Tag Archives: Storytelling

PPBF – Dreamers

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of today’s Perfect Picture Book. When I learned that the book launch was occurring this past Tuesday evening at Books of Wonder in NYC, a favorite indie children’s book store not far from my home, I just had to attend. IMG_1480While I can’t begin to capture the evening’s excitement in this post, I hope my review will encourage you to read today’s Perfect Picture Book, share it with others, and share your own story, too.

dreamers-book-des1-final-253x300Title: Dreamers

Written & Illustrated By: Yuyi Morales

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books (Holiday House Publishing, Inc.)/September 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigration; storytelling; libraries; books; hope

Opening:

I dreamed of you, then you appeared. Together we became Amor Love Amor. Resplendent life, you and I.

Brief Synopsis: A baby and his mother immigrate to the United States from Mexico, and at the local libraries, they learn a new language and find home and hope in a world of books.

Links to Resources:

  • If you were moving or traveling to a new city or country, what gifts would you bring with you?
  • Share a favorite book with a friend. Note that Morales shares a list of books that inspired her in the back matter;
  • Find more activities in the Dreamers’ Event Kit, including tips to tell your own story;
  • Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins on September 15th, with these Teacher Resources.

Why I Like this Book:

In sparse, lyrical prose and stunning mixed-media illustrations, Morales captures the hopes and fears of new immigrants to the United States. I love how Morales relates just a few details of the journey, including one gorgeous spread showing the young mother and her child crossing “a bridge outstretched like the universe” which holds such metaphorical meaning. I also love how the pair discover a world of knowledge within the library. I think this will resonate with kids – even those who aren’t newcomers or non-English speakers. As the pair note:

Books became our language.

Books became our home.

Books became our lives.

Morales’ vibrant, mixed-media illustrations bring heart and life to her words. In an afterword, she explains her process, lists some of the personal items that she photographed and scanned in, and even indicates that she used a nib pen that once belonged to Maurice Sendak to draw some of the artwork. Morales includes so many details – kids and adults will want to pour over the illustrations again and again (hint: look for favorite kids’ books, monarch butterflies, and other items repeated through many spreads).

A Note about Craft:

Morales utilizes first-person Point of View that brings an immediacy and intimacy to the story. Although the “you” of the text refers to her infant son, the inclusion of “you” made me feel as if I were journeying with the pair. As the story progresses, Morales often uses “we” to include her child as narrator, to help, I think, kids view Dreamers as not just a mother’s story but also her child’s story.

In her presentation, Morales shared her belief that we all bring gifts when we travel or move. Before reading Dreamers aloud to the audience, she shared a bag of surprises that held items she had enjoyed as a child in Mexico, and which she had brought as gifts to the US. This visual representation of gifts and talents resonated with me, and, I think, will encourage kids, especially newcomers, to realize that they have gifts and skills they can share.

Morales is an #OwnVoices author. In her presentation, she encouraged everyone to tell their stories, and reminded us that all authors and immigrants should be sharing their stories. And we are all immigrants.

Interestingly, Morales shared that she hesitated to tell her story, but that she did so in an attempt to “take our humanity back”, to show what immigrants bring, what they give, to their new homelands. At the encouragement of Neal Porter and her agent, Morales created Dreamers. Read Porter’s Editor’s Letter for more insights.

Dreamers is a journey story, complete with an actual bridge, that functions as a metaphor for entering a new life/new world, and a “surprising”, “unbelievable” place, the library. By making these spaces seem other-worldly, I think Morales highlights the importance of these locations and events to her journey and life.

As an illustrator/author, Morales understandably tells much of the story in the illustrations. I especially appreciate how she brings humor to the story through illustrations, such as in a favorite scene showing the young mother bathing her son in a public fountain with the simple text “we made lots of mistakes.”

Dreamers has received many starred reviews, and it’s the September book pick of Margarita Engle, Young People’s Poet Laureate. Dreamers is also available in Spanish as Soñadores. View a video of Morales discussing Dreamers and visit her website to see more of her work. Last month, I reviewed Sand Sister, a picture book Morales illustrated.

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 Storyteller

I happened upon The Storyteller on its book birthday, while seeking another picture book at a local bookstore. The bright blue cover with golden illustrations immediately grabbed my attention, as did its title. As those who read my posts know, I’m a sucker for folktales, especially new, original ones. With its well-crafted story and stunning illustrations, this one is an especially wonderful example of the genre, making it a Perfect Picture Book.

9781481435185_p0_v1_s192x300Title: The Storyteller

Written & Illustrated By: Evan Turk

Publisher/date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 and older

Themes/Topics: folktale, storytelling, Morocco, water, the power of words

Opening: “Long, long ago, like a pearl around a grain of sand, the fertile Kingdom of Morocco formed near the edge of the great, dry Sahara. It had fountains of cool, delicious water to quench the dangerous thirst of the desert, and storytellers to bring the people together.”

Brief Synopsis: A young boy seeks water in a drought-stricken Moroccan village. An elderly storyteller tells him a tale, quenches his thirst and empowers him to exert the power of his stories, too.

Links to Resources:

  • Ask a relative to tell a story about his or her childhood, the family, or your hometown
  • Try telling a story to your family, friends, or even a pet
  • Try different watercolor techniques and projects
  • Read a story about a place you’ve visited, or would like to visit

Why I Like this Book:

Both the words and the artwork of The Storyteller are intricate and invite multiple readings. Stories appear within stories, woven together through multi-layered artwork. The message of this folktale – that the power of traditional stories and the oral tradition of passing them on is, like water, necessary to sustain the individual spirit and the community – is an important reminder to preserve traditions and local culture in this internet-saturated era.

Turk’s semi-abstract, mixed-media illustrations featuring browns, for the encroaching desert, and blues, for the life-giving water, both enhance and further the tale. I especially appreciate that he learned an indigo/tea painting technique in Morocco and utilizes it to great effect. 9781481435185_p3_v4_s192x300

A Note about Craft:

When I read in a Publisher’s Weekly interview Turk’s explanation of the origins of The Storyteller, I was reminded of advice new authors and author/illustrators often hear: write what you know; write what you’re passionate about; and ideas can be anywhere.

As for idea generation, Turk’s initial exposure to the arts of Morocco occurred at the Morocco country area at Epcot Center in Walt Disney World. Following this introduction, he travelled to Morocco, where he learned about the storyteller tradition and delved further into the artistic techniques he utilizes in The Storyteller.

Had Turk, a Colorado native and current New Yorker, stuck to what he knew, this story could not have been written and illustrated, at least not by him. Instead, he followed the passion stirred by his first exposure to Moroccan arts. The result is an original folktale that is sure to stand the test of time. Incidentally, it far exceeds the low word-count prevalent in so many current picture books. At 48 pages, The Storyteller exceeds the typical 32-page norm as well. Thankfully, both Turk and Atheneum bucked the trends.

The Storyteller is Evan Turk’s debut picture book as author/illustrator. Based on the many starred reviews, this will not be the last we read and see from this 2015 Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor recipient.

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Imani’s Music

I happened upon this Perfect Picture Book recently in my local library. Based on the cover and title, I thought it was solely about music. But it is so much more and is a story that will stay with me – I hope you agree.

 

9780689822544_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Imani’s Music
 

Written By: Sheron Williams

 

Illustrated By: Jude Daly

Publisher/date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster, 2002)

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: Slavery, origin myth, music, crickets, ancestors, storytelling

Opening: “Born during the planting season of eighteen nine and aught, my grandfather W.D. was a man of the ‘Used-to-Be’ who resided in the ‘Here-and-Now’ ‘cause time and living life had dragged him there. He was hailed in five counties as a storyteller that could wrestle a tale to the ground. He danced on the path ‘tween the ‘Used-to-Be,’ the ‘Here-and-Now,’ and the ‘What’s-Gon’-Come.’ Shoot, it was folks like him that fed the path and kept it alive.”

Brief Synopsis: The narrator’s grandfather relates the story of Imani, a grasshopper, and how Imani brought music to the world in Africa and across the oceans in a slave ship, to the slaves in America.

Links to Resources: Make music in traditional ways, either by whistling through blades of grass or flutes fashioned from reeds, or drumming on hollowed tree stumps or even pots and pans.

Make and play your own musical instruments.

Tell the story of a journey you or an ancestor has taken. Or ask older relatives about journeys they have taken.

PBS.org has a list of child-friendly books exploring slavery.

Why I Like this Book: This story-within-a-story weaves together two narratives: the experience of enslavement and the origin of music, both told by the narrator’s grandfather, W.D., a master storyteller.

Imani’s Music has a much higher word-count than the norm in picture books today, and the title character, Imani, isn’t even introduced until page 5. But I believe that the addition of a storyteller serves an important purpose: it helps distance the listener from what, arguably, is one of the most difficult topics to explain to young children, slavery. Weaving the story of Imani, a music-loving grasshopper who accompanies his enslaved friend to the new world, into the narrative allows the listener to focus on the beautiful music from Africa that survives and evolves in the new world, bringing hope, solace and a glimmer of goodness into that world.

I’d only recommend this book for older children, despite the distance Sheron Williams builds into the story. Imani, like his friend and fellow captives, is torn from his beloved Africa and family. He bewails the helplessness he feels, unable to provide food or water to so many or even let the folks back home know where their loved ones disappeared. The images of hopeless captives is heart-wrenching, with only a cricket’s sad tunes to console them.

The voices of the young narrator, Grandfather W.D., and the other characters come through so clearly in Imani’s Music. Descriptions such as W.D. “could step over the river of time like it was a rain-puddle pond”, or a “wallop of tune fell on Imani, and the world soaked up the rest like a sponge” drew me into the narrative, as did South African artist Jude Daly’s illustrations. I really felt like I entered another time and place – the “Used-to-Be”.

 

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 – Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation

I couldn’t think of a better Picture Book to celebrate multiculturalism than one written by a Haitian-born author, written about a Haitian-American family, that highlights a contemporary problem of huge importance. That it’s so beautifully written and illustrated makes this truly a perfect Picture Book!

9780525428091_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation
Written By: Edwidge Danticat

Illustrated By: Leslie Staub

Penguin Young Readers Group, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: Immigration; separation; storytelling; Haiti; advocacy

Opening: “When Mama first goes away, what I miss most is the sound of her voice.”

Brief Synopsis: When Mama is arrested and held in a women’s correctional facility because she lacks the correct immigration papers, young Saya misses her terribly. Mama records stories from her native Haiti for Saya while Papa writes letters to politicians and the media without success. Saya also writes a story that Papa sends to the local media, and that leads, ultimately, to the resolution of the problem.

Links to Resources: We all know that children love to share stories! Mama’s Nightingale is a perfect introduction to the power of our stories and could serve as a jumping off point for sharing stories in a group, such as where we or a relative come from, writing stories (for older children) and/or exploring the impact our stories may have by identifying, researching and writing to advocate for a desired outcome (definitely for older children!).

The imagery of Mama’s Nightingale can also be explored: Birds such as the Nightingale and the arts and culture of Haiti.

Finally, there are 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.

Why I Like this Book: Mama’s Nightingale combines several themes: the parent-child bond; bird and rainbow imagery; separation; the power of words and stories. With few picture books available on the topic of contemporary immigration, it also is very timely. Of Haitian descent, Edwidge Danticat captures the Creole spirit, including interspersing Creole words into the English text. She understands the difficulty of separation, as she herself remained as a child in Haiti while her parents worked in the US. She also understands and celebrates the power of words and stories: the Haitian folktales that Mama records for Saya and that tie the two together as well as the words that Saya writes that lead to the book’s resolution. The gorgeous illustrations amplify the story and further celebrate the Haitian spirit.

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!