We all Went on Safari

I haven’t traveled to Africa yet, although I am confident that my wanderlust will guide me there in the coming years.  Until then, I continue to visit Africa in books.  I like to dream of a time and place when animals, big and small,  roamed freely on an peaceful and plentiful Earth.  

If I had a pair of ruby slippers, I’d tap them together and step into the pages of  We all Went on Safari.  I’d  join Arusha, Mosi and Tumpe as they admire the animals of Tanzania from a distance with wonder, respect and honor.  

Regional focus:  Africa/Tanzania

Author:  Lauri Krebs

Illustrator: Julia Cairns

Genre:  children’s literature

In We all Went on Safari we meet Arusha, Mosi, Tumpe and their Maasai friends in Tanzania as they take us on a walking safari through the African grasslands. As we turn the pages of Kreb’s story, we encounter native animals like elephants, lions and monkeys. Along the way, we  learn to count in Swahili.

What I love:

  • The book contains an illustrated guide to counting in Swahili, a map, notes about each of the animals and facts about Tanzania and the Maasai people.
  • The story uses repetition, which invites children to participate in read a-louds.
  • Krebs weaves gentle rhymes and descriptive adjectives into her writing.
  • The illustrations by Julia Cairns are playful, vibrant and whimsical.

Themes: counting, habitat, African animals

Discussion:

  • What animals did you most like in the story?
  • How old are you in Swahili?
  • How are you similar and different from the children in Tanzania?
  • Where would you like to explore with your friends? Why?

Connections:

  • Investigate a specific animal from Tanzania.
  • Make animal masks with supplies found at home. Play “safari” in your garden.
  • Design your own Maasai necklace with a paper plate and paint.African Necklace Craft

 

 

Joseph had a Little Overcoat

I am in California for a month of summer, visiting with family and friends.  My base is at my parents’ ranch near Yosemite, a place where I didn’t grow up, but where I love to call “home.” In this abode, my parents have dedicated a wall to historic black and white photos of previous generations of family.  A favorite diversion of my own is time travel, especially to the past. I stare into the youthful eyes of great-grandparents  from Austria, Belarus, and Poland, most who immigrated to the the United States of America between 1910-1920 in search of new hope and opportunity.  I am reminded that there was a life before the US, for my ancestors and subsequently for me . More poignantly, I recognize that I am the great-granddaughter of a web of immigrants, just like many people who cross our boarders today.  

And I think about the power of memory and stories, which provide us with the tools to go back in time, to lands and people who are infinitely connected to us, yet endlessly unfamiliar.  When I read “Joseph had a Little Overcoat,” I was transported to Eastern Europe and, as if looking through a telescope to a foreign land and time, I caught a glimpse of what life may have looked like for Great Grandpa Szmul and Great Grandma Dyna.  

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Regional focus:  Eastern Europe

Author:  Simms Taback

Illustrator: Simms Taback

Genre:  children’s literature

In “Joseph had a Little Overcoat,” we meet  Joseph who lives in the shtetl–the small villages that Jews inhabited in Eastern Europe.  He lives a modest and humble life, but his day to day is full of simple joys like harvesting in the fields, savoring a cup of warm tea and singing with the choir.  When his overcoat becomes old and worn, he uses his creativity and wit to convert the tattered fabric into new items of clothing.  Readers delight in guessing what Joseph’s overcoat will be repurposed for next.

What I love:

  • Taback’s story was converted into an animated song with authentic klezmer music.
  • In “Joseph had a Little Overcoat” we are reminded of the importance of reuse and repurpose.
  • Taback’s collage illustrations are bold and colorful.
  • Toback’s use of repetition combined with his sense of humor, lend for “Joseph had a Little Overcoat” to be an ideal story to read aloud to young audiences.

Themes: reuse, resourcefulness, optimism

Discussion:

  • Have you ever had an item of clothing like Joseph that after much use was tattered with holes or torn?  What did you do with the old fabric?
  • What does the word “recycle” mean?  What does the word reuse” mean?  How do you recycle or reuse in your home?
  • What brings Joseph joy in his daily life?  What brings you joy?

Connections:

  • Repurpose  scraps of clothing and with the help of an adult, sew a small blanket, or napkin using a basic over-under stitch.
  • Make a self portrait of yourself using scraps from magazines and recycled paper.
  • Write a new story following the same sequence as “Joseph had a Little OverCoat” where you are the main character,  “Name” had a Little “object of clothing.”  Imagine what your clothing could be reused for when  it has become old and warn.  Illustrate your story.

Tomorrow

I live in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, a small rural village nestled between three majestic volcanoes, on the shores of Lake Atitlan.  My house is 400 meters away from the school I founded and work at, La Puerta Abierta , and my morning commute includes a hop, skip and a jump through my garden.  An observer of my life could fairly say that I live in a bubble.  I am generally unwilling to loose myself in the darkness of politics and I avoid reading the newspapers of Guatemala which often highlight urban tragedies and car wrecks on the front page.  Some might label me as naive, as my questions regarding world struggles may appear childlike.  That said, I believe that naive is far from ignorant and I often use children’s books to reconnect with the world at large.  Day to day, my focus is local, collaborating with the teachers, families, and children in my little corner of the world in Guatemala.  I believe that my community efforts will inspire outward change.  I like my bubble, but I also recognize the importance of journeying out of it.  Via Nadine Kaadan’s Tomorrow,  we visit Syria, a war torn nation and witness conflict and hope through the eyes of a child.

Regional focus:  Syria

Author:  Nadine Kaadan 

Illustrator: Nadine Kaadan

Genre:  children’s literature

In “Tomorrow,” we meet a Yazan, a young Syrian boy who craves to go outside and return to the carefree youth that he remembers.  He wants to visit the park, play with his friends, and ride his bike in the street like most children .  Inside his house, the ambiance has turned dreary and sad.  His mother who used to paint beautiful pictures, now sits alone, and pensive, in a dark room, listening to the devastating news of his war-struck country.  One afternoon, after Yazan has exhausted all his options of indoor activities, his curiosity overcomes him and he sneaks out of the house and begins to explore the world outside.  He discovers an abandoned city, no children are playing in the park, no vendors are selling treats in the streets.  He hears the echo of explosions in the distance.  When Yazan’s parents find their son alone wandering the city, they embrace him and in kid friendly terms, explain why for the moment, he cannot play outside.  Yazan’s mom, embraces her creativity and invites him to help her bring the outside in.  Together they paint a colorful mural of city memories within their house.

What I love:

  • Kaadan’s story is raw and honest, without being tragic of scary for young readers.
  • Kaadan’s illustrations cleverly reflect the emotions of the characters in the story.  When Yazan’s mother is sad, colors are grey and dark.  When Yazan feels hopeful at the end of the story, colors are vibrant and happy.
  • Tomorrow inspires hope for a generation of children who have lived and witnessed war, not only in Syria, but across the globe.

Themes: family, war, hope, empathy

Discussion:

  • What is war?  Why do you think that people/countries/groups fight?
  • Have you ever had a conflict with a friend or a family member?  How did you resolve the conflict?
  • How do you think Yazan feels at the beginning, middle, and end of the story, Tomorrow?

Connections:

  • Find Syria on the map.  What countries surround Syria.  What are some of the cultural traditions found in Syria.
  • Like Yazan and his mother, design a mural of favorite places in your town and illustrate them on a large piece of paper.
  • Imagine that you have invited Yazan to your house for lunch.  Make a list of questions that you’d like to ask him.  What advice would you like to share with him?

You’re Snug With Me

Regional focus:  The North Pole

Author:  Chitra Soundar

Illustrator: Poonam Mistry

Genre:  children’s literature

I’ve been away from Sail Away Story for a few weeks, floating in a sea of culturally rich children’s literature.  I spent the last  days of June at the American Library Association Annual Conference  in New Orleans where I had the opportunity to meet authors and illustrators from around the world and to connect with publishers and book distributors who specialize in children’s books with cultural and worldly insight.  I discovered new publishers such as Lee & Low Books, Enchanted Lion Books, and Latana Publishing who offer a wide range of beautiful books that celebrate diversity.  I met inspirational authors and illustrators such as Yuyi Morales, Celia Perez and Mallika Chopra who were sharing their most recent works.  I returned to my home in Guatemala with my suitcases stuffed (and overweight), with an abundance of new books to explore and enjoy with my family and students.  Little by little, I am emerging from a journey around the world via books and ready to share recent favorites with Sail Away Story.  Enjoy!

In You’re Snug With Me, we meet a mama bear and her two new born cubs in the Arctic.  Baby bears are preparing to emerge into the world outside their cave and encounter feelings of excitement and fear and they approach the unknown.  Mama repeatedly assures her youngsters that for the moment, they are safe and snug, and when it’s time for them to part, they will be capable to maneuver the challenges, adventures and journeys of life on their own.

What I love:

  • Mistry’s illustrations are stunning.  She incorporates a love of nature with patterns, shapes and color.  Her illustrations are inspired by Indian fabric and paintings.
  • Indian born Soundar lives in Canada and writes children’s stories with settings in countries around the world.
  • You’re Safe With Me is calm, gentle and cooling in both illustration and text, a book that will sooth emotions for both the young and old.
  • My daughters adore reading this story with me before bed.

Themes: empathy, family, emotions, courage

Discussion:

  • How did you feel on the first day of school when you had to say goodbye to your parents?  How did you feel after the first week of school?
  • What makes you feel safe and snug?
  • Would you like to visit the Arctic?  Why or why not?

Connections:

  • Mistry’s illustrations resemble mandalas.  Traditional mandalas are used for meditation and are designed to promote healing and spiritual growth.  Color your own mandala. Find printouts here.
  • Make a list of warm and cool colors.  Discuss what kinds of colors Mistry uses in You’re Snug With Me.  Experiment with cool colors and finger paint.
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  • Learn about Arctic animals and make a collage with animals found in the Arctic habitat.  Glue them on top of your cool-colored  fingerprint backdrop.
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Nochecita–Little Night

Regional focus:  Mexico

Author:  Yuyi Morales

Illustrator: Yuyi Morales

Genre:  children’s literature

I’ve been thinking about mothers.  I am sitting in the airport in route to meet my mother in New Orleans.  Despite the fact that I am nearly 40 years old, she is traveling from California to meet me mid way between Guatemala, where I will receive an award on behalf of La Puerta Abierta for Innovative International Library Programs from the American Library Association.  While I am now a mother myself, my mom is still MY mother, and I will bask in her love and support over the next few days.

As I remember my own mom, my mind wanders to the current issues of the US, the heart-breaking stories of children separated from their mothers in unfamiliar territory, without the guidance, love, warmth, and security that we associate with motherhood.  I imagine the what ifs…what if my daughters were separated from me, and I was unable to protect and sooth them?  Sigh.  Deep breath.

And my thoughts drift  back to our sweet students at La Puerta Abierta in Guatemala who spent the day honoring  Mother Earth by planting trees to the mountain highlands with their teachers and families.

Today, I share one of my favorite stories about mothers.  

Meet Little Night and Mother Sky in Morales’ dreamy tale of the love exchanged between mother and child. Mother Sky prepares her tiny daughter, Little Night, for the evening. As Mother Sky attempts to set the scene for bedtime, Little Night engages in clever games of hide and seek, inspiring her mother to discover where she is hidden. Children will love the idea of a girl who plays while she should be sleeping.

What I love:

  • Morales captures the loving rituals between mother and child.
  • The illustrations allow one to feel as if they have walked into a dream.
  • Little Night and Mother Sky are beautifully brown, round, and dressed in traditional Mexican clothing.
  • The book can be found in both English and Spanish.

Themes: family, rituals, the night sky

Discussion:

  1. What are your family bedtime rituals?
  2. Do you have a favorite bedtime story? What is it?
  3. What can you see from your window at night?

Connections:

  1. Take a walk with an adult at night to admire the evening sky.
  2. Use black, white, purple, blue and yellow paints to create your own night sky.
  3. Record and draw the moon phases for a month.

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“Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” said the Sloth

Regional focus:  Amazon

Author:  Eric Carle

Illustrator: Eric Carle

Genre:  children’s literature

 My earliest book memory is of  The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.  As a child, I’d joyfully turn the pages of the book, enchanted with the geometric bright collages that are often associated with Eric Carle.  While his stories may seem simple at first glance, Carle writes with the grace of a skilled author of children’s books, carefully weaving purpose and meaning into his story, while using a limited amount of words.  I’ve grown up, but I continue to have a soft spot in my heart for Eric Carle books.  Slowly, Slowly, Slowly resonates to my grown-up self; I am an adult with an internally slow soul, who lives in a fast world.  

In Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” said the Sloth, we journey to South America and follow a wonderfully slow sloth in his day-to-day tranquility.  He eats slowly.  He walks slowly.  He climbs slowly.  He sleeps abundantly.  We meet other forest friends like the anteater, the caiman, and the monkey who are curious about the sloth’s behavior.  They ask, “Why are you so lazy?” and “Why are you so boring?”  The sloth listens, but does not react or reply quickly.  Instead, he thinks, he sits, and collects his ideas.  Only after gentle meditation does he reply with his words of wisdom on slow living.

What I love:

  • The message of Slowly, Slowly, Slowly is applicable to both the lives of children and adults in today’s world.  Many of us could benefit from slowing down.
  • Eric Carle’s illustrations are like walking into an Amazonian kaleidoscope.
  • Jane Goodall writes a heart-felt forward about the importance of protecting the Amazon rainforest and the animals who depend on it for their existence.
  • Young readers will learn about the creatures who call the Amazon “home.”

Themes: mindfulness, the Amazon, slow living, acceptance

Discussion:

  • Do you prefer to walk, eat, make a meal, etc., slowly or quickly?  Why?
  • Would you like to visit the Amazon?  Why or why not?
  • After reading the story, what words would you use to describe the sloth?

Connections:

  • Investigate the life of a sloth and make a small display of interesting facts about it.  For example, did you know that sloths only lower to the ground once a week to go to the bathroom?
  • Create a list of activities that you like to complete slowly.
  • Make a collage of the Amazon with recycled paper in the style of Eric Carle.

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Number the Stars

Lois Lowry is one of my favorite authors in the genre of young adult literature.  Surprisingly, I only discovered her writing as an almost 40 year old.  If you haven’t read The Giver, I suggest that you add the title to your summer reading list.  Lowry has a gift for writing stories that are both profound and approachable for her audience.  

I was overjoyed when my 11-year-old daughter, Emma, was assigned to read Number the Stars with her 5th grade class.  Emma and I don’t always agree on the same books, but we both found ourselves looking forward to our evening ritual of reading this story to each other.  

Regional focus:  Denmark

Author:  Lois Lowry

Genre:  juvenile historical fiction

In Number the Stars we travel in time to 1943, Denmark, where we meet the Johansen family and the Rosen family.  The two families share many similarities.  The mothers are companions and often drink afternoon tea together, the families live in the same apartment building and ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and 10-year-old Ellen Rosen are best friends and classmates.  As the  antisemitism of World War II spreads through Europe,  the Rosen family is targeted by the Nazi’s.  When Mr. Rosen suspects that his family will be “relocated,” The Johansen’s quickly receive Ellen as one of their own.

Throughout the story, the reader continues to meet characters who demonstrate bravery and courage.  We are confronted with asking ourselves, “what would I do?”

More than a story of individual courage displayed by Annemarie, we learn of the courage of a country.  We discover that during the war, the resistance movement in Denmark was successful in smuggling nearly their entire Jewish population, some 7,000 people, across the sea to Sweden.

What I love:

  • Lowry educates us about the history of World War II while creating personal connections with main characters.
  • A story that highlights everyday heroes.
  • Number the Stars reminds us of “the power of one.”

Themes: bravery, courage, empathy, war, memory, hope, friendship

Discussion:

  • How  is friendship displayed between Ellen and Annemarie?
  • What are a few acts of bravery and courage that are identified in the book?
  • Remember a time when you had to be courageous and stand up for somebody else.  What happened?
  • Throughout the story, different characters tell lies to protect the lives of others.  Generally we are taught that lying is dishonest.  Do you believe this is always the case?  Why or why not?

Connections:

  • In Number the Stars we learn that many Jews are forced to immigrate or become refuges in new countries.  Investigate groups of people who are currently facing similar circumstances.  Who are they?  Why are they unable to stay in their country of origin?  Where are they fleeing to?
  • Make a new book cover for Number the Stars.    What important elements or symbols would you include in the cover art?
  • Imagine that you are living during a time of war when every day products are hard to purchase.  We learn that coffee, shoes and tobacco are difficult to purchase in Annemarie’s town during the war. Make a list of every day items that you would miss if you lived in a time of rationing.
  • If you were able to invite a character from Number the Stars to your house for lunch, who would you choose?  Make a list of questions that you’d like to ask the invitee.

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