Category Archives: ..Children/Picture Books

Migrant by José Manuel Mateo, illustrated by Javier Martínez Pedro, translated by Emmy Smith Ready

Migrant.MateoImagine a long scroll, that unfolds like a fan or an accordion. Each panel, when finally open, reveals a single, elongated picture, with sparse text to illuminate the densely populated illustration filled with mountains, animals, plants, people, that give way to trains, police cars, fences, highways, and a concrete jungle. On one side, the story flows in English. Gently flip it over, and you’ll find the same story in Spanish. More than a flat ‘book,’ Migrant is a uniquely unexpected, spectacularly composed art piece.

In a Mexican village that sits somewhere between the mountains and sea, a young boy plays hide-and-seek with his sister and dog. On the large farm where his father grows watermelons and papaya trees, the work is quickly disappearing. First Señor Augusto leaves, and then “the rest of the men who were farming did the same, because there was not enough money to continue planting.” The father ventures out, until “no one remained in town but the women and us children.” In desperation, the left-behind threesome take a dangerous journey north to Los Angeles in search of work and any news of the father’s whereabouts.

As familiar as the immigration story might be, the presentation here is unforgettable. [Click here for a stunning preview.] The ending “Author’s and Artist’s Note” explains that Migrant was inspired by the ancient Mesoamerican art of making paper from tree bark, called amate, on which stories were created in drawings or hieroglyphs. The long-ago Mesoamericans used a continuous sheet of amate that was gathered in folds rather than bound together as separate pages: “It’s called a codex,” the note explains.

Beyond the artistic context is a difficult overview of children who migrate north, sometimes without parents, in official numbers of about 50,000 a year. “They leave because of poverty, mistreatment, or violence,” but then must survive, all too often, even more difficult challenges getting to and living safely the other side of the border. “We seek not only to raise awareness but, above all, to safeguard [the children's] memory. We wish to tell and to question this collective story that makes children defenseless and almost nonexistent to their own country and to the new one where they hope to find work.” Artist Javier Martínez Pedro, according to his bio, is especially aware of the plight of these forgotten children, because “he himself at one point illegally migrated to the Unites States.”

“[W]e have created this book: to demand these children’s right to exist.” The resonating amate speaks volumes, bearing witness to young migrants risking all to seek hope-filled new lives.

Readers: Children

Published: 2011 (Mexico), 2014 (United States)

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Bilingual, .Fiction, .Translation, Latin American, Latino/a

Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

Not My GirlChristy Jordan-Fenton and her mother-in-law Margaret Pokiak-Fenton began publishing stories in 2010 about the older Pokiak-Fenton’s difficult childhood as a young Inuit child growing up in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Their four books in four years are comprised of two titles for middle grade readers, Fatty Legs and A Stranger at Home, which were then adapted into two complementary picture books, When I Was Eight and this, Not My Girl, which debuted earlier this year.

Now 10 years old, Margaret finally returns to her family from the faraway “outsiders’ school” where “I had grown tall and very thin from two years of hard chores and poor meals.” Virtually unrecognizable, her mother’s reaction is wrenching: “‘Not my girl!’ she called in what little English she knew … everything she remembered of me” had been ‘educated’ out of young Margaret, including her native Inuit language, culture, and even her name.

“Olemaun,” her father reaches out to her: “I had not heard my Inuit name in so long I thought it might shatter like an eggshell with the weight of my father’s voice.” Tight in his embrace, her mother, too, finally reaches out and “sheltered me in that safe place between them.” In spite of their love and attention, Olemaun’s return to her family proves to be a difficult challenge: her stomach is unable to digest the family’s traditional foods, the sled dogs no longer recognize her scent, she only understands her father’s translations, and she has “lost the skills [she] needed to be useful … [to] help feed the family.” She’s even rejected by her only friend whose parents forbid her to play with another “outsider.” Slowly, Olemaun must find her place with her family once more, comforted by her favorite book and a helpless puppy.

Artist Gabrielle Grimard again illustrates the duo-generational collaboration; again, her open, nothing-hidden expressions enhance Olemaun’s experiences – her father’s gentle gaze, her disappointed worry over tangling the family fish net, her dare-to-be-hopeful glance as her mother guides her hands in using the traditional knife, her single tear that matches the single drop of rice water as she nurses her puppy. The trio again transforms painful, unfortunate memories into another enduring story of resilience, tenderness, and unconditional love.

Readers: Children

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Canadian, Native American

Two Parrots by Rashin, inspired by a tale from Rumi

Two ParrotsAccording to a note at book’s end, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī of 13th-century Persia, also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, or simply Rumi, “… is currently considered to be the ‘most popular poet in America.’” International award-winning illustrator/writer Rashin wants to make sure that even the youngest readers can access and appreciate the timeless poet. To that end, in a simple, contemporary translation illuminated with captivating pictures, Rashin presents a story about love and freedom from Rumi’s iconic, extensive Masnavi, his six-volume poem of Sufi spiritual lessons.

“Once upon a time, in Persia,” begins this tale of “a wealthy merchant who had everything.” Still, he found himself a bit lonely, and bought a lively talking parrot to keep him company. In spite of all the endless comforts the merchant offers his fine feathered friend, the parrot remains sad in his beautiful golden cage.

As the merchant makes plans for a trip to India, he generously asks all his servants what he might bring back as gifts. Rather than any luxuries, the parrot’s only desire is but a message to a friend: “‘Tell him I would love to see him, but I can’t because I live in a cage.’” The merchant dutifully delivers the missive, only to witness the friend’s sudden death at the news. Upon his return home, how the merchant’s own parrot reacts to his regretful report teaches the merchant “a lesson [he] will never forget.”

Rashin, too, is just as ingenious as her avian characters, as she creates a complementary ‘hidden-in-plain-sight’ narrative in Farsi. In case you’re not lucky enough (like grateful me) to have a literary Persian friend, allow me to share a few tidbits. The three servants’ requests penned on a long scroll, begin with the word ‘sogati,’ the Persian concept of gifts gathered from one’s travels to specifically share with family and friends waiting at home (think souvenirs with purpose) – in this case, items include “perfume, clothes, jewels, sweets, wine, fruits, scarf, fabric.” The merchant is surely indulgent.

Most revealing of all is the parroted epistolary exchange: the sealed envelope at story’s beginning suggests that the Indian parrot’s name is Sina, as he writes, “My dear friend, salaam [hello] …,” to his caged buddy; as the ending nears, the scattered pages around the parrot’s cage show a letter in progress, in which the trapped parrot replies to his friend: “Salaam, my dear friend, I wished I could see you,” and “You are lucky because you are free.”

Love should never be at the cost of freedom, and Rashin-via-Rumi offers an important early lesson about healthy relationships (21st-century helicopter parents – who me?! – might take careful note). Thanks to Rashin’s vivid, empathetic presentation, here’s a teachable moment translated into an enchanting, memorable experience.

Readers: Children

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Iranian American, Persian

I Know Here and From There to Here by Laurel Croza, illustrated by Matt James

I Know Here and From There to Here

Absolutely no doubt that you could read either of these titles separately and find two engaging standalone stories. But read them together and you’re guaranteed a much more satisfying experience that reveals Kathie’s love of frogs, the significance of “[only] me in grade three” meeting someone “[e]ight, almost nine,” the importance of the sketchbook, and so much more.

I Know Here – a Canadian mega-award winner – captures all that is familiar for a little girl about to move from a nameless “yellow dot” somewhere in Saskatchewan to the big city of Toronto. Her “here” is close to Carrot River where her baby brother was born, and Nipawin from where the family’s groceries get delivered. “Here” is an enclave of 18 trailers, of which her “school is the trailer at the end of the road.” “Here” is where the dam her father is building “will send out electricity far across the prairies,” signaling that “[s]oon we will all be leaving.” What the little girl knows are the forest, the howling wolves, the tobogganing hill, the moose and rabbits on the Pas Trail – and somehow she’ll need to figure out how to take some of “here” to “there.”

Four years after Here, the sequel hits shelves next month. “Here” trades places with “there” when the family arrives in Toronto: “It’s different here, not the same as there,” the little girl narrates. “There” is where her father’s dam stretched across the Saskatchewan River, and “here” is where his next project is a city highway. From a “road without a name,” the family now lives on Birch Street, even though the birches “must be hiding in the backyard behind the fences.” Doors went unlocked there, but not so here. There the aurora borealis “dance[d] just for us”; here the street lamps keep darkness at bay. But best of all, here is something – someone – new: Anne, who knocks on the door to ask if the little girl is “ready” … for new adventures and new friendship.

Author Laurel Croza, whose back flap bio reveals her peripatetic past, uses her own Saskatchewan-to-Toronto childhood relocation as inspiration for both titles. Her co-traveler, artist Matt James, presents a rich, saturated palette to give textured energy to Croza’s memories. His intentionally naive, guileless style captures just the right balance of longing for the familiar, intertwined with the excited anticipation of discovery. Croza and James twice prove the strength of their complementary collaboration, creating a poignant journey both timely and timeless.

Readers: Children

Published: 2010, 2014

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Canadian

Coyote Run by Gaëtan Dorémus

Coyote RunHere’s your oxymoron for the day: wordless books that convey so much.

French illustrator/author Gaëtan Dorémus pays a kid-friendly homage to the American western … with whimsy, ingenuity, and (of course!) chocolate chip cookies. Somewhere in the wild surrounded by red rocks and jaunty saguaros, Coyote watches a tiny friend flying free while he remains behind bars. The sheriff and his somnolent deputies are otherwise distracted, so Coyote grabs the keys and makes for the hills.

The sheriff gives chase, and a mesa-top face-off ensues with the hunter and huntee angrily pointing guns. But Coyote’s tiny ladybug friend appears to distract the enemies, its tiny flights of fancy inspiring foes to become friends. [Yes, getting along can be that simple: just put down the weapons, raise a toast, and roast a meal together!] Alas, peace proves short-lived … until once again, the ladybug rallies to provide quite the Coccinella septempunctata ex machina rescue.

Dorémus’ latest import, which arrives Stateside thanks to delightfully innovative indie press Enchanted Lion Books, is proof-positive that his pictures are worth thousands of words, especially when his artistry is so full of action, humor, and just plain fun (you wouldn’t expect less from someone who, according to his back flap bio, enjoys eating his green tomatoes with cinnamon, right?). Rest assured, nothing gets lost in translation here!

Readers: Children

Published: 2014 (United States)

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, European

Numeralia by Jorge Luján, illustrated by Isol, translated by Susan Ouriou

NumeraliaAlphabet and counting books are understandably so predictable as to often be interchangeable in their sameness. ABCs and 123s are really immutable … or are they? To stand out in such a saturated genre is a rare, welcome occurrence – so don’t dare miss the ingenious, utterly unique Numeralia.

Yes, of course, you’ll find the numbers 0 through 10 here. But what you’ll remember most with each numeral is uncountable whimsy and surprising delight. Jorge Luján – an award-winning Mexico City-based author, poet, architect, musician (!) – provides the cleverly layered, uncommon ideas, which Isol – winner of the 2013 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (the world’s richest children’s book prize!) – magically, artfully renders on the page. Talk about dynamic duo!

Let’s take “2 is for the duckling who is not so ugly after all”: that purposefully singular ‘ugly duckling’ is actually a small child wearing a silly mask, standing at the front of a boat that gives him that shape similar to his curious aquatic companions; meanwhile the aviary reflections of two ducklings in the water create mirror images of the upside-down numeral 2.

The number 6 also gets reflective representation: “6 for musketeers alongside their reflections” – which makes six figures on the page, in addition to the 6ish promontory in the distance, and the six bubbles the swordfish leaves in his wake.

The best comes last with “10 for a student’s thoughts lost in daydreams”; the corresponding illustration you’ll have to carefully, gratefully explore on your own (no more spoilers!).

Go head, give into curiosity: consider Numeralia as an inspiring investment in your child’s imagination. Learning numbers was never quite this original.

Readers: Children

Published: 2006, 2014 (United States)

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, .Translation, Latin American, South American

Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons by Jon J. Muth

Hi, Koo!What is it about panda bears that makes them soooo utterly irresistible? Click here to see if you could possibly be immune to those “chubbly-wubbly.” Curmudgeon that I usually am, even I succumbed to “beary love.”

Jon Muth personally knows their inevitably undeniable appeal: his giant panda, Stillwater, and his nephew, Koo, have helped make Muth a mega-bestselling, multi-award winning author/illustrator many times over with Zen Shorts, Zen Ties, and Zen Ghosts, as well dozens of other titles to Muth’s name.

His latest – hitting shelves today – is an ingenious celebration of young Koo’s multifaceted talents: Koo is a prolific poet who can embed all 26 letters of the alphabet (watch for the capitalizations) as he shares his appreciation of the unique sights of the changing seasons in 26 haiku. The wordplay is especially clever and entertaining: a charming challenge for older kiddies, a lyrical delight for the youngest.

Koo opens with autumn, anticipating a change in wardrobe, leaves, and warmth. He’s joined by two friends as they chase melting icicles and a vanishing cat. Crocuses announce the coming of spring, when too much indoor TV time finally turns to outdoor adventures. Birds make nests, and Koo mourns the accidental death of a bug (oh, be still my heart!). Summer arrives with violet petals and butterfly kisses, and Koo takes a moment of quiet, sharing the splendor with two avian companions lovingly perched … on his head, of course!

Spring is in the air (finally!), the perfect reason to share this whimsy and glee: say ‘hi, Koo’ with his heartfelt haiku.

Readers: Children

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific

Socks! by Tania Sohn

Socks!Who doesn’t love the unlimited possibility of socks? Polka dotted, striped, green, yellow, even holey socks add just the right flash of whimsy to perfect any outfit.

If you’re thinking of changing your look, choose either baby socks and daddy socks. Add holiday cheer to your footwear, or turn your anklets into flying gear. For your next performance, choose something long for elephant-trunking or something brightly fanciful for puppet-making. The imaginative little girl – always in motion – keeps her feet well-heeled, and even more so when a sock-ish surprise arrives from her grandmother …

South Korean artist Tania Sohn makes her Stateside debut full of spirited energy and vivid color. The little girl – her spunk adorably embodied in her double pigtails – and her always-ready-to-play kitty companion, are a delightful duo of sock explorers, trying on every pair with gleeful abandon. Captivating story aside, Sohn’s stand-out strength is indubitably in her art: her dynamic illustrations imbue every page with vibrancy, from leaping frogs to curious paws to soaring elephants. Go ahead, grab your bestest socks and jump in.

Readers: Children

Published: 2014 (United States)

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Korean

Norman, Speak! by Caroline Adderson, illustrated by Qin Leng

Norman, Speak!When Norman and his parents go to the animal shelter, they return home with a brown-and-white dog with a stump for a tail because he’s the “saddest.” “‘No one knows his real name,’” the shelter employee explains, “‘Norman is what we call him.’” As soon as his cage door is opened, Norman begins to wag until “his whole rump swung from side to side. His wag was a hula dance of happiness.”

Wagging proves to be the only communication between boy and dog. “Norman didn’t understand a word we said … after a few days with Norman, we knew the truth. He just wasn’t very smart.” And yet Norman’s energetic glee is just irresistible and “[w]e loved Norman anyway.”

One day at the park, Norman’s family learns quite the language lesson: a man and his playful canine companion show that Norman is actually fluent in Chinese (!), which prompts Mom, Dad, and the boy to sign up for Saturday morning Chinese classes. In spite of the difficult challenge (“‘More effort. Fewer jokes,’” Teacher Wang warns airplane-throwing Dad), the boy works hard to speak to his new best friend. Oh, the many languages of love …

Caroline Adderson, an internationally lauded Canadian writer for adults as well as older readers, debuts her first picture book which arrives south of the border already prized with the 2012 Helen Isobel Sissons Canadian Children’s Story Award. Adderson’s thought-provoking, diversity-celebrating (oh, so cleverly so!) tale is superlatively enhanced by Qin Leng‘s whimsical, humorous illustrations. Most noteworthy are the expressions Leng imbues on both her canine and human subjects – from the quizzical head tilt to classroom giggles. Get ready to join in on that “hula dance of happiness.”

Readers: Children

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Canadian, Canadian Asian Pacific American

Under the Same Sun by Sharon Robinson, illustrated by AG Ford

Under the Same SonAn 85-year-old grandmother makes a special birthday trip from the U.S. to Tanzania where three generations celebrate with a surprise safari through Serengeti National Park. The story is special enough … but this one is far more layered …

Grandmother Bibi is Rachel Robinson, the widow of the legendary Jackie Robinson who broke the race barrier in 1947 to become the first African American to play Major League Baseball. The author (and co-traveler) is daughter Sharon Robinson and the family’s birthday adventure is hosted by her brother, David Robinson, who “… in 1984, gave up all that was familiar to him – and started a new life in East Africa.”

Artist AG Ford captures all the important moments with brilliant hues and rich vibrancy, from Bibi and Sharon’s arrival in Dar Es Salaam, to their few days in David’s home “exchanging gifts, telling stories, and filling in the gaps from their years apart,” to the unforgettable safari which ends on a historical beach on the Indian Ocean.

The final day of Bibi’s birthday trip takes the family to Bagamoyo, which “‘… was once home to a slave-trading post,’” David explains. “‘People were captured and brought here with their legs chained together to keep them from running away. ‘Bagamoyo’ comes from a Swahili phrase that means ‘to let go of one’s heart.””

The somber moment becomes both a historical lesson as well as a celebration of the deep bonds of family: “‘Your great-great-grandparents were captured on the west coast of Africa and shipped to America, to the state of Georgia,’” David tells his children. As an adult, David made the voyage back: “‘I wanted to return to my ancestral past. And I made my home here with you.’” In the detailed “Author’s Note,” at book’s end, Sharon further explicates: “As the founder of a coffeegrowers’ cooperative, David has committed his life to partnering with the people of this region to fight poverty and foster economic development.”

While continents and time zones might separate families all over the world, heroes like Jackie Robinson and his descendents who continue a legacy of social activism, ensure today’s”‘freedom to travel back and forth.’” And, as Bibi reminds us all, “‘We may be separated by land and sea, but we are always under the same sun.’”

Readers: Children

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, African, African American