When a young boy visits his grandfather, their lack of a common language leads to confusion, frustration, and silence. But as they sit down to draw together, something magical happens - with a shared love of art and storytelling, the two form a bond that goes beyond words.
I learnt most of my major life principles from picture books (yes, yes, now it aaaaall makes sense), which is why they have such a special place in my heart, and part of the reason why my first published work was a picture book.
This book is one I’ve been trying to hunt down ever since I heard about it, because it is just so beautiful. I cannot describe enough how gorgeous and lush it is. As a reader and writer, I’m usually “all about the text baby,” but even I have to talk about the art first when it comes to this book. Dan Santat is a Caldecott winner for a reason.
But the story? Oh my goodness - what a story Minh Le told!
I love picture books because of the depth of emotion you can mine from less than a few hundred words (most picture books tend to be under the 600-word count, unless you’re in Nigeria where we must see what we have paid for) – this story can teach a masterclass in that.
As a child, I used to stay at my maternal grandparents’ place while my mum and dad worked. This resulted in me speaking mostly in Yoruba. Being a very cute child, who belonged to a model looking mother with some crazy good English diction, this led to some embarrassing moments; Like the time at the airport when everyone was cooing over me and my mum was preening, only for me to tug at her hand and say in a Very loud voice, “Mummy, mummy, mo fe yagbe!” For my dignity, I shall not translate for those who don’t understand. If you don’t know what it means, find yourself a Yoruba speaking friend.
I have never lived that story down.
Moving along, we moved to the UK when I was five or six. In order to get me assimilated quickly, my mum spoke only English and, somewhere along the way, I completely forgot my Yoruba. Going back to Nigeria over the Christmas holidays, we used to visit a great aunt who only spoke Yoruba. By that time, I could only speak English. As you can imagine, conversation did not flow freely.
This book deals with that situation: a young boy is dropped off at his grandfather’s place but he only speaks English and his grandfather only speaks Thai. At some point in the evening, the boy gives up and goes off to draw. His grandfather comes to see what he’s up to and goes off to get his sketchpad; from there, magic happens and they find a language beyond words. And that’s all I can say because … get this book!
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