According to Oge Mora in the afterword, “omu” means “queen” in Nigerian, and it’s what she called her grandma. She remembers: “When my grandmother cooked, she danced and swayed her hips to the radio as she stirred what was often a large pot of stew.”
Omu in this story is cooking too: a thick red stew for dinner.
The stew smells so good that it attracts visitors. Visitors from all over the neighborhood. Visitors who Omu shares her stew with. First, a little neighbor boy, then a police officer, then a hot dog vendor, and so on.
“KNOCK, KNOCK!” Each one is drawn to Omu’s door by the delicious smell.
“THANK YOU, OMU.” Each one says thank you after eating.
We as readers know that the stew cannot last forever, and it doesn’t. Omu has nothing left for herself. Instead of being a story in which the stew is magic and grows to meet the need, it indeed runs out. We are left feeling badly that Omu has doled out all her dinner.
But not to worry. Each visitor from earlier in the day returns, the whole lot of them, with gifts of food and company. Omu’s giving has not gone unreciprocated. In fact, they all have something to give her in return.
This beautiful tribute to Omu’s heart (and her cooking) ends with more giving. Giving back.
I immediately wanted to do a collage paper craft when I read this book, and so in the spirit of the book and just in time for Valentine’s Day, I thought a thank you card would be perfect. Yours can say whatever you like, of course, but “thank you” or “I love you” seem fitting.
What you’ll need:
Paper of all kinds
Glue stick (or Modge Podge)
Start with a piece of construction paper or cardstock and fold it in half. The front will be the front of the card.
I began with the letters, choosing colors that matched the book cover, drawing them with pencil and then cutting them out. After that, from an assortment of papers, I chose the ones I liked or that corresponded to the book and started drawing shapes, cutting them, arranging them, and gluing them down. Hearts seemed in order for this craft, as did a skyline, a bowl of stew, and a home. Make whatever seems right to you!
Finally, write a note inside and share your card with someone you love, someone who’s been generous to you and who you’d like to give back to.
I’m delighted to share my interview with both Breanna J. McDaniel and Shane W. Evans with you today. They’ve created this picture book, Hands Up!, which is a brilliant, jubilant book that turns a weighty, disturbing phrase around and celebrates the way the Black main character puts her hands up in everyday, beautiful ways.
It follows one little girl exploring all kinds of occasions on which she puts her hands up—waking, playing, learning, doing new tasks, celebrating, and being part of a family, a school, a team, and the wider community. It’s truly beautiful and the bright, textured illustrations feel seventies-inspired and radiate beams of color and joy. So many spreads, like the one below, truly remind me of music.
First, up, Breanna.
This Picture Book Life: How did the concept of Hands Up! come to you and what were you thinking about when you were first developing it?
Breanna J. McDaniel: I was thinking about disruption when I first started writing. I thought about the many instances where violence is the only response to Black people living and mattering in the US and I wanted to disrupt ideas about who Black children are and who they’re allowed to be. The image of Black people surrendering to others with their hands upraised and their humanity in question disturbs my spirit—especially when there are so many other times I’ve experienced this action outside of protest. I pulled on those experiences to focus on the humanity of those fighting for justice and for the right to live.
TPBL: What is your hope for this book? What impact would you like it to have on its readers?
Breanna J. McDaniel: My hope is that people understand that the children who will read it, children from so many experiences, will see themselves as leaders and helpers and beloved ones. My hope is that adults who read it will see the opportunities in their everyday lives to provide support and love to these children who are our past, future and present all brought together in one. These small moments are gifts and if we treasure them, if we take them in and shower grace and love, then we show that we appreciate and care. Children are our hope.
TPBL: Please tell us about the experience of seeing the illustrations for the first time.
Breanna J. McDaniel: I cried of course. There was no way that I could’ve imagined the joy and grace that Shane was able to capture in the illustrations. It does not matter that I’ve seen and admired his other work, even though I have. What he brought together through texture and fluid movement, is a perfectly timed story and a little girl who jumps off the pages!
TPBL: Did you originally have a vision for what the last spread (“As one we say, “Hands Up!”) would depict or was it left to the illustrator in your manuscript? What was important to you to be conveyed in that last instance of the phrase as it connects to the book as a whole?
Breanna J. McDaniel: I wanted there to be a march with signs that are straightforward and I wanted there to be a clear sense of community and purpose. Originally, they were going to be crossing a bridge and I had all sorts of symbolism in my mind for a spread with that image but this ending is perfect. Unity, collectiveness, connectedness, building together, these were all of the things at the forefront of my mind with that last line but I could only use a few words! “As one” I think brings it together.
Next up, Shane.
This Picture Book Life: You include in the artist’s note that in creating this book, “I stopped being afraid of raising my hands up, and stretching them high felt right.” Can you tell us more about your process creating the artwork for HANDS UP! and how that process has had an impact on you and your work?
Shane W. Evans: Process is more about trusting what it is that one sees within. The response to a word is a reaction and a response is one where one thinks, prays and feels something out. To act on impulse means that all that is around us as people brings us favor and that is and was the process for this book. To bring JOY back to the words that were once a warning yet always a joy is the essence of being and doing what one loves. The impact was getting back to the basic joy of creating, that’s a real joy.
TPBL: What was your response when you received this manuscript?
Shane W. Evans: My response was “I get it!” Meaning I see where we needed to go again with a topic that has been long under-spoken about, how do we prepare for joy.
TPBL: For the instances where the visual might have been up for interpretation, how did you make decisions about what to depict? (I’m thinking about “Stretch high! Almost there, hands up” or “Ready for takeoff, hands up!”) Did you and Breanna collaborate around the art?
Shane W. Evans: I meditate on it for a while then I let the pen or pencil show me ways to see it, try and try again… it usually comes, then be clear about the decision. If I recall there was some suggestion as to what to draw although if I say “draw a red apple with hands” you will still see 10 variations if you have 10 different illustrators, so we tend to trust the process and let it be what it needs to be, that’s what collaboration is all about.
TPBL: The artwork throughout is so vibrant and joyful (even a cat jumps with its hands up in one illustration!). What inspired you as you worked on these pieces?
Shane W. Evans: The inspiration is trusting my process and all of the years of doing this work has shown me how to get to the best work with over 50 books and likely 1000’s of drawings from since I was a 5 year old I just know what tools to pick up for what jobs.
Thanks so much to both of you for sharing your responses about your experience making this wonderful book and to Dial Books for a review copy and images!
Good news! I’m giving away one copy of Hands Up! Head over to my Instagram post for a chance to win. (U.S. only.)
What really stuck out to me about this picture book is the language. It’s fun. It’s snappy. It’s clever. And it tells the story of this penguin turned Penguinaut named Orville perfectly.
Sure, it’s about the big adventure he longs to have and his ensuing trip to the moon. But more than that, it’s about something even bigger: his friends.
(click image(s) to enlarge)
Orville has big friends. Orville wants to do something BIG. Orville wants to do it himself. (Notice “flippered out” on that spread. That’s a taste of the terrific, inventive language I’m talking about.)
Orville does have a big adventure. The biggest. But just when he’s overcome with loneliness in spite of it, a note from his friends falls out of his pocket. And that note brings him home, the place where stories of adventure are told: together. And as anyone who’s ever had an adventure and then had the pleasure of telling a friend about it, that’s a pretty big deal.
A cheerfully zippy story with a vibrantly sweet heart.
Zoe of Northwest Felts and I met on Instagram a while back and so when I read this book and thought, “felt craft!” I also thought of her wonderful felt creations that are so perfect for not only crafting, but for storytelling too. She was kind enough to make a felt storytelling craft for Penguinaut, and is giving it away!
Take it away, Zoe!
When I first read Penguinaut, I was struck by the amazing outer space scenes. Danielle and I both agreed that they should be featured in whatever craft I created. Most of my crafting is done with felt as the medium, and it seemed like the right choice for the Penguinaut craft, too!
I wanted to make something that could be manipulated and played with after the actual craft was complete, almost like a felt story. I also wanted the craft to bring to life the “do it yourself” struggle all children and parents (and Penguinauts) inevitably go through.
What you’ll need:
Fabric glue (I normally sew my creations, but glue works too!)
*Children’s scissors are my secret weapon for cutting felt.
**I used photocopies from pages of the book in order to get the characters just right. If you’re skilled at drawing, you could easily draw the characters instead.
In order to make this a craft that older children can do by themselves, I would suggest getting photocopies of the main pieces from the story (the Penguinaut and the space ship are the two that I focused on, but get photocopies of whatever you want to create).
You can use the photocopies in two ways. The first is to trace the photocopy onto the felt and cut out the traced image. The second way is to safety pin the photocopy onto the felt and cut out around the photocopy. I used the second option because it creates cleaner lines.
To create a cleaner finish, you can glue penguinaut’s feet in between his white tummy piece and the rest of his body.
Now that we have a penguinaut, we can work on his space suit. I wanted him to fit inside the suit, so I made a suit that can open and close. I did this by first cutting long, thin strips on orange, to create hinges. Next, I glued them, half to the white backing of the suit, and half to the orange front of the suit. Finally, I folded the suit over so the hinges were hidden on the inside.
I also wanted Penguinaut to be able to get into and out of his spaceship, so I glued an extra piece of beige felt to the back. This created a little nook that penguinaut can sit in during his space adventure.
For the background, I chose to do the outer space scene. I loved the colour contrasts and the twinkling stars. Some of the pieces are glued down (Earth, the Moon, the clouds and stars) while other pieces are left unglued so that they can be moved and played with (the spacesuit, Penguinaut, and the flag).
Have fun with this part! I wanted to stay true to the illistrations in the book, but you can create different scenes based on your favourite part of the book (or your favourite part of space)!
I love the idea that you get to choose what to glue down and what to leave free to move around. Giving these choices can create a fun experience that can be revisited over and over again.
When the craft is done and you’ve finished exploring and playing with it, I love the idea of storing it on the wall as art. If you put it up on a felt board, a child can take it down and play with it whenever they want.
Thanks for following along!
Zoe is the maker at North West Felts. She loves using felt stories to create literacy experiences through play. Zoe’s favourite Felt set is Slippery Fish! She is a huge fan of children’s literacy and loves reading stories with her 2.5-year-old and her 8-month-old. Zoe is currently on maternity leave but will return to work as an Early Childhood Educator in the Spring. When she isn’t reading, she is using books as inspiration for her felt creations. Find her on Instagram and Facebook @northwestfelts.
Good news! We’re giving away a copy of Penguinautand Zoe’s felt craft set to go with it!
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!