Where Will I Live?

This is a sobering book to read at any age, and not likely to be many parents’ first choice for an easy bedtime story. It’s made up of very simple, direct text, and photographs that actually do most of the talking, but the speakers themselves are all children of refugees, asking many questions children really shouldn’t need to ask.

Although accompanied by impressive credentials—written by the Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations with photographs from the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)—the simple structure of the book did strike me with some concern. While it conveys a universal humanity among the children depicted, and may make it easier for kids to digest a dark subject, the issues at its core are far from one-dimensional, and I wonder if there is a cost to showing our children yet more images of black and brown people suffering in a faraway place. That being said, I still think this is a very important book to be reading—and crucially, talking about—to children. Responsibility lies with parents, guardians, and teachers to share this story with care.

Ocean Meets Sky

I savored the experience of this whimsical book and its lovely, dreamlike illustrations. I can remember being drawn magnetically into picture books like this as a kid: carried smoothly along by an uncomplicated but elegant story, with just a touch of something magical. Remembering his late grandfather, young Finn travels in his dreams across the ocean, encountering wise and beautiful creatures and fantastic islands. During his journey Finn becomes smaller and smaller in comparison to the vast treasures within the sea of his imagination. He wonders about what he sees but never questions the journey or fears its dream logic. A wonderful little story with which to contemplate life (and loss), the scope of the world, and the power of the creative mind.

The Turtle Ship

Ku Rhee and Kong-Savage share an intriguing tale with delicate collage illustrations about the mysterious origins of the Joseon-dynasty Korean battleship Gobukson. While I know next to nothing about naval history, I was happy to jump into fifteenth-century Korea to learn from young protagonist Sun-sin and his wise friend Gobugi the turtle. Sun-sin dreams of traveling the world from the beaches of his fishing-village and sees his chance in a contest held by the King to design a new battleship. Nobody expects much from the little boy, but he has inspiration on his side from his very own unsinkable Gobugi.

The Turtle Ship distills some valuable core lessons about learning from nature, persevering, and recognizing the power of small things. And Sun-sin, the boy who dreamt of traveling the sea, gets to be surrounded by lovely paper from around the world in the book’s lush collaged illustrations.

The Barbers Dilemma, and Other Stories from Manmaru Street

Equal parts weird and wonderful, Oguma’s collection of stories have the unpredictable, mischievous quality of dreams or children’s jokes. In each tiny vignette, usually just a few paragraphs long, we learn about one of the inhabitants of Manmaru street, who seem more particularly than the average person to enjoy making unusual sounds, wondering about the feelings of inanimate objects, or wearing food as hats. The wild and colorful illustrations don’t make much more sense, but are as carefree and cheerful as the stories. And on Manmaru street, no matter the inconvenience caused by Mr. Yosuke’s super long boots splashing muddy water, or the traffic signal suddenly beginning to dance, everyone finds a way to get along and accommodate the quirks of their neighbors, even if they don’t understand them. When Mr. Tuchida builds a house on his own head, one of the builders is kind enough to put a cold compress on his aching neck. In Oguma’s world, there is no desire to judge those behaving differently, only to enjoy observing them.

Ba-chan the Ninja Grandma: An Adventure with Little Kunoichi the Ninja Girl

Ishida shares an installment from her series of stories about Little Kunoichi, a girl who is just like any other—but also a ninja. Filled to the brim with sweet and detailed illustrations, the book takes us on an adventure without much of a plot, but a large helping of imagination. In a quirky, un-structured format complete with maps, mazes, and occasional Japanese vocabulary, the book drifts through a visit to Ba-chan, Little Kunoichi’s grandmother, who is also a scientist, cha-cha dancer, and builder of underwater amusement parks.

Ba-chan teaches her grandchildren a few lesser-known forms of ninja skills (jutsu)—like recycling, not overvaluing money and possessions, and, of course, “group-hug-jutsu”. But the most lasting lesson she leaves is to let your imagination run wild, as Ishida certainly did while creating Little Kunoichi’s charming ninja world.

They Say Blue

Tamaki’s They Say Blue is a whimsical journey through a child’s imagination, exploring what we can see and what it might mean—envisioning perhaps something different than it seems on the outside. Simple colors, often provided by nature and the seasons, inspire the narrator to picture herself transforming fluidly, from a little girl with black hair to a sprouting tree with green leaves. She looks at the animals she comes across and ponders what they see in turn. Without need for a point to drive home, the story drifts among lovely illustrations at a gentle pace, evoking pleasure in making observations about the colors and shapes the world takes around us and cultivating a sense of wonder in it.

Mixed: A Colorful Story

Mixed delivers a simple but logical platform to introduce or explore ideas of xenophobia and tolerance. The setup is not too shocking: the Reds, Yellows, and Blues begin to argue about which color is best, until the introduction of a whole new shade helps them to see beauty in their differences. As a kid, I can remember the satisfaction I felt from learning that certain colors could mix to create whole new ones, and the idea of using that concept to illustrate much larger issues of human nature is clever.

This telling keeps things a bit too simple for my taste sometimes—that everyone will love and accept new colors and live happily ever after together is not such an accurate metaphor for the larger world. But it does use a solid and elegant concept to distill difficult ideas, provides a very positive example for mixed-race children, and lays down a foundation for acceptance.

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