Tag Archives: Refugees

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!

PPBF – The Journey

Over the river and through the woods…

‘Tis the season for journeys – whether fighting cross-town traffic to bag bargains, purchase perfect presents, or track down tasty treats, or joining the millions of Americans journeying by plane, train or automobile to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends. It’s also, sadly, a season when migrants, those fleeing violence and/or lack of employment, continue to risk their lives and undertake perilous journeys in hopes of a better life.

This is such a difficult subject for young children and even adults, but I believe we must try to understand it, to picture ourselves in the story, to discuss it with children, which is why I’ve chosen today’s Perfect Picture Book.

9781909263994_p0_v1_s192x300Title: The Journey

Written & Illustrated By: Francesca Sanna

Publisher/date: Flying Eye Book (Nobrow Ltd)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-7 and older

Themes/Topics: refugees, migrants, journey, birds

Opening: “I live with my family in a city close to the sea. Every summer we used to spend many weekends at the beach. But we never go there anymore, because last year, our lives changed forever…”

Brief Synopsis: An unnamed narrator and her family flee from a warn-torn region.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about the refugee experience with materials from Amnesty International and UNHCR;
  • Choose three favorite toys or books that you’d bring on a journey;
  • Discuss journeys you and your family have undertaken;
  • Learn about animal migration.

Why I Like this Book:

The refugee crisis is such a difficult subject, but one that is, sadly, so timely. With a fairy-tale, storybook quality, particularly in the graphic, fantastical illustrations, this “collage” of refugee stories will, hopefully, enable adults to discuss the refugee experience with children and build empathy for those who have made journeys like the one described in The Journey. Spoiler alert: It also ends on a note of hope, of a new story in a new land for the child narrator and her family.

A Note about Craft:

In this debut picture book by author/illustrator Francesca Sanna, she has chosen to not name the Main Character, the place from which the family flees, or the place to which they journey, thus providing an Everyman-type of story. She also weaves references to books, stories, and storytelling throughout the text and illustrations, bolstering a theme that the journey described is just one of many journeys being undertaken. In an Author’s Note, Ms. Sanna shares that the story is a collage of stories learned by interviewing refugees.

Ms. Sanna tells much of the story in illustrations only. Her use of light and darkness and her inclusion of birds and sea creatures that undertake long journeys, as well as scary forest creatures during the border-crossing scenes, act as metaphors of the journeying family and provide a way to help adults discuss the story with children. By ending the story with a reference to, and an illustration of, migrating birds, Ms. Sanna leaves us with an image of safe nests and a sense of hope.

The Journey received starred reviews in Kirkus ReviewsPublishers Weekly, and the School Library Journal. The New York Times Book Review also highlighted The Journey in an article about explaining the refugee crisis to children. To that list, I’d also add Two White Rabbits, which also uses animals as a metaphor for the migrating narrator.

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!

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Two White Rabbits

4cd78f1910As those of you who have read this book already will have guessed, and those who read on will find out, I didn’t choose to review Two White Rabbits today to prolong the Easter festivities (spoiler alert: this review does not contain chocolate) nor because I mistakenly think Easter is in April this year. The two white rabbits have nothing to do with this or any other holiday, although I did choose to publish this review on the eve of International Children’s Book Day. Instead, these rabbits have everything to do with those seeking a life in which celebrations are possible.

 

9781554987412_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Two White Rabbits

Written By: Jairo Buitrago

Illustrated By: Rafael Yockteng

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-7 (per the publisher)

Themes/Topics: Migration, refugees, counting, journey

Opening: “When we travel, I count what I see. Five cows, four hens and one chucho, as my dad calls them.”

Brief Synopsis: Like the two white rabbits of the title, a young girl and her father journey together trying to find a way to, and across, a border.

Links to Resources: The unnamed narrator counts what she sees as she travels. Young listeners can also count what they see, either in the illustrations, in a room, house or garden, or during a journey. The narrator also counts clouds and finds shapes there, another possible activity for a young listener.

As I mentioned in my review of Mama’s Nightingale, there are a few teacher and classroom resources available online to explore immigration: Scholastic’s Immigration Stories: Yesterday and Today, focuses primarily on the Ellis Island experience, but includes oral histories, including child immigrants from more recent eras; TeachersFirst provides fiction lists by topic by age, including immigration–themed picture books.

Groundwood Books made a donation to IBBY to mark the publication of Two White Rabbits. To find out more about this not-for-profit organization that brings books and children together, click here. For a selection of other picture books exploring the theme of Latin American migration, click here.

Finally, for those looking to celebrate International Children’s Book Day, find ideas at Busyteacher.org, or read something by, or about,  Hans Christian Andersen, whose birthday was 2 April 1805.

Why I Like this Book: “Haunting” and “understated” are two words that run through online reviews. I would agree. We never quite know where the young narrator and her father come from, to where they journey, nor even the reason for the journey. We do know they are alone, except for a stuffed rabbit, the coyote (chucho) that joins them early in the story and the two white rabbits, a gift from an unnamed boy. The girl also alludes to the difficulty of the journey, “’Where are we going?’ I ask sometimes, but no one answers.”

Much of the reality of the situation is revealed through the illustrations: a tent city along railroad tracks; people riding atop the trains; soldiers; a toy “train” with soldiers and riders atop the carriages; the two rabbits heading towards a fence – will they be able to find a way through?

The plight of migrants is a topic that many adults don’t understand let alone are able to explain to young children. This is a timely book that could help spur discussion on many levels.

 

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!