Travelers, Star Children, and Places to Be in Picturebooks

Myra here.

Our reading theme does not only include refugees and migrants – but travelers too. So I figured, might as well share these picturebooks that depict this kind of journeying from one place to another.


Mysterious Traveller

Written By: Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham Illustrated by: P. J. Lynch
Published by: Walker Books, 2013
ISBN: 0763662321 (ISBN13: 9780763662325)Literary Award: CBI Book of the Year for Honor for Illustration (2014). Borrowed from Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

I hesitate to call this a picturebook as this seems more like an illustrated story, with longer text, almost mythical and fable-like in its nature. It is a tale of an old man named Issa, who is renowned for his affinity with the sand dunes, the mountainous hills, the hidden caves of the desert.

If any traveler requires a guide to lead them to their destination around the desert, Issa is the one man who can provide that help. He is able to smell things in the air, his sense of direction unerring. His instincts are so attuned to the earth that he knows in his bones whether he and his traveling companions are in danger in any way or form. Then one day, he discovers a wounded camel who seems to be protecting a package inside a woven basket with his life – a young girl with “black pearls for eyes” and a pendant with the shape of half a star hung from a cord around her neck.

Issa does not know where the child came from, but he took care of her, named her Mariama, transmitting everything that he knows about the desert, the sand, the caves. As Issa gradually lost his sight due to old age, Mariama became his eyes. The young girl would describe in great detail what she sees and Issa would provide directions:

“The cloud is like the skin of a grey fish.” Or, “Now we are passing the line of thorn trees that look like old women lifting their shawls over their heads.”

There is something about this story that drew me to it. The art work by P. J. Lynch, as per usual, is unparalleled. But there is also a simplicity to the narrative that spoke volumes as one reads about the unlikely friendship between an old man and a girl-child, and the remarkable compassion that allowed an old man to take care of a foundling, regardless of where she comes from. How the story ends I shall leave for you to discover.    

Star Child

Written and Illustrated By: Claire Nivola
Published by: Frances Foster Books, 2014
ISBN: 0374371822 (ISBN13: 9780374371821)Borrowed from Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

While scientists and scholars have always claimed that we are all stardust, or children of the stars and the universe, this lovely picturebook shows the human life cycle in such a way that affirms this truth.

The story begins with a star child with a deep longing to find out what it is like to live on Earth. But his elders responded by saying:

“You are a flame of vapor, invisible and timeless. To visit planet Earth you will have to be born as a human child.”

If the star child does decide to visit Earth, he goes through the entire process of being a helpless baby to immersing himself with the colours and wonders of Earth…

… until he reaches old age and totally forgets where he comes from.

I love the comforting feel it provides as it shows how we are all star children and that while we may forget where we come from, the universe embraces us regardless.

Places To Be

Written By: Mac Barnett Illustrated by: Renata Liwska
Published by: Balzer + Bray, 2017
ISBN: 0062286218 (ISBN13: 9780062286215)Borrowed from Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

This is a gentle and sweet story of several friends who are hurrying along as they have places to be. I initially thought that it would show actual places, but I was pleasantly surprised that the story managed to infuse various emotional states in the narrative:

While I found the text to be somewhat clunky on occasion, it was really the trademark softness of Liwska’s art that appealed to me:

Unlike other emotion-books that seem to regard children as simple-minded, and which usually reduce complex feelings into bite-sized emoticons, I like how this one encourages further thought and discussion.

While not my favourite Mac Barnett title, this is still definitely worth checking out.

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