Friday, July 30, 2021

A Prince and his Porcelain Cup illustrated by Li Jian Translated by Yijin Wert

"The little prince was very lonely without any friends in the palace. He looked at all the porcelain pieces in the palace and loved them. Every day he carefully wiped his mother's favourite porcelain cup."  The cup he loves is called The Chicken Cup. In a fit of rage the little boy breaks this precious cup.

Image Source: Commons Wikimedia

The Prince takes the cup to a porcelain craftsman and over time the wise old man shows the boy how his cup was made from clay on the potters wheel, the care that need to be taken with painting on the design, and finally the placement in the very hot kiln. The little prince comes to realise this is a complex process and his broken cup cannot be repaired. In later years when he became the Emperor, the little prince is still thinking about his mother's cup. He summons the best craftsmen and finally "The Emperor's wish can true. It was like his mother's favourite cup had returned to him."

You can see some art from this book here.

The chicken cup is from the Ming Dynasty. The word chicken in Chinese is similar to the word luck and so chickens symbolise fortune and happiness. Read more here.

About Li Jian: Li Jian graduated from Hebei Normal University in 2001, majoring in Chinese Painting. Formerly a middle school art teacher, children's book editor and a partner in an illustration studio, Li now owns his own illustration studio focusing on illustrations for children's fairy tales. He has many bilingual books about Chinese culture and stories, such as his Chinese Zodiac Series and the stories of Mulan and Zheng He. Source - Shiny Lantern

A Prince and his Porcelain Cup is a dual language text in English and Chinese. Here are some other books illustrated by Li Jian. He has an excellent series which feature the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Tiger Brother will be published in 2022 (The Year of the Tiger). 

I suggest you also look for A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park as a companion text to share with an older reader. This is a story set in Korea which also focuses on the skills involved with pottery.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Beautiful Day: Petite poems for all season by Rodoula Pappa illustrated by Seng Soun Ratanavanh

The subtitle of this book is: Petite poems for all seasons.

Blurb: "In simple, haiku-inspired poems, a child observes their world from spring to summer and autumn through winter in this gentle ode to the seasons, accompanied by exquisite illustrations."

Haiku - short Japanese poems that capture a moment in time. Usually they have a pattern of 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second and 5 again in the third but modern haiku can vary this as happens in this book.

I promise
dewy little strawberry
I won't pick you.

This book has the most beautiful design from the dust jacket; the surprise different cover under the dust jacket; end papers; title page; and every scrumptious illustration created with a beautiful palette of red, yellow, teal, orange and caramel using Japanese washi patterns.  

Here is the image under the cover, the end papers and the back cover:

Among the reeds,
a new galaxy - 

Rodoula Pappa is a writer and translator of children’s books. Her first book The boy with the tree (2012) was awarded the Greek National Prize for Children’s Literature.

Here is the original edition of Beautiful Day with the title On puppy's nose, a grasshopper (Στη μύτη του κουταβιού μια ακρίδα). This illustration can be found inside the book - it is my favourite.

What a deep sleep!
On puppy's nose,
a grasshopper.

Seng Song Ratanavanh was born in Laos and now lives in Paris. Her illustrations are inspired by Japanese art and full of brightly patterned colours. Speaking about her work the Wall Street Journal said "The illustrations in some picture books are so devouringly gorgeous that it almost doesn't matter what the words say." Here are some of her other books:

While so many international picture books have become very expensive here in Australia with some over $40 I am happy to report right now (July 2021) Beautiful Day is less than $20 and it is hardcover with a dust jacket. Add it to your shopping list today. 

Butterflies Belong Here by Deborah Hopkinson illustrated by Meilo So


"I wondered if I'd ever be brave enough to speak up, take charge, and be noticed."

First off let's take a close look at the full title of this book:

Butterflies Belong Here: A story of one idea, thirty kids, and a world of butterflies

Butterflies belong here implies something has gone wrong. That the butterflies are no longer in this place. We have to ask why?

A story of one idea and thirty kids - it must be time for activism and this will be led by the children beginning with one child and her idea.

A world of butterflies - hooray they have come back but why did they disappear in the first place?

Our young narrator explains:

"Monarch butterflies are soft and gentle, like my baby brother. Some monarchs make a long, long journey, just like we did. They have to be strong to fly so far."

In Summer our narrator begins to look for monarch butterflies with their large black and orange wings. She has read about them in a library book. (I love the Teacher-Librarian in this book).  There are none to be found. Why?

"Monarchs need a special plant called milkweed. ... (but) Milkweed is in trouble, and so monarchs are too. I learned that in 20 years, the number of monarchs has fallen by 90 percent. The problem is big and butterflies are so small."

The young girl keeps reading about this precious creature and she discovers a solution. They need to make a monarch way station - a garden filled with milkweed and nectar flowers. After sharing this idea with her class everyone joins in the project. The children build a way station.  Then the class project expands into the whole school and from there to the local council.

This is one of those truly special books which combines a narrative as described above interspersed with double pages of facts and practical suggestions presented in an easy to read style with colourful scientifically accurate illustrations. This book would make a splendid addition to any school library collection. And as a bonus the illustrations by Meilo So are simply perfect. Meilo So was born in Hong Kong and educated in the United Kingdom. She lives with her family in the Shetland Islands, Scotland.  Take a look inside this book here. Here is a web site for Deborah Hopkinson.  

Deborah Hopkinson’s moving and educational story combines a fictional account of growing up with scientific information on butterflies. The structure is exceptionally effective in showing kids and adults that some children find their voice, discover a talent, or overcome hesitation or shyness when they become involved in a cause or activity they believe in. Celebrate Picture Books

Meilo So’s gorgeous and tender illustrations portray vibrant scenes of flower bedecked balconies, blooming community gardens, and a busy, colorful town. So cleverly depicts the library’s stacks of books in similar floral hues, connecting the nurturing of children and butterflies. Celebrate Picture Books

Images from: Books 4 Your Kids

I was excited to discover Meilo So illustrated the cover of Bronze and Sunflower. Here are some other books illustrated by Meilo So:

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The Music of the Sea by Susanna Isern illustrated by Marta Chicote Translated by Jon Brokenbrow


"The ever-changing music of the sea was there to keep her company. Sometimes it reminded her of church bells and other times of a great ship sailing towards the village. Once she imagined a choir of children singing together, and even a great opera."

Publisher blurb from Cuento de Luz: After a terrible storm batters a little coastal village, only Daniel the fisherman and his daughter Marina decide to stay behind. Every night Daniel sneaks out of the house, as he prepares to give Marina a wonderful surprise. The incredible music of the sea starts to play, and it changes the course of their lives.  A story about the power of hope, and the universal language of music.

The Music of the Sea was originally published in Spanish with the title: La Música del mar. Here is the trailer. You can see art from this book here. Marta Chicote has her profile listed as Marta Chicote Juiz.  Susanna was inspired to write this story after seeing this marine organ in Croatia

Isern’s lyrical narrative waxes poetic about the sea, whales, and the contentment found in a life close to nature, and Chicote’s illustrations, with their dreamlike quality, enhance the narrative. Kirkus

I would pair this book with The Whales' Song by Dyan Sheldon illustrated by Gary Blythe and Storm whale by Sarah Brennan illustrated by Jane Tanner.

I have talked about other books by Susanna Isern in previous posts:

Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Where are you from? Are you camping with your family? Where's your dad? - these are all questions Jack dreads.

Jack and his mum head off on a camping trip to Maine. They borrow the equipment they need and his mum hires a car. Mum is keen to write a list of all the things she wants to do and see in Maine. 

"These were supposed to be the best three days of his whole summer. The ones that were going to make up for the boring days he'd spent in their nothing-to-do apartment. Mom, in her exploding firecracker way had borrowed equipment, read online reviews, made lists of all the best places to visit, circled maps and even downloaded music for the car ride."

Jack joins in but when he makes suggestions of things to add to the list his mother gets mad. Jack knows he has to tread carefully. His mum has moods - highs and lows - and things can be dangerous when she is unwell. Mum has warned Jack not to tell anyone about their lives. 

"Once, Nina has asked him why he was alone so much, and he had tried to tell her - tell her about his mom's pinwheel times. How sometimes the air felt so still to her, like there wasn't any oxygen or breezes to be found. These times made his mother so prickly, she could hardly sit still."

"That's what worry did to Jack, it made him incredibly tired - tired the way his mom always was after the spinning times. She'd come home and crawl into bed, close the shades, pull up the covers, and that's where Jack would find her for days - sometimes even weeks - after a spinning time."

When Jack wakes up on the first morning of their trip the hire car is gone, his mother is gone and so is her little tent. Jack is alone and confused. The next few days will be terrible for Jack and harrowing for you, the reader, as Jack tries to find his mother, tries to stay away from the authorities and he tries to simply survive. 

Everything seems to against Jack. He accidentally swims with his phone, he breaks his little finger and is in excruciating pain and then all of his gear is stolen. Jack does need help but the warnings issued by his mother are powerful and so he keeps running and searching and trying to reach his, ever changing, destination.

"No!' he shouted. No! No! No! How could he have been so stupid? He had forgotten. Forgotten his phone was in his pocket. Forgotten and gone swimming! The phone was totally soaked. ... Totally soaked and totally dead."

"All Jack had left was a water bottle, the clothes on his back, and one small, plastic elephant."

The one thing that keeps Jack going is his desire to see a live elephant.  When he was a child he had a special experience:

"But the elephant had tapped him again and kept on tapping him until he lifted his head and looked over at her. Slowly, slowly, she'd reached out her trunk again and touched his cheek. Jack remembered giggling, remembered feeling as if the elephant tent were the safest place in the world."

If you, or your reading companion, can cope with the severe mental health issues raised in this book, then I would recommend this gripping story of survival for readers aged 11+. If you need more plot details here is a review by Book Aunt.

His love and knowledge of elephants both sustains him and pleasingly shapes the story arc. Jack’s journey to a new kind of family is inspiring and never sappy. Kirkus

I previously read two books by Jennifer Richard Jacobson -  Paper Things and The Dollar kids.

Other books which explore mental illness in a parent:

Small as an Elephant reminded me of this one also about a desperate journey.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Little Night Cat by Sonja Danowski

Tony and his mum are heading to a grand summer party which is partly a fund raiser for the local animal shelter. Tony has decided he will donate all his precious stuffed animal toys to the raffle.

"The cats and dogs needed food and medicine, and that cost a lot of money."

His mum helps him to pack all of his toys into a huge bag. Mum takes her cello to the fair and while she is setting up Tony visits some of the cats in the shelter. There is a huge grey tomcat who seems to look straight at Tony as he hums a special song composed by his mother called 'Little Night Cat'.  The music for this is included at the back of the book and I am thrilled to have found a video where someone plays this haunting tune

At the end of the day the lucky raffle winners head home with all of Tony's stuffed animals. That night, Tony has trouble falling asleep. He misses all of his animal friends and his bed feels so empty. His mother takes down an old suitcase and shows him her own old beloved stuffed cat called Paul. He is looking a little battered but Tony's mum sews on new button eyes and Tony falls asleep cuddling his new friend. 

When Tony arrives home from school the next day there is a wonderful surprise waiting in the hallway. It's Valentine - the huge grey cat from the shelter. Tony and his mum will now be his new family.

A gentle story that children will return to time and time again.  Kirkus Star review

Here are some illustrations from this book:

In preparation for a talk I am doing for IBBY Australia on International Illustrators I wanted to share the work of German illustrator Sonja Danowski here on my blog. This book is available in German, Turkish, Spanish, Chinese, Catalan, Romanian, Greek and Russian. 

Here is an interview with Sonja where she talks about Little Night Cat and shares some of her original sketches. I have also included a couple of quotes from this interview:

In Little Night Cat I combined several aspects that I value and consider important: children, animals and music, generosity and charity, understanding within the family, and also the management of anguish and disappointment.

I wanted to show Tony's joy, courage and petty concerns, and express his mother's sympathy and love; I wanted to make Valentine look like a shy and cuddly cat.

I met Sonja Danowski at the USBBY Conference in Seattle. Prior to the conference I discovered her exquisite art and so it was exciting to meet her in person (fan girl).

One more thing - here is a tiny portion of the scrumptious end papers.

Here are some other books illustrated by Sonja Danowski. In the Garden with Flori is due for publication early in 2022.