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Kamal’s Kes by Baljinder Kaur (2021).
This picture book absolutely blooms, like the flower of the main character’s name and the ones that grace her comb, hair, and surroundings in the pages.
Kes (kay-s) in Panjabi means hair. And this story is about Kamal’s hair.
It blossoms with honesty about Kamal’s feelings about her hair, her difficult but ultimately welcoming feelings. It blossoms with a captivating blend of text and design. It blossoms with evocative artwork, with colors that reflect the earth and flowers. It blossoms with imagination. And it blossoms with a journey toward self-love that kids need to experience.
Like every offering from independent publisher, Saffron Press, it’s made with so much intentionality (and I know from being friends with the founder how much intentionality goes into everything Saffron Press does, truly). From Baljinder Kaur’s dedication (“For every being who inspires me to strive for better”) and lotus endpapers to the gorgeous cover’s mix of gloss and matte and FSC-assured paper to that wonderful journal page at the back, “A letter to mySelf” for kids to reflect and write on, Kamal’s Kes is imbued with care for books and for those who read them.
Kid readers will recognize themselves in the story as they, too, either face or anticipate the prospect of growing up. Of changing. Of journeying into a different state from childhood and how jarring and painful that can be, especially when they don’t feel accepted for who they are as they change.
Once a source of pleasure and admiration, as it grows and appears elsewhere, Kamal’s hair becomes a sore spot. An unruly thing. A burden she wants to rid herself of because of “the stares” she receives. She begins to see herself in a distorted, disconnected way.
I love how Kamal’s portrayed as a monster, wild thing-esque. The portrayal reflects, to me, the way we feel when we’re lost in the suffering of rejection—from others, from ourselves. The middle of the book is a tumble of color and composition toward this next striking spread that puts us right there with Kamal in her desperation, her separation from herself, a painful place to be.
But Kamal is not there forever. She experiences hope. Acceptance. Self-love. The joy of being her.
“I am beautiful, Kamal whispered, and she dug her toes deeper into the earth, decorating herself with wisdom older than the sun.”
Kamal’s Kes is an incredibly joyful, hopeful, loving gift for children to embrace themselves and, like the earth and flowers, truly bloom.
Big thanks to Saffron Press for interior images!
I’m so thrilled that Baljinder Kaur, the incredible artist and author-illustrator of Kamal’s Kes!!, is here to share a companion craft for this picture book. It was so kind of her to answer my approach with a yes to the idea of creating something! And that something is is fitting, meaningful, lovely. I hope you and yours will make one too.
Over to Baljinder!
The word Kamal also means lotus flower and has great spiritual significance in Sikh thought as a metaphor for an aspiring state of being. Just as the lotus floats and blooms amidst the murky waters, so can our being in the murkiness of our worlds. In this craft we’ll be making our own lotus flowers to celebrate Kamal’s own blooming in the story. These paper flowers can be used as decoration and serve as a reminder that we can all bloom and rise in our own unique and beautiful ways.
Thank you, Baljinder, for this book and this wonderful companion craft!!
Baljinder Kaur is an illustrator nestled in the middle of England, UK. She is passionate about the power of children’s books and their ability to transcend barriers and transform our social landscapes. She enjoys exploring through themes of the fantastical, the allegorical and the enchantingly ordinary. Her work often, and intimately reflects through the lens of a Panjabi and Sikh diaspora existence.
As a child of immigrants, she’s keen to share stories that help us to connect deeper; stories that celebrate our differences as well as our wonderfully interconnected nature.
Baljinder recently graduated with distinction from Cambridge School of Art with a Masters degree in Children’s Book Illustration. She was also awarded the 2022 CSACBI Illustration for Older Fiction Prize. Her work has been published by Penguin Random House, Saffron Press and Mighty Khalsa.
Follow Baljinder Kaur on Instagram.
And follow Saffron Press.
Off-Limits by Helen Yoon (2021).
This picture book contains humor, invention and so much delight. Not only that, but fabulous surprises await both the main character and the lucky reader!
I would sum up the heart of Off-Limits this way: art and expression are all about following your curiosity—as well as sometimes getting messy and breaking the rules.
That’s exactly what the main character does. She follows her curiosity. She breaks the rule that her dad’s office is off-limits. She creates fun stuff, expressing herself while making not just a mess, but lots of JOY.
There is a wonderfully sneaky quality to the opening spreads of Off-Limits that builds throughout. The main character takes one curious, playful step into her dad’s off-limits space. And then another. She starts to tinker, to make, to play. First, one piece of tape, then whole a lamp scarf made of tape, then PAPER CLIPS AND BINDER CLIPS!
Each new office supply brings another moment of discovery. Of fun. Of creativity (and not a little bit of festive chaos). And just when the main character’s doing some more sneaking around, well, let’s just say there’s a BIG, JOYFUL SURPRISE! But I cannot give it away here. That’s for your own moment of discovery.
This new favorites shelf picture book had me engaged, captivated, delighted, and finally amazed and laughing aloud.
OFF-LIMITS. Copyright © 2021 by Helen Yoon. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
Off-Limits is such a perfect book to craft with, to make a beautiful mess with, to celebrate with! I’m so happy that my friend Mayel, paper artist extraordinaire, is here to show us how with an office supplies garland or two!
Over to Mayel!
Hello, my name is Mayel. I’m an artist, designer, creator of fun and pretty things at mayelcreates.com. I often create artful activities for kids to encourage making and life filled with art. This is my second craft here on This Picture Book Life (here’s my first one) and it’s my pleasure to collaborate with Danielle again.
Off-Limits is such a delightful book. My children are obviously welcome and encouraged to create whatever they want with all my supplies, and I have a lot of them. Though sometimes they are still attracted to create things out of the stuff you’d least expect, e.g. cardboard boxes, paper clips, staples. All are fun to see!
So here’s a couple of fun garland crafts you and your kid can do together with some office supplies you probably already have in your home.
Let’s get started!
What you’ll need:
Scrap paper (any old paperwork or school paper will do fine)
Stapler with staples
Step 1: First take one of your scrap paper and fold it accordion style about 4-5 folds like in A and B. I used old school work paper so I can repurpose them. You can use any used paper work.
Step 2: Cut the folded paper into 3 equal pieces (C). Then carefully cut out a heart shape with each piece. Make sure to not cut the sides that are connected to each other when cutting the heart out so the hearts will stay attached (D). Now you can unfold the piece and you’ll have your first garland. Repeat this process if you’d like a longer garland. You can staple the ends of your heart garlands together to make them into one long piece.
Let’s start with the heart garland.
Now, let’s play with the Post-Its.
Step 1: Take a few sheets of Post-Its in a stack, maybe 3-4, so you can design a few sheets at a time. Make sure to turn the sheets so the sticky tab part is at the top of your design. Use your scissors to make designs on the bottom of the Post-Its. I have different types of scissors. I have one that cuts patterns and one that cuts strips at one time. They are fancy, I know, but they are so much fun to have. You can get them at any craft store or online. If you do not have these fancy scissors, no worries, just use regular simple scissors and cut any design or lines you’d like on the Post-Its. For example, I just cut out triangles on picture I.
Step 2: Then, when you feel like you have enough Post-Its sheets to put a garland together, peel off each sheet from one another and line them up. Use the corners of the sticky sides to attach each sheet together like in picture J. Keep adding on sheets to make a longer garland.
Let’s see them all together! I’ve placed my garlands on a blank wall. The Post-It garlands will fortunately stick on by themselves. I made a few different ones here, some alternating colors, some the same color and design. Then, add on the heart scrap paper garlands you’ve made on top with pieces of tape on the ends.
Now you have fun decor out of office supplies!
Hope you’ve enjoyed this crafting activity with ordinary office supplies and had fun with your kids at the same time. See more of my activities and crafts on Insta: MayelCreates.
Till next time!
Thank you, Mayel!!!
You may want to check out Mayel’s first craft on TPBL, Don’t Worry Little Crab paper crab puppets + coloring page!
Make Meatballs Sing: The Life & Art of Corita Kent, words by Matthew Burgess, pictures by Kara Kramer (2021).
This picture book emobies bold inspiration! It bursts with color. With art. With creativity and the impulse to share it. With love. And most importantly, with “plork“!—a term Corita coined, her portmanteau in the service of making work and play one undertaking.
And it certainly does sing, with vibrant illustrations, striking design, and explosions of Corita’s wonderful quotes. It’ll teach you about her life and her art, and it’ll teach you to embrace both for yourself.
“The person who makes things is a sign of hope.”
Corita grew up a reader. A kind person. A draw-er. A dreamer. Influenced by her father, she followed her heart. She also became a nun: Sister Mary Corita. (But she wasn’t a nun forever.) In the role, she taught art to young children. Then to older ones.
“Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail. There’s only make.”
Corita made viewfinders (that she called finders) with her students to “look at ordinary things until the little details came alive.” She made screen prints and pop art. She made celebrations. She plorked and helped others do the same!
She made statements about social justice. She pushed for reform. And she left her vows because of it.
I hope you get to read Make Meatballs Sing for yourself. I hope it inspires some plorking, some making, some spirited singing in your own life. And don’t forget to follow that little blue bird that accompanies Corita through the book!
You can learn more about this artist and educator and activist at the Corita Art Center.
Big thanks to Enchanted Lion Books for review copies and images!
Ready to plork away?! It might be impossible not to want to make something fun after reading this book! Lucky for us, artist Anna Totten is here to inspire. Just like Corita’s students (and her little buddy the blue bird in Make Meatballs Sing), you can make a decorated paper finder (and more!) with the children in your life too! Anna’s craft is a burst of joyful creativity!
Over to Anna!
YOU’RE INVITED TO PLORK!
Let’s open our eyes to a new perspective. First, you will learn to make a finder like Corita and her students used. Second, you will learn how to make stamps from an ordinary object. Finally, you will create art with your new tools and plork away!
Cut card stock in half (unless you want a giant finder). Lay your sheets vertically. You need to cut a square in the top half of each sheet. I’m going to share my technique for making squares without using a ruler. Trace a circular object on the top section of each sheet. Pinch your paper in the middle of the circle but not to the edges. This pinch gives your scissors some paper to grab and allows the first cut to begin. Using the circle as your guide, cut straight lines parallel from the top, bottom, left, and right of the circle.
Now that you have your finder, hold it away from your face and look through it. A finder focuses your attention on smaller areas of what we usually see. For example, can you use your finder in a busy store to focus on only the letters on a can? What about the street where you live, the playground, or your bedroom? Do you notice any new details? A finder gives us another way to see the world. How can your finder views inspire your art?
Look at your sponge before you cut. Can you imagine the shape you want to create? Do you want to create a shape that already has a name, or would you like to invent a new shape? If you’d like a guide to follow as you cut, use a marker to draw a line on your sponge.
Cut the sponge and then stop and look at your shape. Are you done, or do you want to cut more? Repeat until you have a shape or many shapes you like. Remember, not all scraps are trash! Do you have any leftover sponge for a smaller stamp?
Sponges are just one item you can use for stamping. Are there other everyday items around you or in the recycling bin that could become a stamp? The lip of a milk jug or a cinched paper towel roll? Experiment! It’s okay if it doesn’t work out the way you thought it would. That’s all part of the process.
For printing with stamps:
Squirt some paint on a bigger surface so you can spread your paint around. I used paper this time but scrap cardboard, a paper plate, or a washable tray are other items I often use when stamping. Dab one side of your sponge up and down in the paint a few times to coat the underside of your stamp. Then pick up your stamp and place it paint side down on your paper (or finder, scraps, cardboard, etc.). If you have a lot of paint on your sponge you can probably stamp more than once. Dab your sponge back into the paint and repeat as often as you like. Are you placing your shapes randomly? Can you make a pattern? If you need more paint, dab it around or you’ll likely get a gloop of paint on your artwork. But as Corita believed—there are no mistakes, just make! You can use more than one color to stamp and be open to mixing colors. It’s fun, sometimes surprising, and definitely a great way to PLORK!
A decorated finder discovers new views.
There are no rules on what supplies you use for this art: layer paint, tissue, stamps, collage, and more to allow surprises. Tissue paper is easy to cut and tear for all ages and adds beautiful saturation to art. Old magazines or newspaper advertisements are an excellent source for texture, imagery, and type. Don’t throw out that box; make it into art! Cardboard is sturdier than paper and takes material well. Remix art supplies from where you live.
Anna Totten is an illustrator and designer who works at the intersection of creativity and kids. She writes and illustrates stories, instructs art, and organizes community art projects. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina where her murals are popping up where kids learn and play.
Thank you, Anna, for truly bringing this picture book to life with an inspiring tour through your “plork away” activity!
Sunflower Sisters by Monika Singh Gangotra and Michaela Dias-Hayes (2021). It’s out in the UK now and will be coming to the US as well.
This picture book is a story about bonds of love. The ones between best friends, Amrita and Kiki. The ones between mothers and their children. The ones made at special wedding celebrations. And, at its heart, the ones we have with ourselves. Amrita’s story encourages readers to beam like a sunflower, proud and bold. And to be a sunflower with and for others too.
It has captivating, joyful illustrations and a message that radiates affirmation, connection, and purpose.
Amrita is getting ready for a wedding in her South Asian family, and the bride is wearing face cream to lighten her skin. This, as well as a comment from Aunty about drinking tea, sets off discussion and discovery for the main character.
Amrita’s mum though, is a source of self-acceptance, a voice of encouraging Amrita to fiercely love herself as she is—and her skin tone that is beautiful as it is, always, as well as in a yellow lehenga, the color of a sunflower. In fact, it is Amrita’s yellow lehenga and effervescent sunflower-spirit that eventually convinces Aunty how beautiful she is wearing any color at all.
“…the skin we are in is EXACTLY as it is meant to be.”
Amrita’s best friend, Kiki, is at a wedding the same day as well. At the end, we see the girls unite and twirl together, vowing to love who they are as they bloom and grow. And we even get a glimpse on the last two spreads of how they do! (Hint: it has to do with being, doing, and also wearing what you love.)
Plus, there’s an explanation of colorism in the back for handy reference when speaking with kids about the book.
“From that moment on, the girls would make sure they felt like sunflowers every day.”
The author of this book has an effervescent sunflower-spirit herself, and I was lucky enough to be able to catch up with my friend Monika Singh Gangotra to ask her a few questions about Sunflower Sisters. She shares her wonderful answers below! Read on to hear what she has to say!
This Picture Book Life: What was the impetus for you to write Sunflower Sisters; what inspired the idea for this picture book and to explore colorism through family, friendship, and wedding celebrations?
Monika Singh Gangotra: Sunflower Sisters is a story that follows two best friends, Amrita and Kiki, on their journey through self-love, sisterhood and the power of loving one another. Specifically, this story focuses on the issue of familial colourism and how we can tackle this with love, kindness, acceptance, strength and honesty.
I wanted kids to have some books on their shelves that were rich in diversity, cultures of those they are growing up alongside, representative of multicultural communities, relatable characters, contexts and adventures, books that carried important messages for the world we live in and how they affect all of us. To empower readers to make positive change. Further, I wanted more representation for the way we live our lives. The buildings, our clothes, our neighbours whilst also addressing and raising awareness of cultural issues and cultural wonders that are still alive and present today.
Colourism is an issue that has followed me throughout my whole life and continues to do so to ALL South Asians in some way. With a deep-rooted history related to colonialism and caste, colourism has become incredibly engrained in the way South Asians view beauty and success. South Asian pop culture is saturated in colourism and our exposure and ideology is incredibly high. As I began to work in the beauty industry, what I was taught to believe about what is beautiful became incongruent with what I saw and felt for myself. And I wanted to create change. I feel social change is incredibly powerful through children and it is our responsibility as adults to help steer them in the direction of love.
In my experience, wedding celebrations have a large focus on beauty and the way a woman presents herself to the community. Much of my exposure in relation to colourism was in and around wedding celebrations. In saying that, I love weddings. The joy, the colours, the clothes! Weddings have always been occasions where I have felt I can truly express myself in terms of my style and felt would make a great setting for Amrita to be able to do the same.
TPBL: Sunflowers! Do you have a special connection to these radiant blooms?
Monika Singh Gangotra: I remember growing up and watching my mum walking around the front yard of our coastal home in the early morning. The sun high in the sky and the most beautiful and brightly coloured birds chirping loudly, eating from all her fruit trees she planted herself – pears, guava, peaches and a mango tree to name just to name a few.
As more and more birds began to come to our house to eat and party, Mum felt there wasn’t enough fruit on the trees to feed them all so she began to buy large bags of bird seed to scatter on the front yard. This bird seed mix had sunflower seeds and before we knew it, we had these incredible sunflowers growing in our front yard. As tall as can be. These were some of the best days and the most beautiful images of my mum that I carry in my heart and can see ever so clearly when I close my eyes and think of home.
This image of my mum and her sunflowers is how this came to be. I feel that sunflowers grow their best when they are surrounded by the warmth of the sun. I also noticed in her flowers that some of the sunflowers looked towards one another. This is the imagery that I have used in the book to describe the important relationships between Amrita, Kiki and their mothers.
Amrita looks up towards her mother for love and guidance (as the sun). Her mother provides her with a safe environment to grow full of warmth and love. Sisterhood is explained through Amrita and Kiki being sunflowers for themselves and also one another. That at times when their sun isn’t there, they can look towards each other and know they will always be there for one another – unconditionally.
TPBL: Both you and Michaela Dias-Hayes have relationships with fashion and textiles, and your Instagram often features your radiant, joyful wardrobe in exuberant photos. How did both your passions for fashion inevitably infuse Sunflower Sisters?
Monika Singh Gangotra: The story follows Amrita and Kiki in their journey to open their own fashion house, just as I have been so lucky to have done so in my own. Fashion is such a huge part of my personal expression.
Michaela incorporated prints from clothes she had seen from my own personal wardrobe in social media. That is why my most favourite page is the very last. The colours, the diversity, little hints of my own story and journey in the colours and prints used. My heart sang when I first saw that page and Owlet Press lovingly gifted me a framed copy of this spread to hang on my wall.
Thank you, Monika, for spending this time and sharing with us, and to you and Owlet Press for review copy and images!
This sunflower hair clip is playfully easy to make with no-bake modeling clay and will remind the wearer that, like Amrita and the Sunflower Sisters, they have their own ability to beam like this golden bloom. It could be used in a child’s hair or worn on some item of clothing or accessory or affixed to a piece of furniture or carried in a bag or pocket.
Any no-bake modeling clay (I used yellow, orange, pink, and brown and Crayola’s Model Magic variety.)
A hair clip on which to fasten the bloom.
Some gold thread if you’d like to add flecks of it as I have done.
Hot glue gun (to be used by the adult present).
From there, it’s just a matter of starting with the sunflower center by rolling a ball of clay and slightly flattening it Then, you shape a whole bunch of petals, mixing clay colors if you’d like, and then kneading each one onto the center so it’s attached. Layer by layer, petal by petal, however you like! I cut small pieces of gold thread to embed into some petals as well, taking inspiration from the sunflowers on the cover of Sunflower Sisters.
The finally step is attaching the flower to the clip. Before you glue it, wait until your clay is dry. The timing may be different depending on what kind you use, but if you wait 24 hours, I’m sure that’ll do the trick in any case. Simply affix it with a dollop of hot glue, hold a few seconds, wait, and wear!
This picture book is pure genius. First of all, it’s narrated by a chair!
Funny, inventive, and super kid-centric, The Bad Chair is a story for anyone who’s ever felt lonely and left out and maybe gone about trying to be part of things in not-the-best way.
You see, “More than anything, Chair wanted to be in on the game.” And while it’s never stated, the game is hide-and-seek. Vivi plays hide-and-seek every night. Only she plays it with Monkey, not with Chair.
Each character is illustrated for us as though they are real, they are animate. They have eyes and expressions. But still, this is Vivi’s world, the world of a child’s imagination. She (may have been!) orchestrating this whole thing—it’s up to you to decide. Vivi arranges objects in a certain way. She leads investigations with about where Monkey is with the objects. She dances with her stuffed monkey. She reminds me of myself when I was a kid. She might also remind you of you.
But still, it is Chair we really feel for. Feeling left out, left behind, left in the dark. And then, when Chair handles their feelings by doing something not so great, we get to experience Chair’s desperation and despair, and then, regret. But really, The Bad Chair isn’t bad. We understand that Chair wants to be in on the game. We all get that.
Setting is a big deal here, of course, seeing as Chair is part of the setting. The whole book takes place essentially in the living room of Vivi’s home, with all of its objects. Dasha’s artwork is perfect for this: bright, cheerful, some sketched, some painted, cloudy washes of color, so many fun, colorful patterns. Every item is thoughtfully crafted: Vivi’s sleuthing hat, the cat’s blank, white silhouette and long eyelashes, kettle’s upturned nose, all the different plants.
Huge thanks to Groundwoods Books for the review copy and images!
The cover of this book alone hinted it might beckon for a craft. And it did! So I invited Meg of Finding Stuff Club to make a super special craft for The Bad Chair that could also be a game. She delivered big time!
Over to Meg!
In The Bad Chair – all Chair wants to do is play a game of hide-and-seek. This craft gives The Bad Chair an opportunity to do exactly that! Follow the simple instructions below to make your very own The Bad Chair: Hide & Seek Game Craft. Hide the chairs around your home and see if a friend or family member can find them all!
What you’ll need:
6 pieces of 8.5 x 11 construction paper or colored cardstock
Crayons and paint
Place your paper down horizontally. Make a 4″x 5″ rectangle in the middle of your sheet of paper. Draw two rectangles on either side of the square, 2.5″ wide. Draw a 1″ flap at the top of the rectangle, about 1″ flap at the bottom of the square. Cut out your shape and fold along the edges of the square. Glue the side and bottom flaps together to create an envelope. Is that too much of a mouthful? Take an envelope apart and see how it is constructed to help.
Step 2: Decorate your paper
Pick out pieces of paper that match colors you see in the book. Be inspired by the different patterns! Draw stars, dots, and stripes that mimic what you see. The patterns should cover the entire sheet of paper.
Step 3: Make your chair template
Draw a flat chair template that fits within the 4″x 5″ rectangle of the envelope. The chair should be a square with 4 legs of equal size and a back. When you cut it out and fold it, it should stand up straight (like a chair!).
Step 5: Trace your chair
Flatten your chair template. Trace the chair shape on each piece of patterned paper.
Step 6: Cut out your chairs
Cut out your chairs and fold them to make sure they can stand up.
Step 7: Play the game!
Hide the chairs around your house. Play with one person to see if they can find them all or play with a group to see who can find the most. Store in your envelope when done!
Thanks so much, Meg!
Meg Eplett is a Creative Director and Illustrator living in Brooklyn. She loves working on kid projects, kid brands, kid anything (because kids stuff is way more fun). You can see her work at eplettdesign.com or visit @findingstuff.club—a kids’ resource she founded with her friend to help parents during COVID and beyond.
I’ve featured Dasha’s work before, in this post from 2015 on A Year Without Mom, her middle grade graphic novel.
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