Picturebooks that Delight

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati

This week I want to focus on four picturebooks that were highlighted in WOW Currents during 2018. All create connections across cultures while delighting us with their stories. Those four books are Mommy’s Khimar (2018) by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (Illustrated by Ebony Glenn), I Really Want to See You, Grandma (2018) by Taro Gomi, A Big Mooncake for Little Star (2018) by Grace Lin, and Drawn Together (2018) by Minh Lê (Illustrated by Dan Santat). Addressing particular aspects of their cultural backgrounds or heritages, these authors share stories that make us smile as well as educate us on the use of a Muslim khimar, the Moon Festival and Asian mooncakes, the connection of grandparents and grandchildren and how art can bring people together across the expanse of silence. Let’s take a look at each one in turn.

Starting with Mommy’s Khimar, readers will be enchanted with the young protagonist’s delight with her mother’s numerous khimars (a head covering similar to a hijab). There are so many colors—and so many ways to think about how wearing a khimar makes the young girl feel. In addition to how the youngster feels, the khimar is also a symbol of connection to her mother as well as the community of women who also embrace the wearing of khimars. And while the young girl’s grandmother does not wear a khimar, symbolizing another tradition, that difference does not negate or lessen the love and acceptance they feel in each other’s company.

Such a lovely book about acceptance of difference as well as connection across differences, the bright and cheerful illustrations remind readers that whoever we are, whatever our traditions and beliefs, there is joy and comfort to be shared in that positioning. I can see this book encouraging readers to look a bit deeper, to find out more. Just the use of khimar, which may not be well known to many readers invites us to find out, but it is the delight of the young girl that will, in turn, delight us.

The second book I want to share is A Big Mooncake for Little Star, which also involves a young girl and her mother. They are getting ready for the Moon Festival, which is one of the important festivals in Asian cultures. It is celebrated during the autumn season on the full moon, and people get together to celebrate and eat mooncakes. Moon cakes, which celebrate family connection, reunion, togetherness, and completeness, are little sweet cakes filled with bean or lotus seed paste and often have symbols representing harmony or luck imprinted on them. While there are a variety of different types of mooncakes, the one that inspired this story was an internet photograph that looked like the moon to Hazel, the author’s three-year-old daughter. From there, Lin created the story of a big mooncake and the phases of the moon. Not only is this a terrific story, but it creates so many opportunities to learn! Readers can consider the phases of the moon, think about making their own mooncakes, and find out about the mythology behind the Moon Festival and then visit a Moon Festival near their own community.

The next two books come from Japanese and Vietnamese perspectives, drawing our attention to the connections between grandparents and grandchildren. I Really Want to See You, Grandma is a humorous tale from Japan in which the desire to see each other causes a grandmother and her granddaughter to venture out to each other’s home only to discover that they ventured out at the same time, thus missing each other. Not to be dissuaded, they each return to their own homes thinking the other will be there when they return, but sharing the same idea they miss each other again!

Younger readers will absolutely love this book and the humorous situation that results from the two great minds having similar ideas. The question remains, however, will these two ever see each other? Readers will need to find the answer to that question as they read through this charming and colorful picturebook. All I know is that young readers will want you to read it again and again!

Finally, let’s take a look at a lovely book to accompany Grandma. That would be Drawn Together, which is about the relationship between a young boy and his grandfather. Unlike Yumi and her grandmother in I Really Want to See You, Grandma, which is a humorous tale about wanting to see each other, this last book is about the silence and frustration between a young man and his grandfather that occurs when they do see each other. The lack of a common language keeps these two apart, and in hopes of finding a way to develop a relationship they use art, specifically drawing and through it, storytelling, to create a loving connection. In Drawn Together, unable to communicate using one symbol system (language), the protagonists use another (drawing), suggests that communication, and caring, happens in numerous ways. Vietnamese American Minh Lê has created a wonderful story about finding the will and a way to address intergenerational gaps due to immigration. Illustrator Dan Santat’s humorous renderings of facial expressions keeps this a light and entertaining book that is a delight to read and a definite for sharing. The graphic style illustrations lend themselves to older readers who might just discover a way to overcome other generational gaps that exist between them and their loved ones. I loved it!

What I especially liked about these four books is family connection, which is universal. They could easily make a text set to share in classrooms or, with older readers like those with whom I would work, a way to start thinking about their own family stories and the connections they make across generations and perhaps cultural traditions.

In addition, and regardless of age group, these books can be used to begin inquiries addressing a variety of elements found within the books: Islamic traditions and beliefs, immigration and its impact on families, festivals and how they translate across geographical boundaries and time periods and the importance of intergenerational relationships. The cultures represented in these books are also an aspect that could be of interest to readers, opening options for comparison by what readers might know and what they might learn through investigation. These books do inspire question-posing as they invite the delight that comes from any good read.

You can view the complete list of the 2018 WOW Recommends book list here.

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