Monday, November 23, 2020

Five Picture Books About Immigrants, Refugees, Migrants

If you are looking for some new books about immigrations, refugees, and migrants that are inspiring, hopeful, and empathic, look no further that these new books. Each has a different story to tell with one thing in common - seeking refuge, safety and a welcoming smile to those who have left their homeland.

The Suitcase 
written and illustrated by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
HMH BFYR, 2020, 32 pages
After a long, arduous journey over mountains and across a sea, a sad odd-looking teal colored creature arrives in a new land carrying a big suitcase. He is met with suspicion and skepticism by a red bird, an orange fox and a yellow rabbit. What is in the suitcase, they want to know. The teal creature tells them there is a teacup, a table to sit at and chair to sit on while drinking tea, and a little kitchen to make the tea in a cabin on a hillside with a clear view to the sea. Of course, bird, fox, and rabbit don't trust the new creature, and while he sleeps, they decide to break open his suitcase. Inside, they find a shattered teacup and an old photograph. Meanwhile, the creature dreams about running away, hiding, climbing mountains and swimming in the sea to safety. When he wakes up, he sees what the bird, fox, and rabbit have done to his suitcase, but he also sees a mended teacup sitting on a table with chair in front of a little house. Surprised and touched, the creature turns to his new friends and tells them there is just one problem - they are going to need more teacups. What looks to be a story about animals not welcoming refugees, turns out to be one of welcome and friendship. You can download an activity pack that includes discussion suggestions and story activities for The Suitcase HERE
Sugar in Milk 
by Thrity Umrigar, Khoa Le
Running Press Kids, 2020, 48 pages
A young girl emigrates from India to New York by herself to live with her aunt and uncle. They try their best to make her feel at home, but she's still sad, missing her family, her friends, and her cats. One day, her aunt takes her for a walk and tell her a story about a group of people who were forced to leave their homes in Persia and find refuge elsewhere. Arriving at an Indian kingdom, the king tell them they are not welcome, his land is already too crowded and the refugees "look foreign and speak a strange and different language I do not understand." Not speaking the same language, the king pours a glass of milk to indicate his land was full like the glass. The leader of the tired travelers takes the milk and adds a spoonful of sugar to it, indicating to the kind that though different, both people could live in peace, and "just like sugar in milk, we will sweeten your lives with our presence." Convinced, the king allows the refugees to remain in this kingdom. The story changes the young girl's outlook, helping her to realize that her new home is a welcoming place if she is willing to embrace it. The story the aunt tell has its roots in Parsi folktales. The illustrations that accompany the aunt's tale are just exquisite with a feel of ancient India, while the illustrations that frame the tale and much more modern. This is such a beautiful book about what immigrants bring to a new country with a message of hope and acceptance. It is a wonderful addition to any library.

The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story
written and illustrated by Thao Lam
Owlkids, 2020, 40 pages
In this wordless picture book, a young girl and her mother are forced to flee their country (Vietnam) because of war. As the family is eating a meal, the young girl rescues ants which the adults are swatting at. Later, when she and her mother leave their home, they are accompanied by the rescued ants. Mother and daughter must first hide from the officers hunting down refugees. Eventually, the ants lead them to where they must wait for a boat to take them away. The story switches to the ants sailing away in a paper boat at this point. Their journey is filled with hardships - a too hot sun beating down on them, thirst, seagulls overhead attacking and looking for food, an ant that drowns, and a thunderstorm that destroys their boat, sending all the ants into the water. Eventually they find land and are met with many more refugee ants. The story switches back to the girl and her family now living in safety in what looks like an city full of refugees from other parts of the world. Lam uses the ants to represent the difficult journey made by the mother and child. Lam's cut paper collages and the wordlessness of the story really capture the danger faced by many refugees when they are forced to leave their family and their home. She used simple colors - orange, pink, blue, and black to create these emotional illustrations. This is a story of bravery and hope despite hardship. You can find a detailed discussion and activity guide for this book HERE Kids can make their own origami paper boat with these instructions from the publisher, Owlkids
Click to enlarge

The Day Saida Arrived by Susana Gómez Redondo,
illustrated by Sonja Wimmer, translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel
Blue Dot Kids Press, 2020, 32 pages
Saida, a newly arrived immigrant, has just begun school and is immediately befriended by a girl in her class who thinks Saida has lost her words because she doesn't speak. She searches everywhere to find them but to no avail. Then her father explains that Saida comes from Morocco where they speak Arabic, a language different from her own. And so the two new friends decide to teach each other their language. Together, they experience the joys and difficulties of learning a new language, as well as experiencing each other's culture through stories, poems and food. And their future plans? Why, a trip to Morocco someday (a place that is on my own bucket list). The language is beautifully lyrical and full of playfulness and emotion. The stylized illustrations are hand-painted in a combination of bold and soft colors and done in acrylic paint and crayons. This celebration of friendship, empathy, and respect is one you will want to share with your young readers - again and again. The English and Arabic words are scattered throughout the text, including a phonetic pronunciation of the Arabic words. You can find an extensive Teachers' Guide for this book HERE 
Click to enlarge

written and illustrated by Issa Watanabe
Gecko Press, 2020, 40 pages
This is one of those books that just moved me in a way that surprised even me. It is a wordless book, with different very colorful, very individualized animals traveling together set against a very black background in which you can see the leafless forest through which the animals are walking. The animals are followed by death in the form of a skeleton, and a blue ibis, a bird that symbolizes life and death, past and present, according to the author. The story follows their journey from the time they enter the forest, as they sit together and share a meal, then their journey over water in an overcrowded boat, and finally landing in a new country, where readers will notice that colorful flowers in the background begin to replace the leafless muted forest. Their journey may have been successful, but they did suffer one loss on the way that affected all the travelers and probably most readers. This is a picture book for older readers that is sure to generate some interesting and much needed discussions. The publisher, Gecko Press, has posted an informative interview with the author that I would highly recommend reading, and you can find it HERE. You can also find a useful guide for lessons that can be used in a classroom HERE
This is one of those illustrations where wordlessness
speaks louder than words.
What am I reading this week? The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel and The Circus of Stolen Dreams by Lorelei Savaryn and lots of picture books. 
What are you reading?
It's Monday! What are you reading? - from Picture Books to YA is a kidlit focused meme hosted weekly by Jen at Teacher Mentor Texts and by Kellee at Unleashing Readers. Its purpose is to recap what you have read and/or reviewed and plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. #IMWAYR

Monday, November 16, 2020

Mary Seacole: Bound for the Battlefield by Susan Goldman Rubin, illustrated by Richie Pope

It's always a pleasure to read a book about a little known historical figure who should be more well-known. That is certainly the case of Susan Goldman Rubin's new book about Mary Grant Seacole. Mary was a Creole woman, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805 to a Jamaican mother and a Scottish father. Though her father died when she was young, his stories about war left Mary with a desire to someday travel. Her mother was a "doctress," making her own medicines using different flowers and plants, and Mary wanted to follow in her footsteps. 

After two trips to London, where she experienced racism for the first time Mary began helping at her mother's boarding house when an outbreak of yellow fever hit Jamaica, caring for the sick. During that time, she met an Englishman named Edwin Seacole and married him in 1836. Sadly, he died in 1844. Later, Mary acquired more experience caring for the sick when an outbreak of cholera hit while she was visiting her brother in Panama. 

But it was reading about the Crimean War in 1854 that convinced Mary to head to the battlefield with her mother's healing recipes. Volunteering as a nurse in London, she was turned away, so she headed to Turkey on her own. There, she tried to volunteer at Florence Nightingale's army hospital, but Nightingale rejected her because of the color of her skin. Undaunted, Mary headed straight for the battlefield, where she and her homemade medicines were more than welcomed and where Mary spent a number of years nursing wounded soldiers. 

Mary certainly risked her life more than once, but sadly returned from war in great debt. It was the praise of a war journalist that finally gave Mary the credit she deserved for all she did, and helped get her out of debt. 

Mary lived a very exciting life, and it has certainly been captured in this short, but informative picture book for older readers. Most surprising to me was her encounter with Florence Nightingale, who felt that Mary's race and class made her character automatically questionable. Clearly, Mary's character was both impeccable and strong, given what she unselfishly gave to the soldiers she nursed, a few of whom recognized her having been cared for by her in Kingston. 

Mary Seacole: Bound for the Battlefield is a compelling biography, written in accessible language, and full-page, full-colored stylized digital illustrations. There are plenty of quotes, most from Mary's own book, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands published in 1857, as well as other sources noted in the back matter. 

Mary is shown to be brave, dedicated, and very tenacious. She is an historical figure that deserves to be recognized and admired by today's young readers.  

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was gratefully received from the publisher, Candlewick Press 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North by Dan Bar-el, illustrated by Kelly Pousette

Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North by Dan Bar-el,
illustrated by Kelly Pousette
Simon and Schuster/Atheneum BFYR, 2020, 272 pages
We have been experiencing some really tense days lately, so it was such a pleasure to return to the very, very far north and the always charming polar bear Duane, who has just woken up from a long winter's nap. Venturing out of his cave, he finds his friends all waiting for him. There's C.C, the scholarly snowy owl, puffin Major Puff, arctic hare Twitch, Magic, the arctic fox, Handsome, the musk ox, and of course, shy caribou Boo (yes, you may recall how talented Duane is at naming his friends from the first book).
Duane and friends (pg. 5)
But a long winter's nap has left Duane hungry, and so the friends all decide to picnic down on the Fabulous Beach. But, lately there is a new presence in the very, very far north, a sarcastic weasel who loves to cause disruption and trouble. Duane first meets him in his cave where the no-name weasel informs him that, well, his life isn't happy and wonderful as he thinks it is. Sooner or later, cracks begin to form in friendships, and friends drift further and further apart. 

Always the optimist, Duane doesn't buy the weasel's point of view, until...maybe the weasel is right. For example, when Major Puff realizes it's time to migrate south, he also thinks that this year he really doesn't want to go. All kinds of dreadful things could happen while flying back and forth, and besides, the burrow he shares with Twitch is so warm and comfortable. Leave it to the weasel to convince Major Puff to head south despite his reservations by casting doubt that his friends really care about him. 

But most egregious of all is when the nameless weasel sets Magic to discover shy Boo's secret, and at the weasel's urging, he in turn inadvertently sets up Duane, Handsome, C.C., and Major Puff up to witness it. When Boo realizes that they have discovered it, she is beyond devastated. How could friends betray her like that? Some secrets are just not meant to be shared. 
Boo (pg. 181)
These two incidents and more certainly make it feel as though the weasel is right about friendships...or maybe he's at the center of all the trouble. But just when it seems that Duane's gentle, pleasant circle of friends are about to drift apart, Duane takes a thinking walk and comes up with what he hopes will be the perfect solution for repairing the cracks that have formed, before they get too deep.

Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North is every bit gentle and calming as the first that introduced readers to Duane and friends, The Very, Very Far North. There's a lot of emotional growing in these latest adventures - learning the saying you are sorry to someone often isn't enough, instead action speaks louder than words, that that turns out to be the case with Boo and her friends. And taking responsibility for your actions is an important lesson for Magic. But most of all, forgiveness is the hardest lesson. 

I really enjoyed spending more time with Duane and friends. Life at the moment is a little chaotic for everyone, and Dan Bar-el's novels are a great escape from all that. Young readers will find that besides the messages regarding friends, there is plenty of humor throughout the story, as well as lots of little details about everyone's arctic life. And readers of the first book will be happy to see the reappearance of the Sun Girl and her Pack playing an important part this this story.

Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North is an ideal book for lower middle grade readers and reluctant readers, as well as kids who love animal stories. I can't recommend it highly enough. 

There is a useful, detailed group reading guide available from the publisher, Simon and Schuster, HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was an eARC gratefully received from the publisher.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Some Days written and illustrated by María Wernicke

This has been a year of loss for so many people, but for children who have lost a parent, it is an especially devastating loss. It may be hard for them to understand fully what has happened, and often wishful thinking can easily move into their thoughts. María Wernicke has used very sparse text supported by spare illustrations to capture the emotional feelings and wishes of one young girl dealing with loss and how her mother responds to her pain. 

Some Days written and illustrated by María Wernicke,
translated by Lawrence Schimel
Amazon Crossing Kids, 2020, 48 pages 

After finishing a meal, a young girl begins telling her mother about a passageway in their backyard. As the two head out to hang up some freshly washed red sheets, the child explains that some days, it's there, other days, it isn't, but she makes it clear that this isn't some kind of fantasy passageway - it's not a well, a hollow in a tree and there is no door that leads to fantastic adventures.  

On the other side of the passageway, life is different. The child plays with an unknown man, presumably her father. There, in his presence, "I've already learned how to swim./ And it's not cold,/ and there's no danger./ And nothing, nothing at all, can can happen to you." Yearning for the safe and comforting arms of this man, the little girl wishes that passageway could be there everyday.

After listening to her child tell her about this passageway and what she finds there, her understanding mother tells her daughter that they can always go looking for it together, even if they don't always see it.

Without saying it, but relying on the illustrations, it is clear the this little girl and her mother have just lost their father and husband, indicated only by their grief and the pork pie that plays an important but subtle part of the narrative. There is an interesting use of color throughout the story. The parts of the story that revolves around the girl and her mother are done in shades of gray, reflecting the somber mood of mourning and grief, with the exception of the sheets being hung on the line which serve as the portal to the other side of the passageway. On the other side, the girl is still dressed in gray, but the unnamed man is done in a bold, bright red coat, letting the reader know that he is still very much alive in his daughter's mind, even as she grieves.

This is a gentle, solemn, very poignant story about a child dealing with loss and missing all the things that might have been had the loved one not passed away. But it is also a story that carries a great deal of hope and love and a promise of a future that also includes the memories of the past. This is the kind of book I wish I'd had when my Kiddo's dad suddenly passed away when she was young. It is the kind of book that will start needed conversations. I highly recommend it.

Meet the Author:

María Wernicke is an award-winning Argentinian author and illustrator of children’s books. She is a 2020 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award nominee. Her illustrations have been part of multiple international exhibits, including at the Bratislava Biennial exhibition and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, among others. Learn more about the author at www.maria

On Instagram: @wernicke_maria

Meet the Translator:

Lawrence Schimel is a bilingual author and translator, with more than one hundred books to his credit. His children’s books have won a Crystal Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and have been selected for lists of outstanding titles by the International Board on Books for Young People. His translated books include Wanda Gàg’s Millions of Cats and George Takei’s graphic novel They Called Us Enemy, among many others. He lives in Madrid, Spain.

Read the Reviews:

★“A gentle model for living while missing a loved one.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“This brief, wistful exchange between a mother and her child delivers its emotion between the lines, and Schimel’s translation handles the understatement deftly…Wernicke shows the two twirled up in another set of sheets, looking for the passageway together, in this portrait of a parent who hears and honors her child’s words.” —Publishers Weekly

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was gratefully received from Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Where is Our Library? (A Story of Patience & Fortitude #2) by Josh Funk, illustrated by Stevie Lewis

Where is Our Library? (A Story of Patience & Fortitude #2)
written by Josh Funk, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
Henry Holt & Company, 2020, 40 pages

I just love a good New York story and what could be better than a New York City story about the New York Public Library? And that is just what Josh Funk has written. Where is Our Library? is his second book starring those two lovable library lions Patience and Fortitude and a love letter to the NYPL's 92 library branches, as well as a visit to some iconic bookish landmarks in NYC.
It all begins late one night when most New Yorkers are asleep. Patience and Fortitude leave their perch and begin their nightly visit to the children's reading room in the 42nd Street library, anticipating a night of reading some good books, but when they arrive, much to their surprise and dismay, the books are all gone.

Baffled and disappointed, Fortitude immediately comes up with a plan and the two companions head out the library door and stealthily take to the streets, heading toward Times Square. No finding the library's books there, they head uptown to Central Park, through the zoo, past the carousel, arriving at the Alice in Wonderland statue, where Alice points them in the direction of the Hans Christian Anderson statue. Hans' suggestion: a list of branch libraries they should visit. Which they do, traveling from Harlem to Chinatown, and even along the High Line, but they still have no luck finding their books. By now, dawn is breaking and Patience and Fortitude need to return to their perch in front of the Schwartzman Building.

Do our literary lions find their missing books before the sun comes up? Yes, indeed. They have been moved across the street to the newly renovated Mid-Manhatten branch on Fifth Avenue and East 41st Street. That branch, Patience and Fortitude learn, now houses the Children's Library.  

Where is Our Library? is a mystery, an adventure, and an announcement. It is written in a rhyme that never loses its rhythm, an important point for a read aloud. Not only does this story make a good read aloud, but kids will really like seeing some of their favorite books on display in the various branches that the two lions visit. You might also notice that the plays shown on the Times Square pages are all kidlit related, even if the timing of their being performed and the present is a little off. And, thanks to COVID-19, most people never even knew that the renovated Mid-Manhatten branch has been renamed the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library until recently.
I read Where is Our Library? as an eARC but I still found the illustrations fun and energetic. I loved Lewis' depictions of the city at night, but I think my favorite is the two page layout of Patience and Fortitude walking through Central Park and all the familiar places they pass though. For those who aren't familiar with New York, the author has included an informative list of all the places the library lions visit.

You can also download a fun 12-page activity kit courtesy of the publisher HERE 

AND you can register for a storytime event WITH author Josh Funk and illustrator Stevie Lewis. Click HERE for details and to register.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was gratefully received from the author, Josh Funk 

OCTOBER 27, 2020
Imagination Designs