#IMWAYR: Picture Book Pandemonium, Part 15!
The picture books just keep coming—today, I have three more I'm excited to share!
What book is it? Gibberish by Young Vo
Who recommended it? Beth Shaum at A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust!
What does the publisher say? "It's Dat's first day of school in a new country! Dat and his Mah made a long journey to get here, and Dat doesn't know the language. To Dat, everything everybody says – from the school bus driver to his new classmates – sounds like gibberish. How is Dat going to make new friends if they can't understand each other?
Luckily there's a friendly girl in Dat's class who knows that there are other ways to communicate, besides just talking. Could she help make sense of the gibberish?"
What stood out to me? Wow—I checked this book out of the library moments after it was recommended, and that was absolutely the right call, because it is like no other book, in the best possible way.
I think we’ve all seen immigrants stereotyped as “other” or “weird.” But this story flips that on its head—it’s the people in Dat’s new country who speak in gibberish (with all the letters replaced with emoji-like icons) and seem like they’re from another world (literally—Dat is the normal human boy wandering through a town of slightly-creepy Seussian weirdness). There’s so much subtext in this book an adult could discuss with young readers, and that includes how kids from unfamiliar backgrounds probably think we’re weird too!
Sometimes, it’s easy as a reader who isn’t in Dat’s shoes day-to-day to get caught up in the strange goofiness of the story—but there are plenty of reminders to reconnect with Dat’s experience. There’s a reason this world is all in monochrome, whereas Dat is in full color—the supposed zany delight of Dat’s new elementary school doesn’t leave room for him to struggle with reading, to not fit in immediately, to have people mispronounce his name. Dat has a full range of human experiences, but when he can’t understand the stories he’s reading or the sentences people are saying, how can he feel welcomed, even if they’re welcoming? How can he ask for what he wants, even though he already knows it? How can he connect with other kids, even if they’d get along if they could only speak?
But wait—sometimes, there’s that rare child who looks at the new kid and sees a friend. And that child is in this book—and she puts the effort in to connect with Dat despite their language barrier. And that’s another thing readers could learn from this story—saying it’s too hard to connect with another student usually isn’t a reason, it’s an excuse, and one that backfires when you lose out on a potential friend!
Beth Shaum wrote that this book’s illustrations are almost a shoe-in for the Caldecott, and I would have to agree—this book is visually one of the most creative I’ve ever seen! The zany monochrome world still comes across as high-energy (such as with the school bus stopping so hard, it’s practically about to do a wheelie), and you can see how that could leave Dat behind but also, when he gets more comfortable, welcome him into a delightful world. Dat himself is drawn in realistic, lovely illustrations that capture his emotions with evocative facial expressions—you can tell when he’s aware of something going wrong but trying to hide it, or getting completely frustrated, or starting to become comfortable in a new place with a new friend by his side.
The opening pages of the story capture Dat and his Mah immigrating on a boat and plane, and I love how these pages are treated so matter-of-factly—they basically say, “We have survived so much, and our stories matter, and if you’re paying attention, you know the significance and we’re not going to waste more time explaining it when there’s another story to discuss.”
Oh, and the emoji that makes up the gibberish of Dat’s new school? Every icon has a direct match to an English letter. So you can bet your bottom dollar I spent 15-20 minutes decoding every single message in the story! Mostly, they were about what you’d expect, but there were actually a few that changed my outlook on one character just a smidge—and decoding them anyway is way too fun, so you might as well! (Just keep in mind that the enormous amount of time it takes, and the way you start to remember the letters but then forget them 5 pages later, is fun when you have a bunch of leisure time, but it’s not fun when you’re Dat and those words are flying by your ears in real time AND you’re in a brand new social situation where your success depends on understanding them.)
I don’t think I even said the things I came into this review to say, and then I ended up writing new things I hadn’t thought about before—so please trust that there is a ridiculous amount of subtext and beauty and cleverness in this one-of-a-kind story, and you cannot miss it!
What’s my verdict? Like no other book—I’m putting it on your TBR list by royal book-blogger decree!
What book is it? My Parents Won't Stop Talking! by Emma Hunsinger and Tillie Walden
What does the publisher say? "It’s time to go to the park, and Molly can’t wait! It’s going to be awesome and amazing and—
The neighbors have spotted her moms, and now they’re talking. A lot. And everything they say is boring. Minutes feel like hours, hours feel like days, and days feel like eons . . .
Will her parents ever stop talking?!
This is a clever, irreverent take on a universal childhood dilemma, written and illustrated by two stars in the comics world."
What stood out to me? Take a look at the second author listed for this book—yes, that’s Tillie Walden, author of Spinning (the graphic novel I reviewed last week) along with On a Sunbeam and Are You Listening? (two of my favorite graphic novels of all time). You might not expect Walden, with her moody, often-dark books, to be writing a whimsical kids’ picture book, but perhaps writing those stunning graphic novels makes room for a few delightful stories like these! And I don’t want to sell co-author/illustrator Emma Hunsinger short either—I took a moment to read her compelling online comic “How to Draw a Horse” (which is more than it sounds like), and it’s clear that she brings her own immense talent to the table here too.
Looking at the book itself, it is a sheer delight! I think we can all remember the agony of waiting for…well, for anything as a kid, and seeing Molly’s grand, elaborate plans for her park visit seemingly dashed forever by her parents’ never-ending conversation with the neighbors is just such an immensely familiar experience!
While the plot on the surface is clever yet clean and simple, the plot points and illustrations themselves are what make this story exceptional. Hunsinger and Walden absolutely nail Molly’s character—she is such a real child, overexcited and overconfident and overdramatic and ridiculously relatable. The authors take every opportunity to characterize Molly as fully as possible, as with her immensely specific ideas for her park visit (making potions, playing with the drinking fountain) or her “successful” past attempts at patiently waiting (like listening to her piano teacher drone on and on about her realtor son). And there are little details tucked throughout the story, like the hilarious ad for “Grandma Depot” (no, I will not elaborate), that make for an almost Richard Scarry-like experience—I imagine young readers will get a kick out of noticing these hidden jokes!
And both Hunsinger and Walden bring their own unique talents as illustrators into play as they face the task of showing the monumental scale of Molly’s emotions. Hunsinger draws the characters with ever-morphing, truly hilarious facial expressions—there is a spread where Molly’s mouth is wide open, ready for an agonized, slightly-crazed wail, as she desperately grabs hold of the cheeks of her unperturbed, smiling younger brother Seth. And Walden brings her skills with color and sweeping scenery to the backgrounds of the story, creating images both realistic and surreal, culminating in a spread of the eons of time passing as the parents talk that I cannot fathom kids will not find hysterical.
The icing on the cake is this story’s diversity—little details like Molly’s two moms of different races, the accepting (if endlessly talkative) neighbors, and her brother Seth’s love of ballet quietly break down stereotypes without taking over the story. And the candle on the icing on the cake is the twist at the end—I dare you not to laugh out loud. I dare you.
What’s my verdict? A ridiculously whimsical, relatable, and well-crafted story—perfect as a gift, for a family read-aloud, or for any older reader whose patience is perhaps still on the weaker side!
What book is it? Every Little Kindness by Marta Bartolj
What does the publisher say? "When one act of kindness sparks another, anything is possible! As a girl searches for her lost dog, a simple act of generosity ripples into a wave of good deeds. In the course of a single day, each considerate action weaves lives together and transforms a neighborhood for the better.
This wordless story, told in beautiful illustrations reminiscent of a graphic novel, demonstrates how every little kindness, shared from person to person, can turn a collection of strangers into a community, and—even though we might not always see it—make the world a more vibrant and compassionate place to be."
What stood out to me? This is a truly lovely and surprisingly thought-provoking story about a chain of kindnesses bringing people together and ultimately coming back to the person who started them! It was a gift from my mother, and perhaps I am continuing that chain of kindnesses by recommending it to you all!
This picture book is wordless, with adorable monochrome illustrations punctuated by red accents and arranged in comic-style panels that will appeal to readers of all ages. Our protagonist, despite being distraught over losing her dog, still takes the time to greet a street musician. And someone is always watching, always being uplifted by the sight of human beings taking care of one another—and those people, intentionally or not, bring their own kindnesses to the people around them, whether loved ones or community members.
While one or two kindnesses could probably have been cut out for length, overall, it was wonderful to see the ways these people (even young children) help one another out—many of them are simple things, like picking something up or helping someone with their bags, that we could all take the time to do in our daily lives. And it’s lovely to see (a) how these kindnesses affect more than just the direct recipient as a cycle is formed, (b) how they blossom from one-time actions into genuine human relationships with the help of a few words of conversation, and (c) how they can even come back around and mean that we are supported in our time of need (which I know sounds selfish, but it’s true)!
The cynic in me does wonder quite a few things. Are people so ashamed of needing help nowadays that they might not even accept your kindnesses? Though to counter that, are we so ashamed of rejection that then we wouldn’t even offer because we’d feel stupid otherwise, when actually we had just done something objectively nice regardless of the reaction? (I find myself not holding doors for that reason, because I’m afraid people are too far away, when really, it might just make more sense to hold the door!) Also on the cynical side, how many people in this world are taking advantage of the kindness of others for their own nefarious intentions? I keep hearing about this scam where people pose as having a broken-down car on the side of the road, just so that they can steal money from the people who help and then drive off in their perfectly functional vehicle. But to counter that too, are we really going to let all those people prevent us from offering help to those who could genuinely use it?
Overall, I think the true obstacle to kindness is energy—it takes work to be kind to people, and we have to put that work in! I wonder what could happen if we all took the energy to be unusually kind once a day, or even once a week. What if we decided to be extra-nice to a family member or friend? Or even someone in the community? And what if we pushed ourselves past our usual levels of kindness and tried something new? I’m curious if people have any go-to kindnesses they want to share in the comments, but either way, I think Every Little Kindness gives us the spur we need to go out in the world and make people’s lives that much happier and more hopeful!
What’s my verdict? A book about spreading compassion that will get you thinking—it’s worth checking out!
That's what I've got for you all—I hope you found something fun to read here! And I'll see you soon for more book recommendations!
My favorite book of the week: Gibberish (although all three were so close!)