Tag Archives: war

PPBF – The Day War Came

As regular readers know, I’ve reviewed many picture books about the refugee experience published in the past few years. For World Refugee Day earlier this week, I posted about some of the picture books I’ve reviewed about the refugee and migrant experience in the Americas. Because in some countries, refugee-focused events span an entire week (see Refugee Week 2018), I couldn’t help but continue the theme and post a newly-published book about a refugee, that is, in my mind, a Perfect Picture Book:

9781406376326Title: The Day War Came

Written By: Nicola Davies

Illustrated By: Rebecca Cobb

Publisher/date: Walker Books/June 2018

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; empathy; social activism; free verse poetry

Opening:

The day war came there were flowers on the window sill and my father sang my baby brother back to sleep.

My mother made my breakfast, kissed my nose and walked with me to school.

Brief Synopsis:

When war arrives in the unnamed narrator’s town, she flees alone, but feels surrounded by war while a refugee, until the kindness of children enables her to experience some peace at last.

Links to Resources:

  • Draw a chair, perhaps like a favorite one from home or school. Does your picture have anyone sitting in the chair? Which do you like better – a picture of an empty chair or one with a friend or relative sitting in it?
  • The children in the narrator’s old and new schools are studying volcanos. Build a volcano;
  • The children in the narrator’s old and new schools draw birds. Why do you think birds are an important part of this story? Draw a favorite bird;
  • Try one or more of the 20 Simple Acts to learn more about refugees or to help them feel welcome in your school or community.

Why I Like this Book:

I don’t just like this book, I love it, as, in my mind, it captures the young refugee experience in its entirety. [Spoiler alert: despite reading many picture books about refugees, I cried when reading this one!]

In sparse, lyrical language, Davies captures a child’s heartbreak of being alone, of utter despair and desolation, not just as disaster strikes and rends life into a before and after, but as the young narrator searches for a new life in an unfamiliar land. Davies ends on a note of hope, not as the narrator arrives in this new country, but only when, at long last, she feels welcome there.

Several recent picture books capture the sense of loss when leaving a beloved homeland, like The Map of Good Memories. Others enable the reader to walk in the footsteps of those in flight, most notably The Journey and Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey. All end with hope of a new life, as in My Beautiful Birds.

What is hauntingly different with The Day War Came, is that the narrator is completely alone in her journey, with no parent, sibling, or even friend to cling to. We meet her as war obliterates her life in an instant: “war took everything, war took everyone.” We journey with her to what should be a safe place where, we’d like to believe, she will start to rebuild her life. Instead, though, she journeys and finds “war was in the way that doors shut when I came down the street.” Finding a school, she yearns to enter, but an unsmiling teacher explains,

There is no room for you, you see. There is no chair for you to sit on.

Linking the narrator’s experiences as war strikes to the hatred she encounters as a refugee will, I believe, cause readers to think how their actions affect refugees who may relocate to their communities and schools. This makes The Day War Came an important and timely book for classroom, church and family discussion.

Cobb’s illustrations are often two-page spreads, and they incorporate many grays depicting war and despair, interspersed with splashes of color. Like Davies’ text, the scenes are not geographically specific, which supports the sense of universality. They also appear, at times, to be drawn by a child, furthering Davies’ storytelling from the narrator’s point of view.9781406376326_INS_3-1024x430

A Note about Craft:

In many ways, war is almost a character in The Day War Came. I think Davies accomplishes this because, except in two instances late in the story, war appears without an article preceding it. Similar to death entering a home in Cry Heart, But Never Break, war accompanies the unnamed narrator on her journey, following her, invading her dreams, taking “possession of my heart.” That the story is told from first-person point of view and as the narrator is unnamed, bringing an “Everyman” feel to it, I think this encourages readers to think: how do my actions perpetuate war and hatred in the world? This hopefully encourages us to take the next step: to counter that hatred.

Davies utilizes several visual symbols that enable Cobb to expand on the story. In her old school, pictures of volcanos line the windows. In the new school, the children also learn about them. When war erupts, the fires in the city mimic volcanic explosions. The children at both schools draw birds – a symbol of flight. And the absence of a chair, like “no room at the inn,” resonates and provides a strong visual reminder of one step even a young child can take to welcome others. Check out the endpapers – a stunningly visual reminder of what one small action can accomplish.

Nicola Davies, an award-winning children’s author, originally published a version of The Day War Came in 2016 as a free verse poem in The Guardian newspaper, in reaction to the British government’s decision to turn 3,000 unaccompanied children away. See Davies’ blog post about writing the poem, publishing it, and the outpouring of illustrations of empty chairs that became the #3000chairs project on Twitter.

See more of Rebecca Cobb’s work here, and read an insightful interview with Cobb about the process of illustrating The Day War Came at Library Mice.

Walker Books is donating one pound from the sale of each book to helprefugees.org.

If you live in the US, The Day War Came is available now via The Book Depository, or Candlewick Press is publishing it in the US in September 2018.

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – The Roses in my Carpets

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is another Canadian import, this one by a prolific Muslim Pakistani-Canadian female author, Rukhsana Khan.

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Title: The Roses in my Carpets

Written By: Rukhsana Khan

Illustrated By: Ronald Himler

Publisher/date: Fitzhenry & Whiteside/2004 (first published by Stoddart Kids/1998)

Suitable for Ages: 6-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; Afghanistan; carpet weaving; resilience

Opening:

It’s always the same. The jets scream overhead. They’ve seen me. I’m running too slowly, dragging my mother and sister behind. The ground is treacherous, pitted with bomb craters. My mother and sister weigh me down. A direct hit. Just as I’m about to die, or sometimes just after, I awake.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy in a refugee camp relives the horrible memories of war in Afghanistan, and lives with the difficulties in the camp, but he dreams of a better life for himself and his family.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Although The Roses in my Carpets deals with serious subjects, war, poverty and life in a refugee camp, the dreams of the young main character left me feeling hopeful that life would improve. Despite losing his father during the war and despite living a bleak hand-to-mouth existence with his mother and sister in a mud hut (he terms washing his face “a useless habit”) supported by the kindness of foreign sponsors, the narrator works hard to learn a craft that he believes will ensure that his “family will never go hungry.” I love the message of resolve and duty to family shown.

I also love that the means to make life better is a traditional art that the narrator uses to cope with the horrors he has experienced. He describes that with his fingers “I create a world the war cannot touch.” He further explains that the colors he uses have “special meaning,” with white being for his father’s shroud, green for life, black for the night sky that hides them from enemies, blue for a sky “free of jets” and red for roses. This usage and symbolism of colors reminded me of When I Coloured in the World, in which the nameless narrator imagines erasing bad things, like war, and coloring in good things, like peace.

Veteran illustrator Himler’s watercolor and pencil drawings bring Khan’s words to life, providing a stark contrast between the dinginess and dirt of the camp and the colorful carpets.

A Note about Craft:

Khan chose first-person POV to tell this story. This helps the reader to experience life in a refugee camp first-hand, something, thankfully, the vast majority of us will never do!

The carpets that the narrator weaves not only are a future means of earning a living but a way to process the horrors of his life and a way to visualize the world he hopes to inhabit. I love how Khan has made one object so central to the meaning of this story, especially as that object is a work of art. I think it’s a useful lesson for authors to find objects to include in their stories that can add meanings on multiple levels, as the carpet does here.

Khan is an #OwnVoices author who was born in Pakistan, the location of the Afghan refugee camp, and moved as a young child to Canada. According to a review from The Toronto Star newspaper reproduced on Khan’s website, the inspiration for the narrator is a foster child whom Khan sponsored.

Visit Rukhsana Khan’s website, where you can learn about The Libraries in Afghanistan Project that she supports and see the Muslim Booklist for kids. Among many other books, Khan is the author of King for a Day, which I reviewed last month.

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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 – Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad

As the cold temperatures and stormy weather continue across the northeastern US, many kids, I’m sure, are busy with indoor activities, including arts and crafts. I believe the joy of creation is universal, even, as in today’s Perfect Picture Book, in times and regions of war.

covers011Title: Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad

Written & Illustrated By: James Rumford

Publisher/date: Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press/2008

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (or older)

Themes/Topics: calligraphy; war; coping mechanisms

Opening:

My name is Ali. I live in Baghdad.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy in Baghdad loves the art of calligraphy and finds solace in the art as war rages across his city.

Links to Resources:

  • Try calligraphy and learn more about this ancient art, including from the Author’s Note;
  • Learn about Iraq, the setting of today’s story;
  • Ali loves to write and when he’s scared, he does it to calm himself. What do you do when you are scared or upset?

Why I Like this Book:

Silent Music provides a window into the arts and everyday life in Baghdad in the early twenty-first century, when much of the country was a war zone. I think older kids, especially, will relate to the main character, Ali, who likes and does the things that so many children enjoy: sports, friends, “parent-rattling music” and dancing. I think they’ll also appreciate the many analogies that Rumford utilizes to explain the art of calligraphy: the ink “dancing to the silent music in my head”; a sentence like a “soccer player in slow motion”; “masts” that become “tangled knots of ink”. And, as in real life, peace is difficult to write. While Ali’s pen “glides down” the letters that form the word for war, he must practice writing peace until, he hopes, the word “flows freely from my pen”.

Rumford is an illustrator/author who has learned the art of calligraphy. The gorgeous artwork in Silent Music is a combination of computer-enhanced pencil and charcoal drawings collaged together and combined with calligraphy, examples of which appear on almost every page. Rumford explains on his website how he generated the illustrations using Photoshop.

Silent-Music-Yasmin

Reprinted from Rumford’s website

I’d not recommend Silent Music for younger children. It is, however, as Rumford intended, a reminder for school-aged kids that art exists, and is a form of solace, even in war-torn regions or regions affected by natural or other human-made disasters.

A Note about Craft:

In his acceptance speech for the Jane Addams Award for Silent Music that is reprinted on his website, Rumford explains how, in 2003, in the midst of the devastation of the Iraq War, he wanted to “write something positive about its culture.” At first, he explains, he desired to write about a 13th century calligrapher who lived and worked in Baghdad as the Mongols invaded. But as he struggled to craft the story, he realized that the story should be set in modern-day Iraq, with a contemporary main character. He also realized, however, how controversial the subject was and wondered whether the story would be published.

As we know now, not only was Silent Music published five years after Rumford conceived the story, but it also was an award winner. For authors and illustrators wanting to tackle difficult subjects in picture books, I think Rumford’s persistence, and Neal Porter’s willingness to publish a picture book set in a war zone, should inspire us to persevere, too.

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 Treasure Box

I was browsing in a favorite bookstore recently, Books of Wonder in New York City, when a very helpful staff member brought today’s perfect picture book to my attention. Although it’s newly published in the US, its original publication date is 2013 in Australia. I love seeing how authors and illustrators from cultures outside the US approach storytelling. Today’s pair incorporates some interesting techniques that I think we all can use when writing and/or illustrating stories:

9780763690847_p0_v2_s192x300Title: The Treasure Box

Written By: Margaret Wild

Illustrated By: Freya Blackwood

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press/2017 (first published in Australia by Penguin/Random House/2013)

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: books, treasure, war, refugees

Opening: When the enemy bombed the library, everything burned.

Brief Synopsis: War rages, and an enemy destroys the library and its books and then orders everyone to leave their homes. Peter and his father flee, taking a treasure box containing one book with them.

Links to Resources:

  • Craft a treasure box out of a shoe box or other recycled carton by covering it with wrapping paper, labeling it or decorating it with precious pictures or “jewels”. What will you put in your box?
  • Think about what one or two things you would keep with you if you were traveling or moving house.
  • Do you have a favorite book? Why is it your favorite? What does it tell us about you?
  • Create a collage of pictures that describes you and/or your family: your interests, history and community.

Why I Like this Book:

The Treasure Box is a haunting but hopeful story about refugees that raises many interesting questions. The reader never learns who the enemy is or where and when the story takes place. In many ways, Peter and his father are like the mother and children fleeing in Francesca Sanna’s The Journey, or Zoe and her family in Fran Nuño’s The Map of Good Memories.: fleeing an enemy, we just don’t know who or when or where.

Unlike refugee stories like The Journey, or Margriet Ruur’s Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, however, The Treasure Box doesn’t end when Peter is in a new country, removed from the war. Rather, after the war ends, a grown-up Peter returns to the city he had fled and even finds and returns the book in the treasure box to the restored library. Ending in this way enables readers and listeners to envision peace after the war. It also places the focus on the item Peter’s father chooses to save: not only does Peter survive but he also saves the one book that illuminates something about the ruined city’s culture or history.

Interestingly, neither the title nor the type of book is mentioned. We learn only that it’s loved by Peter’s father, more precious than jewels, silver or gold, and is “about our people, about us.” Whether it’s a religious text, a secular text or a history of a particular ethnic, cultural, religious or regional group is not revealed.

Blackwood’s soft pencil, watercolor and collage illustrations complement and further the text. In a blog post, Blackwood reveals that she created “each illustration in layers, cut out and stuck one upon the other like a paper diorama.” This multi-layered approach enables Blackwood to utilize book text in many spreads, highlighting the importance of the book in the treasure box and helping readers and listeners remember that the book accompanies Peter and his father on the journey, even when it isn’t otherwise visible.

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Interior Spread reprinted from Blackwood’s website

A Note about Craft:

In contrast to the families portrayed in many of the refugee books I’ve read, Peter flees with his father only; there is no mention of his mother or any other female figure. My guess is that this is a deliberate choice, perhaps due to the nature of the saved book. Peter’s father may be a religious scholar.

I mentioned Blackwood’s collaged artwork and use of printed text above. Snippets of text appear on the front cover, blanket the end papers and appear as background on other spreads. Curious as to where and when this story was taking place, I googled some of the text to determine the language. I discovered that some is Slavic, some Hungarian, and some Spanish. I then read the “fine print” and learned this text is taken from foreign editions of Sonya Hartnett’s The Silver Donkey  (Penguin Australia, 2006), a World War I story that incorporates fables to highlight the importance of stories to culture, and Morris Gleitzman’s Once (Pearson Education, 2007) and Then (Penguin Australia, 2008), stories set in World War II that also highlight the importance of stories to culture. By integrating these texts into The Treasure Box, I believe Blackwood is adding emphasis to Wild’s thesis about the importance of the written word to preserve culture.

What references are you adding to the stories you write or illustrate?  What details can you provide that help contextualize your characters, problem, or solution, or that may set your story within a literary tradition.

See more of Freya Blackwood’s illustrations on her website.

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books 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 – Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

This past Tuesday marked the United Nations’ #WorldRefugeeDay. In many countries, programs to illuminate the plight of refugees are being held this week (19-25 June 2017), and designated #RefugeeWeek. But while the numbers of refugees is at an all-time high, the act of leaving one’s home to escape danger or to discover a better life elsewhere is not new. Today’s Perfect Picture Book puts this current refugee crisis into historical perspective:

9781554518951_p0_v3_s192x300Title: Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

Written By: Mary Beth Leatherdale

Illustrated By: Eleanor Shakespeare

Publisher/date: Annick Press Ltd/2017

Suitable for Ages: 10-12

Themes/Topics: refugees, non-fiction, war, immigration

Opening:

At last, Ruth was free. She breathed a sigh of relief as she walked up the gangplank of the SS St. Louis. After trying to get out of Germany for two years, her family had finally secured passage on a ship headed to Havana, Cuba.

Brief Synopsis: Stormy Seas is a collection of five true stories about young people who fled their homelands by boat from World War II until today.

Links to Resources:

  • Leatherdale includes a Resources page in Stormy Seas, with links to organizations that work with refugees and organizations that maintain databases of refugee experiences;
  • Learn more about the Syrian refugee crisis
  • Read (or reread) the Paddington Bear stories and discuss how this orphaned bear must have felt as he left his home in Peru and traveled alone by boat to England, with a note around his neck, “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” (with thanks to Sun Hats and Wellie Boots for pointing out the connection between Paddington Bear and refugees);
  • Try drawing pictures of refugee children in a boat. What do you think the boat looks like? Is it large or small? New or old? What have the children brought with them? What would you carry if you were journeying to a new home?
  • Check out the artworks at Counterpoint Arts that have been designed to draw attention to the plight of refugees and/or created by refugees.

Why I Like this Book:

Stormy Seas is not a picture book that you’d pick up lightly to read to young children at bedtime. Rather, Stormy Seas is a timely resource written for school-aged children that puts the current refugee crisis into context and puts faces on, and tells the true stories of, five young refugees who left their homelands in boats during several periods of recent history. A timeline of earlier refugee streams also is included.

Ruth was an 18-year-old Jew fleeing Nazi Germany, whose ship was turned away from Havana harbor in 1939, but whose family found refuge first in Great Britain and then in the United States. Phu, a 14-year-old boy, traveled alone from Vietnam in 1979, and finally joined family in the United States. Thirteen-year-old Jose and his family fled Cuba in 1980 as part of the Mariel boat lift to Florida. Najeeba, an 11-year-old member of the Hazara minority in Afghanistan, fled in 2000 with her family via Pakistan and Indonesia to Australia.  Mohamed, a 13-year-old orphan from the Ivory Coast, traveled alone across northern Africa to Libya, where, four years after he started, he traveled across the Mediterranean to Italy in 2010.

Told in their own words with sidebars explaining terms and context, and accompanied by collaged maps, photographs, newspaper articles, illustrations, and timelines, these stories, “give readers insight into the courage and fortitude of individual boat refugees, and a better understanding of how political and cultural conflicts force children and families into these untenable situations.” (interview with Leatherdale, in School Library Journal)

Stormy Seas will be a valuable addition to home, school, and community libraries seeking to illuminate the refugee journey for children.

Watch the book trailer here

A Note about Craft:

Stormy Seas is a unique compilation picture book, unlike any of the stories the vast majority of us will write and/or illustrate. Like the stories we tell, however, Leatherdale’s text and Shakespeare’s images need to pull on readers’ and listeners’ heartstrings – the pair had to find the emotional core of each story. By sprinkling quotations through the text and including photographs of these refugees as children, I think the pair has done so. Anyone writing non-fiction and/or biographies will learn much from studying Stormy Seas.

In addition to emotional pull, Leatherdale highlighted a common theme, escape via boat, to tie the individual stories together, while also focusing on differences in the refugees’ experiences, to keep the stories from seeming repetitive. Anyone writing about multiple subjects can learn from her focus on common threads and unique facts.

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books 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 – The Map of Good Memories

I thought I’d kick off Memorial Day weekend with a book from across the Pond, from Spain, to be exact. What does Spain have to do with Memorial Day, you ask? Probably not much, as there doesn’t seem to be a comparable holiday there. But Memorial Day is about remembering, and it’s also the “official” start of the summer vacation season, at least here in the United States. Both relate in certain ways to today’s Perfect Picture Book.

First, today’s Book is about remembering. It also reminded me of a special vacation journey I took one summer with my two older children when they were 4 and 6 (my husband met us mid-trip). We traveled among several German, Czech and Austrian cities by train. While I kept a written diary, the girls drew pictures of their favorite activities each day – a kind of Book of Good Memories.

May you make and remember many good memories this Memorial Day weekend and on your travels this summer. And now, today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9788416147823_p0_v2_s192x300Title: The Map of Good Memories

Written By: Fran Nuño

Illustrated By: Zuzanna Celej

Translated By: Jon Brokenbrow

Publisher/date: Cuento de Luz/2016 (Spanish edition also available)

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; home; maps; remembering; saying farewell

Opening:

Zoe had lived in the city since she was born. But now, because of the war, she had to flee with her family and take refuge in another country.

Brief Synopsis: As her family prepares to flee the war-torn city of her birth, Zoe maps out the favorite places where she has spent the happiest times of her life.

Links to Resources:

  • Map your classroom, home, city or favorite picture book;
  • Learn mapping skills; a good resource to learn is a newly-published picture book, Mapping My Day, written by Julie Dillemuth, illustrated by Laura Wood, and published by Magination Press (2017);
  • When you travel, keep a “favorite places” diary by drawing a picture each evening of someplace you enjoyed seeing or something you enjoyed doing;
  • In the Author’s Note, Nuño states that The Map of Good Memories is “about saying farewell.” Think about what or to whom you would say “farewell” if you were traveling or moving house.

Why I Like this Book:

This is a poignant story about treasuring the little things you enjoy about the place where you live. On the eve of her family’s departure, ten year-old Zoe looks back at all of the happy times she has enjoyed in her hometown.

Unlike other refugee books that focus on the journey (The Journey and Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey come to mind) or a better life ahead, The Map of Good Memories focuses on the past, on the positive aspects of life in Zoe’s home city before the war. Most of these are small, everyday occurrences that kids will relate well to, like going to school, visiting the library and bookstore, playing in the park, and enjoying favorite films in the movie theatre. As Zoe maps out the special memories of her childhood, she finds a special surprise and comes to the realization that these memories will always be with her, wherever she lives, and that someday she will return.

I love this hopeful message for refugee children. I also think it’s a good reminder for all of us that places that currently are wracked by war or other disasters have a history, and potential future, that are peaceful and positive.

Celej’s soft, watercolor images impart a sense of peacefulness and reflection to the story, and will encourage multiple readings.

Images and text about the war are few, so this is a wonderful book to share with kids who are moving for other reasons as well.

Source: Cuenta de Luz

 

A Note about Craft:

Interestingly, neither Nuño’s text nor Celej’s illustrations clearly reveal the setting or era of The Map of Good Memories. While the city appears European and while most people depicted are fair-haired Caucasians who wear neither veils nor headscarves, the time period is not obvious. In a review reprinted by Barnes & Noble, one reviewer guesses World War II. I’d guess the Bosnian conflict instead, given that Zoe is portrayed in jeans in one scene and wearing a bike helmet in another. Regardless, by not naming the conflict or even the city, I think Nuño makes the action more immediate: this could happen anywhere, at any time, to any of us.

Even though they leave two key elements of the story vague, Nuño and Celej weave many small details into The Map of Good Memories. For instance, not only does Zoe remember many films she enjoyed at the movie theatre, but Nuño mentions “the candy counter, the big seats, the lady who showed you to your seat with a flashlight…” Despite this detailed description, he leaves room for the illustrations, with bookshelves “full of real treasures” that Celej then fills in with dreamy characters surrounding Zoe as she reads. Nuño also leaves the depiction of the theatre to Celej, who completes it with a marquee heralding The Wizard of Oz, a brilliant cultural reference, as, after all, “there’s no place like home.”

Cuento de Luz, “based in Madrid, Spain but with an international outlook,” is a publishing company specializing in children’s literature, primarily picture books. Its philosophy is to publish stories that are “full of light that bring out the inner child within all of us. Stories that take the imagination on a journey and help care for our planet, respect differences, eliminate borders and promote peace.” Cuento de Luz is a B Corporation that uses “stone paper” in the production of its books – no trees, no water, no bleach.

Fran Nuño is the author of over 30 children’s books and owner of a bookstore in Seville, Spain.

Zuzanna Celej is a children’s book illustrator of Polish descent, educated and working in Spain.

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 Three Lucys

I first learned of today’s Perfect Picture Book when I read a Lee & Low Books blog post last summer about tackling heavy themes in children’s stories. As this is a debut picture book by Lebanese-American author, editor and poet Hayan Charara and as it features an international setting and main character, I think it’s a Perfect Picture Book to help us celebrate the fourth annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day.

9781600609985_p0_v2_s192x300Title: The Three Lucys

Written By: Hayan Charara

Illustrated By: Sara Kahn

Publisher/date: Lee & Low Books/2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-9 or older

Themes/Topics: war, loss, cats, Lebanon, diversity

Opening:

On the hill behind our house in Lebanon, there is an olive tree. I like to sit in the shade of the tree with the three Lucys: Lucy the Fat, Lucy the Skinny, and Lucy Lucy.

Brief Synopsis: When war breaks out in Lebanon, a young Luli and his parents must remain at the home of relatives, even as Luli worries about the pet cats that are waiting at home. Upon Luli’s return home, at least two of the cats are found to be safe.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Lebanon;
  • Make & eat traditional Lebanese cookies;
  • Discussing war, hateful speech or actions, and tragedies with children is never easy; a few sites I found that may help include a Unicef site, Race to Peace, a site that includes links to many peace-promoting organizations, and a Parent Resource on the Fred Rogers Organization site.

Why I Like this Book:

The Three Lucys begins and ends with a description of domestic life and pet ownership that I think will captivate any child. I loved the glimpse into Luli’s life and the reminder that even in regions which many of us consider “war torn,” there is beauty. Luli “learned to catch fish” in the sea to the west; Beirut is “full of taxicabs, buses, and honking cars…falafel sandwiches and freshly squeezed fruit drinks.” And like kids anywhere, Luli loves his pet cats and takes good care of them.

When fighting erupts, Charara shows readers the war through Luli’s perspective. We learn that the school is badly damaged, but that a tree in the schoolyard remains. We also learn that Luli’s heart “feels as heavy as an apple falling from a tree,” an image that shows Luli’s grief so vividly.

The images of Sara Kahn, a cat-loving Iranian-American, capture the bond between Luli and the Lucys, the terror felt by the family as bombs fill the sky, and the destruction left in their wake.

A Note about Craft:

Presumably because of the difficult subject matter, the older target audience and the relative unfamiliarity of many American readers with this region and subject matter, at 1854 words, the word count of The Three Lucys is notably longer than the average picture book. I think books of this nature generally are longer, as more background is necessary to place the events and emotional journey into context.

War and loss are never easy subjects, especially in picture books. To soften the blow, while maintaining the messaging, I think Mr. Charara’s choice of loss is insightful. As a pet owner & lover, I understand that the loss of a pet is never easy, but unlike a person, the cat could have wandered or been frightened away – Lucy disappears but Charara never states that she dies. This leaves open the possibility that Lucy could be living happily elsewhere, which generally couldn’t be true if Lucy were a person. I think this glimmer of hope is important. Additionally, including three Lucys with two survivors enables Charara to circle back to the beginning, even as Luli remembers Lucy and grieves for her.

Finally, The Three Lucys is written in the first person, bringing immediacy to the story but also letting Luli show us that he is surviving, even as he grieves for Lucy.

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!