Tag Archives: #WNDB

PPBF – Miguel and the Grand Harmony

A true confession: I picked up today’s Perfect Picture Book before I realized it’s based on the Pixar movie Coco that released this week. Sometimes happy coincidences happen!

615U6mYKdwL._SX414_BO1,204,203,200_Title: Miguel and the Grand Harmony

Written By: Matt de la Peña

Illustrated By: Ana Ramírez

Publisher/date: Disney Press/2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-8

Themes/Topics: music, Mexico, family, #WNDB

Opening:

First comes the sound. A single string plucked or a note blown or beat rapped.

And suddenly I am. Where there is music, there is color.  And where there is color, there is life.

Brief Synopsis: A boy living with no music in his home longs for it and finally finds a way to play and share it with his family and community.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover the musical instruments used to create Mexican music;
  • Make your own Maracas, guitar or drum;
  • Listen to Mexican children’s music and poetry;
  • View the Coco trailer. How are Coco and Miguel and the Grand Harmony the same? How do they differ?

Why I Like this Book:

Miguel and the Grand Harmony is a lovely story that celebrates the roles of music and family in Mexican culture. Told from the point of view of the music itself (more about that below), La Musica embarks on an exploration of the many facets of Mexican music before introducing us to the main character, Miguel, whose great-grandmother, Mamá Coco, abhors music due to bad memories associated with it. Not surprisingly, in the end music triumphs, and even Mamá Coco is happy.

The illustrator, Ana Ramírez, also worked on Coco, and brings the exuberant colors of the film to the printed page. Read an interview with Ramírez, to learn more about this young, Latina Pixar artist.

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, Miguel and the Grand Harmony is told from the point of view of La Musica, the music itself. This enables Newberry Medal-winner de la Peña to explore the many facets of Mexican music and culture and tell the particular story of Miguel and his family, too. La Musica acts, in a way, as an omniscient narrator, which works well to provide a context and enrich the story.

Also as mentioned above, Miguel and the Grand Harmony is “inspired by Disney Pixar’s Coco”, and features the family from that film. Per the New York Times and NPR reviews I’ve read (I haven’t had the opportunity to see the film yet), death figures prominently in the movie, with ghosts and dia de los muertos celebrations taking center stage, and Miguel embarking on a journey to the afterlife. De la Peña has eliminated the fantastical afterlife and focuses, instead, on the community, Miguel’s family, and Miguel’s desire to experience music. By doing so, he enables Miguel to play more of a role in his own transformation. I also think this renders the story more universally appealing, and, I believe, will resonate better with young listeners and music and culture lovers.

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 – Alive Again

 

Yesterday was National Poetry Day in the UK. What better time to celebrate a picture book by a noted Iranian poet and picture book author that was published in the UK!

cover-alive-again-294x300Title: Alive Again

Written By: Ahmadreza Ahmadi

Illustrated By: Nahid Kazemi

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing, Ltd/2105 (first published in Persian, Salis Publisher, Tehran, Iran/2013)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: loss, regeneration, poetry, WNDB, ReadYourWorld, Iran

Opening:

Last night the wind blew the blossom from the trees.

“When blossom goes, does the word ‘blossom’ die?” asked a boy.

“Can there ever be blossom again?”

Brief Synopsis: (from the publisher’s website)

When the blossom disappears, a little boy wonders, will it ever return? And when the rains stop, have they gone forever? This is a story about understanding the world and learning to trust. How do we find that grain of hope that good things might return?

Links to Resources:

  • Discover more about Iran, where the author and illustrator live.
  • Make a list of things, like flowers or migrating animals, that seem to disappear and then reappear.
  • Draw a tree in summer and winter. What’s the same? What’s different?
  • Kazemi uses fabric swatches to make collage illustrations. Try making a bug from photographs in food magazines.

Why I Like this Book:

Alive Again is a deceptively simple book that poses the question of what happens to things when they disappear or cease to happen. Are they gone forever? And if they’re gone, do we still need their names? For instance, if no one travels, do we need the word “journey”? Will that word cease to exist?

Alive Again is a wonderful book to share with children in the “why”, “what if”, questioning phase. I think it’s also a great introduction to discussing seasons or other cyclical events, and, perhaps most importantly, it’s a sympathetic introduction to concepts of loss and holding on to what or who we love.

Kazemi’s collaged artwork pares well with the sparse text. I especially loved the blossoms that reminded me of winged insects or birds and made me wonder about the connections among the plant and animal inhabitants of the natural world.

11698637_865324406854261_7817611382904294293_n-e1447672008740

Illustration from Alive Again, reprinted from Tiny Owl’s website

A Note about Craft:

With his thought-provoking, sparse text, Ahmadi causes the reader to wonder not only about the things that disappear, like the blossom, but also about the boy and his father, the only characters in the story. In an afterward, the publisher reminds us that “it is exactly those gaps in the narrative that leave room for the child’s imagination to fill out the story”. How do we as authors and/or illustrators leave room for children’s imaginations?

Find out more about Ahmadreza Ahmadi here , one of Iran’s “greatest and most famous contemporary poets” and see my review of his book When I Coloured in the World here.9781910328071-150x150

Discover more books published by Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd, “an independent publishing company committed to producing beautiful, original books for children”, founded on the “belief that stories act as bridges – providing pathways to new experiences whilst connecting us to here and there” and publishing a number of books by Iranian authors and illustrators.

While not currently available in US book shops, Alive Again is available through the Book Depository which ships for free to the US.

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 – Amelia’s Road

I’m enjoying the late summer bounty at local farmers’ markets, reveling in the many fruits and vegetables available. My favorite market is at an orchard where late-harvest peaches, a variety of plums, and early apples can be picked now. I have many fond memories of apple picking with my children when they were young, and I even remember picking grapes as a child for my father’s attempts to make “wine.” It was hard work, but it was once a year, for a few hours only, and we kept what we picked.

Today’s Perfect Picture Book also involves picking fruits and vegetables, but as a job, not for fun, and by families who follow the harvests, who mark time, not in calendar months or days, but by harvest cycles.

9781880000274_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Amelia’s Road

Written By: Linda Jacobs Altman

Illustrated By: Enrique O. Sanchez

Publisher/date: Lee & Low Books/1993

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: migrant farm workers; Latina; home; #WNDB

Opening:

Amelia Luisa Martinez hated roads. Straight roads. Curved roads. Dirt roads. Paved roads. Roads leading to all manner of strange places, and roads leading to nowhere at all. Amelia hated roads so much that she cried every time her father took out the map.

Brief Synopsis: Amelia, the daughter of migrant farm workers, dreams of a permanent home.

Links to Resources:

  • Draw your home, or a place you’d like to live;
  • Amelia doesn’t like maps, because they are a sign the family is moving again; maps can be fun, though, especially when you learn mapping skills
  • Find a small box (shoe boxes work well); decorate the outside of the box with pictures of things you like; fill the box with things that are important to you;
  • Check out the Teacher’s Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

Amelia’s Road is a realistic look at the lives of migrant farm families, who move from place to place following the harvests. Despite the difficulty of the topic matter, Altman imbues the story with a note of hope, in the form of a sympathetic teacher who welcomes Amelia into her classroom, bothers to learn her name and praises the drawing of something Amelia holds most dear: a white house with blue shutters with a large tree in the yard. I think this shows the impact an act of kindness can have to better the life of another. I also loved that Amelia stumbled upon a large tree in a field, at the end of a path-like, “accidental” road, a place where Amelia could feel at home, where she buried a treasure box, as a sign that she would return to this place she belonged.

Sanchez’ acrylic on canvas illustrations work well with the rural setting and difficult lives of the migrant farm workers.

spread-02

A Note about Craft:

Altman’s opening provides clues about the issues of the story and piques the reader’s interest. She uses Amelia’s full name, thus letting us know that Amelia is a Latina. We also learn that Amelia hates roads, leaving us to wonder why. Finally, Altman provides a subtle clue: Amelia cries when her father takes out a map. Could it be that Amelia’s family is on the road too much? If so, is that why the book is entitled Amelia’s Road? Could a road be both a problem and provide a solution? I, for one, wanted to read on & find out.

Even without looking at its publication date, it’s clear from the longer text, almost 1,100 words, that Amelia’s Road is an older picture book. Despite its length and slower pacing, however, I think its subject matter, migrant farm workers, and themes, including the desire for home and community, a sense of “belonging”, make it relevant for today’s readers. By addressing multiple themes, ie, adding layers, I think Altman has lengthened the shelf life of Amelia’s Road.

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books https://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/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- A Place Where Sunflowers Grow

Regular readers of this blog know that for the past several months, I’ve focused on picture books about refugees, migrants and areas affected by immigration bans – stories set in those regions and/or by authors and illustrators hailing from those regions. Today’s choice may seem at first blush to be a deviation from this focus. I’d argue, though, that the themes in today’s Perfect Picture Book, in particular forced relocation and finding hope through art, are illuminating to those trying to understand, convey to children or write about these difficult current issues. It’s also a lovely book about a difficult topic rarely addressed in picture books.

main_largeTitle: A Place Where Sunflowers Grow

Written By: Amy Lee-Tai

Illustrated By: Felicia Hoshino

Japanese Translation By: Marc Akio Lee

Publisher/date: Children’s Book Press (an imprint of Lee & Low Books)/2006

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: Japanese internment; World War II; historical fiction; relocation; bilingual; art; #WNDB

Opening:

Mari stared at the ground. It had only been a week since she and her mother had planted a handful of sunflower seeds outside their new home. Mari asked Mama, “Will these flowers grow as tall and strong and beautiful as the ones in our old backyard?”

Brief Synopsis: When Mari, a young Japanese-American girl, and her family are relocated to an internment camp during World War II, art and gardening help Mari adjust to the unfamiliar and harsh conditions.

Links to Resources:

  • For background about the Japanese internment, see Lee-Tai’s Introduction about the experiences of her mother and grandparents at the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah;
  • See the comprehensive Teacher’s Guide;
  • The Topaz Museum opened last month and displays examples of artwork from the Center on its site. Lee-Tan attended the opening and blogged about it here.

Why I Like this Book:

This is the first picture book I’ve read about the experiences of Japanese-American children in the internment centers. Although I knew that the relocations and life in the camps were difficult, I had no idea of the efforts of Japanese-American artists to continue creating and sharing art with fellow internees, including the children. And although the internment is a difficult topic to explore with children, I love the resilience and hopefulness that are evident in this story.

The text is in English and Japanese, a fitting tribute to those Japanese-Americans whose first language was Japanese. Hoshino studied the artworks of Lee-Tai’s grandmother, Hisako Hibi, and she based some of her watercolor, ink, tissue paper and acrylic illustrations on Hibi’s work.

A Note about Craft:

At first blush, the title, A Place Where Sunflowers Grow, may seem a bit misplaced: this picture book is about Japanese internment during World War II, not gardening. But by utilizing this natural, floral motif, Lee-Tai enables the reader to hope, like Mari, that sunflowers, like those that grew in the backyard she misses, will bloom in the desert and peace will return to the world.

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow is a work of fiction, but it is based on the experiences of Lee-Tai’s mother and family during World War II. Both of Lee-Tai’s grandparents were artists and produced artwork while at the Center. Her grandfather ran the Topaz art school for part of the war, and her mother and uncle attended art classes there. With these many experiences to draw upon, why did Lee-Tai choose to write a work of historical fiction? And, for writers, why may we make the same choice? In an interview, Lee-Tai stated,

By creating a character that readers might relate to or feel empathy for, I hope this book will plant some seeds in readers: to steer clear of racial and ethnic targeting in their individual interactions with others, and to work towards a world that will not commit other atrocities targeting entire races or ethnicities.

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow  won the 2007 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award for younger children.

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 – 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!