“Wave” by Suzy Lee. Chronicle Books, 2008.

With black charcoal and turquoise blue paint on a stark white background—and no words—a young girl’s day of discovery at the beach comes to life in this delightful book by Korean artist Suzy Lee.

Lee uses the panoramic format of the book and simple but evocative art to bring to life a child’s encounter with the sea. On the title page the girl leaves her mom’s side to run toward the surf, and through the following pages, a story unfolds, ending with the girl waving goodbye to a new friend.

In the beginning the girl stays on the safety of the left-side page, testing and dodging the water on the other side of the book. When she steps into the bright blue water on the right-side page the action kicks up a notch.

Wordless books give parents and children opportunities to develop language skills and are thought to encourage creativity and vocabulary in readers of all ages. They provide an opportunity for parents to switch roles with their kids, to let the kids tell them a story. And when the art and story are as engaging as those in Wave, it can’t help but lead to fun.

“Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story” by Hena Khan. Illustrated by Julie Paschkis. Chronicle Books, 2008.

The holiday, Ramadan, began in North America this year with the crescent moon on August 22, and continued through September 20, following the Islamic calendar. For non-Muslims it may have been easy to miss. In my neighborhood, I know by the increased number of cars parked around as people gather at a nearby community center in the evenings during the celebratory month.

Pakistani American author Hena Khan, and illustrator Julie Paschkis (a Seattle resident) have collaborated on a beautiful book to explain, from a child’s perspective, some of the holiday’s traditions. Yasmeen and her family follow the moon through its monthly cycle marking the holiday, and each evening they prepare feasts to break the adults’ day-long fast. The family goes to their mosque, attended by people of many different races and cultural backgrounds. They have family and friends over for a backyard barbecue. They exchange gifts.

Paschkis borrows the motifs and jewel-tone colors of Islamic art to create boldly painted illustrations that bring the celebration to life.

This book can be appreciated by both Muslim and non-Muslim children, and help fill a disgraceful void in materials that should be available to all American children to help them know the people around them.

“A Song for Cambodia” by Michelle Lord. Illustrated by Shino Arihara. Lee & Low Books, 2008.

511vHWvkRbL._SL500_AA240_The true story of Arn Chorn-Pond, a Cambodian who survived the Khmer Rouge children’s work camps. Coming from a happy, musical family, he survived because he was chosen to play propaganda music, which allowed him to mentally escape from the horrors around him. After four years in the work camp, at age 12, he was sent to fight the Vietnamese as a soldier. He eventually was able to run away and get to a Thai refugee camp. There he met and was adopted by an American volunteer. Chorn-Pond now does humanitarian work in the US and Cambodia and was the subject of a PBS documentary, “The Flute Player”, in 2003.

The challenge of writing such a difficult story for children is well met by Michelle Lord in this book, without sensationalism or over sentimentality. The story is told in ways to make the unthinkable events of Chorn-Pond’s life recognizable to a child. The fear and sadness at being separated from his family as a boy and the emotions of seeing the deaths of so many friends around him are neither sugar-coated nor over-explained.

It’s not easy to explain the real world to kids, and sometimes, when they are ready, something that can help you let them see the difficulties that happen in life, can be a gift. That Arn Chorn-Pond lived and continues to be such are remarkable positive influence on the world is a gift for all of us.

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