PaperTigers Theme: Journeys

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Illustrations by Nilesh Mistry (top) and Lak-Khee Tay-Audouard (bottom)

“…travel is important, not only because we can meet new people and see what amazing cultures there are around the world, but also because by doing so we can come to appreciate how similar we all are.”

~ Nilesh Mistry


Do you agree with the maxim that there are only seven stories in the world? It’s a bit of a conundrum, isn’t it, but our new theme, Journeys, has got me thinking about it, because, really, every story involves some kind of journey.

So we have flung the theme wide open to embrace both physical and spiritual journeys. The authors and illustrators we profile in this issue have all created books that narrate some kind of journey; do join us as we ask them about their own voyages of discovery in creating their books…

Demi, picture-book creator extraordinaire. Find out about her biographies of famous historical figures and spiritual leaders, and join herin her studio, where she works close by her Buddhist altar…

Nilesh Mistry, illustrator of many children’s books including Stories from the Silk Road. Read also about his artistic encounter with elephants…


Award-winning author Na’ima B. Robert takes us on a journey of exploration into her latest gripping YA novel Black Sheep

paw_sm3Author Gabrielle Wang talks about her journey as a writer…

Lak-Khee Tay-Audouard, illustrator of Adventures of the Treasure Fleet and the newly released Chinese Fables: The Dragon Slayer and Other Timeless Tales of Wisdom. Find out about some of the more unusual media she incorporates into her work…

paw_sm3Jimmy Liao shares some moments from his vibrant “journeys of the Imagination”…

paw_sm3Nilesh Mistry takes us on a journey through his work that encompasses book illustration, design, and painting elephants…

It’s Not the Destination. It’s the Journey” by author and illustrator James Rumford

paw_sm3The Journey of Translation: Walking with Jimmy Liao’ by Sarah L. Thomson

Escaping Conflict, Seeking Peace: Picture books that relate refugee stories, and their importance” by PaperTigers Editor Marjorie Coughlan

And do join us here on the PaperTigers blog, on Facebook and on Twitter to share news about your own reading journeys across the world of children’s and YA books…

Happy reading!

The Tiger


Image credit: top, © Nilesh Mistry; bottom © Lak-Khee Tay-Audouard

New PaperTigers Theme: Journeys. Feature interview with author/illustrator Demi.

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Buddha by DemiOur new issue of PaperTigers was launched last week with the theme of  Journeys.  The authors and illustrators we profile in this issue have all created books that narrate some kind of journey (either physical or spiritual) and we invite you to head on over to the website and enjoy the new features.

In the Interviews section picture book creator extraordinaire Demi Demitakes us on an in-depth tour of her work and discusses how Buddhism influences everything she does. Did you know that Demi is the creator of more than 140 illustrated books? In recent years, as well as continuing to publish her retellings of folktales from around the world, she has focused on creating beautiful picture-book biographies of iconic spiritual leaders. You can enjoy the covers of the some of these biographies in our gallery feature of Demi’s work.

Click here to access PaperTigers’ Journey homepage.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Friday, February 8th, 2013

The Year of the Snake slithers in this weekend but have no fear! Ancient Chinese wisdom says a snake in the house is actually a good omen because it means that your family will not starve. The sixth sign of the Chinese Zodiac, the snake represents wisdom, intelligence and self-control. The snake also represents the ability to strike at will, quickly and powerfully. The Year of Snake promises to be a time of steady progress and attention to detail. Focus and discipline will be necessary for all of us to achieve what we set out to create.

Chinese New Year is the longest and most important festival in the Chinese calendar and celebrations take place around the world . What better way to get into the spirit by reading some Chinese New Year children’s books! Here are a few books we’ve blogged about that we would definitely recommend:

Tales from the Chinese Zodiac series by Oliver Chin,

The Great Race / The Story of the Chinese Zodiac by Dawn Casey, illustrated by Anne Wilson;

The Day the Dragon Danced by Kay Haugaard, illustrated by Carolyn Reed Barritt

Fang Fang’s Chinese New Year by Sally Rippin

The Race for the Chinese Zodiac by Gabrielle Wang, illustrated by SallyRippin

Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat by one of my favorite authors Grace Lin. Be sure to visit Grace’s blog t0 read about her plans for bringing in the New Year with  her daughter Rain Dragon and to get some New Year crafts suggestions.

My Mom Is a Dragon and My Dad is a Boar and Hiss! Pop! Boom! by Tricia Morissey

Happy, Happy Chinese New Year! written and illustrated by Demi. Read our interview with Demi here and see our gallery of her stunning illustration work here.

And here’s a special kidlit New Year celebration  for those of you who live in San Jose, CA, USA.  Children’s author Oliver Chin will be reading from his new book The Year of the Snake: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac, on Feb. 19th at the Joyce Ellington Branch library. Details here.

Week-end Book Review: The Conference of the Birds by Alexis York Lumbard, illustrated by Demi

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Retold by Alexis York Lumbard, illustrated by Demi,
The Conference of the Birds
Wisdom Tales, 2012.

Ages:  7 +

Artist Demi has provided a lavish visual feast to illustrate Alexis York Lumbard‘s adaptation of a Sufi classic, The Conference of the Birds. Farid al-Din Attar’s 12th century Persian poem presents an analogy of the human spiritual quest through the quest of thirty birds (si morge in Persian) to find Simorgh, a phoenix-like enlightened being reputedly residing on a faraway holy mountain. They are led by a hoopoe, the long-beaked, apricot-crested bird with dramatic black and white markings that is legendary in desert countries for finding underground water.

Along the way, various birds suffer the same setbacks human beings do on their spiritual paths: in Lumbard’s text, the duck procrastinates; the parrot is attached to her gems; the finch fears a storm; the partridge becomes impatient; the hawk forges ahead and gets lost. With the hoopoe’s encouragement, presented in verse, each bird lets go of whatever obstacle is in its way.

“So do not let your many doubts
Destroy this golden chance.

Release their hold upon you now,
and to your King advance!”

Demi’s vivid water colors and lively lines reveal quirky individual bird personalities and egos as she renders the birds overcoming trepidation in response to the hoopoe’s admonishments. Her paintings, on pale or midnight blue washes, are framed with gold borders that depict in tiny images characteristic postures of the particular bird in question. Young children can intuit an inspiring story from the illustrations alone.

In traditional versions, the birds arrive at the holy mountain to find not Simorgh, but a reflecting pool in which they see themselves. The story subtly suggests that one finds the infinite in the particular, the holy in the very self that seeks the Other. Lumbard has appended a page to her version in which the sun on the water transforms the birds’ reflections into dazzling light. “In this moment of silence when no thoughts…passed before their minds, the birds found themselves in the loving embrace of God, their true King.”

Islamic scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr‘s introduction offers background on the original Persian poem. Parents and teachers who prefer that young readers realize for themselves the profound wordless insights of this enduring story may find, for example, Peter Sis‘ beautifully printed 2011 version more to their liking; but many others will appreciate Lumbard’s explication and look forward to her continued project of providing children with books of spiritual guidance.

Charlotte Richardson
August 2012

NB: Read our interview with Demi here and view our gallery of her work here.

Poetry Friday: a haiku journey

Friday, April 15th, 2011

For today’s Poetry Friday, in the midst of Poetry Month in the US and Canada, I’d like to share with you an unexpected delve into poetry I shared with Little Brother last week, following an observation he made during a regular walk with the dog. We were out in local woods, which are a carpet of wood anemones at this time of year, when he suddenly stopped and said, “It’s like walking in the sky.” I suggested he hold onto the thought and use it to create a haiku…

Later, back home, Little Brother told me all about the haiku writing in The Way of the Dragon, the third in Chris Bradford‘s Young Samurai series (Puffin Books, 2010), of which he is a huge fan. We found the book and read the relevant section together – and I appreciated how Bradford draws his young and I imagine mostly male readers towards the poetic form through humor as well as cultural inference. We then touched on Basho, and I suggested he take a look at Grass Sandals: The Travels of Basho by Dawnine Spivak and illustrated by Demi (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1997); read Sally’s post about this wonderful book. He’s a big fan of Demi’s books too so he soon had it off the shelves and was engrossed… and having read it from cover to cover, literally, he then moved on to the titles mentioned in Demi’s biographical notes. Much later, our thoughts returned to our walk and our own haiku. I was definitely upstaged – here’s what Little Brother came up with:

Wood Anemones

Walk among the stars
Treading on the vast green slopes
Then the world flips round

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by “haiku nut” Diane Mayr at Random Noodling – head on over.

Taking a step into children’s books about Mongolia

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Renowned throughout the world as the founding head of the Mongol Empire in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Genghis Khan’s legacy as “the first children’s writer” is perhaps generally less well-known. But the strong oral tradition in Mongolia means that many of his stories are still told today, and some can now also be read in English, thanks to a fine anthology of Mongolian Folktales published recently.

According to the National Library of Mongolia, at one time Mongolia’s “most popular slogan was ‘Everything for children'” and in 2003 the library opened its Book Palace for Children in Ulaanbaatar, which does indeed seem to provide everything in the way of books a young visitor to the Library could possibly desire. Meanwhile, author and publisher Dashdondog Jamba has spent his whole life ensuring that children in Mongolia have access to stories and the written word, taking his mobile library out to the remotest areas of the country, first by camel and oxen, more recently by truck. You can read his account of one of his journeys here.

Many children’s stories from and about Mongolia reflect its place in world history. The cultural heritage of those times remains strongly evident today, especially when you look beyond the urban areas towards the vast grassland steppe that consitutes most of Mongolia’s geography. This means that picture books with a contemoporary setting and the retellings of traditional stories merge to offer insight into each other that is relevant to today’s young readers, wherever they come from.

The list of books given below is not long, and I’m sure there are others to be found: but in the meantime, all of these are enriching and worth seeking out.

Picture books

Bolormaa Baasansuren, adapted by Helen Mixter,
My Little Roundhouse
Groundwood Books, 2009.

A delightful picture book, which brings the nomadic life of a Mongolian community to life through the eyes of one-year-old Jilu, who shares his experiences of all the roundness in his life, from the ger that is his home to the encircling love that enfolds him. There’s plenty here for young children to contrast and compare with in their own lives. My Little Roundhouse was selected as part of the 2010 Spirit of PaperTigers book set.

Marco Polo
Marshall Cavendish Children, 2008.

Marco Polo’s adventurous life is relayed through compact text and sumptuous illustrations bursting out of borders that reflect the rich patterns and brocades of the Silk Route. We read about his many years working under Kublai Khan and the sceptiscism of his fellow countrymen back in Venice. A beautifully depicted map shows the extent of his Travels.

Chingis Khan/Genghis Khan
Henty Holt and Company, 1991/Marshall Cavendish 2008.

Originally published as Chingis Khan in 1991, this classic title has recently been reissued as a Marshall Cavendish Classic with the slightly differently spelled title Genghis Khan.

A picture book biography (more…)

Bilingual Children’s Books – good or bad?

Monday, January 31st, 2011

When PaperTigers’ book reviewer Abigail Sawyer mentioned to me that she is going to be hosting a Blog Carnival about bilingualism over at Speaking in Tongues, she got me thinking. Again. I first started mulling over bilingual children’s books here in relation to Tulika Books, a publisher in India that produces bilingual books in many different Indian languages alongside English, and to former IBBY Preisdent and founder of Groundwood Books Patsy Aldana’s comments in an interview with PaperTigers, and I will quote them again here:

I have always been opposed to the use of bilingual books, however given that Spanish-only books hardly sell at all, I have had to accept that books in Spanish can only reach Latinos if they are bilingual. This goes against everything I believe and know to be true about language instruction, the joy of reading in your mother tongue…

I was surprised by Aldana’s dislike of bilingual books because I love them and my children love them, and I have found that they can be a joy for inquisitive children seeking to learn independently – but I do realise that our contexts are different. Aldana’s dislike of them seems to stem from their being a substitute for monolingual Spanish books in an English-biased market, and she has found a pragmatic way of providing books in their mother-tongue to the Latino community in North America.

We love reading bilingual books because, although our main vehicle is the English, having another language running alongside, often enhances the reading experience for us, especially where the setting of the story is culturally appropriate to the language. This is true even when we can’t read the script, because even without being able to understand it, we can sometimes pull out certain consistencies. Seeing the writing always provides a glimpse of that different culture.

One of my favorite books of the last few year’s (more…)

Writers’ and illustrators’ childhood memories…

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

For our current issue on How Children Play Around the World, we asked several authors and illustrators to tell us about their Memories of Playtimes Past. Together, they paint a vivid picture of childhood around the world and reveal the power of imagination – something that still plays such an important role in all their lives as adults, and in the lives of kids today. Illustrator Mandana Sadat, whose own contribution is just wonderful, was struck after reading the whole article by the similarities in the different experiences of play – do read Aline’s post discussing this.

The first author up is Tanita Davis:

Growing up the youngest of three sisters (in Martinez, California) meant being left out of the older girls’ games. To placate me, I was named Mom’s “helper” and my playtimes combined chores and daydreaming. I would sit on the back porch and shuck corn from the garden, or weed the front yard – and then taking the silk from the corn, combine it with dirt and water, and make “pies” for the dog to eat (Our poor dog. She really did eat them.), or take the “milk” from the stems of the dandelions I was supposed to be eradicating from the front yard (after blowing all of the milkweed clocks and sufficiently re-seeding them throughout the lawn), and use it as glue to adhere dry weeds to the “head” of a cornhusk doll.

Because I was a quiet kid, I got away with a lot – climbing the tree next to my father’s shed, and making a tree-house of sorts on the roof, complete with its own chamber pot (Oh, I got in trouble when my mother found out about THAT) and store of slightly mildew books scavenged from a teacher’s throw-away pile. One summer I played with the hose and made carefully dried adobe “moccasins” that were no more than ten or twelve layers of clay mud I wore on the bottom of my feet as shoes. They lasted for a surprisingly long time before they cracked. As the layers dried, I would lie on my back in the yard and listen to the drone of the planes going to and from the Air Force base, and imagine they were taking people to adventures, just like I would have someday.

And Belle Yang brings the article to a flourishing close:

I was born on the subtropical island of Taiwan. The front yard was the rice paddies, alive with tadpoles like music notes on sheet music. The Sleeping Dragon Mountain, exploding with firecracker red azaleas, was my backyard. Rivulets, home to small fish and crustaceans, came rushing down the hills. My barefoot friends and I looked for tiny crabs as they crawled among the stones, dappled by sunlight and the motion of wind in the acacia.

We caught the crabs and tied white sewing thread to one of their many legs. We took them for walks on the paved paths of the schoolyard, where my parents taught high school. I was delighted with my pet that could only walk sideways.

Do read the rest of the Memories of Playtimes Past – between them, Alan Gratz, Mandana Sadat, Jorge Argueta, Neni Sta Romana Cruz, Chris Cheng, Demi and Larry Loyie, along with Tanita and Belle quoted above, will evoke a smile, or even a laugh out loud – and certainly memories of one’s own childhood… And if you’d care to share some of those with us, we’d love to hear them!

Poetry Friday: Grass Sandals

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Although it’s February and feels like winter — at least in my part of the country — February actually  marks the beginning of spring in many East Asian countries.  The Asian calendar is particularly sensitive to changes of season.  When I think of writing about the seasons in poetry, the first form that comes to mind is the haiku and the most famous practitioner of its art, Basho.

Grass Sandals: The Travels of Basho by Dawnine Spivak, illustrated by Demi, is a delightful picture book that captures the essence of the wandering poet for children.   In it, Basho is featured as a character embarking on a journey.  Upon his hat, he writes: “Hat, I will soon show you cherry blossoms” and sets off.    Of course, Basho has his adventures — not of the swash-buckling kind, mind you — and he records them in haiku.  He wades in rivers, sits under ancient trees, sleeps on grass pillows, and swims in the ocean.  This meandering but mindful wandering is presented on each page with images, haikus, and Chinese characters — kanji, as they are known in Japanese — for the most salient natural element presented in the poem.  So in addition to being a good book about a famous historical figure, Grass Sandals teaches a little bit of kanji as well!

Illustrator Demi has drawn wonderful images of the traveling Basho on a background of washi — Japanese paper — to great effect.  (You can see more of Demi’s artwork in the PaperTigers gallery.) The genial nature of the poet is well reflected in his expressions.  Grass Sandals is a good introduction to the poet and the form, and a lovely Asian way of welcoming in a season that might not otherwise feel like spring at all!

This week’s Poetry Friday host is Irene Latham at Live. Love. Explore. – head on over!

Paper Tigers from Kirkbymoorside, UK

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

PaperTigers paper tigers - Kirkbymoorside Cubs, UK

Happy New Year!

These are the PaperTigers’ paper tigers I made with my Cub pack last week, when we also talked about Chinese New Year. We read The Great Race by Dawn Casey, illustrated by Anne Wilson (Barefoot Books, 2006) and dipped into Demi‘s wonderful Happy New Year!/ Kung-Hsi Fa-Ts’ai! (Dragonfly Books, 1999), which inspired some of the children to try out some Chinese characters on their tigers.

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To make your own PaperTigers’ paper tiger, click here.