Flash Review: This Small Blue Dot by Zeno Sworder

By Maureen Tai, 12 December 2022

How do you welcome a baby brother or sister into the world? What words of wisdom can you dispense? (especially if you’re not that much older yourself, even if you look like your grandmother and your mother when they were your age, and you don’t think about it yet, but your children and grandchildren will possibly look like you when they become the age you are now). How do you tell your baby sibling about the small blue dot that is your home, your entire world, your universe? How do you explain the creations of Mother Nature (broccoli notwithstanding), the wonders of the human imagination, the marvel of being alive?

I’ll tell you how (and you don’t have to keep it a secret, in fact, you absolutely HAVE TO share this precious nugget of information): you pick up a lovely illustrated picture book called This Small Blue Dot (ages 3+) and you read it out loud – by yourself or with a grown-up – while gazing at the gorgeously pencil-drawn little girl with glasses on her black-hair-fringed face and admiring the crayon scribbles that look as if you could have drawn them (seriously!). When you’re done, you’ll feel this bubbly, happy feeling, and you’ll want to explore, and love, the world around you and everything in it! After all, that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

Flash Review: Paper Son by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki

By Maureen, 17 October 2022

Paper Son (ages 5+) is an atmospheric, lyrical and gorgeously illustrated non-fiction picture book about the journey of a little Chinese boy to the USA, the Gold Mountain of many immigrant dreams in the early part of the 1900s. To fulfil the American immigration requirements at the time, the boy must assume an alternative, fictitious identity, becoming a zi jai or “paper son.” After an initial hiccup at the border, the boy is ultimately reunited with his father in their new homeland. Christened Tyrus by his teachers, the boy’s new life begins…but how does it end? The grim realities of immigrant life – both what is lost and what is gained – are lightly touched upon, but at the heart of the story is Tyrus’ unremitting love for, and belief in, his own form and style of art, and how this love carried him through to the end of his days. A poignant and heartwarming introduction for younger readers to the topics of Chinese immigration and resilience.

Flash Review: The Happiest Tree by Hyeon-Ju Lee

By Maureen Tai, 8 August 2022

In The Happiest Tree, a tender, quietly philosophical picture book (ages 3+) by Korean writer and illustrator, Hyeon-Ju Lee, a young gingko tree is planted next to a row of apartment buildings. As the tree grows taller, what it sees through the windows of the building changes. The ground floor apartment bustles with little children at piano class. Several years later, the tree discovers that its ramrod straight trunk and fan-like leaves are inspiration for the artist who lives on the second floor. By the time the tree reaches the third floor of the building, and is able to look into the Kong’s canine-filled apartment, it is seventeen years old and living its happiest days. But seasons change, as seasons must, and the tree now spends lonely hours as it continues to age. As the tree grows closer and closer to the top of the building, it wonders, what lies ahead? Through joy and sorrow, the gingko tree remains patiently resolute and quietly optimistic, arguably the best way to be, not only for a tree but for all sentient beings on this miraculous earth. The sparse, yet effective text and thoughtful, charming illustrations make this unusual picture book a keeper for any bookshelf.

Flash Review: Elsa and the Night by Jöns Mellgren & translated by Anita Shenoi

By Maureen Tai, 31 May 2022

In Elsa and the Night, an art-gallery worthy picture book (4 – 8 years old) that doubles as a bedtime story, the titular Elsa is a homely looking badger who doesn’t like raisins. One early morning, as she is picking the sweet morsels out of her granola, she hears something moving underneath her sofa. Cleverly, Elsa entices the intruder with a saucer of sugar and success! She captures a cup-sized, fish-wriggly, shadowy-grey creature that turns out to be Night, somehow having carelessly wandered into Elsa’s house. Rather impulsively, the badger pops the creature into a tin and shuts it away in the basement without a second thought. Except, as the day drags on interminably without any respite or end in sight, Elsa begins to doubt the wisdom of her actions. Elsa eventually releases Night from captivity, and tells the newly-resuscitated creature the melancholic story of how she lost her ability to sleep after suffering a tragic loss …

Elsa’s tale of loss and redemption is told in simple, poetic language and with a wry humour that will resonate with fans of other similar darkish, contemplative picture books such as Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch. What makes Elsa and the Night stand out are the simply breathtaking illustrations: gorgeous scenes drawn from interesting angles and perspectives, splashed with warm, muted tones of plum, chocolate, cornmeal and sage. A delightful Swedish treat from start to finish, and a story that will most certainly stay with me.