The children come unto us

The stirring stories of two courageous children from Pakistan arise from the colorful pages of Jeanette Winter’s latest picture-book biography. Malala a Brave Girl from Pakistan Iqbal a Brave Boy from Pakistan by Jeanette Winter
Known for her award-winning children’s books featuring activists working for peace and justice, Winter (Nasreen’s Secret School, 2009), turns her clear eye to the valiant efforts of two who spoke out against a society that deprived young people of their right to an education (Malala Yousafzai) or the right to protection from exploitation (Iqbal Masih). Since the children faced violent consequences – Malala was shot, while Iqbal was murdered – the author/illustrator took an unusual risk with this book intended for a young audience.
As with her other works, Winter offers spare text, simple illustrations, and a hopeful tone. For Malala, a Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan, she adds a pleasingly creative format: The reader can choose one story and then flip the book over to read the other. She introduces each child with a one-page note providing the essential context for his or her story, and follows that with the same quote from Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali writer and educator who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913: “Let us not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless when facing them.”
Malala’s account will be more familiar to readers. Despite the Taliban’s efforts to prevent girls from attending school, Malala and her classmates rebel and keep going. To reduce their risks, the girls begin to travel to and from school in a van, but even then they are not safe. One day, a Taliban fighter stops the van and asks, “Who is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all.” In the author’s note, we learn the bullet went through Malala’s head and neck to her shoulder.
After the van takes her to the local hospital, she is transferred to other sites, where doctors succeed in saving her life. On her 16th birthday, Malala, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013, tells an audience of world leaders: “They thought that bullets would silence us, but they failed …. One child, one teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world.”
Between the two stories lies a center spread showing each child on opposite sides, with a kite, symbolic of freedom, soaring toward the other. With eloquent symmetry, Malala, dressed in her pink and coral shalwar kameez, stands on a gray mountain peak and holds onto her kite, while Iqbal, depicted in a ghostly shade of gray, stands on a pink and coral peak and releases his kite. In the background, a golden crescent moon and rounded stars shine in a dusky purple sky.
Iqbal, we learn, loses his freedom at the age of 4, when his destitute parents borrow $12 from a carpet factory owner. The gruff owner tells the bewildered boy, shown holding a coral and purple kite, “No kites here!” and then drags him inside the dark factory and chains the child to a loom.
Trudging home one night, 10-year-old Iqbal sees a notice announcing a meeting about Peshgi, the loans that hold children in bondage. There, he learns that Peshgi has been outlawed and all loans forgiven. He rushes to the factory and shouts, “You are free! We are free!”
Not only does Iqbal head to school, he keeps spreading the news of freedom to other bonded children. Two years later, a bullet ends the brave boy’s life.
Showing an astute awareness that the story of Iqbal’s brief life might well have dismayed young readers, Ms. Winter has wisely paired it with the more uplifting one of Malala. In doing so, she provides adults with an exceptional opportunity to discuss with children the value of following one’s conscience and the need to stand up for justice, freedom and equality.

Reprinted with permission from the New York Journal of Books.

And see my prior posts on Winter’s other well-crafted books, such as Kali’s Song and Henri’s Scissors.

Clearing a path to peace

Sometimes a quiet story can achieve feats that rousing tales can’t. The Olive Tree, a simple yet subtle story set in contemporary Lebanon, offers no details or explanation of the 1975 Lebanese Civil War, but invites us to consider the lingering distrust among people and possible paths to reconciliation.Olive Tree by Elsa Marston

We learn from young Sameer how the house next door was empty for years. “The family who lived there had gone away during the troubles, because they were different from most of the people in the village. But now, thank goodness, the long war was over, and they were coming back.”
Beneath the ample branches of the old olive tree that grows on the other side of the wall, Sameer observes the neighbors as they return home. He notices the family has a girl named Muna, who was about his age. Sadly, neither she nor her family members show any inclination to become friends.
In time, the olives begin to ripen, and Sameer, as he does every year, sets out to gather those that have fallen in his yard. After all, they’re “the best olives in Lebanon,” his mother says. But one morning Muna sees him with a basket full of olives and complains: “Those are our olives, you know. Ours!”
Taken aback, Sameer points out that all the years they were away, Sameer and his family took care of the tree. “We have a right to the olives,” he says.
Muna insists that now that they’re back, they’ll take care of the tree and have all the olives. In his anger, Sameer leans over the wall and dumps his basket of olives into her yard.
Then one night a mighty storm descends and lightning strikes the tree, leaving a shattered stump and a broken stone wall. The children, confronting the loss of the precious old tree, discover they can put aside their differences and begin to live in harmony with each other and the land.
Ms. Ewart’s atmospheric, two-page spreads of naturalistic watercolor paintings flesh out the poignant story with realistic details. The mothers of both families wear the hijab; a goat, a donkey, and chickens populate the yards; and chairs have seats of woven bulrush.
With Elsa Marston’s understated story of conflict resolution, The Olive Tree is a valuable resource for teaching children to respect everyone.

Reprinted with permission of The New York Journal of Books.

See also …Sitti's Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye

Sami and the Time of Troubles by Florence Parry Heide Day of Ahmed's Secret by Heide and Gilliland

Sidman’s Fresh Winter Poems

Winter’s splendors shine in the latest collaboration between award-winning children’s poet Joyce Sidman and illustrator Rick Allen, whose stellar prints graced the author’s Newbery Honor-winning poetry collection Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night (2010).Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman
As with their previous work, Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold hums with a glorious trio of lyrical poetry, vibrant artwork, and natural science explained in crisp prose. The dozen brief poems show off a range of voices, tones, and formats in a full-throated effort to move readers to appreciate how the natural world adapts to the cold.
Employing a clear, consistent format of vivid double-page spreads showcasing the poem on the left and scientific information on the right, the poet and illustrator work harmoniously to stunning effect. Opening with the graceful “Dream of the Tundra Swan,” the team then moves on to feature coiled snakes, a new snowflake that “leaps, laughing/ in a dizzy cloud,/a pinwheel gathering glitter,” a rascally moose, winter bees, and others.
Ms. Sidman performs a sprightly dance with each of her subjects, dipping into rich sensory details with élan and displaying her facility with rhyme, rhythm, and poetic devices. She writes some poems from the perspective of a particular animal (“Brother Raven, Sister Wolf”) and throughout, shows a remarkable talent in her choice of poetic form. For “Under Ice,” Ms. Sidman writes of beavers in the form of a pantoum, distinguished by a pattern of using the poem’s second and fourth lines as the first and third of the next stanza. The last stanza employs the first and third lines in reverse order; thus, the poem’s final line is the same as the first. In this way the poet comes full circle, opening and closing with the image of the beavers’ snug winter home, “the fat white wigwam.”
These fresh poems spring to life with Mr. Allen’s original linoleum block prints, hand-colored and digitally scanned, composed and layered. The snowy images on these pages quiver with movement and assorted perspectives. As readers note the tundra swan’s upcoming “yodel of flight,/the sun’s pale wafer,/the crisp drink of clouds,” they can trace the V formations the vigorous swans make as they soar above a frosty lake. On subsequent pages, we see a chickadee preening, springtails flipping, a wolf prowling, and a ravenous moose reaching for a slender tree branch. The artist’s pleasing range of perspectives— from the upward view of tall trees and frigid sky to the downward gaze at a small fox coiled for warmth– can’t help but engage the reader. The illustrator offers fascinating glimpses of such internal worlds as the beavers’ cramped rooms beneath an icy pond and the winter bees clustered around their queen.
Winter Bees will make for a lovely companion on a chilly night, accompanied by hot cocoa and snuggles with young ones. Even middle-schoolers won’t be able to resist this bright concoction of art, words, and science. The glossary at the end serves to clear up any confusion about scientific terms and poem forms related to the text.

Reprinted with permission from New York Journal of Books.

See also …

Story of Snow The Science of Winter's Wonder by Mark Cassino with Jon NelsonEye to Eye How Animals See the World by Steve JenkinsOver and Under the Snow by Kate Messner

Another Wonder from Polacco

Once again mining her memories, Patricia Polacco presents a tender story of how she came to trust in her own abilities. As in previous picture books (Thank You, Mr. Falker and Junkyard Wonders), it’s a caring teacher who helps the young protagonist on her way to self-confidence. Mr Wayne's Masterpiece by Patricia Polacco

In Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece, Trisha tells us how terrified she is to stand up and speak before an audience. In the opening scene, her teacher, Mr. T., gently encourages her to read her essay to the class. After some painfully silent moments, he relents and lets her return to her seat. Polacco’s full-page pencil-and-marker image of the wide-eyed, frightened girl reveals her inner turmoil and irrational fear.

Luckily, that teacher doesn’t give up; instead, he chooses a roundabout way to help Trisha get past her anxiety by getting her to help the drama teacher, Mr. Wayne, prepare for the upcoming winter play. At first, she helps paint the scenery flats for Musette in the Snow Garden,  jokingly referred to by its author –Mr. Wayne– as a masterpiece. As Trish spends more and more time building the sets, she hears the cast rehearse and learns the words to all the parts.

Soon, whenever an actor forgets or fumbles a line, Trisha becomes the prompter. She likes that role, especially since she doesn’t have to get out on the stage.

But when the girl playing the main character suddenly moves away, Trisha is confronted with a fearful choice: Does she replace the actor or let the play fall apart? Trisha finds she’s not really alone. Mr. Wayne works with her individually, praising her good memory and giving her pointers on breathing and moving. “Patricia, let the play take you.”

And that’s just what she does. Many older-elementary children, especially those experiencing stage fright or shyness, will relate to this joyous story with its triumphant protagonist. Teachers preparing to introduce a play will want to read this aloud in a group setting, and parents should pick this up if they want to reassure a child who’s afraid of performing before a crowd. And as usual, you can rely on Polacco to show classrooms resonant with personality and ethnic diversity.

See also …

my previous post on The Blessing Cupas well as the post on Junkyard Wonders and other anti-bullying books. And consider these books by Patricia Polacco:

Thank you, Mr. Falker by Patricia PolaccoThe Butterfly by Patricia PolaccoArt of Miss Chew by Patricia Polacco

Stirring the Pot for Halloween Treats

Do bookstores have to be so predictable in their Halloween displays, as yet again they promote ho-hum Clifford and Curious George and Scooby-Doo products? Families can save their money and their sanity by heading to the library instead, where an array of craft books, poetry, folktales, and novels await anyone with a library card.

One way to combat the oppressive commercialism that has crept into the holiday is to make it yoEd Emberley's Drawing Book of Halloweenurself — whether it’s costumes, decorations, puppets, or cupcakes. Look for craft books by Kathy Ross, such as All New Crafts for Halloween. And remember feeling proud of those monsters you drew with the help of the wonderful old Ed Emberley’s Halloween Drawing Book? Don’t let your children grow up without Emberley’s engrossing little books. An alternative for slightly older children is Ralph Masiello’s Halloween Drawing Book.

Ghosts, ghouls and humor show up in plenty of kid-pleasing poetry. Adam Rex’s Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and his follow-up, Frankenstein Takes the Cake will have children (and parents?) howling with laughter. The illustrations are as much fun as the punchy poems featuring various monsters.

Other titles to look for are compilations such as Jack Prelutsky’s It’s HalloweenLee Bennett Hopkins’ Halloween Howls: Holiday Poetry or Marc Brown’s Scared Silly: A Halloween Book for the Brave: Poems, Riddles, Jokes, Stories and More.

For some of the best seasonal stories, head over to 398.2 for folk literature from around the world. One of Short and Shivery Thirty Chilling Tales retold by Robert D. San Soucithe most dog-eared, beloved collections in my school library was Short & Shivery: Thirty Chilling Tales retold by Robert D. San Souci. Ranging from diverse cultures, the stories are not uniformly scary, but they are all well-written and accessible to children ages 8 to 12. The volume includes such memorable tales as the Appalachian “Tailypo,” the Grimm Brothers’ “Robber Bridegroom,” and “Skeleton’s Dance,” from Japan. Audio- and e-book editions are also available. Another winner is any of the perpetually popular Alvin Schwartz collections, such as Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, illustrated ghoulishly by Stephen Gammell.

The strange Scottish legend of Tam Lin has been around for centuries, and Jane Yolen’s beautiful, lyrical writing does justice to the thrilling tale of of a brave young woman who rescues a man kidnapped by the Queen of the Fairies. Even young adults would enjoy this powerful love story set on All Hallows Eve.Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

As for novels, many older children (ages 10+) will be drawn to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, winner of the 2009 Newbery Medal, which unspools the bizarre adventures of a boy called Bod as he grows up being raised by ghosts in a cemetery. Gaiman reads his gripping novel aloud on his well-crafted web site.

For slightly younger ones (ages 8 to 12), it’s hard to top James Howe’s Bunnicula series, featuring an evil-looking bunny (found at a Dracula movie) that comes to live with the Monroes, Harold the dog and Chester the cat. When various vegetables show up with teeth marks and drained of all juice and color, the clever cat ascertains the toothy truth. Who knew a vampire story could be so much fun? Another witty one (for ages 6 to 8) is Kate DiCamillo’s Princess in Disguise, in which the pig Mercy Watson is persuaded to dress up in a pink gown and tiara. 

And for younger ones:

See my prior post on Julia Donaldson’s Room on the Broom, as well as any of the tales featured in the 2011 Scholastic DVD Teeny-Tiny Witch Woman and More Spooky Halloween Stories.

Rosie Can Do It!

What are the chances that a picture book told in rhyme would succeed in revealing the seldom-featured value of apparent failure and the need for perseverance? Not only that, the author and illustrator would show how females can overcome inner doubts and cultural biases by pursuing their own ideas. The unlikely and totally likable Rosie Revere, Engineer celebrates girl power in a big way.Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty and ill by David Roberts

The can-do spirit of this story, which echoes Peggy Seeger’s acerbic “I’m Gonna Be An Engineer” (1970), in which Seeger advocated for pay parity, respect, and equal opportunities for women, employs humor, rhyme, and bright, detailed watercolor, pencil, and pen-and-ink illustrations to reach impressionable children in need of positive themes.

Wide-eyed Rosie, shown with hair tucked into a red polka-dot kerchief, is a tinkerer at heart. She routinely scrounges in waste baskets for treasures she can use to build things in her room at night. David Roberts provides delightful two-page spreads highlighting the child’s various designs, tools, and original gadgets. These illustrations alone will have children poring over this picture book again and again.

While Rosie beams when her inventions such as helium pants (!) are a hit, she becomes discouraged after her zookeeper uncle laughs at the snake-repelling hat she created for him. “She stuck the cheese hat on the back of her shelf/ and after that day kept her designs to herself.”

What Rosie needs is a mentor, and fortunately, her great-great-aunt Rose, “who’d worked building airplanes a long time ago,” is a dynamo. When again Rosie’s inventions don’t work according to plan, her relative urges her on, stressing that “failed” attempts provide opportunities for learning and, in time, for succeeding.

Rosie regains her groove and goes on to inspire her classmates, who ultimately join in working, learning, and creating the gizmos of their dreams.

Adding value to the exuberant plot are Beaty’s notes about the women who entered the workforce during World War II and facts about women’s contributions to aeronautics. Don’t miss reading this book aloud to a group, or revelling in its encouraging message with your young ones, especially girls. Required reading for ages 5 to 9.

And check out these related posts, on Mordecai Gerstein’s The First Drawing, and on architects and builders.

Ashley Bryan’s Joyous Handiwork

In yet another celebration of creativity, acclaimed author/illustrator Ashley Bryan shares with readers his “family of hand puppets,” crafted with far-flung detritus. Peach pits become eyes … a coconut morphs into a head … a wishbone evokes whiskers. Oh, the random scraps that unfurl a panorama of puppets fit for the wildest tales!Ashley Bryan's Puppets

Ashley Bryan’s Puppets is not a craft book; rather, it’s an unusual poetry collection utilizing vibrant photos and a simple poem Bryan wrote for each of the 33 puppets showcased here. Clearly an act of love and joy, Bryan has bestowed every puppet with personality and a relevant name. Lubangi, meaning born in water, is a mermaid draped in netting studded with starfish and cockle shells. Jojo, the storyteller, has a head and hands made of gloves: “In every finger of my glove/ I tap tall tales of peace and love./ The fingers of my well-gloved hands/ Store stories told in foreign lands.”

In his note, the author/creator relates that as he walks the shores of his longtime home in the Cranberry Isles of Maine, he collects shells, bone, driftwood, nets, and sea glass. What child wouldn’t relate to this impulse? While readers won’t find instructions or photos of the author’s creative process (alas), they will find plenty of inspiration for their own puppets. Parents and young ones can use this book as a source for ideas, while teachers and librarians might select a few poems and photos to share as part of a puppet-making project based on folktales — perhaps using one of Bryan’s own vivid versions.

And see my prior post on Ashley Bryan.

 

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