Tag Archives: social justice

PPBF – Malala’s Magic Pencil

When I first read the title and saw the jacket of today’s Perfect Picture Book, I couldn’t help but think back to my days at university in upstate New York. As I traveled back and forth to campus, I’d pass many dilapidated, rural houses. I recall thinking that if I could paint these houses, I’d somehow improve the lives of the inhabitants.

While I know that a coat of paint isn’t the answer to economic inequality or other social ills, I also understand the desire to magically make the world better, expressed so well in today’s Perfect Picture Book.

thTitle: Malala’s Magic Pencil

Written By: Malala Yousafzai

Illustrated By: Karascoët

Publisher/date: Little Brown and Company/October 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: female education; Pakistan; dreams; autobiography; social justice

Opening:

Do you believe in magic?

Brief Synopsis: The story of Malala Yousafzai, a proponent and symbol of female education.

Links to Resources:

  • If you had a magic pencil what would you draw?
  • Learn more about Pakistan, the country where Malala dreamt of a magic pencil, here and here, and see a map of Pakistan here.

Why I Like this Book:

As the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala is a well-recognized young woman. Most of us probably know the story of the attack that led to her global fame, too. Malala’s Magic Pencil focuses, instead, mainly on her early years, when she was a young child like many others, focused solely on her own desires.

We meet a young Malala who discovered the idea of a magic pencil from a favorite television hero. She writes not that she wanted to change the world with her magic pencil, but rather she wanted to draw a lock on a door “so my brothers couldn’t bother me.” Even her first recognition of societal problems, a trash dump near her home, is expressed as a desire to get rid of an odor that bothers her.

We then learn that as she grows, Malala increasingly becomes aware of social inequities. Her use of the magic pencil evolves to include erasing “war, poverty, and hunger,” until, as she writes in a letter to readers at the end of the story, “when you find your voice, every pencil can be magic.” Shared by such a young woman who was a child so recently, I think this is a message that will resonate with young listeners. Despite some dark scenes, this is a gentle lesson for children that their voices and actions can help change the world for the better.

The ink and watercolor illustrations are stunning! Golden accents that reminded me of henna markings or South Asian artwork effectively conveyed me to Pakistan and the “beautiful Swat Valley” of Malala’s childhood.

A Note about Craft:

Malala’s Magic Pencil is an autobiography, told from the first-person point of view. I think this works well for this story, as it is Malala’s story and imparts a sense of immediacy to the action.

Malala also addresses the reader directly at the beginning of the story, “Do you believe in magic?”, poses a variant of the question at the end, and then answers it. Observant readers will note that the meaning of “magic” changes subtly during the course of the story. I think this could be an interesting classroom or family discussion topic, especially with older children.

Finally, rather than focusing on the theme of the book at the outset, Malala gently guides her readers to the conclusion that using words, your voice, to effect social action is magical. What object could you use in a story to introduce your themes?

Read more about Malala and the Malala Fund. For another picture book about Malala, see Malala/Iqbal: Two Stories of Bravery (Jeanette Winter; Beach Lane Books/2014)

Find out more about the illustrator team, Kerascoët.

For a picture book with a similar message of the power of changing the world via words and/or pictures, see When I Coloured in the World (Ahmadreza Hamadi/Ehsan Abdollahi; Tiny Owl Publishing/2017).

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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 – Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad

I had the pleasure this past March of visiting Cuba, the setting of much of today’s perfect picture book. To prepare for that journey, I read several of the Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle’s historical novels in verse about that lovely island. It was through Margarita’s work that I first learned about José Martí. I also had the pleasure of meeting both today’s debut author, Emma Otheguy, and her agent, Adriana Domíngez, at the recent New Jersey SCBWI conference and seeing a copy of the book there. To say that I’ve been eagerly awaiting its release is an understatement! Without further ado:

9780892393756_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad

Written By: Emma Otheguy

Illustrated By: Beatriz Vidal

Text Translated By: Adriana Domínguez

Publisher/date: Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books Inc/July 2017

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes/Topics: Cuba, biography, poetry, freedom, nature, social justice, bilingual book, #WNDB, #OwnVoices, #debutPB

Opening: 

When José was a young boy,

his father took him to the countryside,

where he listened to the crickets chirp

and the roosters crow.

José bowed to the palmas reales,

the grand royal palms that shaded the path

where he rode his horse.

He chased the river

as it swelled with the rains

and rushed on to the saltwater sea.

José fell in love with his home island, Cuba.

Brief Synopsis: José Martí, a 19th century Cuban poet, writer and political activist, loved nature and fought for the abolishment of slavery and freedom from Spanish rule during his lifetime in Cuba and New York City.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover Cuba, the country of Martí’s birth and death;
  • Martí traveled to the Catskill Mountain region of New York State. Find out more about this forested, natural area near New York City.
  • Take a walk in the woods and write about what you experience and feel.
  • What issue are you passionate or upset about? Think about some ways you could help solve the issue or encourage others to help you bring about change.
  • Write a poem in the style of Martí’s Versos sencillos, his most-famous poem, using Lee & Low’s Activity Guide.
  • An Afterword, Author’s Note, further Excerpts from the Versos sencillos, and a Selected Bibliography accompany the text.

Why I Like this Book:

Debut picture book author Emma Otheguy has written an enlightening biography of a Spanish-language poet that showcases the power of words to bring about positive social change. I especially appreciate that Otheguy highlights Martí’s learning process, how he saw, and abhorred, the treatment of slaves during his Cuban childhood, and how he then went on to fight the Spanish colonial rule that supported slavery.

I also loved learning how the emancipation of slaves during the American Civil War helped shape young Martí’s beliefs and how experiences he had in New York influenced his later writing. I believe that learning from others’ experiences is an important lesson for children, whether it’s learning how to solve an individual problem or how to solve one that affects an entire country or people. That Martí found inspiration in the American fight for emancipation and solace in a natural setting so far from his country of birth are, to me, reasons why cultural interactions are important and why a country that prides itself on its democratic traditions should continue to be welcoming to those who travel here.

While I regrettably am not bilingual, I appreciate that Otheguy has made Martí’s words accessible to those who otherwise couldn’t read them, that Domínguez has translated the English text into Martí’s native tongue, and that Lee & Low has combined the texts in one picture book. To do so, the editors present the lyrical text in verse side by side on the left-side page, with the folk-art illustrations appearing as full-page spreads on the right side. I think this works well for this biography, as the illustrations appear as historic paintings, like one would find in a museum. Two small illustrations, often snippets of nature, appear on each page with text as well, and help carry through the theme of nature as freedom.

spread_3

From Lee & Low’s website

A Note about Craft:

Otheguy writes lyrical free verse text and verses from Martí’s Versos sencillos appear as separate text following her words. By doing so, she has allowed Martí to tell parts of his story in his own words. Otheguy also shows the reader in the first lines what was important to Martí, nature, equality and the freedom exemplified by the swaying of the palms, and carries these themes through the book.

Martí’s Song for Freedom received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. It is a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Visit Emma Otheguy’s website here.

View more of Betriz Vidal’s work here.

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Why Am I Here?

I found today’s Perfect Picture Book at my local library. Regular readers know that all of the books I’ve reviewed this year have involved refugees, people and stories from areas affected by the US travel ban, and migrants, especially from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Today’s Perfect Picture Book doesn’t exactly fit within these parameters. It is, however, a book first published outside the US. I also think it promotes so much empathy for refugees and migrants that it almost is a book about them. I hope you agree!

9780802854773_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Why Am I Here?

Written By: Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen

Illustrated By: Akin Duzakin

Translated By: Becky Crook

Publisher/date: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers/2016 (first published by Magikon in Norwegian/2014)

Suitable for Ages: 5-9 (or older)

Themes/Topics: empathy, compassion, imagination, philosophy, social justice

Opening:

I wonder why I am here, in this exact place.

Brief Synopsis: A young child journeys to many places, asking what it would be like to live as s/he sees others living.

Links to Resources:

  • Become Globe Smart, and learn about life in other areas of the world;
  • Draw a picture of a person or place that you have visited.

Why I Like this Book:

Why Am I Here? is a book that begs to be read, and reread. Many of us have a child who has asked questions non-stop, who has stumped us time and time again with one three-letter word: WHY. While I think of the “why” stage for younger children more than for the school-aged kids for whom this book is written, curious children, and adults, never stop wondering.

Rather than wondering just about the natural world, Why Am I Here? invites us to consider differences in time, place, and social circumstance. In one poignant spread, the narrator asks what it would be like to live in a large city, alone, “on the street or under a bridge.” Similarly, the narrator wonders what it would be like to leave home as a refugee, to survive a natural disaster and be without food or water, or to labor as children do in other places in the world.

This is an introspective book, sensitive and thought-provoking. But while many of the places and peoples visited are suffering, the overall tenor is positive and hopeful, in large part, most likely, due to the dreamy, peaceful watercolor illustrations that help soften the reality of the words.

HEJH-Øy_båt.R-210x210

Interior spread, reprinted from Duzakin’s website

HEJH-By.R.W_edited-1-210x210

Interior spread, reprinted from Duzakin’s website

A Note about Craft:

Why Am I Here? has an other-world feel to it, in part, I think, because the “I” in the story is alone and identified by neither name nor gender. I think this helps readers identify better with the narrator and imagine themselves in his or her situation.

In Reading Picture Books with Children, Megan Dowd Lambert invites readers to contemplate the Whole Book when sharing picture books with children. In Why Am I Here? the text appears solely on the left side and the illustrations, looking like landscape paintings, appear on the right side of the gutter. This invites the reader, I believe, to think about the words before seeing what the words imply. For an introspective book, when author, illustrator and editor want the reader to contemplate the text, I think this is a wonderful technique that adds to the reading experience.

Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen is a Norwegian freelance jouralist and children’s author.

Akin Duzakin is a Turkish illustrator living since 1987 in Norway.

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!