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
Hannah is a children’s bookseller who once stopped by to give us 5 elements of a successful storytime, evidenced by 5 picture books. Now she’s back as part of my picture book gems a bookseller/librarian recommends series! And this is a treat because she’s chosen international picture book translations.
Over to Hannah!
I have always loved learning languages. As a kid, I studied Spanish in school, and as an international affairs major in college, I studied Arabic, Hindi, and Farsi. Each language has a particular nuance, reflecting unique cultures and histories–when translated, the best stories do not lose any of that uniqueness. I’m drawn to translated children’s books in particular because I believe they offer a window to the world to kids that an atlas or a nonfiction book cannot–reading a translated book gives a child a bridge across the globe, connecting the reader to a different way of thinking and imagining. The following are six of my current translated favorites from around the world.
Seven Pablos by Jorge Luján, translated from the Spanish by Mara Lethem, illustrated by Chiara Carrer.
“There are many Pablos in the world, yet they are all one. Inside each of them is a heart that beats to the same rhythm as the ocean’s waves and the rotations of the planet.”
I wish that line from Seven Pablos could be written everywhere and understood by those at the highest levels of power. This is a book that meditates on the universal human experiences of children around the world, touching on issues like migration, poverty, and bullying. It is a necessary book for the time we live in–one of those Pablos could very well be one of the 12,800 detained children at the United States border.
My Valley by Claude Ponti, translated from the French by Alyson Waters.
I’m a huge fan of weird, cozy, imagined worlds–the Moomin series is my absolute favorite–so this one appealed to me right off the bat. Its giant trim size is difficult to shelve, but it’s so necessary for spying all the minute details of the Twims’ world. These cute, squirrel-like beings live in trees with rooms that have specific purposes: a room to be born in, a room to read in, a room to swim in. With notes on their history, their mythology, and their daily lives, Ponti builds an immersive experience akin to reading a fantasy novel–making this book a delight to pore over and get lost within.
There have been many picture book explorations of the Syrian refugee experience, but this one is my absolute favorite. A true collaboration between author and artist, this bilingual story is a resonant, lyrical tale of one family’s life before and during the war and their hard journey out of Syria and into a hopeful future. Though Badr’s images are composed only from sea-smoothed stone, they are full of life and poignancy.
Never have I wanted to hug a book so much. This is a delicious and delightful ride of a book–one of those you want to step right inside and live within, featuring two adorable girls who ride their bikes through a magical world where friendly animals serve them jam sandwiches and clover blossom tea and other delicious treats. Though this book was published in 2016, its comforting, cheery atmosphere gives it the feel of a bygone classic.
Feather is a unique, beautiful take on the “Are You My Mother” story structure as a lost feather floats along, trying to find the bird it belongs to. Paired with Mello’s spare yet rich and dynamic illustrations, this hopeful story of searching for belonging soars above the rest. I highly recommend this one for fans of birds, folktales, and accessibly philosophical kids’ books.
Nature can awaken even the most stodgy of imaginations. In On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, Alemagna’s bespectacled, bored child (gender is never addressed, which I LOVE) finds theirs jump-started after they drop their video game in a pond and begin to notice the wonder of the woods around them. Alemagna’s prose and illustrations sing with delicious metaphor, and her magical, mystical forest is rich in texture and detail. I dare you to read this book and not want to immediately go traipsing through the woods, finding your own magic.
Hannah lives in Athens, GA, where she works as the manager of children’s books at Avid Bookshop. She often daydreams about living a calm and peaceful life in Moominvalley or traipsing the Maine coast with Miss Rumphius. A librarian at heart (and in training), Hannah loves the look on a kid’s face when they find a book they truly love.
I primarily feature picture books here, but I’ve been reading so many great chapter books over the last couple of years (plus, they have pictures too!), that I wanted to round up some recent favorites. I hope you’ll add in the comments any chapter book gems I’ve missed.
A range of page counts are included here, in no particular order, and many if not most of these are part of a series with more than one installment for kid readers to gobble up. (Disclosure that some of these I read quite some time ago and aren’t as fresh in my mind for fully fleshed out descriptions as others. But know I enjoyed them all!)
Meet Yasmin by Saadia Faruqi, illustrated by Hatem Aly (2018).
The first installment (with more in the series!) is a compilation of four delightful short stories with illustrations to match. The MC, Yasmin, who is Pakistani American, is creative and bold while also finding her way through sometimes being worried or unsure. Relatable and full of spirit and fun, this one is a true treat.
The ace design of this cover is a perfect preview to what lies inside this terrific book. I like the relatability of a girl who wants to do something designated for older kids, and for boys. I also like that this explores the tradition of making mochi for the new year, and other aspects of Japanese and Japanese American culture. The drawings complement the story beautifully.
A wonderful chapter book about friendship, flexibility, and change with a uniquely funny and charming character at its (upside down) heart. “Some losses were worse than others. A secret base was replaceable. Lenny Santos was not.”
In this sweet, engaging chapter book, Jada Jones is not the kind of rock star that first comes to mind. Nope, she loves rocks! A budding geologist, she’s navigating a science project and friendships after her bestie moves away, finding solutions and never giving up.
Juana is clever and funny as she tells the reader about her life. I adore how she introduces the characters (Lucas her dog, her friend Juli, the city of Bogotá where she lives, her tía, abuelo, and more) by way of illustrated diagrams. Plus, while Juana is learning English in the story, readers are either learning or recognizing the Spanish words weaved in.
An exceedingly funny chapter book about two dogs who, worried about this school place their boy has to spend his days, impersonate a student in order to protect and investigate. Turns out, these dogs LOVE school! Needless to say, hilarity ensues.
Lucky for readers, Hena Khan, author of Amina’s Voice and several exquisite picture books, is bringing her writing to the chapter book arena. I was lucky enough to hear her present this book at Once Upon A Time Books in Los Angeles. A nicely paced story about basketball, following your passion, and a warm and well-drawn family you’ll definitely want to read more of.
I had the great pleasure of blurbing this book! Stella’s story is relatable, honest, and warm-hearted. She certainly has a lot to say to young readers as she learns that just like the starfish who shares her name—Estrella—she is stronger than she thinks.
Filled with family and positivity, this book was inspired by the story of real eleven-year-old Sarai Gonzalez. In the fictional story, Sarai’s grandparents are forced to leave their home so Sarai hatches a plan to raise money to help them—with chicha morada and cupcakes.
This one had me at the concept. Polly receives a book that makes anything she writes actually happen! Full of magical misunderstandings and charming illustrations, it’s perfect for developing readers (and writers!) who are fans of magic and imagination.
The most adorable illustrations and girl power adventures make this series another winner.
King & Kayla by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers.
Who doesn’t love a gentle mystery to solve? My favorite part about this series is that Kayla’s dog, King, is the one leading the way and figuring out clues before the human characters do. It’s a fun, inventive twist and has humor and repetition to boot.
A tittle to dance about! The stars of this series are super happy party bears indeed, but they live in the Grumpy Woods. Not to worry though, nothing gets them down and they get others to come around as well. A lively, bright, snappy story.
The first book was about forest animals who were afraid of the sights and sounds of the forest at night. Mama Elephant reassured them that the natural world was there to do its job and even nourish them. It was a lullaby of comfort.
In the follow-up, You’re Snug With Me, two bear cubs are born in the frozen north, in the den their mother has made them. They ask questions about the unknown outside their cozy home and their mother explains the seasons and the world, preparing them for what lies beyond and nurturing the need to take good care of it.
From the first book to the second, we go from summer to winter. Warmth to cold. Community to family. Forest to frozen north. Rich green to icy blue. While the setting has shifted and the cast of characters has gotten smaller, the comforting lullaby quality of security and snugness remains. These are perfect companion books, both grounded in nature and love and safety.
And… here’s the cover of You’re Snug With Me! In person, it glistens and sparkles like sun on snow!
And we’ve got a sneak peek of some beautiful interior spreads as well. Poonam Mistry uses the same exquisite style as the previous book, but this one with cool tones—butter yellow, lavender, crisp white, and ice-blue. And while the first book featured the dance of animals and natural elements on the page, this one zooms in on the relationship between mother and cubs, the sphere of family that feels to the very young like the whole world.
“The second story started with the idea of a hibernating polar bear and when I did the research to find out more, I fell in love with the scene of the cubs discovering their landscape for the first time. The challenge was to find elements that a polar bear cub should be introduced to and I had to go beyond the obvious – what’s underneath the ocean, what’s up in the sky. Also I couldn’t write about polar bears without worrying about the melting ice and somehow incorporating the role of every big predator in protecting it.”
“It was exciting working on You’re Snug With Me because it was outside of my usual comfort zone. I researched knitwear patterns and Inuit textiles and clothing and incorporated some of these patterns into my drawings so that it was different to the first book but there was still some continuity in the style of the artwork.
I don’t often work in pastel colours but it was important to reflect the wintry setting of the story and use these colours to highlight the beautiful landscapes of the Arctic.”
Breathtaking artwork and a beautiful story with a gentle environmental theme, this is a book to take in, to ponder, to read while snug with loved ones.
Look for it in October!
Chitra Soundar is an Indian-born British writer and storyteller. She is inspired by the rich epics and folktales of India, its diverse culture and its natural beauty. She has over 30 books in print worldwide and has been published by Otter-Barry Books, Walker Books and Red Robin Books.
Poonam Mistry is a UK-based illustrator of Indian heritage. Her work is heavily influenced by nature, folklore and traditional Indian art. With a degree in Graphic Design and Illustration, she produces artwork for clients around the world.
Big thanks to Lantana for images (and a review copy)!
You might want to check out the amazing paper star craft Poonam Mistry shared for the first installment in this series, You’re Safe With Me! There’s a template so you can make one too!