Every day is April Fool’s Day…

April 2020

Every day dawns with more unsettling and unbelievable news about the pandemic that has crippled the entire global community. Yet, as we grapple with voluntary self-isolation and quarantines, lockdowns and movement restriction orders, hand sanitisers and face masks, Spring cheekily sneaks up on us, tantalizing us with its warm breezes, baby animals, chocolate eggs, tender green shoots and blushing cherry blossoms. The season of rebirth and renewal is here at last.

This month, we remember a few notable picture book reads from our archives which we believe will help us get through the challenging weeks ahead. But before we get down to business, let’s wash our hands! While germs may look adorable, like the little tykes in Do not lick this book* (it’s full of germs) , their effects can be devastating, so let’s spend a protective 20 seconds at the sink.

With Spring comes the emergence of gardeners, eager to break ground in their gardens for the year. Emily Hughes’ charming picture book, The Little Gardener, tells the tale of a very small and single-minded gardener with very big ambitions. Another delightful rhyming board book bursting with fruity cheer is Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s Each Peach Pear Plum , which I enjoyed reading to the kids as much as they loved listening to it when they were babies. But for the here and now, O’Hara Hale’s BE STILL, life  is a playful exploration of the natural world and its inhabitants, rather like a fresh spring breeze whispering to us to slow down and open our senses to our surroundings. Finally, the theme of reincarnation and rebirth is philosophically contemplated by a grandchild in Shinsuke Yoshitake’s whimsical What Happens Next? There is life after death, and we are reminded of this in April as Christians commemorate their most important festival, Easter, and as the Chinese pay their respects to their departed ancestors on Tomb Sweeping Day.

For the poets among us, the spirit of Spring is elegantly encapsulated in Mary Oliver’s poem about the season, reproduced below with the greatest respect and gratitude. In closing, may your Spring be a bountiful one, and may your many reads be good.

Maureen, Ben & Anna

Spring

Somewhere
a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
rising
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
coming
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her—
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

 

Skipping Ahead to March then…

March 2020

It was a leap year February and the extra day did nothing but make the already awful month even more unbearable. Our arrival in Malaysia for the Chinese Lunar New Year coincided with the global outbreak of the now-christened Covid-19 coronavirus that soon spiralled out of control as stocks of face masks, hand sanitizers, antiseptic handwash and toilet paper were depleted in frenzied bouts of panic-buying. We spent our days and nights in self-imposed quarantine, Anna and Ben trying to keep up with distance learning while I struggled to bear burdens of a personal nature. Before we knew it, we had waded into March and we were back in our adopted home, Hong Kong, facing an anxious future in a changed place. Is this the new normal, I wonder, where we assess each person we meet – family, friend or stranger – for how “safe” they are? Is she ill? Has he washed his hands? Didn’t they just fly back from an highly infected area? Do we – can we – trust them? Do we dare trust ourselves?

In these disquieting times, we find solace in the arts – in the written word, the painted canvas, the moulded sculpture, the haunting song, the arch of the bent back, and the multicoloured chevrons of knitted yarn. May we find ourselves still afloat at March’s end, and stronger for having swum against the currents.

Be safe, and read always.

Maureen, Anna & Ben

IMG_6439

“Shall we escape from this island? To the other island over there?”

Hello, New Year

January 2020

The last few weeks of 2019 went by in a blur of family and feasting. We chose to stay home, in Hong Kong, and to house all our visitors in our flat. Freed from the frenzy of holiday planning and once-in-a-lifetime-experience administration, we took each day as it came, filling the hours with whatever activity struck our fancy, whatever favourable weather conditions rendered propitious. This allowed us to explore, for the first time, relatively far-flung tourist destinations such as the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Hai Gardens in Diamond Hill and to discover new attractions such as the majestic Xiqu Theatre in West Kowloon. We ate ourselves into a stupor, Anna valiantly trying, but not succeeding, in breaking her record of 16 Shanghai pork dumplings consumed in one sitting. We watched good TV (the Mandalorian), tradition TV (the Red and White show, and “White Christmas”) and nostalgia TV (Karate Kid – the original with Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita). We bought books. We tried to read. We bickered. We nagged. We rolled our eyes in frustration. We even got a little bored.

By the end of December, we were ready to sneak up on 2020 rather like a puppy inching its way closer and closer to an unfamiliar mound of freshly dug earth. Playfully curious, yet filled with equal parts of anticipation and dread.

Jump in, the New Year beckoned. The water’s warm in places, absolutely freezing in some parts, mostly calm – you hope! – but turbulent when you least expect it. Would you have it any other way?

May your New Year be filled with love, peace, hope and many, many stories.

With love,
Maureen, Anna & Ben