I am still aiming for those 120 picture books by Dec 31st for There’s a Book’s Read to me Picture Book challenge. Today’s reviews, #s 103-105, return to a multicultural theme and come from India, Japan and South Africa.
I am indebted to my writing friend, Diana, for introducing me earlier this year on her blog to this talented author/illustrator. This story is based on a counting book fable. We discover that our ten Arabic numerals actually come from India, and not Arabia, as one might expect.
Children will be intrigued already on page one, where James has written the digits 1-0 as they do in Europe, North Africa, Arabia and India, showing their progressive origins. Page 3 evokes the senses with the beginning, “In the long-ago, rose-fragrant, animal-talking days….”. What opening skill!
With the listeners, we go on a counting journey as different animals join the road to the young raja-king’s birthday party. Each has brought, what he believes, the perfect gift for the young raja. Each newcomer disparages the previous gift and offers to share their ‘perfect’ gift, which they just happen to have in the increasing number required. So, for example, Cobra-jee is the sixth animal to join the procession. He poo-poos the five others glowing flowers, for the raja is already swimming in lotus! He proposes to share his SIX spools of silk ribbon, which the others happily agree to, casting aside their flowers. The collage illustrations are vibrant and very Indian and each time the animals toss their unwanted gifts aside, there is another animal ready to scoop them up with gratitude. Nothing is wasted.
Peacock is the ninth animal and proposes the ultimate of gifts. However, here by the well, outside the palace, tragedy strikes the party group and it appears they will arrive gift-less and embarrassed to the festivities. They need not have feared, for their prince is bountiful and wise and understands that friendship and stories are the sweetest of gifts! James’ text is as poetic as his artwork and this is a heartwarming and fun retelling of the ancient fable.
The Sea and I by Harutaka Nakawatari
This was originally written in Japanese and I am so glad that the American publisher, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, spotted the universal appeal of this picture book. Though twenty years old, the story has a quiet, timeless quality. The Illustrations make you feel as though you are walking through an art gallery of somber seascapes, for it is set on an island and for most of the story we are looking out to sea through the eyes of a young boy waiting for his father to return safely home in his fishing boat. Tension mounts as a storm appears to approach, and we look for the father’s boat from various vantage points along the beach. The text is sparse and simple, yet the boy’s waiting anxiety is beautifully portrayed. Evening comes and the wind subsides and the father returns safely to land. My favorite line, which I think the author could have used as the final sentence, but doesn’t, is ‘Father loves the sea, and I love him’. What poignant simplicity!
Let’s travel to a very different continent, for this story, set in South Africa. The author, Hugh Lewin, was born in South Africa and served a seven-year prison sentence for his opposition to apartheid. After being released he moved to England (where he raised his family) and later to Zimbabwe. The Jafta series grew out of his desire to share something of his homeland with his girls.
Once again there is a power in the simplicity of this book, that will capture kids’ attention, as they will so readily relate to Jafta, even though he comes from such a different culture. Lewin expresses the array of little Jafta’s moods, feelings and desires, by pages of similes, with joyful illustrations in brown and white to match, the text. When Jafta is happy, he purrs like a lion cub or skips like a spider. He wants to be as strong as a rhino or as quick as an ostrich. When he is cross, which is rare, Jafta grumbles like a warthog! Truly this short story transported me back to a special six month period I spent near Cape Town. Young children will want to leaf through this book many times after having it read aloud.