Thursday, November 16, 2017

Summer by Cao Wenxuan illustrations by Yu Rong

Globalisation should mean children across the world have access to book treasures in every language.  Sadly this is not the case.  There are gate keepers who make choices about which books to translate and of course economic barriers which mean only a tiny fraction of all books published across the world reach us here in Australia.   If Cao Wenxuan had not won the Hans Christian Andersen medal in 2016 I am sure his book Summer would not have arrived in a local school library that I visited yesterday.

The cover of Summer is complex and perhaps makes more sense after reading this book.  Begin with the end papers.  The opening spread shows morning in a dry landscape with distant mountains and sparse straggly trees.  On the final spread the heat of the day has passed and it is the cool evening.

The story opens with a description of a cool environment near a river where animals and humans rest in the shade.  This contrasts with the next scene.

"In the meantime, on the parched grassland a group of animals desperately searches for shade."  The animals see a tree in the distance and race off to claim the shade. But "the tree is barely alive."   The elephant claims the shade but when he chases off his rivals everyone realises there is no shade. There is laughter but it is not directed at elephant - just the collective realisation that the shade they sought was not even there. Then a boy and his father walk across the grassland.  "The father's shadow completely covers the little boy. Calmly they walk under the blazing sun."

There is a lesson and a solution here for the animals and using graduated pages each animal makes shade and then invites another to rest.  Lynx, jackal, leopard, brown bear, rhino, elephant, field mouse and beetle - everyone wins! And there is one more surprise.  This is a book that should be in every school library.

You can find more books by Cao Wenxuan from Twinkling Books.  I am waiting to see the book he shared at the recent USBBY conference - Lemon Butterfly.  I hope this one also comes to the attention of a publisher and translator very soon.

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