Days with Dad

Korean artist Nari Hong’s debut picture book is both heart-warming and instructive. A disabled father apologizes for all the things he cannot do with his daughter, such as riding a bike or playing soccer. Yet, from making sandcastles to ice fishing, the young daughter lovingly recognizes all the things that she enjoys doing with her father. Based on Hong’s own experience, Days with Dad questions the norms of family fun without moralizing and affectingly celebrates the father-daughter bond in its underrepresented iterations.

Popo’s Lucky Chinese New Year

Popo’s Lucky Chinese New Year offers a detailed lesson on the intricate customs of the Chinese New Year, but more importantly, it illustrates the ways rituals bring different generations together and how time spent with family makes rituals meaningful. In the story, Popo (grandmother) comes to the U.S. to help the young narrator and her family prepare for the Chinese New Year. Although the narrator is puzzled at times (red means lucky but writing a person’s name in red means the person will die) and finds the preparation hard work (all the washing and cleaning need to be done before New Year’s Day), she delights in the time she spends with her grandmother and family. Loh-Hagan’s book celebrates the wisdom and tradition that are passed down through generations. Readers will find the book informative in teaching children about the customs of the Chinese New Year and the joy of family.

My Museum

A young boy named Max visits an art museum in Joanne Liu’s wordless picture book My Museum. While others are busy turning to museum maps for guidance, Max walks right in and begins an exploration on his own terms. Instead of looking at Picassco’s Guernica, Max finds amusement in the puzzled looks of the viewers. Instead of pondering over the grandeur of Greek statues, Max sees art in the way a custodian holds a mop. A tree framed by a window, trails left by snails, elaborate tattoos on another visitor’s arm, a snowflake drawn in condensation on glass, and even his own shadow all become works of art to Max. Jenny Liu’s witty illustrations celebrate a child’s playfulness and boundless ability to transform the “ordinary” into art. Readers will savor the book’s delightful reminder that the power of art lies in its capacity to incite interactions and interpretations.

What What What?

It is not easy to be a child living a world where grownups seem to set arbitrary rules, especially when it comes to social etiquettes. While children are often praised for their curiosity and inquisitiveness, asking too many questions can quickly cross over to the realm of impudence. In Arata Tendo’s What What What?, a young boy named Pan struggles to understand why his incessant inquiries seem to constantly upset others. Seeing his father moping after a favorite baseball team had lost a match, Pan asks what happens next. When his father replies that the team will work even hard just like the father does, Pan asks, “’But haven’t you been watching TV all day? Shouldn’t you be working?’” Pan’s candid question is met with the father’s frustration. Yet, Pan persists in his inquiries, and his probing inadvertently becomes a source of comfort for those in distress. After befriending a boy named Kai, Pan soon realizes what he considers Kai’s Halloween makeup does not come off Kai’s face. Pan begins to question Kai’s wellbeing. Soon the community becomes involved in asking what had happened and what might be wrong with Kai. A master story-teller, Arata Tendo delves into the difficult subject of child abuse with language and scenarios that a child can easily understand. What What What? validates children’s curiosity without censorship and asks adult readers to question the contradictions of the social conventions that we help to set. This is a thoughtful book that will lead to thoughtful discussions and reflections by young and adult readers alike.

Silent Days, Silent Dreams

Silent Days, Silent Dreams, the Caldecott medalist Allen Say’s biography of the late artist James Castle, is well-researched and masterfully conceived. Castle grew up on a farm in Garden Valley, Idado. As a young child, he was ostracized by his family and community for his deafness and autism. While people scared him, materials in paper forms–books, catalogs, envelopes and packages–seized his attention. Soon, drawing and making paper crafts became not only a source of solace but a lifelong vocation for Castle. In Say’s book, Castle’s life story is told from the perspective of Castle’s nephew, who greatly admired Castle’s work. All biographers shoulder the responsibility of telling their subject’s story with honesty and fidelity. Say has made a powerful decision in choosing to imitate Castle’s style, as the influence of Castle’s artistic accomplishments literally lives on through Say’s drawings. One of the most affecting mimicries is Say’s use of framing borders around each illustration, as each illustration becomes a piece of art through which Castle’s life is narrated and examined. Such borrowing from Castle’s artistic style not only pays homage to the late artist’s work but also powerfully demonstrates the way that Castle’s life is inextricably connected to his art. This is a book to be read and reread.

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