In preparation for selecting my favorite books of 2015, I’ve been looking at lots of picture books. As always, I’m overwhelmed by the quality of the new books and always think – this year is the best of all!
Among the wonderful new books are two that are so beautiful and immediately special, that I keep returning to them. Both of them are about waiting…
In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van – illustrated by April Chu
This is a seemingly simple circular story, but the more closely you look, there are questions that would make good discussion starters. The basic story is that a wife and a baby are at home “in a village by the sea” waiting for the fisherman/husband to return home. But then the family’s wonderful dog (who appears in nearly every picture) leads the viewer to a “dusty hole” in which he finds a cricket “humming and painting.” The cricket is painting a bad storm which is threatening the fisherman’s journey back to his family. As soon as I can read this with a group of young children, I want to see what they think: has the cricket imagined all of it? Why is the cricket’s final painting signed AC, the illustrator’s initials? How does it feel to wait for something?
April Chu’s delicate illustrations are breathtaking. The pictures of the mother, child and dog at home are calming and a reminder of the reassuring comforts of being at home. You can “hear” the quiet and the anticipation in each lovely picture – and the dog’s actions and attentions provide the perfect focus for young children.
With older children, a discussion about the author would enhance their understanding of the book. Van was born in Vietnam, but when she was nine months old, she became one of the “boat people.” Her family went to Hong Kong before immigrating to the United States. Clearly, she has a special connection with the risks of a life dependent on boats and the sea.
Waiting by Kevin Henkes
In his new book for very young children, the characters are also waiting. But the characters in Henkes’ new picture book are toys living on a windowsill. Each of the five toys is waiting for something: “The owl with spots was waiting for the moon. The pig with the umbrella was waiting for the rain. The bear with the kite was waiting for the wind. The puppy on the sled was waiting for the snow. The rabbit with stars wasn’t waiting for anything in particular. He just like to look out the window and wait.”
The soft colors and gentle scenes encourage the reader to slow down and wait – just like the toys. I can see this book being read by pre-school teachers before rest time. It could also be a spark to looking out the window and observing the world outside. The toys see wonderful things (like rainbows) and some scary things (like lightning), but most of all they are just watching the world go by with all of its wonders and beauty.
If you’re looking for some quiet and beautiful stories, these books are sure to be classics.