Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cybils Nominations: Picture books

Another collection of short Cybils nominee reviews!

Yasmin's Hammer by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Doug Ghayka is a moving, fascinating story of the desire to learn and a young girl's determination to make a better life for herself and her family. Every morning Yasmin and her sister Mita go to work on their father's rickshaw. Every morning Yasmin asks if she can go to school. Every morning Abba says "soon". Yasmin and her family used to live on a small farm in rural Bangladesh, but they lost everything when cyclone hit. Now Mita and Yasmin crush bricks all day, Amma cleans fine houses, and Abba works with his rickshaw. Yasmin doesn't want to be a maid like Amma, she wants to learn to read and have the chance for something better. Yasmin decides she must have a plan. With extra hard work, she earns extra coins and with those coins she buys a book. Now the whole family works harder and longer until Yasmin and Mita can finally go to school and learn.

This is an inspiring story and the afterword, explaining the child labor situation and poverty in Bangladesh is interesting. The text is lengthy, but tells a strong story. The one problem I had with this was the sudden change in Yasmin's circumstances. One moment, her family is barely making enough money to survive. Then, all she has to do is work harder and she has a book. I don't know enough about this situation to know, but that seems too easy. Why didn't she work longer and harder at the beginning of the story? Why suddenly start earning more coins? It seems to imply that Yasmin and other children like her can lift themselves out of poverty if they just work hard enough - which is true, sometimes, but more often not. Still, it's a look at a world most children who read this story won't be familiar with and it is well told.

Verdict: There's a limited audience for this type of picture book in my opinion; it's more likely to find use in a school or in connection with fundraising for a related program. However, it's an interesting story and I think many libraries will want to have this book for children interested in seeing how other children live and maybe in making a difference.

ISBN: 9781600603594; Published May 2010 by Lee & Low; Review copy provided by the publisher

I loved Katie Cleminson's Magic Box (which I just bought for myself for my birthday) so I was delighted to see her latest book, Wake up! which isn't available in the US yet (and looks like it might be coming out in February, retitled Cuddle up goodnight?)

Anyways. Cleminson's lovely gray, black and red illustrations follow a delightful little boy on his daily routine, starting with waking up with an elephant! Dressing up, and off to school with a friendly bear teacher, an octopus music teacher, and many more animal surprises. A sweet and delightful book, perfect for toddlers.

I just have one quibble (have you guessed the theme of this review collection? Yep, it's the one quibble collection). I really wish Ms. Cleminson hadn't decided to deck out the little boy in an odd mixture of "cowboy" clothes - checked shirt and bandana - and a little feather headdress and bow and arrow set. These pop up several times throughout the story. I've noticed some odd depictions of Native Americans coming overseas from time to time and this one was fairly innocuous but still annoying. Maybe it's an American thing, but I find very few children play "cowboys and Indians" anymore, thankfully! I'm wondering if these illustrations will be changed for the possible American edition and I wouldn't object to that change.

Verdict: Not a book I can unreservedly recommend - it's not available over here for one thing, and apparently only in paperback. Also, I wouldn't want to deal with explaining the feathers-in-the-hair dressing up the little boy does. But it is a very sweet story and I do love Cleminson's illustrations....make up your own mind, ok?

ISBN: 9781862306288; Published in the UK by Red Fox; Review copy provided by publisher for Cybils

This is another UK import, and I absolutely love pictures in this one! The Day the Rains Fell by Anne Faundez, illustrated by Karin Littlewood is a folktale-flavored story with beautifully colored illustrations that remind me a bit of a softened Trina Schart Hyman style.

Lindiwe looks down from the heavens at the earth and decides to visit and see that all is well. With her daughter Thandi, they visit grasslands and polar regions, forests and mountains. They swim and run with the animals. All seems well until they come to a vast plain where there is a drought. Lindiwe knows just what it needs - rain! Then she creates pots to hold the water and Thandi makes beads from the clay scraps left over. Lindiwe puts her pots into the ground to hold the water so the animals will never be thirsty again - and in gratitude, they each donate some colors and patterns to Thandi's beads to create a beautiful necklace.

There are two end notes, one on how pots are created in Africa and the other on beads. My one quibble (yes, you knew there was going to be one) is the completely lack of information about the story's origins and nationalities. The end notes just say "People all over Africa" and "In many parts of Africa" when referring to the pots and beads. The plot has a folktale-ish feel, but there's no information as to whether the author completely made up the story or if it's based on a particular legend. Is there a female African creation deity named Lindiwe? Is this a creation story specific to a particular tribe or area in Africa? Or did the authors just make up an interesting story and set it in Africa? I thought most people had gotten over lumping the vast variety of cultures, countries, customs, and beliefs contained in Africa into one big "African culture" lump, but apparently not. I checked on the publisher's website and did a quick search for "Lindiwe" and the book title, but didn't find anything.

Verdict: I can't honestly recommend this because just calling something "multicultural" and putting in a mish-mash of "ethnic" traditions isn't something I want to support, but the story was well-written and the pictures were lovely, really really lovely.

ISBN: 9781848530157; Published in the UK by Tamarind; Review copy provided by publisher for Cybils

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