TITLE: The Sun, the Wind and the Rain
Author: Lisa Westburg Peters
Illustrator: Ted Rand
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company (1988)
My friend Christina has an uncanny knack for picking interesting titles out of thrift shop bookshelves. This one may have leapt out of her because of the combination of the mountain (slightly reminiscent of Mount Fuji) and the yellow hat with which both she and I are familiar. Yellow hats like this are worn by elementary school students in Japan to keep them safe on their walk to and from school. These hats are at once a symbol of both the innocence and the independence of young folk. It was this combination of big mountain and little girl on the front that attracted me to this book, so I borrowed it from Christina even before she had a chance to take it home.
The story is a simple comparison between the two mountains you can see on the cover of the book. One mountain has been created over a long time by mother nature, and the other has been created in less than an afternoon by a girl, Elizabeth, using her bucket and spade. Most pages follow a predictable pattern - the left page tells the story of the towering old mountain, the right tells the story of Elizabeth's sand mountain down on the beach. The little girl builds up her mountain to be almost as tall as herself, and she is justifiably proud of her effort. When the rain comes to pound down on the big mountain, it flattens out Elizabeth's mountain as well. The sudden rain shower doesn't last long, and neither do Elizabeth's tears, as she starts from scratch again.
I like this book for its simplicity and a description of the physical world that readers by themselves will have begun to discover. The comparison of the big mountain and the little mountain rarely seems forced, although it will take some thinking (or talking with adults) for the reader to figure out that the "new earth mountain" that Elizabeth is walking on has not changed itself in the same time frame as the book. The symmetry of the book has a real-time feel to it, although there are certainly cues in the text to explain that mountains are made over millions of years. The lining up of the left and right pictures is very clever in some ways, but the continuation of the lines may suggest a real-time comparison to some young readers.
The colors are really nice - the earthy tones of nature and the clean, crisp white + primary colors of childhood. I found myself a little distracted by the white strip of page along the bottom, on which the text appears in all of its symmetry. It is apparent that the text is trying to stay away from the imagery and highlight the symmetry of the picture, however the whiteness of that strip seems like a lazy choice. I'm not an artist, but I found myself wishing they had come up with a more creative way of presenting the text - even if only to put it on an earthier toned background. This is an older book (1988) and I find myself wondering if it were to be published today - would different design choices be made?
All in all, I think this is a great book for parents and children to read together after a nice day at the beach or even in a sandpit. Although the story is not an exciting barrel of laughs, this simple storyline will appeal to children who have a fascination with the natural world.
The story follows a little girl in a red coat following her distracted father through an otherwise grey cityscape, stopping to pick colorful wildflowers she spots along the way. The pages you see above show that the book utilizes the square pages in different ways to further the story. Whole page illustrations show the bright red coat of the girl against the background, which starts in black and white and slowly grows more colorful as the story progresses. Other pages have a comic book feel and have special things to say. Notice in the nine frame page above that it seems that the flower sees the little girl at the same time as she sees the flower (look at the perspective in frame #7) suggesting that wildflowers are calling out to be noticed and picked. Further on in the book, the dual frame with the park and the dead bird shows that color comes into the background world as the little girl decides to use her wildflowers as a colorful tribute. As the story goes on, the little girl shares her wildflowers again and again, and each time she does the surrounding world gets a little more vibrant.
When I think of children from war-torn countries reading this book, several things come to mind and some of them bring a dull ache into my heart. The story of a small girl who can walk safely through the street, letting go of Daddy's hand as he talks on his mobile phone while resting his shopping by the side of the road while she climbs up embankments to gather wildflowers I feel would be painfully out of reach to refugees in Syria, and along the escape route as families struggle to survive in any way possible. On the other hand, the idea that little tiny pockets of color exist in places to which young children are naturally attuned might be as true in Syria as it is in Canada. The little girl's tribute to the fallen bird is absolutely heartbreaking in the context of children who have likely lost family members along the way. It makes me wonder what feelings this page will bring up for Syrian refugee parents and children who read it, and how they will deal with these emotions. It is easy for politicians and others to speak of the "problem" of refugees, but in all honesty, how absolutely insignificant these inconveniences seem compared to the devastating loss of life and the constant threat of violence from which these families have so desperately fled?
After the little girl in the book has finished making her small world more beautiful with her tiny floral gifts, there is a double spread where she looks up in the sky at the freely flying birds and places the last flower in her own hair. It might be cold outside, because she's pulling up her hood. This optimistic double spread is also a call to thoughtful self-care, and the independence the little girl shows as she now walks alone outside puts her independently in charge of her own surroundings. She's safe enough, having arrived at her destination. The lack of highly detailed illustration on this page harkens to the unharmed, unfettered simplicity of childhood. It's possible that this spirit is still alive inside the refugee recipients of this book. Let's hope so.
Another book I previously wrote about, My Two Blankets, uses color to show the journey of refugees and the difficulties of arriving in a new land where everything (including language) is strange. In Sidewalk Flowers, in the context of being read with refugee children who do not yet speak English, the gradual transition from black and white to color in this book is surely indicative of arriving in a foreign world, and finding your own place bit by bit as you gather beauty along the way. The language-free format of the book makes it possible for this book to be read in whatever way it is most needed.
For Syrian refugees arriving in Canada, this gift is an eloquent and deeply meaningful welcome to a new, more secure world. For the rest of us who buy this book, it is the perfect Christmas (or New Year, or Hanukkah, or Pancha Ganapati or other holiday) celebration this December as we open our hearts to the love of humanity and innocent children.
Endpapers of rough washi paper set the tone of the tone which takes place in the natural world and suggestive of natural hues and textures used throughout the book. As you can see from the example artwork on the illustrator's page, the magpie will, throughout the book, collect way too much stuff and as he does, the artwork will become much more overwhelming and oppressive through the use of messy detail and foreboding shadow. The words are deliberately kept simple - words and phrases rather than sentences to indicate the ebb and flow of the increasing and decreasing stuff on the page. This makes it a great book for young children and beginning ESL students (I don't think the pictures are too babyish for older kids), and a good conversation starter around the holidays when we all seem to accumulate too much stuff.
The author of the book is a self-proclaimed "small-house person in a McMansion-loving world", and her strong preference for simple living is evident throughout the book. The identification tag attached to the magpie's leg is a sad reminder that he or she is part of a human world and that there is literally no escape from all the stuff, but within that confine we can do certain things to arrange and curate our own belongings to get things under control and free ourselves from the nightmare that is too much stuff.
The last page (spoiler alert) shows the magpie and the mouse flying away with just a few of the most precious items wrapped up in a ribbon. This page to me is where things may get a little bit too didactic. It could be just that I have never known the true joy of being a minimalist, and my half-read copy of Marie Kondo's trending book is probably testament to the fact that I have not learned the lesson that the magpie has learned. I've moved several times and twice internationally - I get that paring down your stuff will set you free, but somehow the magpie and mouse taking flight with two little items wrapped up in a ribbon seems too easy.
Either way - it's probably time to tidy up my place and especially my purple book cart, so this book is probably a call to a better life.
These days my town has become much more multicultural due (in part) to an influx of refugees from Sudan. Not all of our white residents have been welcoming to the newcomers, but I really like to think that Australians on the whole are willing to give people at least a "fair go" - the benefit of the doubt. Others in the town, like my friend who is herself a reverse refugee of sorts (she moved back home from Fukushima in Japan after the earthquake with her two small children), work actively in the area to make sure our most vulnerable new residents are made feel welcomed in the community. I asked my friend what Christmas present she could recommend me to buy myself from my hometown, and she recommended this book.
The author, originally from Austria and an immigrant to Australia (and my hometown), wrote this book about a real-life encounter she witnessed in a local park when her daughter befriended a girl from Sudan. The story is simple - the two little girls spend time together in the park while the girl from Sudan learns English. At home, the girl curls up under her "blanket" (a metaphor for her life experiences and language). As her English language develops, she has two blankets - her old one and the new one, woven from new experiences and words as she collects them.
Two colour palettes are used deliberately throughout the book, and you can see them right on the cover above. The "old blanket" from Sudan and all things Sudanese are painted in rich red tones, warm and dark and familiar. The "new blanket" colours (everything from the new land) are fresh, cold, pale or dull blues and grays. In this way you can feel how foreign and unfamiliar the new land is to the young girl. When she makes a "new blanket" from her new experiences and knowledge, she is not replacing the "old blanket". Rather, she now has two blankets and a wealth of life experiences that she can call her own.
My hometown in Australia is probably gearing up for another summer Christmas right now. The old designs of Christmas firs and snow probably still decorate some Christmas cards, while on others Summer Santa is surfing on his surfboard while his kangaroos loll on the beach drinking a beer. Australia is finding its own identity around Christmas, but it is also finding ways to include residents for whom Christmas itself is not as familiar. Whatever your views this season, it is to be hoped that the love in your heart (the love that starts with two children in the park) is the most important thing.
The moment I picked this book up off the Dav Pilkey signing table at the ALA conference I was taken away. Don't you just love a good end paper (pictured above) that immediately draws you right into the story? The cars and trucks of early morning America are commuting across the bridge in the extreme early morning. By the final end paper when they are making the return commute under a moonlit sky the book has lived exactly one day in the life of Americans. It's simply a beautiful simple timeline told mostly through the medium of children.
When Barack Obama was sworn in the second time in 2013, this poem by Richard Blanco was recited at the podium. Obama had had an eventful first term, but the essence of America remained the same. The good, the bad, the ugly all come together in this exquisite book to paint a picture of one uneventful, but very thoughtful day. This book feels like the people in it are living deliberately. It feels like they are moving forward. From the very first endpaper done in vibrant, deliberate colors this book is a distinct declaration, not of national pride, but of national collective effort to move forward. "Yes, we can!" proclaimed the President the first time he took office. This book is a hopeful disclaimer to that proclamation, that a country is only as great as the hopes and dreams within it - that darkness happens but it's this very darkness that could prove the mettle of our worth.
The lines in this book are absolutely stunning. There are lines cast by sunlight, and lines cast by shadow. There are lines that are man-made objects such as buildings and bridges, and lines in the natural world that make up these poignant illustrations. When I think of Dav Pilkey I like others think of the simple line drawings of Captain Underpants, but this book (along with Caldecott honor book The Paperboy, and other works such as God Bless the Gargoyles) is another side to Dav Pilkey's work filled with strong, dark colors that have something to say.
Get this book. Get it now. If you have children (and even if you don't) I already have an idea which page will stab you right in your heart, but I'll keep that to myself and let you experience this book for yourself. Have a good day. And if you're in a place in your life where good days are eluding you, have a better one tomorrow. Either way, read this book as a call to a better life more deliberately lived in full colour.
Title: One Today
Author: Richard Blanco
Illustrator: Dav Pilkey
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (November 3, 2015)
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.