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[DiverseKidLit] Trancending Linguistic Boundaries in Mother-Daughter Bonds as Portrayed in Picturebooks

"Hands & Hearts" by Donna Jo Napoli and Amy Bates | "Say It" by Charlotte Zolotow and Charlotte Voake.

Myra here.

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Diverse Children’s Books is a book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children’s books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds.

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These two glorious titles demonstrate how a mother’s love knows every language there is in the world: conveyed through gestures, words, and touch.


Hands & Hearts (With 15 Words In American Sign Language)

Written by Donna Jo Napoli Illustrated by Amy Bates
Published by Harry N. Abrams (2014)
ISBN: 1419710222 (ISBN13: 9781419710223). Book was borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

A mother and daughter spend a glorious day at the beach: from the time that they set out from their home until the time they say good-bye to the waves in the late afternoon, the reader witnesses cuddles and comfort, playful runs and sandcastles.

What made this book distinctive is the presence of the illustrated sign language, teaching the reader how to sign 15 words in total, including laugh, roll (see image above), and sunset just to cite several. The pastel colours contributed even more to the calming, comforting, and laidback vibe.

While I was not a fan of the rhyming text that served more like a caption to the illustrations of a day spent at the beach rather than an actual story – I appreciated the extensive Author’s Note which highlighted Donna Jo Napoli’s advocacy on deaf cultures and sign languages. I especially liked how she pointed out the expressive subtlety in sign language:

A small change in hand-shape or movement of the arm and hand, for example can give a different message – sometimes entirely different, sometimes only slightly different. This means that children who sign can express subtle distinctions that in a spoken language might call for specialized or grown-up vocabulary. I love that about sign languages. They give children expressive power at a very young age.

What I found especially striking, however, is the gift of time and joy expressed through open embraces, ear-to-ear smiles, and the little gestures conveying warmth, love, and affection.


Say It!

Written by Charlotte Zolotow Illustrated by Charlotte Voake
Published by Candlewick Press (2015, first published in 1980)
ISBN: 0763681156 (ISBN13: 9780763681159). Book was borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

A mother and daughter are walking down the road, spending an unhurried day together, looking at golden leaves and milkweeds, saying hello to a black kitten and a big dog that cross their path.

Throughout their walk, the young girl was insisting to her mother that she has to say it. Each time that the mother says something, though, about the wild, wondrous, dazzling day or the golden, shining, splendiferous day that they are spending together – the young girl says “No, that’s not what I mean.”

I loved the mother’s patience, and the fact that it was such a leisurely, almost-aimless kind of walk did not escape my notice, too. The daughter’s insistent prodding also reminded me of Bernard Waber and Suzy Lee’s Ask Me (see my review here) …

.. which features a father and a daughter taking a walk in the park, amidst the golden colours of autumn too – making them a perfect book to pair together.

What the young girl wants her mother to say, I shall leave for you to discover. This is a deceptively-simple story that features the many ways we convey our love, not just through words, but also the spaces between words.


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#WomenReadWomen2019: Charlotte Zolotow, Donna Jo Napoli, and Amy Bates are from the United States of America, Charlotte Voake is from the United Kingdom.

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Singapore. 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 serves as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference. 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 or meeting up with her book club friends, she is smashing that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life.

1 comment on “[DiverseKidLit] Trancending Linguistic Boundaries in Mother-Daughter Bonds as Portrayed in Picturebooks

  1. Pingback: [DiverseKidLit] More Than Just A Scarf in “Mommy’s Khimar” – Gathering Books

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