Category Archives: PICTURE BOOKS +

sunflower sisters interview + sunflower hair clip craft!

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!

Michaela Dias-Hayes and Monika Singh Gangotra the week Sunflower Sisters released.  

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!

 

+

 

Such a vibrant book about being like a sunflower, proud and glowing and warm, warrants a wearable craft! Plus, Amrita and Kiki wear sunflowers in their hair in one spread!

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.

What you’ll need:

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).

That’s it!

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

picture book giveaway for educators for 8 years of this picture book life!

I love giving away books and this is the most to a single blog reader I’ve ever had the pleasure of sending off!  These 16  terrific books from the last couple of years are for an educator’s classroom or library to celebrate 8 years of This Picture Book Life and to celebrate all the vital work teachers do, entry details below!

 

The picture books:

Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh / This is How I Know: a Book about Seasons by Brittany Luby & Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley (2021). Translated by Alvin Ted Corbiere and Alan Corbiere.

Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera (2020).

The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee by Julie Leung, illustrated by Julie Kwon (2021).

Together We March by Leah Henderson, illustrated by Tyler Feder (2021).

Pride Puppy by Robin Stevenson and Julie McLaughlin (2021).

Amira’s Picture Day by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Fahmida Azim (2021).

If Dominican Were a Color written by Sili Recio, illustrated by Brianna McCarthy (2021).

Princess Arabella at the Museum by Mylo Freeman (2021).

A Gift for Amma by Meera Sriram and Mariona Cabassa (2020).

The Secret Fawn by Kallie George & Elly MacKay (2021).

Amazing Women of the Middle East by Wafa’ Tarnowska, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi, Sahar Haghgoo, Christelle Halal, Esteli Meza Margarida Esteves (2020).

Sato the Rabbit by Yuki Ainoya (2021).

The Last Tree by Emily Haworth-Booth (2020).

My Bed by Rebecca bond, illustrated by Salley Mavor (2020).

Lift As You Climb by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (2020).

Toasty by Sarah Hwang (2021).

The giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And quick update for any picture book creators out there: I’m super excited to be teaching another round of my online picture book revision workshop series starting August 7th! There are details about this special opportunity to REVISE your manuscript according to your voice and vision, RECEIVE encouragement and inspiration from me and the small group, and REVITALIZE your writing process on my website here! Or simply email me to get more info or sign up. Two scholarships at a significant discount available for participants with underrepresented/marginalized voices in publishing—we need your voices!

 

20 social-emotional picture books

I’m excited to share this list of 20 recent picture books that in some way touch on a child’s relationships—with themselves: their identities, feelings, behaviors—as well as their relationships with others. That’s the essence of social-emotional learning or social-emotional development, how we relate to ourselves, to others, and to the wider community.

Books can be one tool to validate kids and help them navigate all of these relationships, emotions, and experiences as they make sense of themselves and their world.

It’s important to note that SEL must be culturally-affirming (more on that in this article by Cierra Kaler-Jones: “When SEL is used as another form of policing“) and attuned to every child as well as to justice and equity. I really like the following quote from activist and educator Dena Simmons, founder of LiberatED SEL from this article in ACSD Education Update titled, “Why We Can’t Afford Whitewashed Social-Emotional Learning””

“Social-emotional learning (SEL) skills can help us build communities that foster courageous conversations across difference so that our students can confront injustice, hate, and inequity. SEL refers to the life skills that support people in experiencing, managing, and expressing emotions, making sound decisions, and fostering interpersonal relationships. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines five core SEL competencies, including self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. These competencies seamlessly lend themselves to preventing violence and to building a more peaceful world.”

Dena Simmons

 

Here are 20 wonderful picture books with kids’ lives, feelings, bonds, and well-beings in mind!

 

I Am! Affirmations for Resilience by Bela Barbosa and Edel Rodriguez (2020) is a board book the author describes as “a tool kit for children.” It feels essential to me: for those who have or work with children, for all all of us. It teaches mindfulness, emotion regulation, resilience, and positive self-worth. It’s an incredible resource for how to respond when feeling difficult feelings or out of control. The text and illustration combo is vibrant, hopeful, beaming, and totally affirming.

 

We All Play kimêwânaw by Julie Flett (2021) is exquisitely illustrated (as all of Julie Flett’s work is), connective, gentle, playful. A refreshing, calm breath that connects kids to themselves, each other, and the natural world, all through play.

“…Whether we are running and hopping through the grass or rolling along the street or pondering creatures in the creek, we are all connected, living in relationship and in care of one another, in kinship. In Cree, this is called wâhkôhtowin.”

—Julie Flett in the author’s note.

 

Thao: A Picture Book by Thao Lam (2020). This picture book is not only inventive, original, and risk-taking in form, but it is all about identity. It’s the story of the author-illustrator, Thao. Her name. Growing up with her name. The way other people mispronounced it. It will no doubt get kids thinking about their own names—and other people’s. And about identity, their own and others’.

 

Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Ananda, illustrated by Gabi H. Ali (2021). A joyful story of Laxmi and her mooch, which she describes as “these little hairs above my lip” and is the Hindi word for mustache. She learns to love it, along with all the hair on her body, after a talk with her mother connects her to the purpose of hair on our skin as well as all the people, in her family or famous ones like Frida Kahlo, who have a mooch or something like it. A beautiful celebration of bodies!

 

A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart written by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Noa Denmon (2020). The narrator of this beautiful, vital book is exploring “a space deep down inside me/where all my feelings hide” and bringing them to light—to themselves and the reader. His stirring, reverberating story starts with joy and then describes what else he experiences after a police shooting in his community: sorrow, anger, pride, love.

 

The Happiness of a Dog with a Ball in Its Mouth by Bruce Handy & Hyewon Yum (2021) explores befores and afters, ups and downs, feelings that accompany or contrast or precede happiness of all sorts. It’s clever, inventive, and affirming; it will soothe and surprise with lovely text and expressive illustrations.

 

Anita and the Dragons by Hannah Carmona and Anna Cunha (2021). “Today is the day I will meet the dragons—large winged beasts who will carry me away.” The narrator of this immersive, expressive story uses the metaphor of dragons for airplanes, like the one that will take her from the Dominican Republic to a new home. She empowers and envisions herself as a brave princesa as she copes with saying goodbye (and hello)—while still letting herself confront all the scary questions that arise inside her.

 

Bindu’s Bindis by Supriya Kelkar, illustrated by Parvati Pillai (2021). This picture book is not only about  Bindu’s many-shaped and colored bindis with which she expresses herself, but at its heart it’s about her Nani who sends them to her and then visits from India. Her grandmother is joyful, self-expressive, and someone who holds her head high, even when confronted in the story with scary, hateful, unjust actions, an incredible model and encouragement to Bindu in every way.

 

The Little Things words by Christian Trimmer, art by Kaylani Juanita (2021). The story of a little girl with three pigtails, the sea stars she finds on the shore, and the power of one small act of kindness that so often inspires another and another and another. This shows how own seemingly insignificant effort to help always makes a difference, if even just to one sea star, but so often reverberates much further in the community. Plus, Kaylani Juanita‘s gorgeous pastel artwork is a feast.

 

It’s OK to Make Mistakes illustrated by Anneliesdraws (2021). A simple, super-cute book that affirms imperfection, trying again, and taking things step by step. Yes to such a buoying message!

 

The Shadow Elephant by Nadine Roberrt & Valerio Vidali (2020) is about sadness and being a friend. It shows us that when someone is enveloped in the shadows of life, not fixing or lifting but simply being with them can be exactly what they need most.

 


Listen by Gabi Snyder, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (2021) has a color palette that’s perfect for inviting us in to listen. This contemplative book feels true; it helps readers tune into the world and to others and to themselves.

 

 

I Want Ice Cream by Elisabetta Pica, art by Silvia Borando (2021). This book really speaks to kids (and us all) and to hearing no when you really really really want something. Totally playful yet visceral,  it journeys through all the emotions that arise and grow and have to be felt through simple words, pictures, and colors when adjusting to going without.

 

 

The Tree in Me by Corinna Luyken (2021) uses a tree as a metaphor for a child’s interior self that, like a tree, reaches, connects to the world around, and contains multitudes. And Corinna Luyken‘s art is total whoa.

 

 

How To Apologize by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka (2021). A lighthearted primer on saying sorry with tips and examples and the goal of, like any apology, restoring connection.

 

A Last Goodbye by Elin Kelsey, artwork by Soyeon Kim (2020) is special and tender and about death via the way animals say goodbye and grieve. It’s beautiful and deep and full of love and comfort.

 

The Boy and the Gorilla by Jackie Azúa Kramer, illustrated by Cindy Derby (2020) is another picture book about loss, this one specific to a character whose mother has died. It is sad. It is beautiful. It is a conversation between the boy and a gorilla who visits him in the garden after the funeral, and stays until the boy is ready to have another conversation with someone else, someone right there in his home as well.

 

Tears by Sibylle Delacroix (2019). Details the experience of crying—that everyone does it—in a normalizing exploration of all kinds of tears.

 

 

Let’s Play: A Book About Making Friends by Amanda McCardie, illustrated by Colleen Larmour (2021). Another primer, this one what it’s like to be new, to be worried, to make friends and tackle a variety of the feelings and interactions kids have in school. The author’s note describes it as a book that “explores and celebrates some of the good things about friendship.” It serves as a tender model for navigating the ups and downs of learning to be in community with others.

 

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt, Sean Qualls, and Selina Alko (2017). I’ll close with this one, which has been a favorite of mine since it published a few years ago. (I’ve featured Sean Qualls’s picture book life on This Picture Book Life.) It’s a reflective refrain that gently investigates who we are and who others are. A contemplation of identity, of self and others, with stunning collaborate art by duo Sean Qualls and Selina Alko.

 

If you know any other vital titles that touch on social-emotional growth, please share in the comments!

 

 

 

picture books for pairing: we move together & together we march

These titles feel made for pairing. They inspire understanding and they inspire action—together!

 

We Move Together by Kelly Fritsch, Anne McGuire, Eduardo Trejos (2021).

This picture book is one of my favorites of this year (of any year). It shows the different ways people move.  It shows community. It shows accessibility –and inaccessibility. It shows the way, together, we solve problems and “build something better” for disabled people, something better for all.

An absolutely vital book that is practical, informative, action-oriented, and full of JOY.

 

 

 

 

“Access is Love.” 

 

 

 

Together We March: 25 Protest Movements That Marched Into History by Leah Henderson, illustrated by Tyler Feder (2021)

This picture book is an incredible resource of research and inspiration, “a rich history and the often over-looked stories, revered moments, and courageous people who continue to teach us the importance of coming together to march.”

It features 25 marches for all kinds of rights over the last century and a quarter, a number of which involved children as key to march or movement. Some may be familiar, some completely new. Some are from the early 1900s, some from just last year. The book balances showing how powerful protest is and what marches have accomplished toward change for the better—a great deal—with what remains ahead: many more marches to go, much more change to make.

 

 

 

 

“It [The Longest Walk] is a shining example that marches don’t end after the last step, and we must continue to stand together to protect vulnerable communities.”

 

 

Kids are sure to want to get moving and marching and taking action after experiencing this picture book pair. Alone or, even better, together! To that end, I’m including some ideas below that might help them get them started.

Please share other action ideas in the comments if you’d like to provide further resources!

 

*Read the poem “You Get Proud By Practicing” by disabled writer, Laura Hershey. Discuss it. Share it with someone.

*Join StopGap.CA and help build a portable wooden community ramp in your community so wheelchair-users can get where they want and need to go.

*Pay attention to surroundings and experiences. What might not be accessible to others, to all, in them? How can you advocate for a change that would remove a barrier to make your school or neighborhood or favorite place more accessible? As We Move Together’s back matter says, “Making things accessible can also mean removing financial barriers, using unscented products, learning new ways of communicating, and making sure friends feel welcome and included.” What are tangible ways to do this in the spaces and places you frequent?

*Pick one of the marches in Together We March. Ask a parent or educator about the ways in which what people were marching for then is still present today. Brainstorm ways to bring about change now.

*Write a letter to someone in power asking them to make a specific change. My This Writer’s Life video, Letter for Change, walks kids through this process.

*Visit The Conscious Kid, which I featured a few years ago here, and is a shining leader in the anti-racism field “dedicated to equity and promoting healthy racial identity development in youth.”

*Is there something unfair that has affected you or someone you care about? If you’re comfortable, you could create a piece of art about that experience, a drawing or poem or something else in order to share what it was/is like with others.

*Hold a gathering to hear from community members in your school or neighborhood about what needs to change where you go to school or live. Join with others because activism is best when shared and no one person is “in charge” of solving a problem.

*Visit The Tiny Activist, which has so many education and literature resources to support activists of any age.

*Make a sign about something you care about and hang it in your window.

*Coordinate with others to organize a new or join an existing march or protest addressing a cause that’s meaningful to you.

*Find a way to assist an organization that’s already doing good in your community. Invite a friend so you can volunteer together!

 

Big thanks to AK Press and Simon & Schuster for review copies and images! 

 

 

You might also be interested in this blog post: Four 2020 Picture Books on Raising Your Voice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15 picture books on connection

I’ve thought so much about connection during Covid as we all have. Despite distance, many of my relationships have gotten closer and more connected. On the other hand, a couple have receded. But overall, I’ve found sustaining ways to connect with people, with myself, and with my creativity during this long season. To that end, while most of us are still unable to connect in the ways we used to out of compassion and care for each other, I’ve rounded up 15 picture books that all touch on connection in some way, whether obvious or not. Connection of all kinds. Because really what we’ve learned is how very connected we are.

I hope some of these will encourage fresh ways to frame connection with kids in your life and to feel more connected to self, others, understanding, and the world through story.

Vy’s Special Gift by Ha-Giang Trinh and Evi Shelvia (2020). This mustard and periwinkle picture book features a girl waiting for a rice ration in Vietnam during COVID and the imaginative acts of kindness she shows to others, a model of connection and creativity in the most stretching, leanest times.

 

Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker & April Harrison (2020). Nana goes to school with Zura for Grandparents’ Day in this exquisitely illustrated picture book. In class, she shares a quilt from her home country of Ghana to explain the traditional facial markings she has, inviting everyone to engage with the meaningful symbols that grace it.

 

The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story by Thao Lam (2020). Inspired by the creator’s own parents’ experience fleeing Vietnam when Thao Lam was a child, this tells parallel stories: two journeys, two boats, and opens and closes with a coming together of both.

 

Neighbors by Kasya Denisevich (2020), at its heart is about empathy, a kind of connection we can engage in from anywhere as well as through reading and also, like the narrator, through imagination and curiosity.

 

Hot Pot Night by Vincent Chen (2020). In this one, neighbors actually gather, everyone contributing something for the hot pot they’ll share together!

 

 

All Because you Matter written by Tami Charles, illustrated by Caldecott Honor Winner Bryan Collier (2020). This stunner is an ode to a child. A Black child. Connected to their ancestors. Connected to the love of their parents. Connected to how they ARE matter, the stuff of the universe. That they matter, tremendously so.

 

‘Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis, illustrated by Kenard Pak (2020). A stunning, uplifting book that follows the journey of poi being made from farming to a community lū’au.

 

 

The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali, art by Hatem Aly (2019). A little sister bubbles with excitement and pride on the first day of school, which is also her older sister’s first day of hijab. The special bond of siblings and traditions and family buoys when faced with hurtful reactions.

 

My Bed: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep Around the World words by Rebecca Bond, pictures by Salley Mavor (2020). The coziest exploration of how some kids sleep in different countries with art stitched from fabric!

 

 

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña (2019) is a portrait of a late afternoon spent by the main character riding through her hometown of Corona, CA on the back of her Papi’s motorcycle. “No matter how far I go from this place or how much it changes, this city will always be with me.”

 

 

What If… written by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Mike Curato (2018) embodies the spirit of invention. The text and art work together to take us on a vivid, surprising journey of imagination and persistence, the two most important components of any creative process.

 

At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre (2019). A story with weaving at its center that embodies connection. A family is linked to a female pilot serving far away, a tribute to the high proportion of Native American and Alaska Native Nation women who are service members.

 

 

In a Jar by Deborah Marcero (2020) is a book for anyone yearning to hang onto moments, to savor and cherish them, and for anyone who loves someone who is separated by the distance of miles but connected by memories—even new ones still traded and shared. (Find a craft post for In a Jar here.)

 

 

Delivery by Aaron Meshon (2017) is a mostly wordless story full of fun and surprise as a box of love (and cookies) travels around the world in unexpected ways to its destination.

 

Hello, Rain! by Kyo Maclear + Chris Turnham (2021). Filled with classic and muted but jubilant illustrations and musical text, a kid and their dog go exploring in the rain to experience its sounds and sensations and observe how the world and creatures respond.