I love Time for Bed, Miyuki (2018), and when Patience, Miyuki (2019) proved a strong follow-up, of course, I had to seek out this next Miyuki story—and to be transparent—anything Seng Soun Ratanavanh.
Seng Soun Ratanavanh returns with signature whimsy and vibrant play with color and patterns. Like the earlier books, our illustrator will occasionally visualize the text in a more literal fashion, but most often she creates atmosphere. She echoes and sometimes creates a necessary tension with the text. I love the delicate, yet bold nature in the work.
In this installment, Grandpa begins his day with tai chi, an activity Miyuki claims “is too hard!” Ever patient, Grandpa gently chides Miyuki, “Can’t you see I’m taking care of myself?” he asks. Miyuki’s reply is loving—and energetic, “I can take care of you too, Grandpa. I’ll make you some tea!”
She becomes this restless figure fluttering about Grandpa’s stillness. While still advocating for himself, Grandpa can’t resist using Miyuki’s desire to spend time with him as an opportunity to teach her about meditative practices. Grandpa is loving and finds Miyuki delightful—because she is. Her vivaciousness is welcome, her curiosity nurtured.
Thank you, Miyuki is a nice addition to mindfulness shelves—something more along the lines of Jon J. Muth’s Zen series. It’s also a good relationship story—with self, others, and our surroundings.
In the village of Fengfu, “If one son is lucky, then ten must be great luck indeed!” And it is here that you’ll be tempted to start counting the boys in matching yellow outfits in the energetic bustle. And if you are counting heads, you’ll notice an 11th. A figure with an orange hat infiltrates the pictures, peeking, tucked, watching…but hasn’t yet appeared in the text. But the story isn’t about the one daughter though is it?
“Their parents called them their ten little dumplings.
Not only because as babies they were round like dumplings,
But also because, like sons, dumplings are auspicious,
Bringing prosperity and success.”
The visual story of the boys is active and interesting. And the words find them extraordinary—which is easy to believe. And even easier to believe they grow up well. And if you didn’t notice little sister, she introduces herself and reveals that she is not only the narrator, the person you’ve been listening to the whole time, but she shows you where she was the whole time: listening, studying, learning…discovering her own talent. She was only one of one and in her own panel (read: portrait), alone on her own page when we learn that she “made [her] own way in the world.”
The transition from the brothers childhood to the sister is a lovely sequence of disentangling. We follow the boys until they are grown, “successful and respected.” Then we review to find the sister’s childhood in the midst of the brothers’ until she, too, has left the house. The last we see of the brothers is when they come to see their sister’s artwork, the ten in her space, observing and listening and learning. And then we move into a story that belongs to the sister in her adult life with a child—a life that has familiar echoes but with just the one child and her parents: “My own wonderful girl. My little dumpling. How lucky am I!” And she does look very lucky indeed!
The book can carry multiple readings for an incredibly broad audience.
I like the hide-and-seek type books that reward sharp eyes, and what a perfect way to think about a book that hopes to invite curiosity about the stories of the backgrounded or unaddressed characters. The sister was invisible to the listener, but the observer was invited to wonder “who is that?”, spying her at the edges. And the life of a daughter looks so different when she is the only child… Both households look happy and full of life.
Ten Little Dumplings will resonate with those raised in households or cultures that preference their sons, or even those overshadowed by their more epic sibling. But the story isn’t interested in talking about the sons and star siblings so much as its sharing a mere observation and maybe a bit of amusement at the exaggerated status the mythic confers upon its subject; like that village song written about the boys, “Their brushstrokes flow like music.” Fan has nothing negative to say about the ten little dumplings. The narrator is as fascinated as everyone else. No, the revelation of the only daughter is the actual story and holds the focus. Remember that it is the sister who is the narrator, and later to be discovered: the artist and author—and not only literally.
The book we are holding/reading is created by two women, two daughters in some household and/or culture full of sons. It is the author who, though entertained by stories of 10 brothers in both her family and cultural lore, is curious about the story of the sister. “My father grew up in Taiwan where he was one of ten brothers. […] I heard a lot about my father’s brothers growing up. […] What I didn’t realize until I was older was that my father also had a sister! Learning this made me wonder about who is left out of the stories we are told and why” (Author’s Note).
Ten Little Dumplings is beautiful, clever in its subversion. It subverts expectations, tricks the reader into reading a story about someone else—and you’ll forgive them because the experience is delightful. The sister/daughter is a great story and storyteller. We are fortunate that someone took notice, wondered…and imagined.
For all the libraries, Fan and Wume are engaging and entertaining; the work is delightfully illustrated.
Recommended for those who enjoy charming and unusual stories; who like sibling books, artist-centric books, and childhood stories in general. This is excellent want to engage in conversations around sex/gender preference and/or erasure at a familial or greater cultural level.
In some ways, Madeline comes to mind…maybe it’s the yellow? And the counting and the finding one in a crowd.
LARISSA FAN is an artist and writer whose short films have screened at festivals worldwide. She studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design University and has an MFA in Film Production from York University. Larissa grew up with three brothers and competes with them as to who can make the best dumplings. Ten Little Dumplings is her first picture book. She lives in Toronto, Canada.
CINDY WUME is an illustrator and picture book maker. She completed an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art at 2016. Her debut picture book The Best Sound in the World was published in 2018, and her work has been exhibited at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. This story is special to her because she also believes women can be great dumplings. Cindy lives in Taipei, Taiwan.
What a journey. Do not let the timeless (nostalgic?) feel to the illustration, its minimalist palette and simpler lines fool you into thinking this is going to be a quaint tale about a boat and its people. It wrapped it’s bright and warm hued fist around my heart and squeezed. I’m not sure which part to blame for the held breath in my throat. Maybe it was that the hope was harder won in this latest Pumphrey brother creation. But they carry us through, and damn, but that is a gorgeous ending.
A boy leaves the shore of an island with a woman in an old boat to fish. While the story finds its opening and close about an old boat, our focus is also glued to the boy. As the old boat goes out and deeper, we watch the boy—and woman—age. And we watch the water beneath the boat as they cast with hooked lines or nets. And we watch the sky, too, as the Pumphreys work their subtle magic to capture the passage of time—lifetimes in so few pages.
The old boat works like an anchor in the remarking of that which can change and won’t. A constant is the old boat’s age, the things in the sea, and the boy-then-man.
We are as distressed as the expressions of the old boat’s passengers as we notice the human-created debris in the shallows…and even deeper still. Our joy at the beauty and abundance of sea-life are also reflected in the woman and boy’s faces.
The Old Boat is more pictures than words, and the words seem to arise as organically from the images as our emotions. I love the images captured visually and in my ear as I read “The old boat caught wants and wishes, waves and wonders.” We relax into a deep-seated joy in the relationship between woman and youth (soon elder-woman and man) brought together on an old boat on the water. It’s a moment that starts to feel like a glimpse, especially once we turn the page to find the boy-now-man alone, ‘the old boat [riding] farther…”
The rain feels inevitable. As does “lonely,” because we feel it before we see it—the “cold,” and the “lonely,” and the “lost.” I didn’t know what to anticipate. I think in some books the man would, via the old boat, find a friend. But wait, isn’t it, according to the narrator, the old boat that is “cold,” “lonely,” and “lost?”
The Pumphreys’ skill at relationship building is one of my favorite things. The old boat becomes significant to how we’ve formed our ideas about the relationship between woman and child; human and sea; even how we imbue those relationships with notions of nourishment, joy, wonder, legacy.
As with Pumphreys’ previous book, TheOld Truck, we get old held in relationship with new. And notice how the “new sailor” (whom we recognize as the boy-now-man) marks a turn in the tide. The book began with “an old boat [that] rode the tide” such as it was—littered and in the company of two. Not necessarily content, but neither engaged beyond sad facial expressions. The “turn” is not announced by a new sailor on a new boat, but our human protagonist beginning to clean up the shore. Soon, the footprints he made are accompanied by others to help him. Another echo of earlier text means something new, the venturing deeper builds a different relationship for the boy-now-man—with his community, the island/sea, and the old boat.
The old boat built a home for the boy, a place within which a relationship flourished. The grown-boy follows in its wake—and returns the favor. The reciprocity is beautiful. And in a story that inspires us to react and care about the seascape, it is intriguing. All the other manmade objects are removed, but the old boat remains as if it has always belonged to the sea—and doesn’t the ending suggest as much? The distinction in what qualifies as an artifact versus waste/pollution is a lovely conversation.
That final composition is powerful. “An old boat was home” and it looks like it has become a home, integrated through time on the seafloor. Meanwhile, the our new sailor (now white-haired) fishes from the shore with a girl; the shore having become “the boat” in his relationship with a new generation. The new imagination still holds visual lineage with the previous generation’s (e.g. cast lines, smiles, basketed catch); an imagination that was launched with the “turn of the tide” and narrative. I wonder what the girl’s future contribution to this story will be? This ending has me feeling optimistic.
The Pumphrey brothers create emotional and thought-provoking narratives that inspire real joy in the histories, present-days, and futures of their characters (inanimate or no, figurative or no). Their books are going to be the old books we’ll want to keep around for generations to come; share them with someone you love.
Carolrhoda Books/Lerner, 2020. Picture Book, 32 pp.
Features: Elders; Grandmother; Intergenerational Family; the Hmong;
Refugee stories; Tigers.
That cover is a gorgeous glimpse at just how stunning the book is.
The narrator, a young Hmong girl, wants to tell us about her grandmother who “is so old, no one knows how old she is.” It’s a deeply loving story. And one that will draw beauty from what I think will be unfamiliar sources to many.
Woven together are stories of grandma’s past and the narrator’s relationship with grandma in the present (which spans a length of her childhood).
“It was a long time ago and I was just a girl…” Grandma’s childhood in Laotian jungles involves a tiger, and loss. She loses her parents at a young age and as the eldest, is left raising her siblings in poverty. We know she later becomes a mother of 9 children, the narrator’s father being the youngest.
In the present, the narrator is a younger sister and a younger cousin, and one of “the luckiest of the grandchildren who got to help take care of Grandma.” The elder two girls wash Grandma’s clothes and help with her bath. Our narrator got to clip her fingernails and toenails. These intimate moments ushered in questions and stories. Grandma’s body bearing witness to a past full of remarkable moments.
It isn’t only aspects of her body (like the cracked feet and the single tooth) that hold stories, but as we experience the narrator’s childhood, we understand objects draw us back (and together). Noticeable is how things like an ice-cube filled red plastic cup, peppermint candies, and bone broth are responses to hardship. The narrator’s family couldn’t afford ice cream from the truck, meat from the market, or a new dress for school. Her crooked teeth would become a reminder of something else her family couldn’t afford—but could it be a reminder of something else as well?
The Most Beautiful Thing is humbling. It offers perspective, one that I think is incredibly valuable. All that the grandmother literally embodies in the story is precious, priceless. The respect and care for her, modeled by the family is lovely—and reciprocated. The struggles of the girl and the grandmother, and the family for that matter, aren’t cast aside, but it is reframed by what opportunities it represents.
Le’s illustrations are a breathtaking companion to Yang’s words. They provide a different kind of visual access to the affection between family members and a home, though poor, that is rich with color and texture. The deep colors and the vegetation. That tiger! The grandmother’s footprint.
This book, The Most Beautiful Thing, is not to be missed. It’s one the older crowd will enjoy, and will, no doubt, inspire envy in those who have missed out on the value of having an elder so close and well-respected. It’s a book full of a lot of good reminders, gorgeously rendered and beautifully told.
“The Most Beautiful Thing pronunciation guide” (which is provided below the dedications in the book) video posted by Lerner Publishing, read by the Kao Kalia Yang.
Author interview w/ Michelle Meadows at Picture Book Builders. “For me feelings are the birthplace of books, the flood at the gates of me, the point at which words must now be my vessels into the world, a point of imminent explosion.
Kao Kalia Yang is an award-winning Hmong-American writer. She is a graduate of Carleton College and Columbia University. Yang is the author of the memoirs The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir and The Song Poet. Yang is also the author of the children’s books, A Map Into the World, The Shared Room, and The Most Beautiful Thing.
Khoa Le is a Freelance illustrator, graphic designer and painter based in HCMC, Vietnam. She is also the author and illustrator of numerous picture books, The Cloud Princess, The Lonely Bear, Thrity Umrigar’s Sugar in Milk, and Jane Yolen’s Miriam at the River.
Features: New Child; Mother-Child; Gender-Neutral; Animals/Nature; Indigenous Creators; Digital Art.
To quote the jacket copy, Sweetest Kulu is a “bedtime poem, written by internationally acclaimed Inuit throat singer Celina Kalluk, describ[ing] the gifts bestowed upon a newborn baby by all the animals of the Arctic.” And it is really beautifully illustrated. I’m late to reading this one and you’ve not gotten to it yet, you should.
A mother tells her child about the day they were born, of the “many wondrous and grand visitors [who] shared thoughts, feelings, and best wishes with you.” Forget the faeries in the court of Sleeping Beauty’s parents. The ideas, words, images Kalluk and Neonakis’ share are powerful, invoking love, friendship, tenderness, creativity, and spontaneity to name a few. “The Muskox shared heritage and empowerment with you, magnificent Kulu, showing you how to protect what you believe in.” The Polar Bear offered “gentleness,” ingrained within it a “powerful instinct [to] always treat animals with respect.”
The mother describes not only the gifts, but a non-gendered Kulu (*an Inuit term of endearment) throughout–affirming, instilling: “sweetest,” “charming,” “admired,” “handsome,” “nicest,” “little,” “beloved”…
Neonakis’ illustrations involve sweeping curves, shadows, color, a sense of movement, vivacity, breath. The story does first speak of Melodies of Wind arriving… Neonakis skillfully renders creatures of the air and land and water; of varying scale and complexity. Her touch with color disinterested in overwhelming the composition with detail, merely lushness, fullness. Neonakis offers charm and magic to images that are also real, substantial—like Kulluk, she isn’t fantasizing, but (re)creating, speaking of an existence.
Sweetest Kulu is a gift, an obvious one for our infants and toddlers, but I find its ability to remind and affirm the characteristics and relationships within to be a powerful opportunity for older audiences as well.
* learned from Debbie Reese over at American Indians In Children’s Literature 2014 review.
Note the images I credit to Neonakis’ website are samples that include the Inuktitut names of animals. The edition I read did not include these names.
Celina Kalluk was born and raised in Resolute Bay, Nunavut. She dedicates this book to all the mothers and fathers of this earth and to our wonderful children. Celina is also a visual artist and has illustrated several book covers and other literacy materials. Currently, she is the Inuktitut Language Specialist and Cultural Arts teacher for grades seven through twelve at Qarmartalik School in Resolute Bay.
Alexandria Neonakis is an illustrator and designer from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. She currently lives with her cat, “Kitty,” in Santa Monica, California.
Features: Black mermaid; friendship; invention; perseverance; joy.
Oona is “brave and curious,” “and a little bit salty, like the ocean where she lived.” She and her otter companion Otto are treasure hunters. They find all number of things, but this adventure story is about their friendship and that “one special treasure Oona could never quite reach.”
First and foremost, I love that Oona features a Black mermaid. Figueroa’s digital rendering is charming, that hair, outfit, and tail–to say nothing about the level of expression Figueroa wrings out of this character. Oona dictates the mood more than the environment does (e.g. sadness even in the sun sequences). She is joyous, intelligent, lucky, befriended and creative. Oona is full of life, even when she is dispirited by failure.
It’s worth noting that Oona tries and tries again and still fails. And her feeling down isn’t short-lived. DiPucchio writes a girl who failed and then took a nap before engaging in less-passionate pursuits (though still great). Oona “was missing her spark,” but DiPucchio & Figueroa were not missing opportunities for levity (e.g. sand tails on land friends; sea gulls). This humor-touched fantasy-adventure story is sensitive to reality; presenting failure as normal and navigational.
I love that Oona is also an adventure story. There is the cuteness of Oona as a baby, and the silliness of training a pet (Otto), but even those two elements are couched in situations of action and adventure. The perils and the inventiveness behind hunting the crown create a pleasant level of drama to the story—a story that allows you to wonder whether Oona will give up (though not really?) and how Oona might finally get her hands on that seemingly unattainable treasure.
There are two surprises: how easy, in the end, the retrieval was (I was a bit underwhelmed); I guess the solution was better eyes on the prize? (Also, I’m not a child so…) And the other—which is not totally unsurprising—the realization Oona has about what the true treasure in this adventure was. I love DiPucchio’s message.
The underwater seascape is lovely and it’s fun to look through Oona’s home: the found objects and what she’s done with them. It’s lovely and fun to read a story about a daring nature and the creative mind of a young Black mermaid and her furry companion. It’s nice to read a story, and to find yourself at the end of an adventure knowing the truth of the matter before reading it. And it is true, whether we’re talking about friendships or goggles, “sometimes the best treasure in the world isn’t found. It’s made.”
Oona is a fun and necessary addition to book shelves that does a lot of good work while we just sit back and enjoy DiPucchio and Figueroa’s artistry.
Note—because it still needs to be said: Oona is not just for girls or children of color; this one is for everyone.
Kelly DiPucchio is the New York Times bestselling author of many beloved books for children. As a little girl Kelly wanted a pet otter but settled for a pet goat instead. When she’s not writing, Kelly loves to search for treasure and mermaids in Michigan’s Great Lakes.
Raissa Figueroa loves walking the beaches in search of tiny treasures of her own. She lives and works in sunny San Diego, CA. She’s the illustrator for several children’s books.
Elly MacKay’s cut-paper art makes it always worth picking up one of her books. But it isn’t only MacKay that makes The Secret Fawn such a magical experience. George tells a story of childhood and nature…and the nature of childhood while contributing plenty of sensorial delight on her own.
The Secret Fawn opens with a voice over, because our narrator wasn’t present when Mama, Dad and Sara saw the deer. As the youngest member of the family, she was still inside “getting dressed all by myself.”
As the youngest and smallest, we learn that her missing out is a thing that happens. But maybe this time, she could see the deer, too. And so she sets off, ears attuned to the world about her. She finds all number of creatures…and she will finally find the deer’s fawn. It’s important to her that she finds an experience all her own; one the others have missed out on—something her smallness might contribute to.
The Secret Fawn is a sweet book to inspire an exploration of and a connection with nature. It’s also a nice subtle addition to sibling-family books. I really appreciate the unworried notion of a child venturing out to explore on her own. While there isn’t a good gauge for distances, you have a sense she could be on the property, the setting: rural. Upon her return, her mother offers the pancakes she’d been preparing. The daughter, sweetly, clutches dandelions.
MacKay’s use of color suits the interplay of layers, textures, and light. Her landscapes, her creatures… I love the tree trunks in the orchard, and then we get that double-page composition where the girl discovers the sound was “just some leaves, dancing down.” MacKay proves she’s skilled in multiple levels when we make the effort to draw our eye from the seamless effect toward the details. Fortunately, the book is unhurried.
The Secret Fawn is gentle, quiet, idyll…and really, simply lovely.
Recommended for nature lovers, siblings, and those interested in keeping a diverse selection of visual artists. I mentioned picking up MacKay-involved books, but I highly recommend George’s other works as well, especially these chapters books for the young reader set: The Magical Animal Adoption Agency series and The Heartwood Hotel series.
KALLIE GEORGE is an author, editor and creative writing teacher living in Vancouver, BC. She has written The Lost Gift; Secrets I Know; Duck, Duck, Dinosaur and The Melancholic Mermaid, as well as The Magical Animal Adoption Agency series and The Heartwood Hotel series. She has also taught writing workshops for children and adults across Canada, as well as in South Korea, and currently teaches at Emily Carr University.
ELLY MACKAY is an acclaimed paper artist and children’s book author and illustrator. She wrote and illustrated the picture book Red Sky at Night, as well as Waltz of the Snowflakes, If You Hold a Seed and Butterfly Park, among others. Her distinctive pieces are made using paper and ink, and then are set into a miniature theater and photographed, giving them their unique three-dimensional quality. Elly lives in Owen Sound, Ontario, with her two children.
Roaring Brook/Neal Porter 2018. Picture Book, 32 pp.
Vincent lives on a cargo ship. While his paws have never touched land, he’s been to ports all over the world. It’s a really good life. But then there is one thing he begins to believe he’s missing. It’s one place he’s never visited that the crew talk about continually: home.
“Home must be the best place in the world!”
But where is this place called home? When they port in a city the first mate announces as “home,” Vincent disembarks for the first time. [note Mt. Rainier in the background of their port city of Seattle.] He follows a crewman to a building and watches the welcome party. He begins to wander the urban neighborhood, his thoughts wondering about what “home” really means. Just as he arrives at the idea of home, he hears a familiar tune—one the reader, too, will recognize.
I love the notion that a book that will inspire its audience to travel far from home is about a traveling cat inspired by the notion of home: an anchor; of unmatched-nourishment; where you are remembered and welcomed—maybe even missed. Rather nicely, and realistically, the Bagleys depict families of different configurations, contexts, races, ages.
The pen and watercolor illustrations are really lovely: the fine details, the layering and wash of color (those clouds in the night scene; the map). I appreciate how they not only set scenes to demonstrate “new” places, they’ll juxtapose climates to emphasize how “each one [is] different from the last.” Said compositions have their own animal-life (like the ship)—a contribution toward home as habitat. A turn of the page and we see a glimpse of the captain’s habitat. He collects souvenirs (figurines, flags, posters, postcards). Even as Vincent likes to spend time here, it’s a page a reader might spend time with as well.
The landscapes are my favorite, at sea and on land. I’m a fan of the ship as well, the bolts and ducts… I enjoy the color and quiet and warmth. Vincent Comes Home is a nice addition to Boat Books and Travel Adventure—and stories of home. Add it to the list.
Jessixa Bagley is an author and illustrator originally from Portland, Oregon. She spent many days in her childhood combing the Oregon Coast for the perfect sand dollar. Now, she lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband and son in a castle in the sky. Her books include Boats for Papa and Before I Leave.
Aaron Bagley (illustrator of Rocking Fatherhood) has been drawing and writing with Jessixa Bagley since they met in art school more than a decade ago. What started off as a courtship of doodling in sketchbooks and belching in lockers soon turned into a marriage of doodling in sketchbooks and belching with their son.
Their artistic partnership is a balanced collaboration of overlapping their individual styles and painting techniques—creating one cohesive language. Vincent Comes Home is their first picture book together. And much like Vincent, they have moved around a lot but their home has always been each other.
From New Hampshire to Australia to Africa and on to many, many more places and adventures, we watch a girl grow into a young woman and then an older woman still. Becoming a Good Creature records some of the lessons she’s learned along the way. Her teachers? Dogs, birds, gorillas, big cats, sharks, hyenas, tarantulas and a hog named Christopher Hogwood—to name a few. She learned them in environments both wild and domestic, discovering and following her passions—this book encourages its audience to do the same.
Green matches Montgomery in creating an approachable world, composing environments and creatures exuding an innate goodness and opportunities for learning. The gentleness in palette or depiction does not negate the need for caution or respect (e.g. gorillas, sharks), but like the text, the book wants to challenge inhibitions and harmful stereotypes (e.g. spiders, hyenas). We become good creatures by learning from other good creatures. We are a part of nature, too.
The book includes headings like “Find Your Teacher,” “Respect Others,” “Love Little Lives,” “Learn Forgiveness”… These are helpful if you want to approach the book in parts, but the text reads smoothly through the transitions. The book is obviously friendly for young audiences, but it will prove inspiring across ages.
Becoming a Good Creature encourages imagination, exploration, and storytelling. It’s educational on multiple levels. I love seeing a curious, active, outdoors girl grow into a woman of the same. Intelligent, loving, fearless, comfortable in her skin and yet open for new and more as we see in “Trust Tomorrow.”
This is a really wonderful book, and not only for those inspired by the out-of-doors, adventure, or animal-life. Montgomery offers valuable insights and she’s a good resource for learning to love and appreciate the creatures around us—and to do so mindfully and courageously.
Love that signed note in the back, and the inclusion of photographs of Montgomery.
In addition to researching films, articles, and over twenty books, National Book Award finalist Sy Montgomery has been honored with a Sibert Medal, two Science Book and Film Prizes from the National Association for the Advancement of Science, three honorary degrees, and many other awards. She lives in Hancock, New Hampshire, with her husband, Howard Mansfield, and their border collie, Thurber.
Rebecca Green is an illustrator of many children’s and middle grade books, including The Unicorn in The Barn, Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea, Madame Saqui, and From Far Away. She is also the author and illustrator of How to Make Friends with a Ghost. This is her second collaboration with Sy Montgomery, their first being How to Be a Good Creature. She resides with her husband and their lovely animals, Mori and Junie B.
How the story opens: Poppy Ann Fields liked bugs. They were her friends.
How it closes: Poppy’s Glossary of Bug Friends.
When you aren’t trying to find a shy, camouflaged Poppy, the book invites readers to scan the pages for bug friends, and other friendly creatures of the human variety or the dog and cat who always seem to notice Poppy. Theule and Palacios’ pages are lively, always a bit wild. It depends on what kind of wild it is as to whether Poppy feels comfortable engaging—her way with wild things differs.
It’s lovely how Theule speaks of all things in terms of nature, because these are words and worlds Poppy understands.
“Some people danced. Children ran.
They looked like colorful leaves falling into each other then drifting apart.”
When Poppy is finally noticed and the attention is centered on her, instead of her becoming part of the scenery (a landscape or tree, or brocade), those encircling her become flowers. She’s comforted by the appearance of her bug friends, the sound of cicadas, and the breeze. Once she feels safe, she speaks softly and shares some of her own knowledge with the humans gathered to celebrate Grandma Phyllis.
By the time we arrive at the close of the story, it feels true: Poppy Ann Fields is not a wallflower, but a wildflower. I love that it’s a realization made not only surrounded by flowers, but in the company of her Grandma Phyllis (in that amazing outfit).
What’s nice about this gentle and delightful story, besides how it manages energy and silly humor: no one is actively trying to coax Poppy Ann Fields to be anyone but who she is. Her joy draws friendly human attention, and her joy holds her until their kind attention takes its natural course elsewhere. It was fine and sweet and rewarded through affirmation by someone who matters: an Elder, true—and herself. “The small wind still blew. Poppy knew she was not a wallflower. Leaves and wings fluttered to the beat of her heart. No, not a wallflower…”
Nature lovers will want this book, but a book showcasing a quiet, shy, introverted, or focused child done this well is a treat worth sharing—and not just with a person like Poppy, but those of us who would be dancing and running at that party, too.
Everyone will enjoy Palacios’ work: the bright and warm tones, the clever camouflage scenes; the patterns and curves. The energy in the compositions are pitched perfectly, both visually and in conversation with the text. I like how Palacios weaves images and textures found in nature into the textiles of character’s clothing and integrates actual nature into their midst. I love how the circle of people are translated into a circle of flowers and that they are both righthand pages in the spread—you can lift one to compare the “shapes and colors and heights,” which is something Poppy likes to do with flowers on long afternoons.
The facing pages with Poppy centered in a vignette on the left and hiding in a crowded room on the right. The way the ladybugs and plants spill outside the gentle circle…Poppy looks part of a floral arrangement. She is the focus here, but on the right, we lose sight of her. The vignettes continue in following pages, moments set against the white of the page and in variation—because, well, Poppy is equally creative and clever. I appreciate how we get to play a bit of hide-and-seek, but in a way that didn’t overtake the story: we’re not calling Poppy out, we’re observing the way she is in the wild.
Palacios takes the opportunity to include a range of ages and skin tone and hair and relationships to the social gatherings in the book. I know we are all taken with a Poppy with brown skin—and those glasses (and saddle shoes)! I’m very much taken with Phyllis’ hair. Poppy’s world is social and affectionate, whether the scene includes bug friends or humankind. This is a book brimming with joy.
Kudos on words like: symphony, ticklish, magnificent, florals, landscape, brocade drape, menagerie, milled, shimmered, fragile, Anisoptera…
Larissa Theule holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is the author of three forthcoming picture books. She lives in Pasadena, California, with her family.
Sara Palacios was the recipient of the 2012 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Award for her work on Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match. A native of Mexico, Sara graduated from the National Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico City and went on to earn BFA and MFA degrees in illustration from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. She illustrates for companies in both the United States and Mexico.