors and illustrators at The Picture Book Buzz, for alerting me to the existence of these three biographies and for her fabulous interview with the three authors. See a wonderful review of these books by Marjorie Ingall in The Tablet.

PPBF – Through the Window: Views of Marc Chagall’s Life and Art

Yesterday was World Refugee Day. This week, Refugee Week is celebrated in many parts of the world. When we think of refugees, we don’t often remember that famous artists, like Irving Berlin, the subject of my review last week, and the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book, were refugees, too. Thankfully, both found refuge when they needed it.

Title: Through the Window: Views of Marc Chagall’s Life and Art

Written By: Barb Rosenstock

Illustrated By: Mary GrandPré

Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: modern art, refugee, biography, Judaism

Opening:

Through the window, the boy sees…Papa, trudging home from work, wool coat shiny with the salt of fish. Mama, sprinkling today’s gossip like bits of sugar from her shop next door.

Brief Synopsis: The biography of the modern artist, Marc Chagall, a young boy who observed life outside his window in Russia, dreamt of color, fled to Paris and then New York, and created paintings, sculptures and stained glass.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

In lyrical language that mimics the rhythms of Chagall’s autobiography, Rosenstock recounts this artist’s life from boyhood to his last artistic undertakings. In text that summons up several of Chagall’s masterpieces, Rosenstock asks readers to notice what Chagall, as boy, student, misfit, painter, revolutionary, and master, saw and created. I love how Rosenstock draws our attention to the illustrations and to Chagall’s dreams that became his artistic creations.

I also appreciate how Rosenstock recounts where and why Chagall moved, without letting that overwhelm the focus on his artistry. We learn that Chagall fled Russia to escape anti-Semitism and the “glittering city” of St. Petersburg, filled with many poor people who were ignored; that he grew disillusioned with the authoritarian Soviet government, and fled once again to Paris; and that he sought refuge in America when “war stomps across France.”  Had America not accorded Chagall refugee status, this Jewish artist may not have survived the Holocaust.

We also learn that Chagall did not begin creating the stained glass windows for which he is so famous until after these experiences, when he was older (in the Author’s Note, we learn that Chagall was 70 when he designed his first original window). I appreciate Rosenstock’s focus on Chagall’s “second career”, as I think it shows readers that talent doesn’t end when someone reaches a certain age, and that it’s never too late to try new pursuits.

GrandPré’s rich acrylic on board illustrations utilize Chagall’s rich palette and further the reader’s immersion into his life and work.

A Note about Craft:

Rosenstock uses a window motif to organize Chagall’s life by age, location and work. She repeats “[t]hrough the window” seven times, each time showing the reader what Chagall sees. I think this is a wonderful way to provide repetition in the text and tie different stages of Chagall’s life together, especially since, as Rosenstock shares in an Author’s Note, Chagall “was fascinated by views glimpsed through windows” from an early age and created art featuring windows. In a twist at the end, though, Rosenstock notes, “Through Marc’s windows, we see…”, and then proceeds to describe components of  Chagall’s stained glass windows. I love how this draws the reader into the story and invites us to discover what we can see.

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 Stone Lions on the Move

When I recently reviewed Renato and the Lion, I started thinking about other picture books featuring lions who came to life. Surprisingly, there are a few of them. Perhaps there’s some truth to these stories after all!

 

Renato and the Lion 

Author & Illustrator: Barbara DiLorenzo

Publisher/Date: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group/2017

Ages: 5-7

Themes: lion sculpture, war, art, national treasures, refugee, imagination, intergenerational story

Short Synopsis (from the publisher’s website):

The touching, magical story of a boy in a war-torn country and the stone lion that rescues him. 
Renato loves his home in Florence, Italy. He loves playing with his friends in the Piazza della Signoria. He loves walking home by the beautiful buildings and fountains with his father in the evenings. And he especially loves the stone lion who seems to smile at him from a pedestal in the piazza. The lion makes him feel safe.
But one day his father tells him that their family must leave. Their country is at war, and they will be safer in America. Renato can only think of his lion. Who will keep him safe?
With luminous watercolor paintings, Barbara DiLorenzo captures the beauty of Florence in this heartwarming and ultimately magical picture book.

Read my review.

The Stone Lion

Author: Margaret Wild

Illustrator: Ritva Voutila

Publisher/Date: Little Hare Books, an imprint of Hardie Grant Egmont/2014

Ages: 3-5

Themes: lion sculpture, homelessness, imagination, empathy

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Sometimes statues are granted a chance to become warm, breathing creatures. The stone lion has only one dream – to run, pounce and leap in the park across from where he sits. But one snowy night, when a baby is abandoned at his paws, he is compelled to think differently.

Read a review at Gathering Books.

I paired these books because both deal with difficult subjects and include a lion sculpture that comes alive. In Renato and the Lion, Renato’s beloved marble lion transports him through occupied Florence, Italy, during World War II, as Renato and his father try to protect treasured art from the Nazis and war. Told from the perspective of the lion, The Stone Lion recounts how a lion sculpture learns to feel and empathize with two homeless children and uses its one opportunity to come alive to save them. In both books, I think, the magic of sculptures coming alive softens the difficult subject matter and makes it more accessible to children.

Looking for similar reads?

See The Night Library by David Zeltser/Raul Colón (Random House/2019) and Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude by Josh Funk/Stevie Lewis (Henry Holt & Co./2018).

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Renato and the Lion

I’ve had today’s Perfect Picture Book on my “to review” shelf for a while. Hearing the news about Notre Dame Cathedral made me think of it, and review it today.

Title: Renato and the Lion

Written & Illustrated By: Barbara DiLorenzo

Publisher/Date: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group/2017

Suitable for Ages: 5-7

Themes/Topics: war; art; national treasures; refugee; imagination; intergenerational story

Opening:

Renato loved his home in Florence, Italy. He loved the people there. And the food there. But he especially loved the art there. It was everywhere.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy worries about the fate of a stone lion in his hometown of Florence, Italy, as the Nazis invade during World War II, and he and his family must flee to America.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the coloring pages with background information about Renato and the Lion;
  • Visit a museum or sculpture garden;
  • Create your own sculpture.

Why I Like this Book:

In Renato and the Lion, DiLorenzo tells a gentle story that deals with difficult topics in a child-friendly way. Set in Florence, Italy during World War II, the story features young Renato and the stone lion sculpture in the Piazza della Signoria that he loves. Although readers see soldiers patrolling the streets and although Renato’s father vocalizes his fears, the focus is on Renato, his love for the lion, and the steps he, and his father, take to protect the lion from harm.

Including a glimpse into the many Renaissance treasures of Florence, a dream-like, magical journey through Florence at night, young Renato’s journey to America as a war refugee, and his journey back to Florence years later, Renato and the Lion touches on many themes that will appeal to children. These themes also make it a valuable addition to art and social studies curricula.

DiLorenzo’s soft, watercolor illustrations bring Florence and Renato’s story to life, and further the feeling of love and hope that run through the story.

A Note about Craft:

At its heart, Renato and the Lion is the story of a relationship between a boy and his beloved sculpture. But there are so many layers to this story! Readers discover Florentine artwork and learn about sculpture restoration. We learn how Italians protected precious art during World War II. We experience the fear and dread of leaving one’s home and venturing to a large, new city. We also accompany Renato and his granddaughter back to Florence decades later and are left with a feeling of hope that all ends well. These layers not only add up to a well-told story, but they help make a central problem of the story, war, more child friendly.

In an Author’s Note, DiLorenzo recounts the backstory that includes a family trip to Florence and a documentary about protecting artistic treasures during World War II. What inspires your stories?

Visit DiLorenzo’s website to see more of her award-winning artwork.

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!