I found three very different and moving books for the Picture Book Reading Challenge this week, which should all provoke good questions from young listeners.
Book 7 The ENEMY – a book about peace by Davide Cali and Serge Bloch
This is a book for children, or is it? about the futility of war. Uncluttered text line drawings in black, white, khaki and a hint of red render the simple message powerfully. The book has a World War I trench scenario with two enemy soldiers each in a trench following orders and the manual, which they were given at the beginning of the war, showing how the enemy are always beasts capable of killing families, pets and so on. As each soldier discovers his enemy’s empty hole and the unexpected family photos there is a glimmer of recognition of all they share in common. Both, now in each other’s foxholes, consider the possibility of calling a truce. There are some haunting double page spreads of the same night sky or pouring rain, uniting these two enemies in a common experience. An honest portrayal of war, and yet I believe, in a way as to be accessible to a child even as young as 4. Be prepared for some great discussion when you read this book with children.
BOOK 8 Whistling Thorn by Helen Cowcher
A very sensory story full of sounds and images of the heat scorched Savannah of Africa, with its red and orange, dusty landscapes where the animals and plants live in a delicate symbiosis with each other. Rhinos and Giraffes had always enjoyed the tasty leaves of the acacia bush, but the giraffes, in particular, able to reach the topmost leaves were eating even the tiniest of acacia buds. In an effort to survive, over time the acacia bushes developed sharp thorns shaped like galls. Ants attracted to the acacia nectar came, and making holes in the galls, established their nests. The Savannah wind “piped through the holes like the music of a thousand flutes.” Thus the stinging ants protect the acacias from any overeating on the part of the giraffes, who manage only a few buds at a time before retreating from the irritated ants. There are some glorious close-ups of the giraffe’s eyes and muzzle amidst the thorny bushes. This is an evocative tale of survival in Africa.
Book 9 The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland, illustrated by Tsatsuro Kiuchi
A story of history, of war, of refugees and a lotus seed, a treasured memory from Vietnam. This is a simple, easy to follow story told in lyrical, unrhymed verse of a Vietnamese girl who is forced to flee her homeland due to civil war and takes with her a lotus seed from the emperor’s garden. She and her family, through hard work and willingness, adapt to the totally new way of life in the USA, yet without losing their cultural roots. The little girl becomes an old lady and is devastated one day to discover her lotus seed has been stolen by her grandson, who has no recollection in which part of the muddy garden he buried the seed. But no circumstances, however horrendous, can prevent the family passing on its heritage to the next generation and the faithful lotus seed dutifully blossoms the next spring producing new seeds to be gathered and treasured and passed on. The Illustrations in oil are beautiful especially of the lotus flowers! I appreciated a brief historical overview of Vietnam, which the author adds at the end of the book. This is a charming story in itself, but also a great opportunity to discuss refugees etc with children.