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[Saturday Reads] Love for Eight USBBY Outstanding International Picturebook Titles (2017)

Love for Outstanding USBBY International Picturebook Titles (2017)

Myra here.

I know that we are stretching our current reading theme a little bit here as we give love to this or that in our posts, but books need some romancing too, don’t they?

A few months ago, I shared in our Facebook Page the USBBY (International Board on Books for Young People – US Chapter) link to the outstanding international books of 2017. This appears like it has been published last year, but I have totally missed out on it, hence warranting an emergency trip to the library to hunt down whatever titles I can find. Here are some favourites from the ones that I managed to borrow from our libraries.


The Girl With The Parrot On Her Head (UK)

Written and Illustrated By: Daisy Hirst
Published by: Walker Books (2016)
ISBN: 1406365521 (ISBN13: 9781406365528). Borrowed from Jurong West Public Library. Book quotes taken by me.

This is a fairly straightforward story of friendship, dealing with transition and loss, grief and moving on, and ultimately finding joy in a new friend.

Reading this story reminded me a little bit of Life Without Nico by Andrea Maturana and Francisco Javier Olea (see my review here).

Given our rapidly evolving educational landscape filled with children moving from one part of the globe to the next, as geographical boundaries become more porous (and paradoxically more stringent too), there needs to be more narratives like this, highlighting a distinct sense of loss while showing growth and wholeness too.

It is also interesting how Isabel, the young girl in this story, coped with the absence of her friend by piling up her toys in boxes – kind of like shelving one’s emotions away, not to be disturbed, and never to be seen again. However, there is a box filled with wolves – how this conundrum is resolved with the help of this new boy in a box, I shall leave for you to discover.


Hurry Up Henry (Canada)

Written by Jennifer Lanthier  Illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant
Published by Puffin (2016)
ISBN: 0670068373 (ISBN13: 9780670068371)Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Henry is a young boy who prefers to take things easy. He is totally unlike most of his family who seem to have Type A personalities, rushing from one appointment to the next, always extra-vigilant about getting somewhere on time.

Henry’s somewhat laid-back personality is very similar to his Grandmother, the only one in the family who, like him, prefers to slow down, as they both pay closer attention to the world around them.

This book reminded me a little bit of Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith (see my review here).

Both narratives, in varying ways, emphasize the significance of being present and relishing the here and now as it happens.


A Year In Our New Garden (Germany)

Written and Illustrated by Gerda Muller
Published by Floris Books (2016, first published in 1988)
ISBN: 1782502599 (ISBN13: 9781782502593)Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Unlike the first two stories, this one is a little more text-heavy, interspersed here and there with interesting informational texts/facts related to plants, seeds, and recipes.

Similar to The Girl With The Parrot On Her Head, this story also talks about transition, as two siblings, Anna and Benjamin move into their new home. Their adjustment and transition into the new community is seen through the transformation of their garden across the different seasons.

There is also the very organic building of friendship among neighbours, particularly with Louis, a boy in a wheelchair, who lives in the apartment next door. There is nothing in the text that references the fact that Louis is differently-abled, it was simply taken as a matter of fact, and was never highlighted as an issue in the story. It just is.

Louis was never portrayed as helpless or someone to be pitied. In fact, he has such a strong sense of self-efficacy and agency that he even taught Benjamin and Anna a few tips to make their garden grow even more.

This story made me nostalgic for a time that is seemingly long-gone – with children playing in the garden, having fun outdoors, getting their hands and feet dirty as they dig deep into the earth, sensing with their bones what it means to be truly alive.


A Well-Mannered Young Wolf (France)

Written by Jean Leroy Illustrated by Matthieu Maudet
Published by Eerdmans Books For Young Readers (2016)
ISBN: 0802854796 (ISBN13: 9780802854797)Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

One thing I realized about myself is that I enjoy reading stories about wolves and foxes. This one has a fun twist to the narrative with a young wolf, so well-mannered, that he is determined to keep his promises, even if it means that he delays his gratification, and loses his prey altogether.

So each time he ensnares, say, a rabbit, he would politely ask his victim for its last wish, because that is, apparently how things should go. And this young wolf, apart from being a seemingly-good predator, simply follows tradition – that is good manners, after all. Clearly, though, his prey are not as well-mannered – every time he comes back, they have disappeared despite their promises, feeding his hunger even further!

That is, until he met this young boy who asked for a drawing for his last wish. Grumbling, the well-mannered wolf went back to his home, to retrieve his notebook and pencil.

Whether or not the wolf finds the boy waiting for him as promised when he returns, I shall leave for you to discover. I loved the ending in this narrative. So clever and hilarious.


Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words (Brazil)

Written by Ruth Rocha Illustrated by Madalena Matoso Translated by Lynn Miller-Lochman
Published by Enchanted Lion Books (2016)
ISBN: 1592702082 (ISBN13: 9781592702084)Literary Award: CLEL Bell Picture Book Awards Nominee for Read (2017). Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Pedro is a young, attentive boy, continually amazed at the world around him. However, he also recognizes that there are many things he does not understand. While he could see a lot of billboards and signs when he goes out into the streets, he does not understand exactly what they say apart from the images that are familiar to him.

For Pedro, they all seem to be just lines and squiggles. He also wondered how his mother is able to figure out which bus to take for them to go to school. Evidently, he has yet to learn his letters, but there is a definite hunger for this.

Thankfully, his teacher fed that hunger by introducing Pedro and his classmates very gradually to the wonderful world of letters. Soon enough, the things that Pedro sees around him began to make sense.

It did not come all at once, but when it did, it was like a switch has been flicked on, making him exclaim out loud: “Everyone, I can read!” This story reminded me of Elisa Amado and Manuel Monroy’s What Are You Doing? which we have yet to feature here in GatheringBooks.

Both international titles speak of that magic spark that happens when lines and squiggles turn into letters, then words, allowing a wide-eyed young child to devour books, finally.


The Pros And Cons Of Being A Frog (Australia)

Written and Illustrated by Sue De Gennaro
Published by Scholastic Australia (2012)
ISBN: 1742830633 (ISBN13: 9781742830636)Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

It is not too often that I come across a story about conflict resolution among young friends that is told with humour and celebration of peculiarity, yet remaining honest without necessarily sounding didactic.

Frogboy and Camille are nothing at all alike, but that is precisely why they became good friends. While our male protagonist loves wearing animal suits – Camille is math-crazy, so much so that sometimes she would only speak numbers (23 for yes, 17 for no). It was Camille who recommended the frog suit, which our Frogboy clearly adored. Except that he needs a friend, and Camille said 23 as Frogboy went about to create a suit especially made for Camille. Things, however, did not go as planned:

A fight was inevitable, with Camille finally packing up her bag, leaving with a cloud of 17 around her. When he was finally alone, Frogboy started thinking very deeply about what truly matters to him, and he listed down the pros and cons of being a frog.

What he eventually decided in the end, after he wrote down this very reasonable list, I shall leave for you to discover.


Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey Of A Mouse To The Moon (Germany)

Written and Illustrated by Torben Kuhlmann
Published by NorthSouth Books (2016)
ISBN: 0735842620 (ISBN13: 9780735842625)Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

We are finally getting down to my last two titles – which happen to be my favourites – among my eight top picks.

This one is an exquisitely-illustrated narrative of a genius-mouse (I am wondering now if Armstrong was a part of the Flowers for Algernon experiment) who was determined to travel all the way to the moon. Armstrong was under-appreciated by his fellow mice who would much rather attend to practical matters, such as finding cheese, for instance.

Hence, he took it upon himself to attend university, and learn from great minds to provide him with more ideas on how to realize his dream.

This is a remarkable story of persistence, courage, and unwavering will to finish what one has begun, no matter how unlikely or unpredictable the outcome will ultimately be.

There is grit, determination, and the willingness to work hard for the pursuit of the seemingly-impossible. I can not think of any reader who will not adore Armstrong.

The story also comes with a brief history of space travel in the end: extensive back-matter and additional resources that teachers would be more than happy with. I am now, unabashedly, a Torben Kuhlmann fan.


Imagine A City (Canada)

Written and Illustrated by Elise Hurst
Published by Doubleday Books For Young Readers (2016)
ISBN: 1101934573 (ISBN13: 9781101934579)Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

This is my first Elise Hurst picturebook, and definitely not my last one. This book is a celebration of sparse text, that tastes like poetry, and exquisite otherworldly images, begging to be touched and examined more closely.

It is a celebration of make-believe, of the fantastical and the familiar alike, and a world without boundaries:

I gasped each time I turned the pages, finding something new, marveling at the wonders that Elise Hurst captured for readers young and old, to delight in. This is a book that I feel I must own, and will open with great reverence, each time that my soul needs to be fed with beauty, and sunlight “breathed in a murmuring song.”

#LitWorld2018GB Update: Brazil, Germany – 16/17 of 40

UK, Canada, Australia, France

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