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[Monday Reading] Finding Life’s Meaning, Traveling the World, and Coming Home in Existential Picturebooks for Children (and the young at heart)


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.


There is simply something about big-themed, philosophical books for children that appeal to me in a visceral fashion – add anthropomorphized animals and I’m sold.

IMG_0692April The Red Goldfish

Written and Illustrated byMarjolaine Leray
Published by: Phoenix Yard Books, 2014 Translated by: Sarah Ardizzone ISBN: 1907912401 (ISBN13: 9781907912405). Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me. 

It is quite rare that one comes across a picturebook with a Shakespeare-spouting, semi-suicidal, angst-ridden goldfish whose very essence simply cannot be contained in a box – or in a bowl, for that matter. And yes, its self-definition is red, not gold.


April is constantly in search of meaning, in spite of (and maybe even because of) her difficult punk-like teenage years, her aquaholic parents, and the very fact that she is trapped in a bowl with only her dreams of escape:


There is a desire to know the world more and “explore new horizons” – whether or not April manages to do this, and what the role of the black cat is in her relatively short, profoundly-lived life, I shall leave for you to discover:


April’s spirit coupled with the visual puns and witticisms of Leray, not to mention the strange hand-written typography (that is almost like a suicidal scrawl) make this a delightfully bizarre picturebook that would resonate with the occasional odd reader who is looking for something refreshing and different.

The Bear and the PianoIMG_0687

Written and Illustrated by: David Litchfield
Published by: Frances Lincoln 2015 ISBN: 1847807178 (ISBN13: 9781847807175). Book Awards: Winner of Waterstones Children’s Book Prize:Best Illustrated Book 2016 (The Bear & The Piano); Nominated for ‘Read It Again’ Cambridgeshire Libraries Children’s Picture Book Award 2016- Announced July 16; Nominated for Independent Bookshop Week (IBW) Award  2016- Announced June 16; Nominated for Sheffield Children’s Book Award  2016- Announced November 16. Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me. 

Unlike April, the red goldfish, whose existence seems destined for confinement, this Bear’s life was tamed and changed radically by a piano left in the woods.


Stories like these are not new. There is Jennifer Uman and Valerio Vidali’s Jemmy Button who traveled from the Tierra del Fuego islands to England (see Fats’ review here), then there is Emily Hughes’ Wild (see my review here). But there is something simple and poignant about this bear and his rise to considerable fame after being discovered serendipitously by a young girl who was holding quite tightly onto a Broadway programme booklet – and her backpacking, binocular-wielding father:


This Bear saw the world – and went beyond everything that he has even dared perhaps to imagine in his existence. Amidst the fame, the Grammy trophies, the recognition from people around the world, the Bear missed his home, his friends, the forest:


I am not unfamiliar with bear books – in fact I like them and I have featured quite a few here and here. But this one caught me off-guard – perhaps it was the simplicity of the text matched by the luminous artwork that sings and leaps off the page, or because it tells the story of someone uprooted to find his place in the world, with a sensitive portrayal of what homecoming would be like for this world-weary Bear. I also like how it was left open-ended whether the Bear came home permanently – I prefer to think that he found his home in himself, and that the actual physical place is irrelevant to this most important journey of all.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

11 comments on “[Monday Reading] Finding Life’s Meaning, Traveling the World, and Coming Home in Existential Picturebooks for Children (and the young at heart)

  1. The Bear and The Piano seems to be everywhere right now, and I understand why – the message is lovely, and the illustrations are stunning. The use of light in the images is beautiful.


  2. I absolutely adore The Bear and The Piano! I definitely want to find my own copy for my classroom library for next year.


  3. Surprised I didn’t read more existential picture books with my girls. Love that phrase! If you’re interested in the 48 Hour Book Challenge for next year, let me know!


  4. The Bear and the Piano is absolutely beautiful and impactful.


  5. The artwork is so gorgeous in Bear and Piano. I can’t wait to get my hands on that one!


  6. You have such exquisite taste – both these books sound wonderful, Myra – thoughtful reads which will lead to great classroom discussions.


  7. Love the illustrations!!

    The Bear and the Piano looks amazing.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Silver’s Reviews
    My It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


  8. The Bear and The Piano sounds great. Both of these are new titles to me. I am excited to find them. Thanks so much!


  9. The Bear and the Piano sounds like a great book! 🙂


  10. I love how The Bear and the Piano is a bit open ended. So much to talk about with that!


  11. April The Red Goldfish sounds intriguing. I haven’t heard about it.


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