Posts Tagged ‘picture books’

It’s no secret that autumn is my favorite season. I only wish we could spread it out much longer.

Grab some spiced cider, a cinnamon doughnut, and a batch of prime autumnal books and revel in all things fall!

Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter, written and illustrated by Kenard Pak
published in 2017 by Godwin Books, Henry Holt and Company

Kenard Pak does it again! I loved his transition from Summer to Autumn (reviewed here), and this look at a world gradually moving from late autumn’s windswept branches to the first dustings of snow is equally gorgeous.

Pak’s pristine illustrations capture that nip in the air, the spare beauty of late autumn when fragments of color and life linger amid increasingly barren trees, dry seedpods, long shadows, shivering nights. I love that he focuses here on that bridge time rather than the full-on splendor of fall we find in most autumnal books. Outdoor rambling at its best for ages 2 and up.

In the Middle of Fall, written by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek
published in 2017 by Greenwillow Books

Kevin Henkes spins just two sentences into a lovely whirl of tumbling fall leaves and sprinklings of snowflakes in this cheerful ode to autumn.

Take notice! Drink in those riotous colors. Enjoy those frisketing squirrels. Soon that slight chill in the air will turn to brrrrr-coldness and we’ll arrive in winter.

Laura Dronzek’s bold shapes, close-up perspectives, and saturated colors envelop us in the cozy beauties of the natural world. Perfection for ages 18 months and up.

Full of Fall, written and photographed by April Pulley Sayre
published in 2017 by Beach Lane Books

April Pulley Sayre continues her superb run of nature-infused, photographic splendors that treat young children to the beauties of the outdoors accompanied by a dignified, rhyming text.

I love the way Sayre respects young minds with her work. There’s nothing juvenile or cutesy here. Just the glories of the woodlands in autumn to soak up with children as young as under-Two.  Two additional pages discuss the science of pigments, leaf structure, decomposition, and more, geared to ages 6 or 7 and up.

Woody, Hazel and Little Pip, written and illustrated by Elsa Beskow
originally published in Sweden in 1939; first English edition 1990 by Floris Books

Swedish favorite Elsa Beskow created marvelous stories populated by all manner of fanciful woodland sorts — elves, fairies, gnomes, trolls, blueberry children, Frost Kings…

This story finds two adventurous brothers — Woody and Little Pip Acorn — gliding away from home on a whirling, twirling leaf, landing in a peck of trouble, and gamely making the best of it, trolls and all. Their friend Hazel hitches a ride on a neighborhood squirrel in search of them and runs into her own batch of escapades.

Unlike Peter Rabbit’s mama, Mrs. Acorn and Mrs. Hazelnut throw a party when these naughty children return! Charming as ever, this is a longer-than-usual picture book story for patient listeners ages 3 and up.

Our Apple Tree, written by Görel Kristina Näslund, illustrated by Kristina Digman
first published in Sweden; American edition published in 2005 by Roaring Brook Press

Capturing a pinch of the same elfkin vibe of Beskow, this Swedish story traces the life of an apple tree through one cycle of seasons, from winter snows through blossoms and straight on through to a golden-crusted apple pie. Yum!

Two tiny apple-elves who call this tree home are our guides on this quaint, gentle journey. A recipe for Apple Crisp is included. Ages 2 and up.

There are many more book-treasures for Autumn reading listed in my Subject Index. Enjoy!



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Business first: We’ve got a winner for last week’s mystery giveaway. Congrats to Jena Benton! Please contact me at jillswanson61@gmail.com with your mailing address and I’ll get that off to you pronto.

This October marks the 500th anniversary of The Protestant Reformation, a historical circumstance that remarkably changed the world.

In 1517, Martin Luther, an obscure German monk, published his 95 theses in protest over key practices in the Catholic Church, setting off a chain of events that so turned the world upside down we remember him half a millennium later.

Wittenberg and other German towns have been pulling out the stops to commemorate Luther all year long, and this book was published in Germany in 2015, gearing up for the celebrations:

The Life and Times of Martin Luther, written by Meike Roth-Beck, illustrated by Klaus Ensikat, translated into English by Laura Watkinson
published in the U.S. in 2017 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
43 pages

It’s been translated and is available for American readers now, so with Reformation Sunday coming up in a few weeks, perhaps you’d like to find a copy.

I’ll talk about the art first because despite your fears of a dry, theologically-dusty tome, this is one beautiful book.

Klaus Ensikat is a brilliant German illustrator who has garnered some of illustration’s most prestigious awards in his lifetime of work, including the coveted Hans Christian Andersen prize in 1996.

Looking at these pages, you will immediately understand why. His technical precision, his painstaking, engraving-style line work, along with the subtly-tinted color palette and mastery of the medieval scene yield illustrations at once precise and soft, splendid and human. Every page in the book is rich with period detail and ambience. Plus, Eerdmans’ production team ensured that the whole book has the feel of something rather noble. Beautiful type, heavy, creamy paper, rich burgundy endpapers — beautiful straight through.

Author Meike Roth-Beck’s background in education is evident as she clearly, simply, engagingly, unreels the story of Luther. She colors in the background of Martin’s world and growing-up years, then narrates his entrance into monastic life, the questions that began troubling him, and the revelation he discovered while studying. She takes the time to explain the meaning of over a dozen of his 95 theses, quoting them and commenting on them, before continuing her account of the remainder of Luther’s life.

The book is geared for ages 7-11 I’d say, and as such does not explore Luther’s flaws or the long-term impact of the Reformation other than a somewhat overly-tidy paragraph. That quibble aside, it’s an unusually beautiful, informative record of the man and his main arguments that will be a happy find for many of your homes/schools/churches.

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The African Orchestra, written by Wendy Hartmann, illustrated by Joan Rankin
published in 2017 by Crocodile Books, Interlink Publishing Group

That buzzing cicada? That crackle-snap of a seed pod breaking? The thunder of hooves as a herd of zebras races across the plains? The burbling of a brook freshened by a mighty rainfall?

All those sounds woven into the wild, vast, haunting, lovely, lush, bleak African landscapes, found their way into African musical instruments as humans invented ways to replicate nature’s songs.

Thought-provoking ideas, lyrical text, and marvelously inventive, artistic images capture the natural world of Africa and the emotion of its music. A brilliant concept and collaboration to muse over with children ages 3 and up.

You can pursue the idea of nature-inspired music with these brilliant guides to classical music:

Listen to the Birds, music selection and explanatory notes by Ana Gerhard, illustrations by Cecilia Verela, translated from Spanish by Heléne Roulston and Sabrina Diotalevi
first published in Spain in 2010; English edition 2013 by The Secret Mountain

Amazing Water, music selection and explanatory notes by Ana Gerhard, illustrations by Margarita Sada, translated from Spanish by David Lytle
first published in Spain; English edition 2016 by The Secret Mountain

Gerhard chooses 20 classical selections for each book, with themes and sounds that convey birdsong and water respectively.

For example, Vivaldi’s “The Goldfinch and Saint-Saën’s “Aviary” from The Carnival of the Animals are included in Listen to the Birds. Schubert’s Trout quintet and “Alla Hornpipe” from Handel’s Water Music are included in Amazing Water.

Background for each piece is provided which might be best read by a parent to dole out judiciously, as well as brilliant listening notes that accompany the included CD, drawing children’s attention to specific aspects of the music and explaining how these reflect the subject. There are also brief bios of each composer and a glossary of musical terms, and all of this is presented on pages dominated by joyful illustrations.

This is a great resource for homeschooling families, for example, who could putter through one volume over a 20 week period with children as young as 3 or 4.

There is one other title in this series, Simply Fantastic, which explores fantasy-oriented musical selections.


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Rain has perhaps a tarnished reputation of late with the devastating hurricanes and floods across the globe.  Images of rainfall have been connected with misery. 

Today’s rain-soaked books are saturated with jubilation, imagination, humor, tenderness.  I think they’ll put a smile on your face and buoy your spirits. Take a look:

This Beautiful Day, written by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Suzy Lee
published in 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster

Simplicity, imagination, liveliness, contentment, love.

Richard Jackson and Suzy Lee tap into the truly good things in life in this joyful shimmy through a day with three siblings, their mom, and a sprinkling of neighborhood friends.

It’s full on rain to begin with, but a swizzle of music, the sheer happiness within their hearts, and the downright juiciness of life means a little weather can’t keep these guys down. Out they go to revel in rain. Their exuberance is catchy. Friends come a-running. Soon enough, clouds drift away and a radiant sun splashes their world with warmth and light. It’s a beautiful day, all right.

Jackson’s text pops with joy and movement. Lee’s playful line dances, swishes, stomps, leaps merrily. Her brilliant use of color starts us out with calm, graphite sketchiness, adds spritzes of energizing raindrop-blue, diffuses warm summer-green as the day and action heat up. I adore this book. The outdoor play. The magic of imagination. The relaxed affection.  The sheer gleefulness. Picture book perfection for ages 2 and up. Don’t miss it!

Rain, written and illustrated by Sam Usher
first U.S. edition 2017 by Templar Books, Candlewick Press

Previously Sam Usher has introduced us to this boy and his granddad in a world blanketed by a mighty snowfall. (Find that review here.)

Today, it’s raining, and once again, this little fellow cannot wait to get out and play in it. To “catch raindrops, splash in puddles, and look at everything upside down.” And once again, Granddad says they’ve got to wait.

Waiting is hard business, and when an epic rainstorm is flooding the world outside your window, forming puddles big as seas, creating watery worlds enchanted as Venice — well, it is very trying. But he is one patient kid.

When Granddad is finally ready to venture out, it’s clear the waiting did not wither our boy’s imagination one bit! What an adventure the two of them have on a simple walk to the postbox! Another blast of imagination and intergenerational companionship from Sam Usher. Vibrant illustrations to linger over and even textured raindrops on the book cover! Ages 2 and up.

The Cow Said Meow, written and illustrated by John Himmelman
published in 2016 by Henry Holt and Company

One shrewd cow observes that with merely a “meow” a marmalade cat is welcomed out of the rain and into the snug dry house. Hmm.

Standing there in the driving rain, clearly not amused, the cow gives it a try. “Meow,” says the cow. Bingo! The old lady, whose thick glasses clearly are not helping her see straight, opens the door and ushers Ms. Cow inside, as quick as that.

Next, an alert pig gives it a try. Then an eagle-eyed chicken. How many animals does it take before the cat decides things are out of control? Zany fun for ages 2 and up.

A Rainbow of My Own, written and illustrated by Don Freeman
first published in 1966; published by Puffin Books in 1978

Don Freeman’s work has nurtured generations of young children. This one is a gem. I love the vintage feel of not only the images, but also its quiet tone and the independence of the child exploring completely on his own with freedom. There is not a single other human in the story. No supervision and no need for companions, even. This is not something we see very often in more contemporary children’s stories and I miss it.

One little boy is off in pursuit of the rainbow he sees, intent on capturing it. It proves elusive, of course, but a surprise awaits him back in his own room, when sunlight beams through a fishbowl and dazzles him with a rainbow of his own.

Authentic, childlike perspectives, straightforward text, splashes of imagination, and Freeman’s iconic illustrations all make this a winner for ages 2 and older.

Home in the Rain, written and illustrated by Bob Graham
published in Australia 2016; first U.S. edition 2017 by Candlewick Press

Quintessential Bob Graham here, with this unusual story witnessing a small miracle on a sodden day. As with any Graham story, it is nearly impossible to encapsulate in a short review. His ability to capture the glory of the ordinary, the rich kernels of human experience,  consistently leaves me speechless. 

Francie and her mom are driving home from Grandma’s house, their small red car dwarfed by semis, smothered by dark rain clouds, battered by rain.

All around them, unbeknownst to them, living their quiet/loud/still/busy lives, others are experiencing the rain as well, but Francie and Mom are cocooned in their own world in the cab of the car. Francie’s baby sister is there, too, tucked safe inside of mama, waiting to be born. As they chat and munch a packed lunch, Francie wonders what the baby’s name might be. When will she have a name? she asks. Might it be Alice? Or Isabel?

The juxtaposition of a stormy rainswept countryside, the busy push and go surrounding them on the highways and at the gas station, with the private, childlike wonderings and maternal introspection; the flicker of inspiration in this pregnant woman’s heart — it’s so breathtaking and real and ordinary and tender and lovely. If you blink, you’ll miss it. Just like in real life. Another gem to enjoy with ages 5 and older that will speak at least as deeply to adults who read it.

What are your favorite books about rain?

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With our arrival in Europe, we’ve reached the end of our tour! 

Finding picture books set in contemporary Europe — without a WWII focus — is surprisingly challenging here in the U.S. You can read more of my thoughts about that in my earlier musings post.  Here’s what I turned up, scattered across the islands and on the continent:


Tobias Has a Birthday, written and illustrated by Ole Hertz, translated from the Danish by Tobi Tobias
originally published in Denmark in 1981; English edition published in 1984 by Carolrhoda Books

In fact, this is a story set in Greenland! That doesn’t involve medieval Vikings! Hurrah!

Tobias lives in Greenland with his family, and today he is 12 years old. What will transpire on this glad day?  Fetching ice to melt for making coffee. Making the rounds of the settlement to invite everyone to his party — a few at a time because the house can’t hold them all at once! Neighbors hard at work scraping sealskins, repairing sleds. Grandma’s stories of the old days.

Enticing gifts and a lovely playtime, rolling on oil drums with the other children. Unadorned text and minimalist illustration creates that spare, expansive feel of this windswept region. I adore this opportunity to peek into a most unusual life, and there are several other books about Tobias as well! Ages 3 and up.


Puffling Patrol, written and illustrated by Ted and Betsy Lewin
published by Lee & Low in 2014

Puffins who nest and raise chicks on Iceland’s islands have an odd challenge when it comes time to migrate in the fall. Lights of the towns can confuse the newest fliers, luring them to yards and streets where they become rather stuck. In order to fly, they need to launch themselves into the sea breeze from the cliffs.

The Puffling patrol is clusters of local kids who help biologists find these stranded birds and re-launch them. This fascinating and beautifully illustrated account is by the great team of Ted and Betsy Lewin. You can read my full review here. Ages 4 and up.


Welcome Back Sun, written and illustrated by Michael Emberley
published in 1993 by Little, Brown and Company

Along with being one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited, Norway is also one of Earth’s places that receives precious little sunlight during the long winter months and heaps of it in mid-summer.

The little girl in this story lives in one of the deep valleys tucked at the foot of Norway’s majestic mountains, which means her town gets even less of the sun’s rays during murketiden — the dark time that descends and gloomifies her life after the jollity of Christmas. See the way she copes with it in this pretty little story. Although the characters are clothed in older, more traditional Norwegian garb, the challenges of darkness and the enormous gladness that comes with sunlight are as true as ever. Charming, for ages 3 and up.


Stina, written and illustrated by Lena Anderson
first American edition in 1989 by Greenwillow


Stina’s Visit — American edition 1991 by Greenwillow

Two of my favorite books set in Sweden are challenging to find but worth a search. Stina is a plucky, flaxen-haired girl who is lucky enough to visit her dear grandpa in his cottage by the sea every summer.  There, they arise early in the morning for coffee by glass-smooth waters, then head out in the wooden fishing dory to check Grandpa’s nets.

Stina ambles along the rocky coast collecting treasures washed ashore by waves, and the two of them eat fresh fish at the picnic table each evening. What a lovely set of days. 

Trouble comes when Stina decides to get an up-close look at the sea during a storm. She gets a bit more wet wildness than she bargains for.  Grandpa’s response to her calamity is one of my very favorites in children’s literature.

Her second adventure has her paying a birthday visit with Grandpa to his old friend Stretchit who regales Stina with quite the sea yarn! Both books reveal the exquisite beauty of Sweden’s islands through the pristine watercolor work of Lena Anderson. Ages 2 and up.


I See the Sun in Russia, written by Dedie King, illustrated by Judith Inglese
published in 2012 by Satya House Publications

Here’s this Satya House series once more, letting us tag along with Anton on his typical day growing up in Saint Petersburg.

Catch a glimpse of the strong role of the arts in Russian culture and the patriotism of Saint Petersburg’s people. See what the schoolchildren eat for lunch, and why Papa dreams of spending time at their dacha after a long day at work. A quiet, ordinary pace sets the tone for these realistic portraits of life for children around the world, which I love. They’re accompanied by mixed media collages including photos. Ages 3 and up.

R is for Russia, written by Valdimir Kabakov, photographed by Prodeepta Das
published in 2011 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Another great entry in this series, written by a man born in Siberia near Lake Baikal who has lived and worked in many different parts of Russia. View everything from chess to the underground railway, religious icons to Siberian tigers in this alphabetic tour of vast Russia. Great for ages 5 and up.

British Isles

Katie Morag and the Birthdays, written and illustrated by Mairi Hedderwick
published in 2005 by The Bodley Head

I dearly love Katie Morag, the red-headed, gumptious gal in her Wellies, careening around the fictional Scottish Isle of Struay. There are many stories about her. This birthday extravaganza volume tracks through one year of the McColl family’s loving chaos and all the birthdays celebrated along the way.

There are lots of folks to celebrate — Katie’s baby sister Flora Ann is turning One, while Neilly Beag is 70 years young. Grannie Island, Granma Mainland, Liam, all the Big Boy Cousins…even the sheep and the dog have birthdays to mark.

For Katie, every day that is not her birthday is a pinch of agony. “WHEN will it be MY birthday?” she moans. Not to worry — it’s a lovely one when her turn comes.

I love the out-of-doors wildness of life on Struay and the mussy household of the McColls, so similar to the realistic untidiness of Shirley Hughes’ families. The blustering strength, simple creativity, and genuine affection between all these characters makes for bracing, happy tales.

Besides all that, you get some Jolly Extras in this book including clever birthday cards and crafts to make, and the recipe for a jim-dandy castle cake with plenty of biscuits and chocolate! It’s a treat for ages 4 and up.

All Aboard the London Bus, written by Patricia Toht, illustrated by Sam Usher
published in 2017 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Dash around London seeing the sights with this energetic family.

 photo All Aboard the London Bus spreads 9781847808578_Page_12_zps28j525nq.jpg

Hop on the red double-decker bus, crane your neck to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, spot all the goings-on at busy Trafalgar Square, mind the gap on the Tube, give a cheer at The Globe, and for goodness’ sake don’t skip tea and scones in the afternoon! Vigorous poems introduce each scene while Sam Usher’s friendly, colorful illustrations spread a thrilling London upon these pages. Notes about each place on the tour are included so you can learn a bit more. Jolly good fun for ages 4 and up.

London Calls, written by Gabby Dawnay, illustrated by Alex Barrow
published in 2014 by Tate Publishing

Or, trot along with Pearl and Granny Rose on their whirlwind tour of London.

Rhyming text merrily skips along, zigging and zagging among charming illustrations of everything from the London Eye to the Tube to Kensington Gardens. If you love London, I promise you will like this little book. Ages 4 and up.

Megan’s Year: An Irish Traveler’s Story, written by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Beth Peck
published in 2011 by Sleeping Bear Press

Megan is one of approximately 25,000 “travelers” in Ireland. You might know them as Gypsies, a pejorative term which has been replaced by Roma or Travelers.

Catch a glimpse of her life over the course of a year as she and her family move about Ireland in search of seasonal jobs, listen to fiddling by the campfires on summer evenings, and cope with the unique difficulties of an itinerant lifestyle when it comes to schooling. It’s a fascinating account brought to life with vivid paintings. Ages 5 and up.

The Netherlands

Father, May I Come?, written and illustrated by Peter Spier
published in 1993 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers

The inimitable Peter Spier brings us to Holland in two parallel stories of the sea. On a North Sea island off the Dutch coast, the townspeople have for centuries rescued the crews of ships who ran afoul of sudden, ferocious storms and the tricky sandbanks and channels strewn along the coast.

Spier illustrates the account of one such rescue in 1687, and another rescue more than 300 years later, showing us as only he can the intriguing similarities and clear differences in not only the means of  ocean rescue, but the occupations, clothing, and lives of these brave citizens.  Strike a bell for courageous Netherlanders and pour over Spier’s fascinating panels. Several pages of more technical information about modern day rescue equipment and the history of coastal rescue efforts are included. Ages 5 and up.


A Walk in Paris, written and illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino
published in 2014 by Candlewick Press

Salvatore Rubbino graces every page of this travel guide to Paris with his charming, stylish illustration work. If you know M. Sisek’s travel guides to various world-class cities, you might think of this as an updated but similar idea.

Join a young girl and her grandfather as they stroll the boulevards, gaze down from Notre-Dame’s tower, eat at a bistro, goggle over pastries, meander in the Tuileries, gawk at the Eiffel Tower and ever so much more. Cram jam with Parisian particulars. Dip into this as much or as little as attention spans can manage, ages 4 to much older.


Crossing the Gotthard: The Longest Tunnel in the World, written and illustrated by Yvonne Rogenmoser, translated by David Henry Wilson
first published in Switzerland; English edition published in 2016 by NorthSouth

Embedded in the psyche of the Swiss are, of course, the Alps. Those of us who live on the flat midwestern plains do not grow up thinking about crossing mountain passes and waiting for tunnel congestion in order to drive just a few hours for a holiday.

But for centuries, those who live in the neighborhood of the Alps have encountered these magnificent obstacles to travel. The ways they’ve coped with one particularly vexing section, the Schöllenen Gorge, is surveyed here, brilliantly. Discover the attempts of Swiss travelers to surmount this section, from medieval times right up to 2016 when the longest tunnel in the world opened. The mountaineering and engineering of the Swiss are uniquely on display here, for ages 7 and up.


Olivia Goes to Venice, written and illustrated by Ian Falconer
published in 2010 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Yes, I’ve tapped Olivia to give us a silly but cool glimpse of Venice. As always, Olivia is full of shenanigans that threaten the very foundations of this old city, but you’ll also get lovely glimpses of the canals, bridges, and cathedrals for which Venice is famous.

It is definitely a jolly introduction to this unique tourist-magnet of a city, with copious gelato consumed! Ages 2 and up.

Orani: My Father’s Village, written and illustrated by Claire A. Nivola
published in 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers

Orani is a tiny village of narrow, cobbled  streets, red clay-tiled roofs, dusky-green fig trees and drooping grape clusters, tucked in a sun-soaked, Mediterranean valley on the isle of Sardinia.

Clarie Nivola’s father was born in that village and brought his family there frequently throughout Claire’s childhood. This is her exquisite account of life in sunny Orani.  Of scorching sun and cool spring water; wedding dances and wild horse races; women baking bread in clay ovens and uncles offering ice creams at the cafe.  Accompanied by her achingly-beautiful artwork, Nivola paints a time and place incredibly sweet with precision and fondness.

The text is sparse, but a lengthy Author’s Note adds many more intriguing details. It’s a stunningly beautiful book both in its artwork and its rich, evocative language.  A lovely read for ages 6 to 100.


Island Summer, written and illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 1999 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

Mediterranean waters, moonlight-white houses rambling up sun-soaked, olive green hillsides. Yes, I could breathe easier here.

An island summer in Greece begins as the cold rains of winter end and the summer sun strengthens, soothing “angry waves into a flat shimmering sea and soak[ing] up the muddy puddles like freshly baked pound cake sops up melted chocolate.”

Watch ferryboats unload passengers, inns welcome summer folk, ladies in flowery dresses and children with sand buckets bask in sunshine, loll in hammocks, play soccer on the beach, and dance to fiddles by starlight.

The whole book is fragrant with the loveliness of this place, and this pace. Ages 3 and up.


T is for Turkey, written by Nilüfer Topaloglu Pyper, photography by Prodeepta Das
published in 2010 by Frances Lincoln Books

Discover Turkish tea, Henna nights, maras ice cream, a snack called leblebi, the chalky wonders of Pamukkale, an unusual musical instrument called the zurna, and more in this alphabetical sampler of Turkey, a country at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Ages 5 and up.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Flowers for Sarajevo, written by John McCutcheon, illustrated by Kristy Caldwell
published in 2017 by Peachtree Publishers

You’re probably aware of The Cellist of Sarajevo, Vedran Smailovic, who in the midst of unspeakable terrors during the Balkan War, chose to step into the ruined streets with his instrument and create mournful beauty in one small square. Day after day after day. This fictionalized account allows us to experience that moment through the eyes of a young boy living amid the devastation.

This is less an account of Sarajevo per se than of the impact of beauty in the midst of wreckage, but it’s a glimpse. Perhaps it will entice you to learn more about the people of the Balkan region who have again been in he midst of so much upheaval due to the conflict in Syria. A CD with Smailovic playing the piece — Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor — is included. Ages 6 and up.

Traveling the world via picture book has been a great learning experience for me as I’ve delved into all sorts of different places people love to call home.

You can catch all the previous stops on the tour with these links:

Destination: Canada

Destination: The Caribbean and Mexico

Destination: Central and South America

Destination: West Africa

Destination: Central and South Africa

Destination: East Africa

Destination: Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa

Destination: Indian Subcontinent

Destination: East Asia

Destination: Australia, New Zealand, and Micronesia

A Sampler of Cultures

Buckle up for a World Tour

Musings: a world of swiss cheese

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It’s our penultimate stop on the world tour today, and we’re heading north to visit the vast beauties of Canada.

From the Rockies

to its cosmopolitan cities

to the rocky cliffs of the Atlantic, all of Canada is on display in these great overviews. Plus one title about life in Canada’s newest province, Nunavut. 

Canada in Words, by Per-Henrik Gürth
published in 2012 by Kids Can Press

For the youngest travelers, Per-Henrik Gürth has a number of titles out like this one with his bold, stylized artwork illustrating a variety of preschool concepts.

Each of the pages in this book is labeled with just one, very-Canadian, word. Beaver. Toque. Stanley Cup. If you’re not acquainted enough with Canadian culture to know what or why these items are here — then I guess you’ll have to do a bit more rummaging on your own. For those of us who love Canada, each page is a joy. Ages 18 months and up.  Look for more of his work if you like this.

Carson Crosses Canada, written by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Kass Reich
published in 2017 by Tundra Books

The newest book I’ve seen — and so delightful — is this trans-Canada road trip with white-haired Annie Magruder and her friendly dog, Carson.

Annie and Carson live amid towering pines along the Pacific Coast. One day a letter arrives. Annie’s sister Elsie, way out in Newfoundland, is sick. Pack the car! Fill the cooler! Grab Carson’s squeaky chicken! We’re off to the rescue, driving all across Canada. Vibrant illustrations, a charming dog, and maps on the endpapers. What more could you want? Perfect for ages 3 and up.

You can also cross Canada in much more depth with one of the many fabulous titles from Vivien Bowers. Here are two to start with:

Hey Canada!, by Vivien Bowers, illustrated by Milan Pavlovic
published in 2012 by Tundra Books

Constructed around another road trip, this book goes into much more depth following along with Alice, age 9, her brother Cal, age 8, and their Gran, as they take the trip from east to west.

Beginning in Newfoundland, “The Rock” you’ll be treated to photographs, kid-friendly illustrations, and upbeat narrative about some of the top sites, sounds, tastes, of each of the provinces. Historical U-Turns along the way present bits of Canadian history in comic book style. It’s an ideal amount of information presented in a nicely casual tone, for kids ages 7 and up.  Some of Bowers’ other books in this series take a similar approach but go into much more depth for even older readers. They’re all very well done.

That’s Very Canadian, by Viven Bowers
published in 2004 by Maple Tree Press

Formatted like a school report — well! it’s quite a dandy school report! — this book feels like looking at a fantastic scrapbook of Canadiana. You’ll get the scoop on Canadian cultural icons, trivia, history, food, hockey lore, provincial sites — there’s a ton o’ info stuffed inside here.

We throughly enjoyed wandering through this book when we studied Canada in our old homeschool days. For kids ages 7 or 8 and up, it’s a fantastic resource for painting a picture of Canadian culture.

Eh? to Zed: A Canadian Abecedarium, written by Kevin Major, illustrated by Alan Daniel
published in 2000 by Red Deer Press

A very clever, happily-rhyming poem forms the text of this book. Each line of it lists words dear to a Canadian’s heart. Thus:

Arctic, apple, aurora, Anik
Bonhomme, Bluenose, beaver, bannock

Colorful illustrations flood the pages with these images.

Don’t know what bannock is? Or why insulin is in the list? Never fear, pages crammed with notes by author and illustrator reveal the significance behind all these word and image choices. It’s a fantastic survey of Canada that adapts well to ages 3 through adult.

I is for Inuksuk: An Arctic Celebration, written and illustrated by Mary Wallace
published in 2009 by Maple Tree Press

We enjoyed this book years ago in our Canada studies as well. Gorgeous illustrations reveal the majestic beauty of the far north — every page is stunning.

Along the way we learn about the inuksuk — stone sculptures used by Arctic peoples for thousands of years as guides, markers, celebratory pieces. Learn, too, about some Inuit ways and the creatures that share their magnificent Arctic life. Included are Inuktitut words written in their fascinating script, a visual guide to the variety of inuksuit so you can try to spot the different ones in various illustrations, and a pronunciation guide. A gem for ages 5 and up.


Fishing with Grandma, by Susan Avingaq and Maren Vsetula, illustrated by Charlene Chua
published in 2015 by Inhabit Media Inc.

This is one of several books I’ve seen from this publisher telling stories set in contemporary Nunavut which simultaneously inform us about Inuktitut culture.

Here, two children go ice-fishing with their grandma, an elder with much to teach them about the way to fish as well as the way to treat their neighbors. Extras include a guide to Inuit fishing tools and a pronunciation guide to some Inuktitut words used in the story. I love that grandma teaches the old fishing methods and rides her ATV to get to the best spot — great glimpse of real, contemporary life in this place for ages 3 and up.

Next week our tour winds up in Europe.

Catch all the previous stops on this fascinating tour of the world via picture book with these links:

Destination: The Caribbean and Mexico

Destination: Central and South America

Destination: West Africa

Destination: Central and South Africa

Destination: East Africa

Destination: Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa

Destination: Indian Subcontinent

Destination: East Asia

Destination: Australia, New Zealand, and Micronesia

A Sampler of Cultures

Buckle up for a World Tour

Musings: a world of swiss cheese

Read Full Post »

Today our tour lands in the islands of the Caribbean. When I started working on this tour six months ago, I surely did not imagine the way it would overlap with the devastation of hurricane Irma. 

In addition to these island nations, we’ll travel through the diverse, artistic land of Mexico as well, a portion of which is reeling from the recent earthquake

I’m glad, though, for the chance to highlight these extraordinary homelands at this particular moment and invite you to give towards needed relief. 

In fact, here and here are links for donating to Save the Children, a long-term, reputable charity coordinating care for children and families.

I had much more difficulty than I was expecting in finding titles about life in Mexico. By far the majority of  books I ran across were set in the U.S. featuring children with Mexican heritage, while I was looking for stories that open a window onto life in contemporary Mexico itself.

And those titles set in Mexico are nearly invariably about Day of the Dead celebrations. Which is a fascinating subject! But it’s just one day a year.

What is ordinary life like in cosmopolitan Mexico City?

In fishing villages along the Pacific Coast?

In the rugged, hot north?

Or towns tucked in the mountains and hillsides? Why are these neighbors of ours so little known to us?

As always, if you know of great titles that fill these gaps, please tell us in the comments. Meanwhile, grab your flip flops and come along with me to…

The Caribbean

Caribbean Dream, written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora
published in 1998 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Rachel Isadora’s beautiful, warm portraits of the people and scenery of the Caribbean captivate us at every turn of the page in this small, sweet book.

Her brief, poetic text lulls us, coaxes us to fall in love with the islands and the children who call them home. Simply lovely. Share this gem with ages 18 months and older.

La Isla, written by Arthur Dorros, illustrated by Elisa Kleven
published in 1995 by Dutton Children’s Books

An explosion of tropical colors greets us in Elisa Kleven’s joyous illustrations of this unnamed Caribbean isle.  Get swept up in a tutti-frutti-coconut-confetti dream when you open this book!

Rosalba and her Abuela travel in their imaginations to visit grandmother’s homeland, la isla, to reminisce and meet old relatives, cool their toes in turquoise waves and feast on juicy mangoes. A delightful flight of fancy crammed with love. A Spanish glossary is provided for the words sprinkled in the text. I’ve loved this book for many years. It’s a treat for ages 3 and up.

Malaika’s Costume, written by Nadia L. Hohn, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher
published in 2016 by Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press

It’s Carnival time but this year for the first time, Mummy is not home. She’s gone to Canada to find work, to make a better life so Malaika and Granny can join her there.

Right now Malaika has just one thing on her mind and that’s her costume. She’s been waiting for Mum to send a bit of money so she can dazzle in the parade, but when Mum writes it’s to say there’s still not enough for costumes. Grandma has an old, dusty, pitiful one from when she was a girl, but Malaika wants no part of that.

Happily, Malaika and Grandma’s love and creativity find a way straight past the obstacles.  The patois of the Caribbean is used to tell this contemporary story, with lots of cultural bits worked in alongside the main storyline. Luxbacher’s cool, mixed-media artwork sparkles with tropical colors and Caribbean textiles. Ages 4 and up.


All the Way to Havana, written by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Mike Curato
published in 2017 by Henry Holt and Co

A lush, warm, contemporary Cuba affectionately spills across the pages of this delightful story about one boy and his parents making the drive in to Havana to celebrate a birthday.

The sights and sounds of Cuba roll by — its colorful homes, laundry flapping in the breeze, colonnaded buildings, chickens pecking the sun-baked earth — but it’s the array of vintage American automobiles that are front and center here. An Author’s note explains very simply why these classic cars are so common in Cuba. Politics aside, the joy this boy feels as he and his dad manage to jerry rig his family’s car, the happiness of hearing her “purr cara cara and glide taka taka along,  are infectious. 

A brand new gem to enjoy with ages 2 and up. Vintage car lovers — this is your book!

Drum Dream Girl, written by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López
published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Hot pepper oranges and Caribbean blues saturate the pages of this poetic celebration of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, the first female drummer in Cuba. As a young girl, the varied drums’ beats tantalized her, but it was taboo for women to play them. Until Millo changed that. 

Winner of the 2016 Pura Belpré Illustration Award, the gorgeous artwork in this book explodes with color and Cuban culture, while the text dances along lithely. Superb introduction to Millo, who became a world-famous drummer, for ages 3 and up.


Painted Dreams, written by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 1998 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

Ti Marie has the soul of an artist. With just a chunk of orange brick, a bit of charcoal, and a cement wall, she creates beauty in her small world. What she really would like, though, are tubes of paint like Msie Antoine’s.

Mama thinks its all foolishness. She’s got troubles of her own with puny sales in her unlucky corner of the marketplace. But when Ti Marie’s charming artwork transforms Mama’s business, her dreams do start coming true. A cheery story incorporating ordinary life and Haitian religion, with an Author’s Note telling more about Haitian artists’ practices.  Lovely, for ages 4 and up.

Tap Tap, written by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 1995 by HMH Books for Young Readers

As Sasifi walks to market with Mama she looks longingly at the brilliantly-colored tap-taps — the truck taxis of Haiti — and recommends to her Mama that they ride one.  Mama is too frugal, though, and they continue on foot all the weary way.  

At the market, Sasifi works hard and manages to sell so many oranges that Mama gives her some coins to spend on whatever she pleases.  What will Sasifi choose?  Peanut candy?  Icy cold juice?  No, siree.  Sasifi buys two spots in a tap-tap so they can enjoy a thrilling ride home.  It turns out to be quite a squished ride…but a happy one, nonetheless.   Along the way we learn why the trucks are called tap-taps!

Catherine Stock’s watercolors bring the landscapes, people, markets, and tap-taps of Haiti to vivid life. An old favorite of mine for ages 3 and up.

Running the Road to ABC, written by Denizé Lauture, illustrated by Reynold Ruffins
published in 1996 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Haitian poet  Lauture weaves a lyrical story of a group of six children who run “up and down steep hills six days each week, forty weeks each year, for seven years of their short lives.”

Waking up to roosters, cooking up yucca and Congo beans, flattening slugs with the bottom of their running bare feet, passing acres of sugarcane — they run and run and run. Where are they going?

Gorgeous depictions of the Haitian countryside and the hopes of the children are accompanied by vivid paintings in this joyful story for ages 5 and up.

Haiti My Country

Poems about a “ripe mango, fresh mango, yellow mango” and the dancing Haitian trees. Poems telling of the cool shelter of a humble hut, of Haiti’s “dazzling greenery,” and the tastiness of the peppers and sweet potatoes in a peasant’s garden.

All written by Haitian schoolchildren, and illustrated stunningly by a Quebecois artist. Read my full review of this exquisite book here

British Virgin Islands

Little Man

Amid the tall, swaying palms, sparkling turquoise waters, and skimming brown pelicans of Little Scrub Island, a boy named Albert Quashie feels squashed under a boatload of troubles.

Discover how joining a troupe of Mocko Jumbies makes him –literally! — soar above his problems in this delightful chapter book for ages 9 and up. Such an unusual setting. Read my full review here.


My Little Island, written and illustrated by Frané Lessac
first published in the UK; published in the U.S. in 1984 by HarperCollins

This little jewel just exudes 1980s with its smallish size and page layouts. I love it!

Frané Lessac has lived in many places around the world. At the time of this publication, she had spent some years on the island of Montserrat in the Lesser Antilles and recorded her love for the land and its people in her trademark naive paintings. Lessac’s observations of the stone houses, frangipani blossoms, delicious tropical fruits, bustling markets, fresh catches of fish, calypso bands, and even the neighborhood volcano, have a marvelous authentic ring.

 You’ll fall in love with this place in the few minutes it takes you to journey through these pages. A vintage gem for ages 3 and up.

Trinidad and Tobago

Drummer Boy of John John, written by Mark Greenwood, illustrated by Frané Lessac
published in 2012 by Lee & Low

Everybody in John John is busy getting ready for Carnival. They’re sewing beads on outrageously bright costumes and decorating flamboyant masks. The Roti King is cooking up a storm to get ready for crowds who’ll come for his “famous folded pancakes filled with chicken and secret herbs and spices.” He’s even promised free rotis for the best calypso band in the parade.

Winston loves rotis. He wishes more than anything that he were part of a band so he might win that prize. But the chac-chac players, the tamboo bamboo band, the bottle-and-spoon orchestra, the shango drummers — none of them needs an extra player.

 Things take a happy turn, though, when Winston stumbles across an idea for a new band that’s simply terrific! This ebullient story springs off the pages with Frané Lessac’s uber-bright colors and patterns. An Author’s Note tells about the real Winston, a pioneer in the development of the steel drum. Great piece of culture for sharing with  ages 3 and up.

 An Island Christmas, written by Lynn Joseph, illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 1992 by Clarion Books

Rosie is helping Mama prepare for Christmas in their home on Trinidad. She gathers juicy red sorrel fruits for a tangy Christmas drink. She lines cake pans with wax paper for the sticky, sweet currants Tantie is mixing with spices, molasses, and eggs for luscious black current cakes.

She barefoot-runs into the warm night to join the parang band, then doles out ham sandwiches to the musicians as they tingalayo off to the next street.

There’s lots more sweetness here …soursop ice cream, the sugar cane man, alloe pies, and the jumble of family together, all told in Rosie’s wonderful Caribbean dialect. A sweet treat for ages 3 and up.


Salsa Stories, written and illustrated by Lulu Delacre
published in 2000 by Scholastic
75 pages PLUS 20 pages of recipes and an extensive glossary

Several of our recent destinations throughout Latin America merge in this excellent chapter book, so while it’s not about Mexico per se, I’m including it here.

I love this account, in which a young girl collects fascinating childhood memories from family members who have grown up in Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Cuba, Argentina, Mexico, and Peru. Each of their stories references a beloved food; authentic recipes for each of these dishes are gathered in the final pages of the book. It’s a delightful read with an extensive glossary for Spanish terms.

Armando and the Blue Tarp School, written by Edith Hope Find and Judith Pinkerton Josephson, illustrated by Hernán Sosa
published in 2014 by Lee and Low

Armando is a young Mexican boy whose family lives in a neighborhood near the city dump.  They make their living as pepenadores, trash pickers, sorting through stinking mounds of garbage each day to find bottles and cans to sell.

  One day Armando spies a pick-up truck rolling into town.  It’s Señor David!  He has come back again!  Señor David pulls out a large blue tarp and spreads it on the ground.  He sets up a chalkboard and papers and paints.  Children gather on the blue tarp, and Señor David begins to teach, for the blue tarp is actually their school. 

A heartwarming story based on the work of David Lynch, for ages 4 and up.

Dear Primo, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
published in 2010 by Abrams

Two cousins — one in Mexico, one in the U.S. — write letters back and forth, telling one another about their lives. See how their neighborhoods, schools, sports,  foods, holidays, are delightfully different, even while their overall lives are full of strikingly similar patterns. 

Duncan Tonatiuh has earned many accolades by now for his extraordinary illustration. This was his first book! Ages 4 and up.

Dia de los Muertos, written by Roseanne Thong, illustrated by Carles Ballesteros
published in 2015 by Albert Whitman and Company

There are dozens of books about Day of the Dead celebrations. This one is jubilant with color, illustrated with zest and style, and written in rhyming couplets that include a hefty sprinkling of Spanish words (and a glossary to help with that.)

From dawn to dark, join the festivities by adorning altars, munching on sweet calaveras, decorating the graves of ancestors and settling in for a grand picnic. Then get dressed up for the parade, the mariachi bands and dancing. An afterword fills in lots of cultural detail. Great choice for ages 3 and up.

To learn more about the origins of the calaveras, you can’t do better than:

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh.

A multiple award-winner, ingenuously formatted, told, and illustrated, for ages 5 and up.

M is for Mexico, written and photographed by Flor de María Cordero
published in 2007 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This book in the Frances Lincoln series alphabetically surveys life in Mexico, from the zocalo in Mexico City to ancient pyramids still standing, baptism ceremonies in this highly-Catholic nation, and the sweet treats children like to buy in the market. Ages 3 and up.

Mayeros: A Yucatec Maya Family, written and photographed by George Ancona
published in 1997 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

The small town of Teabo in Yucatán, Mexico, is home to Armando and Gaspár, two little boys who are the shining stars of this lovely photodocumentary.

Journey to this sun-baked place, where the women adorn their white dresses with fabulous embroidery, the fathers build a bullring for the upcoming fiesta, and the boys go to school, play, help with branding and planting at their grandparents’ ranch, surrounded by the clearly tight bonds of this family. Warm and inviting, rich with cultural detail and excellent photography, the book includes an Author’s Note describing the fascinating and difficult history of the Mayan people. Ages 4 and up.

The Fabulous Firework Family, written and illustrated by James Flora
published in 1994 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

In the picturesque village of Santiago, Pepito and his family are known as the Fabulous Firework Family for their Gandalfian incendiary displays. This year, to celebrate the birthday of the town’s patron saint, the mayor himself commissions a showstopper of a castillo! One that makes “more noise than thunder, more smoke than a volcano, and more sparks than there are stars in the heavens.”

Watch this family collect the ingredients for those outbursts of color, build the fanciful structures of the castillo, and unleash the grandest spectacle ever. I’ll admit, I didn’t even know what a castillo was until I read this book and then looked them up on youtube! Quite epic! Bits of Spanish language and a confetti-shower of color bring this tale to life. Ages 4 and up.  (A completely different version of both text and illustration was published by James Flora in 1955. I have not seen it.)

Saturday Market, written by Patricia Grossman, illustrated by Enrique O. Sánchez
published in 1994 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

The lively Saturday market in Oaxaca, Mexico, bustles with people visiting stalls crowded with wares. Sacks of chile peppers, brilliant rebozos, vibrant woven rugs, delicious coconut bread, fresh tortillas, and of course, the delightful Zapotecas carved and painted by artisans.

Join the throngs, walk through the market with all its enticing fare, and learn about these makers and traders. A warm story with lots to notice in the warm, colorful illustrations, for ages 3 and up.

Julio’s Magic, written by Arthur Dorros, collages by Ann Grifalconi
published in 2005 by Harper Collins

Furthering our understanding of the Oaxacan artisans is this tender story of a young boy named Julio, his dreams of winning the annual carving contest, and his dear mentor, the talented carver, Iluminado.

Ann Grifalconi’s inspired collages carry us into Julio’s village and display some of the wildly-colorful, imaginative sculptures Oaxacan carvers are famous for. A quiet, charming read for ages 4 and up.

That’s it for today! Our next and penultimate stop zooms us way up north to visit our other neighbor, Canada.

  This round-the-world jaunt is nearing its conclusion. I hope you’ll invite folks who would enjoy making the tour to check out all our destinations — past, present, and future.

Here are the links thus far:

Destination: Central and South America

Destination: West Africa

Destination: Central and South Africa

Destination: East Africa

Destination: Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa

Destination: Indian Subcontinent

Destination: East Asia

Destination: Australia, New Zealand, and Micronesia

A Sampler of Cultures

Buckle up for a World Tour

Musings: a world of swiss cheese


Read Full Post »

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