#IMWAYR: Picture Book Pandemonium, Part 12 (plus a travel diary)!

As I post this, I have returned from a weekend trip (not a vacation, per se, because my college semester isn't over!) with my family to accompany my younger brother to a conference! I brought three picture books along, and I decided I would read one per night and share each review along with a brief diary of how I spent each day on the trip!

Thursday

The day began with the, shall we say, intriguing experience of trying to participate in a Zoom call while sitting in the backseat of a car—my hotspot worked surprisingly well, but unmuting to speak and then hurtling forward when someone slams on the brakes is not ideal for getting your point across. But I made it work—a victory, but whether it's my victory or the victory of college's eternal time suck is another question. But things improved! We arrived at our lovely hotel room and my mom and I unpacked and meandered while my father and brother went to day 1 of the conference. I helped my mom with virtual chores, worked on a smidge of homework, and went with her to pick up food for my parents at a restaurant—and it was actually good! Hooray! And now as I write this, I have basically dissociated into my laptop while sitting on my hotel bed, with my library book next to me! My book has made quite the journey with me, but it was printed in China, so I suppose it's made longer treks.

The book:

What book is it? Love in the Library, written by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and illustrated by Yas Imamura

(Here's a link to preview the illustrations.)

Who recommended it? Alex Baugh at Randomly Reading, Beth Shaum at A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust, Earl Dizon at The Chronicles of a Children's Book Writer, Michele Knott at Mrs. Knott's Book Nook, Sierra Dertinger at Books. Iced Lattes. Blessed, and Linda Baie at TeacherDance!

What does the publisher say? "After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Tama is sent to live in a War Relocation Center in the desert. All Japanese Americans from the West Coast—elderly people, children, babies—now live in prison camps like Minidoka. To be who she is has become a crime, it seems, and Tama doesn’t know when or if she will ever leave. Trying not to think of the life she once had, she works in the camp’s tiny library, taking solace in pages bursting with color and light, love and fairness. And she isn’t the only one. George waits each morning by the door, his arms piled with books checked out the day before. As their friendship grows, Tama wonders: Can anyone possibly read so much? Is she the reason George comes to the library every day? Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s beautifully illustrated, elegant love story features a photo of the real Tama and George—the author’s grandparents—along with an afterword and other back matter for readers to learn more about a time in our history that continues to resonate."

What stood out to me? This is such a powerful story, and so much resonates here. We're in amazing hands with Maggie Tokuda-Hall's poetic, concise yet present narration and Yas Imamura's faded yet evocative illustrations.

Tokuda-Hall bases the story on her own grandparents, and she deftly shows not only how love can transcend hate for the oppressed (as Tama and George find one another even in a place almost bereft of hope), but how perhaps love can transcend hate for the oppressors too (that's up to us, though, not the characters of the story).

The story weaves in a delicate yet impactful exploration of the incarceration camps, while also characterizing Tama and George surprisingly well for such a short book. And their relationship develops in such a beautiful way—because the story is short, one small moment becomes the crux of the plot, and it implicitly reminds us that it's the small moments with those we love that truly matter.

I also love the gentle way that the significance of books and words is embedded into the story as well—I have found myself more entranced by the beauty of different words, so I related to that element in the plot here. Although it is saddening that even Tama had access to beautiful, meaningful stories in the incarceration camps, just as those are being pulled out of schools and libraries across our country.

Somewhat relatedly, I encourage you to check out this Twitter thread by Tokuda-Hall in which she reminds us that this era is not over. The same vitriol still exists, and the same atrocities keep happening, just better concealed (she reminds us of the mass incarceration of the prison systems, and her author's note in the book itself calls attention to the Muslim bans and the caging of children at the border).

I'd love to see someone who is less exhausted then I am unpack this story, because I imagine I have missed so much depth—this is truly something.

What's my verdict? A story of prejudice and of love, with so much depth, detail, and precision—don't miss it!

Friday

Today, my mom and I went on quite the shopping excursion—we intended to visit a CVS, but it ended up being a CVS inside of a Target, so we had a whole Target shop and found some cool stuff! And I also accompanied my mom for clothes shopping at two more stores, and she found some lovely new things to wear. (It's been really nice to spend some more time with her, since I'm usually off at college all day and don't get to talk to her much!) Beyond that, I worked semi-productively (a running theme) on an assignment, attended a brief meeting via video call, and wrote perhaps the most bizarre poem I've ever written (I'm curious to see what my classmates in poetry workshop will think...). And my brother informed us about his conference adventures—I'm very proud of him!!!

The book:

What book is it? I Love You Because I Love You, written by Mượn Thị Văn and illustrated by Jessica Love

(Here's a link to preview the illustrations.)

Who recommended it? Earl Dizon at The Chronicles of a Children's Book Writer!

What does the publisher say? "'I love you because you tell the best stories.

Because I love you, my best story is you.'

What are all the big and small reasons why we love the people we do? And what does it look like when we voice it out loud?

To be read aloud by one or even two people, this affirming prose demonstrates that love is a dialogue. Love is complex. Love is utterly simple.

This is what love looks like."

What stood out to me? This book, written by the author of the awe-inspiring Wishes, is a gorgeous, impactful ode to love. And all kinds of love, too, like parents, friends, siblings—each spread shows us in just two images how love expresses itself in different relationships. The diversity within each relationship is palpable—queer couples, transgender children, children on walkers, and endless racial diversity—meaning that every family will be able to see itself in this story. And each spread captures something different in each relationship—storytelling, exploring nature, making messes, or licking the icing right off the spatula.

Mượn Thị Văn's concise writing calls our attention to the beauty of each spread, and it can be read aloud by two people or just one. I did find it a bit confusing who was speaking (sometimes, it seems to change from one spread to the next, but other times, it seems to be the same), but it's less of an aggravation and more of a quirk that gets you thinking.

And Jessica Love's illustrations are drop-dead gorgeous—I don't normally gravitate toward illustrations this detailed, but the enormously varied spreads, vivid colors, and evocative facial expressions bring these relationships to life so quickly, you can barely believe it.

One random note: this would be a lovely gift to a family member, if you're looking for such a book.

I don't really have much else to say, but that's only because this story is deceptively simple—there is so much that resonates here.

What's my verdict? A powerful ode to love and diversity with gorgeous illustrations—I can't imagine who wouldn't want to read this!

Saturday

Beyond cramming in a little bit more shopping, the major event of the day was my mom and I driving from our hotel to a city about 80 miles away to visit my grandfather (a loyal reader of this blog) and his wife! We had a very nice visit for a few hours, although we spent just as much time in the car—the traffic on the way back was appalling. But it definitely gave my mom and I time to chat more in the car—and I also did some random chores on my cell phone that made me feel productive without having to do my homework (the best of both worlds, short-term at least). In the evening, my brother had a moment between conference events, and the four of us sat down and chatted for dinner—it was weird to think how little time I have spent with both him and my dad over this trip. And now I'm here in bed, writing up my last entry—we're gearing up for a pretty long day of travel on Sunday, but it's been a surprisingly nice trip overall!

The book:

What book is it? Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers, written by Lina AlHathloul and Uma Mishra-Newbery, and illustrated by Rebecca Green

(Here's a link to preview the illustrations.)

Who recommended it? Kellee Moye at Unleashing Readers!

What does the publisher say? "Loujain watches her beloved baba attach his feather wings and fly each morning, but her own dreams of flying face a big obstacle: only boys, not girls, are allowed to fly in her country. Yet despite the taunts of her classmates, she is determined to do it—especially because Loujain loves colors, and only by flying can she see the color-filled field of sunflowers her baba has told her about. Eventually, he agrees to teach her, and Loujain's impossible dream becomes reality—and soon other girls dare to learn to fly. 

Based on the experiences of co-author Lina AlHathloul's sister, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Loujain AlHathloul, who led the successful campaign to lift Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving, this moving and gorgeously illustrated story reminds us to strive for the changes we want to see—and to never take for granted women's and girls' freedoms."

What stood out to me? When I saw Kellee Moye's review of this book, I noticed the name on the cover was familiar...and then I remembered why. I am taking a course right now about prejudice where we learned about the sexism and oppression in Saudi Arabia, including the just-recently-lifted bans on women driving, and the not-lifted system of guardianship that requires women to get permission from men for almost everything. And in this course, we watched a documentary that mentioned the harrowing journey of one activist who fought for women's right to drive, and who was imprisoned and tortured for daring to stand up to the Saudi government—and that activist was Loujain AlHathloul.

AlHathloul's circumstances seem to remain tenuous, as she is free but is navigating some kind of court-appeal situation and is prohibited from speaking about her experience. But several people have spoken out about her treatment, including her sister Lina and activist Uma Mishra-Newbery, who have authored this lovely picture book that fictionalizes AlHathloul's story for the world to learn from.

I realize everything I just said is horribly dark and depressing, and I should emphasize that this fictional story isn't—rather, it is uplifting and bright and hopeful, and it reminds us of the power even one person has. It shows us the importance of having people support our dreams and our fight for those dreams, like real-life Loujain AlHathloul's father did when she began to drive. It shows us the importance of always having hope, because if there is no hope, then there is no reason to fight. And it shows us that we don't have to fix policies themselves to effect change—if a policy exists to dehumanize someone, and we bring that person hope and remind them that they are human, we have effected real, meaningful change on a small scale.

And this story includes all of those themes in a concise, magical storyline that I thought was lovely. There's a surprising amount of worldbuilding in this book, with the culture of the wings, family traditions, and story-version Loujain's love of nature and photography coming through in the plot. Wings and flight are used as a clever, magical symbol both for real-world driving and for rising above the limits others place on you. And the "carpet of a million sunflowers" represents the freedom that being able to drive (or fly) can give you.

The writing in this story is a little clunky at times, but it's not bad overall, and there is some truly lovely descriptive language. And Rebecca Green's illustrations are vivid and varied, with the flat style that I personally gravitate toward—I absolutely loved them.

What's my verdict? Not flawless, but overall a lush child-friendly reimagining of a real-world activist's fight for change!

**********

And that's all I have for you this week! I hope you find a book here to enjoy, and I appreciate you listening to my trip diary as well!

My favorite book of the week: Love in the Library

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing about your trip with your family. These sound like fantastic picture books, especially the first two. Wish I had someone to read them with.

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  2. I love how thorough your blog posts are; I really get a sense of your life and the books you love. Some of the best times with my daughter are when we are in the car, driving long(ish) distances. In a car, there are no distractions and the conversation can meander wherever it needs to go. Sounds like you and your family had a good weekend with some great books as a bonus!

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  3. I'm sorry that you don't get to experience college when no one knows where you are or can get ahold of you. Conferences from the car-- bleah. Now, for me, texting from the car (as a passenger) is kind of magical, but it was nice when the only way people could reach you was by land line. Glad you got to read a few picture books, and hope the rest of the semester goes well. No blue books for exams, though, I imagine!

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  4. Lots of love in your post today, with family members & actually, sounds like some trip love, too! You know I "loved" Love in The Library, but the other two are new to me & sound great, ones I'll need to find, too. Thanks for taking time to share, Max. I'm glad you had a nice weekend & am wishing you a special week ahead!

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  5. I haven't read any of these. Love in the Library sounds fantastic. Sounds like you had a great trip, too.

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  6. Max, I enjoyed reading about you and your family's adventures and of course the book reviews are wonderful. All the books sound fabulous, but I am especially looking forward to reading I Love You Because I Love You.

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  7. I haven't read these, but hope to check them out very soon. Thanks for the great post, including the family adventures.

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