It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen and Kellee from Teach Mentor Texts (and brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Two of our blogging friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have inspired us to join this vibrant meme.
Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts
Here are a few of the reviews we have done last week. We are also inviting everyone to join our Award-Winning-Books Reading Challenge. We hosted the AWB Challenge last year and we are thrilled to be able to host it again. Do sign up if you are looking for exciting reading challenges with monthly book prizes. Click on the titles/images below to be taken to our blog posts.
Our current bimonthly theme in GatheringBooks is Crazy over Cybils where we give love to all the books that have been shortlisted and have won awards in the Cybils since 2006.
I found these three nominated fiction picture books in the library. They did not make it to the final cut but I thought I’d share them with you nonetheless. Make a Wish, Bear by Greg Foley is a charming story about friendship and the quiet energy brought about by simply looking at the stars and having your friends around to amuse you – even if it means closing your eyes, standing on one foot, or holding your breath before your wish comes true. The Monster who Lost his Mean by Tiffany Strelitz Haber and illustrated by Kirstie Edmunds is a celebration of redefining one’s self and being the creature one is meant to be, regardless of one’s name and all that it supposedly entails. Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton has the modernist, bright-colored, orange-and-purple vibe going for it. I like how George is depicted to be this naughty little doggie who just can’t help himself – but is always given a choice when it comes to his actions. Whether or not he would choose to be a good dog in the end remains a cliffhanger.
One of my favorites though among the 2012 nominated titles is Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault. Fox by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks on the other hand is a new discovery (and not a nominee) and I just know that I have to include it here and share it with you dear friends.
Text By: Kyo Maclear
Illustrations by: Isabelle Arsenault
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2012. Nominated for Cybils, Fiction Picture Book Category, 2012. Book borrowed from the public library. Book photos taken by me.
I have seen this picture book featured in quite a number of book blogger friends’ sites and they have been effusive with their praise. And I must admit, the accolade is well-deserved. This is one of the most ingenious, moving, brilliantly-allegorical picture book that I have come across in ages. Every once in awhile, you hold in your hands a picture book that is absolutely perfect, so stunning in its play with words, images and how they just come together so beautifully, you know that you have a classic in the making. This book is one of those.
It is a story about two siblings, Vanessa the painter, and Virginia Wolf who happens to be in one of her wolfish moods, made more visible through the typography that screams without any apologies, and the borderline-surreal artwork that adds a different kind of nuance to the text (that is an artwork in itself, but I think I’ve already mentioned that). The narrative and its artistic style and theme actually reminded me a little bit of Suzy Lee’s L’oiseau Noir (The Black Bird).
The story is told from the perspective of the artist-sister, Vanessa, who did not balk, cower, or get impatient in the least by Virginia’s growling, screaming, and snarling. Instead, she snuggled next to her sister: “We were two quiet lumps under the blanket. We sank deep among the pillows.” She asked Virginia, with absolute patience, no trace of guile or condescension, not even a smidgen of patronizing air, exactly what she needs in order to feel a little better.
If I were flying, I would travel to a perfect place. A place with frosted cakes and beautiful flowers and excellent trees to climb and absolutely no doldrums.
“Where is that?” I asked.
She thought for a moment and said, “Bloomsberry, of course.”
At its very core, this brilliant book is about kindness that paints “leaves that said hush in the wind and fruit that squeaked.” It is about a love that is able to create a multi-colored place called Bloomsberry where none existed, having it materialize out of thin air. It is the power of compassion found inside an art box with brushes and paints made up of “turquoise birds” and “floating petals that looked like confetti.” It is a sister’s spirit that flows into murals in space and finally into a wolfish creature that could not help but smile despite itself.
As a clinician, I marvel at the simplicity and the power of this picture book to communicate varied dimensions of brutish mood swings, even terminal illnesses, or just simply put, unrelenting pain that can only be soothed and healed through kind words and colors and a side trip to Bloomsberry, and perfection found in flowers that are floppy and trees that look like lollipops. The allusion to the brilliant writer Virginia Woolf is deliberate. Author Kyo Maclear talks about it in-depth here where she noted that:
Not so long ago, I wrote a children’s story indirectly about Virginia Woolf and her older sister, the painter Vanessa Bell. The premise was simple—a young girl is feeling “wolfish,” and her sister tries to cheer her up—but given the infamy of my subjects, I knew the story would have to wear its origins and themes lightly. I decided it would be told in a suspended and hypothetical moment of childhood. There would be no explicit reference to mental illness or depression. Beyond these general notions, I proceeded intuitively – and, possibly, foolishly.
I love how Maclear does not shield children from glaring imperfections, realities that bite, as we own up to the wolves that reside in each one of us. As she noted: I have always been disappointed by kids’ books that paint children out to be dimwitted innocents in need of false cheer. This story is moving in its portrayal of the imagined little things, the unbalanced shades and hues, and even the irregularly-phrased verses that may ultimately be our redemption. Here is a book trailer that might give you an idea of just how lovely this book is.
Story By: Margaret Wild
Illustrations By: Ron Brooks
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, first published in 2000. This edition published in 2010.
Book borrowed from the public library. Book photos taken by me.
There is something about this book that sizzles. It is a book that found me and whispered its secrets into my ears. I was about to return this unread in our public library (it is way past its due date), and I thought of just flipping through the first few pages … and I drowned in Fox’s burning gaze, Magpie’s weakness, and Dog’s steadfastness and kindness of heart. It is a book that has come alive in my hands, as I gave an audible gasp again and again, my heart as broken as Magpie’s wings when I flipped through the last pages of the book.
Of Glass Eyes and Burnt Wings. In the tradition of Wild’s Woolvs in the Sitee with the hand-scrawled, shaky typography that makes use of the book gutter or the borders of the page, this story is as compelling as it is unsettling, as disturbing as it is irresistible, as sobering as it is powerful.
Through the charred forest, over hot ash, runs dog, with a bird clamped in his big, gentle mouth. He takes her to his cave above the river, and there he tries to tend her burnt wing, but Magpie does not want his help.
“I will never again be able to fly,” she whispers.
“I know,” says Dog. He is silent for a moment then he says, “I am blind in one eye, but life is still good.”
“An eye is nothing!” says Magpie. “How would you feel if you couldn’t run?”
Dog does not answer. Magpie drags her body into the shadow of the rocks, until she feels herself melting into blackness.
This book is a story of how two broken creatures found each other and gave each other the stuff of their dreams that glimmer. Dog and Magpie culled out that which is beautiful and shining in each of their wounded beings, that which burns bright in each one of them to transform them into wholeness.
With Magpie clinging to his back, he races through the scrub, past the stringy barks, past the clumps of yellow box trees, and into blueness. He runs so swiftly, it is almost as if he were flying.
Magpie feels the wind streaming through her feathers, and she rejoices. “Fly, Dog, Fly! I will be your missing eye, and you will be my wings.”
The Haunted Eyes of Fox. The world is as it should be… until fox with “his haunted eyes and rich red coat” flickered into their lives like a flame “and Magpie trembles.”
Dog, with his well-meaning and kindest heart imaginable offered Fox food and shelter, as the Fox beguiles and entrances with his honeyed tongue, and Magpie visibly shrinks, feeling Fox’s gaze on her and her burnt wing. She smells the scent of “rage and envy and loneliness” emanating from Fox in the evenings when Dog and Magpie are enjoying each other’s company, content with life the way it is.
On the Wings of Betrayal Wrapped in Flickering Rich Red Coat. The fox has always been portrayed as the cunning creature that ensnares its unsuspecting quarry in mythology and folk tales. It plays that character to the hilt in this narrative. Only.. the fox does not ‘eat’ its prey the way we might envision it to be, there’s the rub in this picture book. It shows the reader that there is a fate worse than death, that there is unremitting darkness in those haunted eyes filled with malice and foreboding – yet inviting in its alluring, ravishing, irresistible gaze.
That night, when Dog is asleep, Fox whispers to Magpie, “I can run faster than Dog. Faster than the wind. Leave Dog and come with me.”
This picture book has no neat resolutions in the ending. It is definitely not a feel-good children’s book but a sobering one, as those of you who may have read Woolvs in the Sitee would understand. Even while it is clear what our heart wants and the universe conspires for you to be the best person that you can be, sometimes the exhilaration of the wind in one’s face can make one do foolish things. One can surmise that Dog might even have caused Magpie’s burnt wings, or Magpie may have caused the Dog’s glass eye, hence the vulnerability to Fox’s invitation. Yet at the end of it all, it does not really matter, does it?
In the stillness, Magpie hears a faraway scream. She cannot tell if it is a scream of triumph or despair.
As Jewel says in her song: “In the end, only kindness matters.”
Teacher Resources. For those who wish to make use of this powerful picture book in their classroom, you may want to check out this downloadable pdf link created by Janet Anderson for Allen and Unwin. It is a comprehensive 16-page document that includes a variety of ways to explore the narrative structure from reading journals to sound collage to polarised debates to tableaux/freeze frames.
I know that you might be getting tired of these two photographs here, dear friends, but I am nearly done with Rumo. I would be paying an overdue fine but it’s well worth it. As is Moers’ wont, I am laughing myself to sleep as I continue to be amazed at his absurdities and the way he weaves everything together one story after another, within a story that is embedded with another one. What a trip. Dandelion Wine has captured my fancy. I hope to review this too. Hopefully, I could start reading other books by next week and finish these two soonest.
How about you, dear friends, what have you been reading this week?
Fox is CBCA Children’s Book of the Year Award: Picture Book (2001), Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards: Children’s Book Award (2001), and winner of Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis (2004)
AWB Reading Challenge Update: 3 of 35
V: Virginia Wolf
A-Z Book Challenge Update: 5 of 26 (X, V, I, L, T)
7 of 150