Week-end Book Review: Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

Reviewed by Aline Pereira:

Grace Lin,
Starry River of the Sky
Little, Brown, 2012.

Ages: 8-12

Grace Lin’s new middle-grade fantasy, Starry River of the Sky, is a gem every bit as compelling as its companion, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and cut from the same bedrock too: it masterfully weaves Chinese folklore into a richly textured yarn about magic, unexpected connections and the power of stories to shape our lives.

When Rendi finds a job as a helper at an Inn after running away from home in anger, he finds the small, in-the-middle-of-nowhere village of Clear Sky and its inhabitants mysteriously odd and out of sorts. For starters, the moon seems to be missing…

Read the full review

Poetry Friday: The poems of Jean Little

Friday, February 24th, 2012

I was in the library looking at poetry books for children when I stumbled on Jean Little‘s When the Pie was Opened (Little, Brown and Company, 1968).  Little, a Canadian,  is a well known author of children’s books but this was the first book I’d read by her.  What a delight and pleasure! Here was children’s poetry that spoke to my heart as a mother.  I’m not so sure my daughter would like this book, but sometimes there are childrens’ books that are really meant for their parents and this certainly felt like one of them.  All the attendant facets of good poetry are displayed in this collection — attention to details in the natural world through the seasons, deep self awareness and introspection, reflections on reading and books, and poems about poetry itself.  The rhyming quatrains of some poems and references to British classical tales of Robin Hood, Jane Eyre and Jane Austen date the poems somewhat, but there is a pleasurable breadth, spiritually and philosophically, to the poetry that make it seem timeless.  Take for example, the first two stanzas of “Tonight I Must Sing”

Tonight I must sing or sob.
Which will it be?
I am balanced between despair
And ecstasy.

Either will leave me hurt.
I shall be torn asunder.
By the tumult of this joy,
This wound of wonder.

I love the paradoxical and alliterative combination of ‘this wound of wonder!’  I think one of my favorite poems in the collection was “The Glory,” which in some way must be autobiographical as Little was diagnosed legally blind as a child. The poem is narrated by a timid child whose only sensation of light is from a candle lit in her room until the day she she is able to finally perceive the sun outside in all its shining glory.  Glory has been much on my mind lately —  a sermon at a recent funeral I attended spoke of glory as being of another dimension —  but in Little’s poem, the speaker understands that the relation between her candle and the glory of the sun is that “all God’s fire is one” for her “parents had simply set alight/[her] candle from their sun.”

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Jone at Check It Out.

Week-end Book Review: The House Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood in China by Ed Young

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

Ed Young, author-illustrator, text as told to Libby Koponen,
The House Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood in China
Little, Brown and Company, 2011.

Age 4-8 and up

Born in 1931 the fourth of five siblings, Ed Young spent the years of the great depression, Japanese occupation, and World War II in a magnificent environment thanks to his father’s building skills and negotiating acumen. The esteemed Young, a senior talent in the world of children’s literature, celebrates his baba’s loving care and his extended family’s safe passage through terrible times in this collage-illustrated memoir.

In exchange for building the house on a Shanghai property he couldn’t afford to buy (a safe suburb of embassy housing), Baba secured use of the home for 20 years. He designed a substantial two-story edifice with many outdoor spaces and even a swimming pool. (Empty most of the time, the pool was used for riding bikes.) Young’s large-format book with several fold-out pages incorporates many old family photographs, sketches of siblings and relatives, and detailed diagrams of the house that Baba built. At the close of the story, double foldout pages display a layout sketch of both floors of the house, with tiny images of people pasted in the various rooms. Thirteen rooms are depicted, plus outdoor decks and a rooftop playground.

Koponen shapes Young’s words into a lyrical account of family life, repeating the phrase “the house that Baba built” to poetic effect. Text is interspersed scrapbook-style amongst cutouts of Young’s sketches–household members on a see-saw, roller-skating on the rooftop, dancing in the large ground floor living room. Baba, who had received a graduate degree from the University of Michigan in 1917, was cultured and somewhat westernized, but like everyone in Shanghai, the family suffered food shortages and overcrowded conditions for many years. Bombs fell nearby towards the end, but the house withstood the attacks, thanks to Baba’s sturdy construction.

Back matter includes the location of the house on a contemporary map of Shanghai, a family time line from 1915-1947, and an author’s note describing his 1990 visit to the house and how this book came into being. A fascinating window into Shanghai history, Young’s heartfelt tribute to his baba will endear children yet again to his stunning visual imagery and, this time, to his personal story as well.

Charlotte Richardson
November 2011

Poetry Friday: Of Poetry and Pottery

Friday, March 4th, 2011

The story of Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Little, Brown and Company, 2010) combines two great loves of mine — poetry and pottery — so I was absolutely delighted to have been introduced to this recently published book by Myra at Gathering Books.   The historical ‘Dave’ was an unusual combination of talent in an age where such talents would not have only been under-appreciated but potentially dangerous.  Dave was a skilled and literate slave of the mid 1800’s in South Carolina.  His legacy is a collection of large pots and urns, some of which have lines written into them.  The lines are short and cryptic, reminiscent of Dickinson.  For example, on one of his earliest known pots — a large one for which Dave had a reputation for creating — are inscribed these lines:

put every bit all between
surely this Jar will hold 14

This particular pot could hold fourteen gallons, and these short lines conveyed the volume capacity in rhyme.  Other couplets also appear, giving more of a sense of Dave’s personality and of his vocation.  Particularly moving was this couplet:

I, made this Jar, all of cross
If, you don’t repent, you will be, lost

Dave the Potter is a picture book, sumptuously illustrated by Bryan Collier, who has captured well the nature of the man and his art. There’s a lovely fold-out panel of illustrations showing the process of pot-making which is visually affecting. My daughter and I really enjoyed Dave the Potter; it is a wonderful book telling a little known story of — as the book’s  subtitle indicates — an ‘artist, poet and slave’ of the American south.

This week’s Poetry Friday is at The Small Nouns

Books at Bedtime: Sergio Saves the Game

Monday, June 14th, 2010

This past Friday the FIFA World Cup began in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Considering this event and the fact my daughter is playing soccer (or football) right now and that the current issue of PaperTigers is all about ‘play,’ I thought I’d do a post on a soccer book for kids.  Sergio Saves the Game by Edel Rodriguez (Little, Brown and Company, 2009) is a short delightful picture book about a penguin named Sergio who, despite his love of the game, has some troubles actually playing it.  Instead of kicking, jumping, defending, heading, etc. like a star, he trips, falls, crashes, slips, etc. like … well, NOT like the star he thinks he is in his dreams.  His parents make the suggestion that he try being the goalie, so off Sergio goes with renewed hope.  Will he succeed?  Well, as the saying goes in reviews like this, read the book and find out!

I enjoyed this book, particularly after witnessing my daughter play.  Soccer is a tough game and learning the skills necessary to play it well can be difficult.  And yet at the same time, the game is a lot of fun.  Twice a week, my daughter goes out to different pitches all over the city in her shiny soccer outfit and cleats to play games with other girls her age.  It’s a good experience. The great thing about soccer is how little one needs in equipment to play, compared with other games.  All that’s really required is a ball to kick around.  No wonder the game is so universal in its appeal.

On the back flap of Sergio Saves the Game is a great photo of the young Edel Rodriguez playing with his first official soccer ball in America — a black and white one.  Although Rodriguez was familiar with the game, he’d only played with a plain ball in his native Cuba.   The picture is an endearing one, sure to warm the heart of any soccer parent out there!

Books at Bedtime: Wabi Sabi

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

We will be publishing a full review of Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein with art by Ed Young in our next issue of PaperTigers so I’m not going to say much now – except that it is stunning and enriching, a gentle, heart-warming delight that lends itself to being read aloud in many different ways! It had already been nominated for a Fiction Picture Book Cybils Award by the time I got round to it (as had a couple of others on my list, making decisions much easier… I finally plumped for Colors! ¡Colores!, which I blogged about last week…).

We’ve been waiting for Wabi Sabi to come out for a while – and one of Aline’s and my thrills at the Bologna Book Fair in April was being shown the proofs for the book by Andrew Smith at Little, Brown and Company, where we learnt that we were not looking at the original but at the second version of art-work…

Yes, this book has an amazing, Wabi Sabi-esque story behind it. It’s hard to explain but Alvina, over at Blue Rose Girls, is the book’s editor and has blogged about its amazing story in four installments – read from Number 1 now! In the meantime, here’s what she says about what Wabi Sabi actually means:

Mark spent some time living in Japan, and while there he was introduced to the concept of wabi sabi. He asked many people about it, and they all paused and said, “That’s hard to explain.” but they would offer a poem, or a photograph, a small description, and gradually, Mark began to piece together the meaning of wabi sabi.

So, what is wabi sabi? Well, as I understand it, it is a Japanese philosophical belief in finding beauty in the imperfect, the unexpected, in simplicity and modesty. For example, a old, cracked clay tea cup is wabi sabi, but a fine china cup is not. Fallen leaves in muddy water is wabi sabi. A scruffy, multi-colored cat can be wabi sabi. Mark actually named his cat in Japan Wabi Sabi!

Her final post on the subject came out on Monday and has had me chuckling aloud – but only after I knew the outcome. All’s well, that ends well! Phew – if ever a book has gone through a parallel journey in real life, this is it!