Tag Archives: self-expression

PPBF – Anya’s Secret Society

I saw today’s Perfect Picture Book featured in a list of new picture books and immediately was drawn in by the title and description. I think you’ll enjoy this one, too.

Title: Anya’s Secret Society

Written & Illustrated By: Yevgenia Nayberg

Publisher/Date: Charlesbridge/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: left-handed; feeling different; conformity; Soviet Union; art; self-expression; imagination

Opening:

Anya was born in Russia, in the middle of winter.

Brief Synopsis: Left-handed Anya loved to draw, but conformity in the Soviet Union meant that she could use only her right hand for all tasks. Although she learned to perform other tasks with her right hand, she drew in secret at night with a society of great artists of the past.

Links to Resources:

  • Try drawing with the hand you don’t usually use to draw;
  • Learn more about the famous artists who were part of Anya’s Secret Society: Leonardo da Vinci , Rembrandt , and Michelangelo , who could create with both hands.

Why I Like this Book:

Using a very concrete example that I think even young kids will understand, Nayberg explores a universal issue: feeling different. Left-handed children who have tried to play sports or create art with their right hands will immediately understand Anya’s frustration. I think those of us who are right-handed will empathize with Anya, too, as all of us, I believe, have some trait that makes us feel different from others.

In Anya’s case, she hid the difference, conformed to rules, but maintained her unique left-handed drawing abilities in secret. As Nayberg notes, “The right hand took care of the world around Anya. The left hand took care of the world inside Anya.”

I think older kids will understand Anya’s desire to conform, to hide the difference, while at the same time creating an inner, secret world where her talent could flourish. This story also explores life in repressive societies, the need to fight conformity and oppression, and the relief felt by those, like Anya, who find freedom in a new society.

Nayberg accompanies her text with colorful, surrealistic, acrylic on illustration board and digital collage illustrations. I particularly enjoyed comparing the depictions of Russian and American society and viewing the wonderous animals that Anya imagined and that “her left hand could draw”.

A Note about Craft:

Anya’s Secret Society is based on Nayberg’s own experiences as a left-handed artist growing up in the former Soviet Union. Rather than writing an autobiographical picture book, Nayberg creates a character, Anya, with whom children may more readily identify. She also focuses on one aspect of her experience, hiding her left-handedness, to explore the universal feeling of being different and the desire to hide that difference. Are there times in your past or features that make you feel different than others? Could these be the particulars to help you explore that universal feeling?

Visit Nayberg’s website to see more of her work, including the illustrations for Martin & Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank (Nancy Churnin, Creston Publishing/2019)

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 Drum

The moon and stars aligned last Saturday, and I was in London for the launch of today’s Perfect Picture Book. What fun to check out New Beacon Books, a north London bookstore that has specialized in African and Caribbean literature since 1966, and participate in the lively book launch, featuring dancing, stomping and clapping.

DWePGqhXkAAIwmU-1024x1005Title: The Drum

Written By: Ken Wilson-Max

Illustrated By: Catell Ronca

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2018

Suitable for Ages: 2-5

Themes/Topics: music; motion; diversity; poetry; self-expression

Opening:

This is the drum

This is the beat

Brief Synopsis: A diverse group of children enjoys moving to the beat of a drum.

Links to Resources:

  • Make a drum;
  • Listen to drum music;
  • Read about a young Cuban girl who wanted to play the drums in Margarita Engle’s Drum Dream Girl – music, especially the beat of drums, really is universal!

Why I Like this Book:

The drum takes center stage in the first in the Children Music Life series of picture books designed to get children moving and feeling the musical beat. With its diverse cast of characters, The Drum presents a lively celebration of how music unites peoples of different races, ethnicities, genders, ages and socioeconomic status.

I think children and adults will enjoy hearing, over and over again (as young children often ask for beloved books), Wilson-Max’s song-like text and following his prompts to move to the music. As I experienced at the book launch, even very young children were quick to repeat his poetic text, word for word, as they followed the prompts to clap hands, stomp feet, shake shoulders, and move their bodies. Best of all, it was clear that the message to “feel the drum in your heart” was heeded. I could easily envision kids, and maybe some adults, leaving the launch, or finishing a reading, and being inspired to beat on whatever drum-like surface they could find or make.

new-beacon-4-150x150

Wilson-Max at the book launch

Ronca’s bright illustrations that seem to jump off the pages are the perfect accompaniment to Wilson-Max’s staccato text. With minimal backgrounds and a mixture of clothing styles, including many fabrics that could be African or Caribbean inspired, the focus is on the smiling faces and moving bodies of the diverse participants. As Ronca stated in a recent interview, “I wanted the colours to communicate life and make the visuals as striking as possible.” I think you’ll agree that she succeeded.

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Scene from The Drum

The Drum is a great addition to home, classroom and nursery school bookshelves, especially for those desiring to build a diverse library or teach listening and basic musical skills.

A Note about Craft:

With its low word count (about 80 words total), Wilson-Max’s staccato, poetic text mimics the beats of a drum and encourages repetition. This suits the subject matter of The Drum well, I believe, and brought to mind Baptiste Paul’s poetic language in The Field that, to my mind, mimicked the back and forth action of a soccer match. In addition, Wilson-Max’s short, rhythmic language is perfect for younger listeners, like those in nursery schools or music appreciation classes. It’s clear that he tailored his words not just to the subject matter but also to the young ages of his target listeners.

Visit Wilson-Max’s about.me site to learn more about him. See more of Ronca’s artwork on her website.

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

While not currently available in US book shops, The Drum is available through the Book Depository, which ships for free to the US and around the world.

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!