Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

By Maureen Tai, 8 September 2020

James opened his eyes to the world and saw things that moved and things that were still. … For him the world would always be silent.

I had the good fortune to hear the publisher Arthur A. Levine speak as a panellist on a Zoom video conference recently and he talked about how he was always on the hunt for “beautiful books.” That term stuck with me, and it was almost serendipitous to see Arthur’s name on the inside front flap of the achingly beautiful and hauntingly melancholic picture book, Silent Days, Silent Dreams. I am a big fan of the Japanese-American author and illustrator, Allen Say (see my earlier review of his autobiographical picture book, Grandfather’s Journey) and I am glad to have had his – and Arthur’s – guiding hands in my quest to seek out picture books about lesser known artists. James Castle was one such artist.

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Sweep by Louise Greig & illustrated by Julia Sardà

By Maureen Tai, 16 June 2020

Ed was in a bad mood.

IMG_1492Books about big emotions are popular in our household. One of my favourites is Sweep, a gorgeously illustrated picture book that tells the charming cautionary tale of what happens when a sandy haired boy called Ed allows his bad mood to sweep him off his feet. We open with Ed, all bundled up in a heavy coat, a woolly hat on his head and a long scarf twirled around his neck, pulled up to cover almost all of his face. He’s dressed for Covid-19, and he’s very, very angry. Continue reading

Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola

By Maureen Tai, 27 April 2020

IMG_8888Tomie dePaola’s recent and unexpected demise prompted me to revisit one of his classic stories, Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs. First published in 1973, this softly illustrated picture book is based on the author’s life when he was a child. It is a touching memoir of the close relationship between a little boy, Tommy, and his grandmothers, and is a lovely, albeit lump-in-the-throat inducing read, in particular for young ones who are grieving the loss of a grandparent. Death is never an easy topic to discuss with children and dePaola’s simple yet heartfelt story makes talking about loss a little easier. It also reminds us to savour the moments that we spend with our loved ones as each of those moments, however trivial or fleeting, becomes a memory that we can treasure once that person is gone. Continue reading

In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van & illustrated by April Chu

By Maureen Tai, 5 April 2020

“In a fishing village by the sea, there is a small house.”

IMG_7158Growing up, I’d never lacked for books but I’d also never read any stories that reflected my Asian heritage or experiences. It was not until I was much older that I realised how greatly my worldview had been shaped by a foreign (read: British) influence and how little knowledge, pride and appreciation I had for children’s stories told by Asians. I have avowed to remedy this, not only for myself but for my own half-Malaysian children, and I am always on the look out for picture books that are proudly and unapologetically Asian. In a Village by the Sea is one such recent discovery, a gentle and sumptuously illustrated ode to fisherfolk in Vietnam.

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