I thought it would be nice to round up a list of books that capture small, still moments. Moments to pay attention to. Moments to savor.
All Around Us by Xelena González, illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia (2017).
Alia of Read it Real Good first brought this book to my attention in her guest post. A grandparent and grandchild see the circles—both literal and figurative—in nature and life and family against a backdrop of beautiful, noteworthy illustrations.
Without their video game, a child becomes immersed in the outside world instead. “Why hadn’t I done these things before today?” they wonder as the book affirms curiosity and play and unencumbered time.
It captures moments of exploring the outdoors.
I Am Loved by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Ashley Bryan (2018).
A collection of poems by Nikki Giovanni that explore many things: social justice, pride, music, quilts, and cats. But they all exude love, for self and for others.
A boy and his grandmother pick berries (written in English with Cree vocabulary) and thank the clearing before leaving it. Contemplative with endearing details and a recipe for blueberry jam at the back.
A beautiful, triumphant book full of the most expressive portraits throughout. It’s, as the title suggests, about getting a haircut. But it’s about much more than that too.
“It’s the look your English teacher gives you when she hands you your last test with a bright red 97 slapped on it. It’s how your mother looks at you before she calls you beautiful. Flowers are beautiful. Sunrises are beautiful. Being viewed in your mother’s eyes as someone that matters—now that’s beautiful.”
It captures moments of pride.
You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Danielle Daniel (2017).
Written in both English and Plains Cree, an absolutely wonderful book embodying kindness and respect. The starting point was for “healing and Reconciliation” in response to the history of oppression of Indigenous people, particularly in regards to Residential Schools in Canada.
It captures moments of community and relationships.
A gripping story filled with descriptive imagery and glowing illustrations of a boy and his father going fishing early one morning in order to feed their family—a story of this pond and the one the boy’s father left behind.
It captures moments of family.
Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (2016).
A story of a big day followed by bedtime. A story of twenty yawns.
What I like best about this picture book is the original and inventive format that uses “or” for two different options at every plot turn. Let me show you what I mean (see that “or” in the corner?):
The whole story uses this format of one thing could happen OR another thing could. That’s what moves the story along. It’s a great technique for suspense and humor with a bit of a guessing element. And I could see it being used to teach storytelling to kid writers to.
At its heart, this is a kind of adventure story for Squirrel that ultimately brings Squirrel back to the character who set off the whole adventure: Squirrel’s friend Moose.
I asked Cathy Ballou Mealey, the author, about “or” situations in her own writing journey and about her debut picture book.
This Picture Book Life: Did you have a significant this “OR” that moment in your own writing journey, a fork in the road that determined your path?
Cathy Ballou Mealey: Absolutely! Joining a critique group in the metro Boston area was the fork in the road that made all the difference in my writing journey. Green as a leaf in springtime, I had already enrolled in SCBWI and written at least a dozen “not ready for prime time” picture book manuscripts. I was eager for feedback on my work, but I learned the most from actively observing the working rhythms of this cohesive, supportive and experienced group.
So if you could: Read, research, write and revise alone,
Collaborate with talented, thoughtful and engaged writers and illustrators who love books.
I highly recommend that you choose the *OR*!
TPBL: How did you come up with the idea for this story, and specifically the super inventive format?
Cathy: While our family was enjoying a woodsy hike, an unusual Crash! led us to speculate whether a tree had fallen or an animal was coming our way. We froze, listening for clues. Heart pounding, I tried to recall whether to hide, run, or confront whatever wild creature might appear. “It must have been a tree,” we reassured the kids after a long silence. As we hiked on I wondered, What if the falling tree had scared a bear, or frightened a deer? Thus the initial seeds of this story were planted in my brain.
TPBL: What was the process of developing the method of having “or” in the corner of each page as the text and illustrations were plotted out in picture book format?
Cathy: To emphasize the *OR* and ensure that it would lead directly to a funny or surprising page turn, I inserted plenty of white space into my manuscript around the word itself. In my early drafts, I brainstormed to generate as many potential *OR* consequences as possible. That led to a door-sized diagram of sticky notes, plotting events that could lead from one thing to the next with increasing intensity! Ryan Thomann was the talented art director at Sterling who developed the curled page corner effect, which I think adds so much to the *OR* page turn!
Big thanks to Cathy for talking with me and to Sterling for images!
I am Sonia Sotoymayor by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulous (2018) is part of the “Ordinary People Change the World” series that highlights incredible individuals in a comic book biography format for kid readers.
It covers her childhood in New York City, her Puerto Rican family, and the injustices she could already see around her. First, she wanted to be a detective like Nancy Drew, but felt like her diabetes would hinder her. Then she wanted to be a judge like Perry Mason. She was valedictorian of her high school class and attended Princeton, a place where she took refuge in books. In 2009, after a career as a prosecutor and a federal judge in New York, she was nominated by Barack Obama and sworn into the Supreme Court, becoming the first Latina Supreme Court Justice.
Because Sotomayor is such an inspiration, I thought I’d share with you some inspiring photos and quotes to celebrate her as a force for justice.
Sonia Sotomayor has also written a book for kids, in her own words: Turning Pages by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Lulu Delacre (2018). I’ll leave you with quotes from that one about books and reading, the through line of her life story.
Today, I’m happy to dive into Sean Quall‘s picture book life! I’ve been following his career and have been a big admirer of his artwork for a long time so this is a neat chance to showcase some of his projects for kid readers and viewers.
When I think of Qualls’s work, I think of smooth yet textured layers. I think of pastels and pencil lines. I think of muted pinks and purples and blues that still pop. I think of shapes—circles and winking stars—on abstract backgrounds. Vibrant. Impacting and engaging. Dreamy. Beautiful.
Sean Qualls has illustrated 20 books for children (and I might even be missing a couple)!
He’s a painter and you can see a sampling of that work here.
He sometimes collaborates with his partner, Selina Alko. (See all of herbooks.) I wonder if (and hope!) they’ll keep making art for picture books together. When they make work together, Alko brings more collage into the mix.
He’s illustrated projects by Toni Morrison, Spike Lee, and Young People’s Poet Laureate, Margarita Engle.
“After getting my kids off to school, I spend some time (usually in cafes) journaling/self reflecting. I also use that time to figure out what projects to spend my time on that day/week. Green tea is my drink of choice.”
I studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn for about a year and a half and then dropped out. Later, I took a few continuing education classes at SVA (School of Visual Arts) but much of my training has been trial and error.
KidLitTV has a wonderful video featuring both Qualls and Alko. It’s a very special studio visit that shows the pair painting together while they speak about collaboration, expressing yourself, facing your fears, and more.
“Each time I sit down and make a piece of art…that fear comes up, that fear of not being liked or not knowing that people will accept me or the art or what I’m trying to say. But I think it’s important to keep on creating even though you may be afraid because in the end you’re only you, you’re yourself…that’s all we have is who we are and that’s all we can really share with the world…”
This picture book takes a bit of mind-bending, and that’s fine by me. There’s a boy who believes he’s a bear. There’s a bear who believes he’s a boy. And there’s a friendship of misunderstoods who understand each other.
This is one of those stories that affirms a child’s view of things and leaves adults of out it. I love books like that.
Archie is fed up with no one believing he’s a bear, so he goes to the forest. Where bears live. And he meets one. A bear who believes he is a boy!
The pair share honey sandwiches and teach one another. Archie teaches the bear the ways of being a bear. The bear teaches Archie the ways of being a boy.
And eventually, they go home and find that both bears and boys like sitting by the fire with a warm blanket. Every kind of creature likes that.
Mackintosh’s dynamic and varied illustrations zoom in and out and play with scale in wonderful ways. They combine stark contrasts and soft watercolors and pencil drawings. They sometimes leave things out. The artwork is both simple and complex, like the story.
This is an inventive and satisfying picture book about affirming one’s imagination and finding a kindred spirit.
Big thanks to Zanni Louise for images!
I’ve been waiting for cooler weather to post about this book, and since it’s Halloween-time, what better picture book craft than the costume-y kind! And we’re very lucky because Zanni Louise, the author herself, has stopped by to show us how to make a bear hat and be like Archie. Or like the bear. Well, how to look like a bear anyway.
Over to Zanni!
What you’ll need:
2 x brown sandwich bags
2 x small paper doily
1 x large paper doily
Thick black marker
Cut paper bags in half, lengthwise (top to bottom).
Take one piece of brown paper bag, and fold lengthwise. Roughly calculate the centre point of the strip, and on the fold make two dots approx 3cm / 1.25 inches apart. These are the inner corners of the eyeholes.
On the fold, use markings and cut two semi-circles for eyes. Unfold.
Stick three brown paper strips together, which make one long strip, with the eyeholes in the centre strip. Make a crown around the child’s head, which goes over their eyes, and stick ends together to fit crown securely. You may need to trim ends, depending on the head size. Aim for a big overlap though, as this will be more secure.
Using the larger doily, trim away the ‘lace’ so you are left with a round circle. You can also use white paper or board for this. Draw a black nose and mouth on the white circle, and fasten to your crown, between the eyes. The bottom half of the white circle will hang over the child’s nose and mouth.
Attach the smaller doilies above the eyeholes, on the inside of the crown. These are the ears.
Voila! Your child is now a bear.
Zanni Louise has written numerous books for kids, and is published in 19 countries worldwide. Zanni runs writing workshops for kids and adults, and provides one-on-one mentoring services. Archie and the Bear is Zanni’s first North American publication, and has just been announced as a White Ravens Book for 2018. Find out more about Zanni at www.zannilouise.com