TITLE: Pardon Me!
Author/Illustrator: Daniel Miyares
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2014)
I owe this blog about a million entries, but recent events have prevented me from writing. Which is to say, that recent events being what they are, I have been sucked into a negative vortex of what could politely be termed as “adult life”, and have been spending my time worrying about an “Important Issue” (ironic capitalization and overuse of quotation marks completely intentional). In short, I have been dealing with a certain salesperson who has ripped me off and absconded with quite a sizaeble portion of my money.
The bird in this book shares my pain. He knows what it’s like to resent others. He is sitting, most contented on a small island in a swamp before he is joined by a giant goofy stork. Before long a frog hops along. Then a turtle. What was previously a peaceful haven is suddenly a crowded meeting place, with the bird squawking irately at each new arrival. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but this book ends up putting a smile on the scowliest of faces and a laugh in the knottiest of bellies.
The art in this sparingly worded book is absolutely divine, from cover to cover. The end papers are as understated as they are a bold statement of truth (I know this sounds like an oxymoron). The changes in the sky as the story continues are really, truly breathtaking. Emotions throughout the book, from quiet, to ominous, to aggravated, to the climactic freak-out and back to quiet and ominous again, can all be traced through the background colours in the sky. The fine details in the feathers, clouds and on the surface of the water all add to the characters and storyline in this book.
Do you ever have a day where a book chooses you? If I worked my way today through the entire Purple Book Cart, and then moved on to my well-stocked public library and on again to the children’s literature library where I work, if I went through every book in the football fields of archives wedged under the Mississippi River, I doubt that I would find a more perfect book for myself in this moment. This book has pulled me out of my dark space, and replaced the bitter scowl on my face with a vow to be calmer, more relaxed, and willing to open my life to the better things all around me.
Another thing I LOVE about this book is that you can't say for sure whether the child in the pictures is male or female despite being obviously the same child. On some pages you might guess the child is a boy, on other pages you might guess she is a girl, based only on vague cues that I can't even articulate well. In fact, I find myself basing my guess on things that I later feel are my own ingrained gender stereotypes. The point is that you could read this book to either a boy or a girl and have them identify with the feelings in the book.
See how each picture really captures the emotion of the child while deliberately staying away from "gender marketing" the book? The pale pink sheets of the bed and the blue pajamas, the rosy cheeks of the child cuddling the rabbit and the strong angle of the child swimming next to the shark. Certain cues like the swimsuit could push you one way or the other as a reader (in fact Amazon refers to the child as a little boy), but I maintain that you could read this book either way. Hey, haven't you ever let a little girl go swimming in her shorts?
Either way this book works as a book that a parent would read to a child on their lap. It's very suited to its bilingual format with the spanish words written in a different colour, It's playful tone with the child interacting with and imitating each animal suggests that your child would do the same during the reading of this book, whichever language you chose to read it in. One thing to note is that it doesn't seem to be easily available in this bilingual format anymore. In my family (bilingual in Japanese and English) I would have immediately made my own stickers in Japanese for a DIY bilingual board book. The format maximizes the value of a book for families who want to encourage their child's bilingual language development and strong self-esteem concurrently.
Are you even more intrigued now that you've seen the inside of the book? I was. I couldn't quite grasp why this book was published. Why would a publishing company make money by printing a large number of difficult to read books split up into strange quasi-syllables (more accurately "word bits"). At first glance it might be a school textbook (young people can so rarely understand more than one syllable) but the language seems very adult. After I got this book I showed a number of bookish types that I know but nobody could come up with an explanation. Then when I took the book back to the store, I got an answer that kind of makes sense.
Are you ready?
Are you sure?
Apparently, it was a book for immigrants who were new to the country and still learning English. Despite a terribly verbose writing style, this explanation makes some sense. Highlighting "-ed" on a word helps an ESL learner visualize the past tense (it must have messed with their pronounciation though). Using lots of cultural terms like "deep reverence" or "it was customary" makes sense if your audience is immigrants - although it's not at all the simplified language style we might find in an ESL textbook today.
You might expect that a book like this one would not be without its unique biases. You would be right. In addition to painting an image of native Americans as uncivilized savages, it is filled with interesting messages about women. Check out the excerpt below which asserts that "the red man was the warrior, the hero, the huntsman, and his squaw was his slave". The passage seems to set Native American customs apart from "our latest American civilization". While reading this passage, I couldn't help but wonder what the author's wife was doing while he wrote this book? And who was doing his washing, or cooking? If not his wife then a female servant?
I still haven't finished this book although I am quite desperate to make it to the end to find out what happens to Lincoln. ;)
In all seriousness though, I am so happy to have a book about the history of Illinois that was written by a likely contemporary of Abraham Lincoln (if the author was 79 when he wrote this book, he would have been born in the same year as Lincoln). Since I haven't finished the book, I can't give away the ending, but perhaps something really interesting will come up and I'll have to write a part 2....
Elliot is a playful little rabbit whose parents love him very much, but unfortunately they have trouble looking after him. When he cries, they can't identify that he is hungry, and when he yells or misbehaves they just don't know what to do. A social worker comes to help and Elliot goes into foster care until his parents can look after him. He eventually comes back, but they still haven't mastered the parenting skills for him to stay. This rotation of foster care continues until finally Elliot is adopted by someone else.
The muted pastel collage style of this book makes the characters very approachable, and there is not a sense that there is a "right or wrong" to the book. Neither Elliot or his biological parents are demonized in the book - the situation just is what it is and the straightforward narrative credits the child audience with having the intelligence to consider the story. It is not an independent reader, rather it is a book that you would read with a child. I imagine during the reading of this book there are a lot of questions, and a lot of opportunities for children to come to grips with the subject matter.
Some may opt out of reading this book to their kids, steering towards cheerier topics, but that would be a shame. Children don't have perfect cheerful lives and they need to know that even if there are problems, there are always solutions. This book is a kind introduction to a difficult subject.
Author/Illustrator: Daniel Miyares
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (2015)
Language: English / Wordless
When I unpack new books that get sent into the office, certain books unpack themselves, gently demanding that I stop what I am doing and read them. So it was with Float. I stopped my colleague and we read the book together. Then we walked around the corner to show our librarian. This striking book was very quietly demanding attention. Now at 5:37 am on January 11th it is demanding attention again after I woke up dreaming of it. Later this morning I will find out if it demanded any attention from 15 Caldecott judges who were meeting this weekend. I am in Boston for the announcements. Who knows?
Float is the simple wordless story of a little boy who takes his paper boat outside in the rain to see if it will float. Very soon the boat embarks of a journey on its own as the boy chases along. A dramatic climax is followed by a gentle scene where his Dad blow dries his hair. A hopeful ending is beautifully drenched in colour, the grey/yellow palette of the book suddenly reversed in a visual twist. You can find more pictures on the publisher's website.
I don't care much for children's books that are artistic but fundamentally miss what it is to be a child. However, Float is both a visual feast and a wonderful tribute to the things of childhood: creativity, adventure, splashing in puddles, facing problems, being sad and picking yourself up again, moving on, being joyous. A modern myth about children is that they are constantly stuck to a screen, or that busy parents schedule too many activities during the day to for their children to enjoy childhood. While these stereotypes may bear some truth, I believe that children are happiest when they independently think of something to do and then do it. At school and at home, kids do best when they play creatively. Even when things don't go as planned, they can always move on to the next thing. It's a concept that adults too often forget.
Float woke me up this morning and bathed me in its metaphors. Now I'm walking off to the convention center to see if any Caldecott judges agreed with me. There are other really good books that could easily be chosen, but I'm floating this paper boat out there before we find out for sure.
An Australian who lived in Japan with my bicultural family now living in the USA, I believe that there are more different realities than there are books to be written.