Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Mies van Hout illustrator


I grew up in a village in the south of Holland called Hapert. My father always told us stories. When he was telling we were all sitting around him. I also liked reading, but most of the time I was drawing. When I was very young I knew that I wanted to become a drawer. And I didn't know what to do otherwise. Goodreads

Mies van Hout is an illustrator and creator of picture books from the Netherlands. To date, she has illustrated more than 100 children’s books. She has won the Dutch Children’s Bookshops Prize on two occasions and has been awarded a Flag and Pennant by the Golden Paintbrush Jury. About twenty of her books are available in English. Take a look at this gallery of her work.

It is impossible for me to name one favourite illustrator but Mies van Hout would certainly be on my list. One of her books that I especially love is her Nursery Rhyme collection entitled Pussycat, Pussycat. Every page is just delightful. This book would be a very special gift for a new baby. The Dutch title of this book is Poseje Mauw.

On this page the rhyme says: "Baby bird asleep in the nest, Mother will keep you warm. Head tucked under feathery wings, Mother will keep you from harm."

I'm sure you recognise this is Baa Baa Black Sheep:

Mies has a series of books featuring emotions. In each of these books the black pages contain animals and fanciful monsters alongside one seemingly simply word but there is nothing simple here. Taking a look at the book Surprise.  Inside you will find wonderful illustrations exploring words such as yearning, hoping, expecting, marvelling, caring, comforting, cherishing and encouraging.  Here are a set of teaching ideas to use in a preschool

Here are some pages from Surprise which is titled Verrassing in Dutch. I found a video where Mies draws her page 'marvelling'.  The word on this page is 'enjoying'. If you can read Dutch, Meis shares art ideas on her web page.

Here are some review comments about books by Mies:

Kirkus on HappyThe line, colour, and texture make each page a pleasure to return to, and each single word is fully expressed in its corresponding pictureAlong with the azure-and–sky-blue ovoid fish at the end, readers will pronounce themselves, in yellow, white and green letters, “delighted.”

Kirkus on FriendsWith only a dozen or so words and spectacular images, van Hout captures the landscape of friendship for toddlers through teens and beyond.

Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast on HappyMies van Hout’s Happy is a tour de force of underwater awesomeness and emotion, showcasing what an artist can do with a few pastels, black paper and something fundamental to express. I want to hug it and buy a copy for every shorty on my list.

Happy, which contains 22 fish, is titled Vrolijk in Dutch. Just to show the the reach of her work this book is available in German, Italian, French, English, Japanese, Korean, South African, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Portuguese. 

Here is one of her newest books published in 2021.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The Beak Book by Robin Page

This is a very new and scrumptious non fiction book which looks closely at one attribute of birds- their beaks. Are you amazed someone could dedicate a whole book to this topic? I do hope you have discovered the wonderful books by Robin Page and her husband Steve Jenkins. I have included a few covers at the end of this post. This pair are masters of non fiction and they often focus on quirky and interesting aspects of the animal kingdom.

There are many levels to The Beak Book.  

You can read about 21 birds from around the world - Australia, New Zealand, North America, South America, Africa and Asia.

You can explore all the different ways birds use their beaks. Some will surprise you.

And you are sure to enjoy the glorious full colour close up illustrations of strange, wonderful, quirky, clever and elegant birds.

But there is one more level to this book. The word choice is perfect.  Here is a list of the words used to describe the function of each beak:

This beak is for: sniffing, straining, tossing, crushing, cooling, filtering, snapping, stitching, prying, stabbing, ripping, probing, skimming, plucking, sipping, climbing, battling, drilling, scooping, shredding and clutching.

Clutching is the puffin. You probably know I love puffins. "The puffin uses its flexible hinged beak and the sharp spines that line its mouth to clutch several fish at the same time."

If you were sharing this book with a class you could begin by asking 'Why do birds have beaks?' and then use the answers as a jumping off point into this book. This is a book which I would recommend for every Primary school library collection. 

Here are some other wonderful books by Robin Page and Steve Jenkins:

Take a look at this post by my friend at Kinderbookswitheverything.  The topic of birds and their beaks is explored in one of our CBCA 2021 short listed books this year - Busy Beaks.

My friend also mentioned these books which explore the way birds use their beaks. Take a look at her extensive Pinterest collection of books about birds. A Peek at Beaks will be published later this year and Whose it is? Beaks by Curt Hart will be published before Christmas.

Most school libraries in Australia will have a copies of these two picture books.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Walking to the Bus-Rider blues by Harriette Gillem Robinet

Alfa is only twelve years old but he carries a lot of weight on his young shoulders. Each month the family, his sister and Great Grandmother, have to find fifty dollars for their rent. They live in a two room hut with no electricity and no running water.

His great Grandmother, Mama Merryfield, makes around ten dollars a week cleaning houses or sometimes only six or seven if "the white ladies were mean." Alfa works in a grocery story filling shelves, cleaning and stacking vegetables. He makes about five dollars every two weeks and older sister Zinnia makes about the same. "So our total family income was about sixty dollars a month, and we paid fifty dollars in rent."

But things are going wrong. Each month money disappears from their hiding place. This month they are ten dollars short for the rent. Then when all three are working at a cleaning job, the home owner accuses them of stealing over $2000 from the kitchen. Alfa, Zinnia and Mama Merryfield are African American and this is Alabama. They are considered guilty automatically. 

While all of this is happening every one is walking. It is the time of the bus boycott. Now Alfa needs to prove his family are innocent, he needs to find the thief and he desperately needs to find the extra ten dollars for their rent. His fears about eviction and homelessness are heart breaking.

Here are some text quotes to give you a flavour of this writing and an idea about life during these times:

"I saw a police car slow down as it drove by. The policeman tilted his head, staring at my bloodied face looking up at him. He rode on. The white boys kept kicking me. If I had struck one of them while the policeman was watching, I would have been arrested and beaten at the police station."

"The Montgomery bus system was bad. We didn't blame the company or the drivers; we blamed the System. The System made you pay up front, then get off the front of the bus and enter in the back door. Sometimes before you reached the back door, the driver would drive off with your dime or nickel."

"I had heard that white police were arresting coloured drivers right and left for going to slow, for going to fast, stopping their cars, starting their cars. The fines were costly, yet the drivers kept rolling."

Publisher blurb: During the Alabama bus boycott, six months after Rosa Parks made her famous bus protest, Alfa Merryfield and his family struggle to pay the rent. But someone keeps stealing their rent money -- and now someone is accusing them of stealing! With only a few days left before rent is due, Alfa and his sister, Zinnia, know they don't have much time. To solve this mystery, they must "walk the walk and talk the talk of nonviolence" that Martin Luther King, Jr. and other leaders preach -- and what they discover may be more than they dreamed... 

This book from 2000 is now sadly out of print but if you can find a copy and if you work in a school library read chapter 19. It describes a terrible scene where Alfa tries to use the city library.

With my city in lockdown I am rereading some books from my own shelves. I had a copy of Walking to the Bus-rider blues in my previous library and I was happy to spot this copy for just $1 at a charity book sale. Read more about Harriette Gillem Robinet here

I love talking to students about Rosa Parks. Even though I am in Australia, I am able to incorporate this into our Grade 5 topic on Democracy. In this unit we talk about gaining the vote (suffragettes) and legal and illegal ways of protesting. Rosa refused to give up her seat on the bus and so for 371 the African American people and other citizens of Montgomery Alabama walked everywhere. It was a peaceful and very powerful protest.  They walked to work, to church, to visit friends, to shop and to the doctor. They walked in the summer heat, the winter cold and in the rain and through thunder storms. I read these three books here in Australia to my students:

I am listing this book for older primary students aged 11+ because I think readers need some maturity to understand the dreadful racism which is described here.

Social issues, civil-rights history, adventure, and mystery are all skillfully combined in this gripping story of 12-year-old Alfa Merryfield, his sister Zinnia, and their great-grandmother Lydia. Setting her story in Montgomery, Alabama, during the summer of 1956, when the bus boycott precipitated by Rosa Parks is already six months old and racial tensions are high, Robinet has created richly delineated characters and conveyed a strong sense of time and place from the perspective of two African-American children who are deeply involved in it all. Kirkus Star review

Manjhi moves a Mountain by Nancy Churnin illustrated by Danny Popovici

Publisher blurb: When a mountain separates Dashrath Manjhi's poor village from schools and hospital, he sees a solution no one else can imagine. Using only a hammer, chisel, and twenty years of exhausting work, Manjhi shows that one determined person can wear down even the most massive of problems.

This is an incredible true story - one I only just discovered today.

Here are a few facts which will expand on the publisher blurb above.

  • Manjhi was born in 1934 and he died in 2007
  • A mountain blocked Gehlar a village near Gaya in Bihar, India from another village called Wazirgani.
  • Wazirgani had running water, doctors, a school and jobs. People in Gehlar live in poverty.
  • Manjhi's wife, Falguni Devi, fell on the mountain trail. She died because Manjhi could not reach medical help in time.
  • Manjhi decided their village needed access to Wazirgani and so he worked with hand tools after work each day chipping away at the mountain.
  • He cut a road 360 feet long, 30 feet high and 25 feet wide. It took him 22 years.
  • This book has won numerous awards and has been translated in to 18 languages. 

Here is the road carved by hand by Manjhi:

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Churnin’s prose has an elegance appropriate for her inspiring tale, which is based on a true story. Popovich’s double-page illustrations use a warm palette and are nicely composed. Kirkus

Here is a set of teaching notes from the publisher Creston Books. My friend at Kinderbookswitheverything collects picture book biographies in her school library. The power of these stories comes when you read about wonderful people who do amazing things and yet are often people you may have never heard of. For example I discovered Maria Merian through the biography Summer Birds and Emmanuel's Dream the story of Emmanuel Ofosu when I read the book by Laurie Ann Thompson. These are not related to the book I am discussing here today but they are powerful stories which linger with me.

I am keen to see another book by Nancy Churnin which compares the lives of Anne Frank and Martin Luther King Jr. who were born in the same year. "Both faced ugly prejudices and violence, which both answered with words of love and faith in humanity. This is the story of their parallel journeys to find hope in darkness and to follow their dreams." Booktopia

Friday, July 30, 2021

A Prince and his Porcelain Cup illustrated by Li Jian Translated by Yijin Wert

"The little prince was very lonely without any friends in the palace. He looked at all the porcelain pieces in the palace and loved them. Every day he carefully wiped his mother's favourite porcelain cup."  The cup he loves is called The Chicken Cup. In a fit of rage the little boy breaks this precious cup.

Image Source: Commons Wikimedia

The Prince takes the cup to a porcelain craftsman and over time the wise old man shows the boy how his cup was made from clay on the potters wheel, the care that need to be taken with painting on the design, and finally the placement in the very hot kiln. The little prince comes to realise this is a complex process and his broken cup cannot be repaired. In later years when he became the Emperor, the little prince is still thinking about his mother's cup. He summons the best craftsmen and finally "The Emperor's wish can true. It was like his mother's favourite cup had returned to him."

You can see some art from this book here.

The chicken cup is from the Ming Dynasty. The word chicken in Chinese is similar to the word luck and so chickens symbolise fortune and happiness. Read more here.

About Li Jian: Li Jian graduated from Hebei Normal University in 2001, majoring in Chinese Painting. Formerly a middle school art teacher, children's book editor and a partner in an illustration studio, Li now owns his own illustration studio focusing on illustrations for children's fairy tales. He has many bilingual books about Chinese culture and stories, such as his Chinese Zodiac Series and the stories of Mulan and Zheng He. Source - Shiny Lantern

A Prince and his Porcelain Cup is a dual language text in English and Chinese. Here are some other books illustrated by Li Jian. He has an excellent series which feature the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Tiger Brother will be published in 2022 (The Year of the Tiger). 

I suggest you also look for A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park as a companion text to share with an older reader. This is a story set in Korea which also focuses on the skills involved with pottery.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Beautiful Day: Petite poems for all season by Rodoula Pappa illustrated by Seng Soun Ratanavanh

The subtitle of this book is: Petite poems for all seasons.

Blurb: "In simple, haiku-inspired poems, a child observes their world from spring to summer and autumn through winter in this gentle ode to the seasons, accompanied by exquisite illustrations."

Haiku - short Japanese poems that capture a moment in time. Usually they have a pattern of 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second and 5 again in the third but modern haiku can vary this as happens in this book.

I promise
dewy little strawberry
I won't pick you.

This book has the most beautiful design from the dust jacket; the surprise different cover under the dust jacket; end papers; title page; and every scrumptious illustration created with a beautiful palette of red, yellow, teal, orange and caramel using Japanese washi patterns.  

Here is the image under the cover, the end papers and the back cover:

Among the reeds,
a new galaxy - 

Rodoula Pappa is a writer and translator of children’s books. Her first book The boy with the tree (2012) was awarded the Greek National Prize for Children’s Literature.

Here is the original edition of Beautiful Day with the title On puppy's nose, a grasshopper (Στη μύτη του κουταβιού μια ακρίδα). This illustration can be found inside the book - it is my favourite.

What a deep sleep!
On puppy's nose,
a grasshopper.

Seng Song Ratanavanh was born in Laos and now lives in Paris. Her illustrations are inspired by Japanese art and full of brightly patterned colours. Speaking about her work the Wall Street Journal said "The illustrations in some picture books are so devouringly gorgeous that it almost doesn't matter what the words say." Here are some of her other books:

While so many international picture books have become very expensive here in Australia with some over $40 I am happy to report right now (July 2021) Beautiful Day is less than $20 and it is hardcover with a dust jacket. Add it to your shopping list today. 

Butterflies Belong Here by Deborah Hopkinson illustrated by Meilo So


"I wondered if I'd ever be brave enough to speak up, take charge, and be noticed."

First off let's take a close look at the full title of this book:

Butterflies Belong Here: A story of one idea, thirty kids, and a world of butterflies

Butterflies belong here implies something has gone wrong. That the butterflies are no longer in this place. We have to ask why?

A story of one idea and thirty kids - it must be time for activism and this will be led by the children beginning with one child and her idea.

A world of butterflies - hooray they have come back but why did they disappear in the first place?

Our young narrator explains:

"Monarch butterflies are soft and gentle, like my baby brother. Some monarchs make a long, long journey, just like we did. They have to be strong to fly so far."

In Summer our narrator begins to look for monarch butterflies with their large black and orange wings. She has read about them in a library book. (I love the Teacher-Librarian in this book).  There are none to be found. Why?

"Monarchs need a special plant called milkweed. ... (but) Milkweed is in trouble, and so monarchs are too. I learned that in 20 years, the number of monarchs has fallen by 90 percent. The problem is big and butterflies are so small."

The young girl keeps reading about this precious creature and she discovers a solution. They need to make a monarch way station - a garden filled with milkweed and nectar flowers. After sharing this idea with her class everyone joins in the project. The children build a way station.  Then the class project expands into the whole school and from there to the local council.

This is one of those truly special books which combines a narrative as described above interspersed with double pages of facts and practical suggestions presented in an easy to read style with colourful scientifically accurate illustrations. This book would make a splendid addition to any school library collection. And as a bonus the illustrations by Meilo So are simply perfect. Meilo So was born in Hong Kong and educated in the United Kingdom. She lives with her family in the Shetland Islands, Scotland.  Take a look inside this book here. Here is a web site for Deborah Hopkinson.  

Deborah Hopkinson’s moving and educational story combines a fictional account of growing up with scientific information on butterflies. The structure is exceptionally effective in showing kids and adults that some children find their voice, discover a talent, or overcome hesitation or shyness when they become involved in a cause or activity they believe in. Celebrate Picture Books

Meilo So’s gorgeous and tender illustrations portray vibrant scenes of flower bedecked balconies, blooming community gardens, and a busy, colorful town. So cleverly depicts the library’s stacks of books in similar floral hues, connecting the nurturing of children and butterflies. Celebrate Picture Books

Images from: Books 4 Your Kids

I was excited to discover Meilo So illustrated the cover of Bronze and Sunflower. Here are some other books illustrated by Meilo So: