Tag Archives: #WNDB

PPBF – Mommy’s Khimar

It’s Mother’s Week (we deserve more than a one-day celebration, don’t you agree?), and Ramadan. I can’t think of a better time to review a new picture book that celebrates a special mother-daughter bond and provides a window into the lives of these Muslim American characters.

mommys-khimar-9781534400597_lgTitle: Mommy’s Khimar

Written By: Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Illustrated By: Ebony Glenn

Publisher/date: Salaam Reads (an imprint of Simon & Schuster Inc)/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Islam, #WNDB, mother-daughter bond, imagination

Opening:

A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears. Before she walks out the door each day, she wraps one around her head.

Brief Synopsis: A young Muslim American girl dresses up in her mother’s head scarves.

Links to Resources:

  • Create a dress-up corner or dress-up box with ties, hats, scarves, jewelry and other fun-to-wear accessories and clothing (a friend had a collection of bridesmaids’ dresses from a second-hand shop that my daughters loved);
  • Find Ramadan coloring pages here;
  • Find daily Ramadan craft ideas at A Crafty Arab.

Why I Like this Book:

Mommy’s Khimar is a joyful book exploring the bonds of daughter and mother as the narrator, an unnamed child, wears a favorite khimar, scarf, that belongs to her mother. I love the exuberance of the young girl, and I love that the politics about whether to cover or not are absent from this heartwarming story.

I think kids will love how the narrator wears her mother’s khimar in so many imaginative ways: as a queen’s “golden train,” to “shine like the sun”, as a “shooting star” diving into clouds, as “golden wings” shielding her baby brother, as a superhero dashing “at the speed of light.” And adults will love the opportunities to discuss differing forms of dress and religious practices, including a Christian grandmother who doesn’t go to the mosque, but “we love each other just the same.” Also, as Thompkins-Bigelow notes in a blog post, black Muslims are the largest group of Muslims in the US, but the post-9/11media focus on Muslims as “foreigners” means that few representations of religious black Muslims exist in children’s literature. Mommy’s Khimar is a most welcome exception.

Starting with the welcoming cover that invites the reader to open the book, Glenn fills the pages with smiling faces and a sunny-yellow palette mixed with other bright pastels that further the celebratory feel of Mommy’s Khimar.mommys-khimar-9781534400597.in03

A Note about Craft:

Thompkins-Bigelow combines two universal themes, the bond between mother and child and a child’s desire to be like a parent by dressing in her or his clothing, and explores these themes as they play out in a specific cultural group, African-American Muslims. As we write our own stories, what universal themes can we explore?

Thompkins-Bigelow utilizes one item of clothing, the khimar, to be a lens, focused on the life and love within the family she portrays. What unique items could you highlight to help explore your particular cultural or ethnic group?

Although I’m not an illustrator, I can’t help noting the effect of Glenn’s sunny color scheme that renders the entire reading experience so joyful. What a different reading experience this might have been if Glenn hadn’t used yellow throughout or if Thompkins-Bigelow hadn’t highlighted the color in her text.

Mommy’s Khimar received starred review from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly and Shelf Awareness.

Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow is a former English teacher and current program director of Mighty Writers South, a Philadelphia not-for-profit that helps children write with clarity. Mommy’s Khimar is Thompkins-Bigelow’s debut picture book. Read about her inspiration for Mommy’s Khimar and see interviews with her at CityWide Stories, bookish.com, and Cynsations.

Illustrator Ebony Glenn “seeks to create enchanting visual stories with whimsical illustrations to incite more beauty, joy, and magic in people’s lives.” Read an interview with her at The Brown Bookshelf.

Founded in 2016, Salaam Reads is an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Salaam Reads’ mission is “to introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works.” Salaam Reads also published Yo Soy Muslim, which I reviewed last September.

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 – Ramadan

 

I found today’s Perfect Picture Book at a lovely, local independent book store in Hoboken, NJ, Little City Books, when I was attending an author’s visit. Although I generally don’t review board books, I couldn’t resist the colorful cover and, knowing that Ramadan begins next week, I thought this is a Perfect Picture Book to help explain this important month of fasting and prayer to young children.

ramadan-9781534406353Title: Ramadan

Written By: Hannah Eliot

Illustrated By: Rashin

Publisher/date: Little Simon (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division)/April 2018

Suitable for Ages: 2-4 (and older)

Themes/Topics: Islam; #WNDB; Ramadan; celebration; non-fiction

Opening:

In the ninth month of the year, when the crescent moon first appears in the sky, it’s time to celebrate Ramadan!

Brief Synopsis: A non-fiction explanation of the Muslim celebration of Ramadan from a child’s perspective.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Ramadan is the first in a new board book series from Little Simon, Celebrate the World, which highlight “celebrations across the world.” In her upbeat, cultural exploration of Ramadan, Eliot focuses on the aspects of the holiday that I think will resonate with young children without delving into dogma. While Eliot notes that we “pray”, no deity is mentioned nor are there any references to a mosque or other places of worship. Instead, the text moves joyously through the “special month” that Eliot’s narrators clearly enjoy, from the first sighting of the crescent moon, through the Eid al-Fitr, or “Sweet Feast”, when Ramadan ends. Eliot helpfully focuses on the aspects of Ramadan, such as fasting and eating only while it is dark outside, that kids will notice, and ask about. As she does so, Eliot highlights “what is most important to us”: family, prayer and good deeds.

Eliot’s text provides a wonderful introduction to Ramadan and is suitable for practicing Muslims and people of other faiths (or no faith) who want to introduce their children to this important religious holiday. Rashin’s colorful illustrations bring this board book to another level. Rather than focusing on one family in one place, Rashin fills Ramadan with families from across the world, including families of color and families of differing social backgrounds. I especially enjoyed the spread, shown below, of a family enjoying suhoor, the meal before dawn, in a suburban home, complete with pet dog, and a family breaking fast at their iftar, in their tented home, complete with a cat.

ramadan-9781534406353.in01

Interior spread from Ramadan, reprinted from Simon & Schuster

A Note about Craft:

Eliot introduces Ramadan to young children by inviting them into the celebration through her focus on what “we” do. Use of the inclusive “we” is furthered via Rashin’s choice (or perhaps the choice of an editor) to focus not just on one family but on many families throughout the world.

Check out Eliot’s Author’s Page.

Among many other awards for her illustrations, Iranian-born and educated, US-based Rashin Kheiriyeh, the illustrator/author of 70 children’s books, was a 2017 Sendak Fellow. Visit her website to view more of her work, and check out a 2017 interview on Kathy Temean’s blog. See also my review of her 2013 picture book, Two Parrots.

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 – Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me

Happy Book Birthday to today’s Perfect Picture Book! While all book birthdays are happy occasions, today’s book birthday is particularly special as we celebrate the pairing of an award-winning children’s author and poet hailing from the United States with a preeminent illustrator hailing from Iran. Thanks to the generosity of the publisher, Tiny Owl Publishing, I received an advance copy that I’ve read and reread, including to my own pup (he loved it, too!).

Thinker_9781910328330-768x1074Title: Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me

Written By: Eloise Greenfield

Illustrated By: Ehsan Abdollahi

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing/April 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: dogs; poetry; communication; #WNDB

Opening:

Naming Me

They brought me from the neighbour’s house

and put me on the floor,

they talked about their love for me,

and I thought, “More! More! More!”

Brief Synopsis: A collection of discreet poems that tells the story of Thinker, a dog who writes and recites poetry, and Jace, a young poet, as the pair bond over poetry and ultimately enjoy a memorable Pets Day at school.

Links to Resources:

  • Can your pet talk? Explore the different ways animals communicate;
  • Enjoy more dog-themed poetry;
  • Follow Greenfield’s lead and write “a poem or two”;
  • Although I’ve never met a poetry-writing dog, some dogs enjoy being read to, including therapy dogs who visit libraries and encourage children to read aloud to them. Learn more about library dogs;
  • Make tissue-paper collages, similar to those created by Abdollahi.

Why I Like this Book:

Told in a series of 16 free verse and rhymed poems, primarily from the point of view of Thinker, Thinker explores what it means to be part of a family and be appreciated for one’s talents within that family, and how we can share our unique talents with the wider community, too.

Thinker is an engaging story with a kid-relatable problem: Jace doesn’t want his poetic dog to show off his unique skills in school because Jace doesn’t want other children to consider him weird. But being quiet is difficult for Thinker. He questions,

Who am I, if I’m
not myself?
Who am I?

Only by being himself and sharing the poetry in his heart is Thinker happy. Indeed, who are we, if we can’t be ourselves and express the joy and music in our hearts, in our own unique ways, too. Jace learns this important lesson. He also realizes that others admire Thinker’s poetry and that other pets have unique talents. But you’ll have to read Thinker to discover what those talents are.

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Ehsan Abdollahi from Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me

Thinker also celebrates communication: the cross-species communication of the two poetry-loving friends and the cross-cultural communication between the poet’s words and the illustrator’s images. United by a love of children’s literature, the renowned American poet Greenfield shares her lyrical words and the talented Iranian illustrator Abdollahi shares his colorful, handmade, hand-coloured collaged illustrations to create a wonderful reading experience that owes its beauty to the unique talents of its creators.  Thinker’s smaller, just-right-for-younger-hands size will appeal to kids. The retro feel of the illustrations is an additional plus, especially as Thinker features a family of color, living  an everyday life with a twist – a poetic dog in their home.

A Note about Craft:

Greenfield includes poems in Thinker that switch between the points of view of Thinker and Jace. In “Two Poets Talking”, Jace and Thinker even hold a conversation through their poetry.

Greenfield includes many free verse poems and also some that rhyme.  There’s a short Haiku and the 89-year young poet even ends Thinker with “Thinker’s Rap.” I hope when I reach Greenfield’s age, I’m still writing and embracing new forms of expression.

Greenfield is the author of 47 books for children, and has received many awards, including the 2018 Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children from the National Council of Teachers of English. Read Greenfield’s essay  about how Thinker began. See also a 2007 interview by Don Tate in The Brown Bookshelf.

Eloise_collage-600x600

         Eloise Greenfield by Ehsan Abdollahi

Abdollahi is a noted Iranian illustrator, who illustrated, among other works, When I Coloured in the World (Ahmadreza Ahmadi, Tiny Owl Publishing, 2015) and A Bottle of Happiness (Pippa Goodheart, Tiny Owl Publishing, 2017). Read an interview with him here.

Thinker is not yet available in the US, but you can order it from the Book Depository, that ships for free worldwide.

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 Field

As the snow is melting and temperature’s rising (a bit!), I’ve been enjoying the sight of teams, families and friends heading to the town sports fields near my home, sports gear in tow. As is clear from today’s Perfect Picture Book, this is a sight that’s replicated on fields near and far – even those that are never snow-covered.

the-field-cover-300x233Title: The Field

Written By: Baptiste Paul

Illustrated By: Jacqueline Alcántara

Publisher/date: NorthSouth Books, Inc/March 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: soccer; teamwork; play; St. Lucia (Caribbean); #WNDB; #ReadYourWorld

Opening:

Vini! Come!

The field calls.

Brief Synopsis: An island field calls a group of children to play a pick-up game of soccer, friend against friend.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about the island of St. Lucia, the unnamed setting of The Field;
  • Match the Creole word to the English word and color the book illustrations in this Activity Sheet;
  • Play soccer, or another sport, with your family or friends;
  • Find more ideas in the Discussion Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

This exuberant debut picture book follows a group of island children as they play a game of pick-up soccer, friend against friend. Not only do the children need to first gather their shoes, ball and goals, but they also must convince the fruit vendor to serve as referee, shoo cows from the field, and decide whether to call the match when the “sky falls” and rain muddies the field.

Paul’s short, poetic text, with many Creole words paired with their English equivalents, coupled with Alcántara’s vivid, mixed-media illustrations make this a book that children and their parents will want to read, and reread.

A Note about Craft:

The word count of The Field is extremely low, with only a few words, at most, appearing on most pages, and with only a few full sentences. The longest sentences I found were a mere five words long! The text, to me, reads as a free-verse poem. With short, staccato phrases and sentences, Paul mimics the action and pacing of a soccer match and helps the reader feel as if s/he is part of the game. As writers, we should consider the subject matter and match the pacing to the subject, as Paul does so well here.

Likewise, in a story about teamwork, Paul (or his editor) chose not to name any characters or attribute any dialogue. I’m presuming this may be because attributing the dialogue would slow the pace. Another result, though, is that this encourages any child reading this story to feel as if s/he is on the field, too, a kind of “Every Child,” effect, if you will.

The two-word title of this book, The Field, captured my attention, and, after I’d read the book, caused me to think back on all of the places I, or my kids, enjoyed playing. Thinking about the many other possible titles this story could have had, makes me realize the importance of just the right title to lure readers in.

Finally, The Field is about universal themes like teamwork and soccer and playing through an obstacle, like rain – things everyone can relate to. But the children playing in this story don’t all wear official soccer gear, or even sneakers, the field is shared with livestock, and no bleachers line its sides. From the illustrations and the inclusion of Creole words, we can guess at its island setting.  From the illustrations, we know a diverse group of kids comprise the players. As author and editor Denene Millner wrote in a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece, children of color “want to read books that engage with their everyday experiences, featuring characters who look like them….White children, too, deserve — and need — to see black characters that revel in the same human experiences that they do.” I’d add to that, that kids who don’t have fancy soccer gear or state-of-the-art fields want to read stories that show kids having fun without those things, too. I think Paul and Alcántara have created a book that fulfills both of these desires.

Among the many reviews, including starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist,  see this interview with Paul in The Brown Bookshelf, Vivian Kirkfield’s PPBF review and interview with Paul, Latinxs in Kid Lit’s interview with Alcántara, and Maria Marshall’s PPBF review and interview with Paul.

This is a double debut picture book. Visit Paul’s website and Alcántara’s website. Alcántara won the inaugural 2016 “We Need Diverse Books” illustration mentorship award.

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 – Malaika’s Costume

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is another one of my Canadian finds, and its story occurs in the Caribbean – truly a pan-American picture book!

7873637_origTitle: Malaika’s Costume

Written By: Nadia L. Hohn

Illustrated By: Irene Luxbacher

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: carnival; absent parent; #ReadYourWorld; #WNDB

Opening:

I close my eyes and dance. I am a beautiful peacock. Each feather shimmers – green, gold, turquoise and brown.

Grandma say, “Girl, I think you is definitely my granddaughter for true.”

Brief Synopsis:

When the money for Malaika’s carnival costume doesn’t arrive from Mummy, Malaika and her grandmother must find another way to create a costume in time for the Carnival parade.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Malaika’s Costume is a marvelous window into Caribbean life and the colorful carnival celebrations that occur on many islands. The story is tinged, though, with the reality of the hardships endured by children left with relatives when a parent migrates abroad to work.

Through Malaika’s eyes, we experience the anticipation of an upcoming Carnival parade in which the children don fancy costumes to dance through the streets. Malaika dreams of strutting like a peacock. But Malaika’s mother is working at a “good job” in Canada, a far-away country that is “cold like an icebox” with snow that looks “like coconut sky juice”. When the money Mummy has promised to send doesn’t arrive, Malaika and her grandmother must improvise, as it seems they, and Mummy, must do on a daily basis. Malaika’s solution demonstrates the resourcefulness she has developed since her mother left for Canada.

I think Malaika’s Costume will appeal to families and teachers wanting to learn about island life and cultural events as well as to those wanting to shed light on the difficulties facing migrants and the children they leave on island.

Luxbacher’s colorful collaged artwork brings Hohn’s empathetic story to life. They helped me feel like I’d enjoyed a virtual visit to the sunny Caribbean. Hand-drawn black-and-white drawings sprinkled throughout the pages are an extra bonus for younger children to find.

9781554987542_2_1024x1024

Reprinted from Groundwood Books

A Note about Craft:

As is evident from the Opening above, Hohn tells Malaika’s story using first-person point of view. Utilizing this point of view brings immediacy to the story, and it enables not only Malaika, but also the reader, to wonder about her mother and the solitary life she leads in Canada.

Also evident in the Opening is that Hohn uses the Caribbean patois  of the unnamed island that is Malaika’s home. This language adds to the authenticity of Malaika’s voice and could be an interesting discussion topic for teachers using Malaika’s Costume in the classroom.

Visit Hohn’s website here.

Groundwood Books “is an independent Canadian children’s publisher based in Toronto” that is “particularly committed to publishing books for and about children whose experiences of the world are under-represented elsewhere.”

For a list of more children’s books that involve Carnival celebrations, see a recent blog post on Anansesem, a site about Caribbean children’s books.

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 – 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!