new favourite

I love book shopping for the very young—it gives me a reason (not that I need one but it helps) to wander about the picture book aisles at length where I inevitably find something to add to my own collection. My latest discovery being Debra Frasier’s On the Day You Were Born.

Beautifully illustrated (by Frasier) in bold earthy colours and simple lines. The text is written as a poem of welcome and tells what the various elements of nature—wind, trees, tide, moon, stars, sunwere doing to prepare for ‘your’ arrival on the planet. (The trees, for instance “…collected the Sun’s light in their leaves, where, in silent mystery, they made oxygen for you to breathe…”)

Frasier is new to me, so I looked her up and found that ‘connection to nature’ is a theme close to her heart.  I’ve already called my bookseller with a list of titles just for me—as well as gifts for friends and family, both young and older.

“On the event of your birth
word of your coming
passed from animal to animal.

The reindeer told the Arctic terns,
who told the humpback whales,
who told the Pacific salmon,
who told the monarch butterflies,
who told the green turtles,
who told the European eel,
who told the busy garden warblers,

and the marvelous news migrated worldwide.

While you waited in darkness,
tiny knees curled to chin,
the Earth and her creatures
with the Sun and the Moon
all moved in their places,
each ready to greet you
the very first moment
of the very first day you arrived….”

From On the Day You Were Born, by Debra Frasier.


not just for kids


Confession: I like picture books.

I still remember the delicious weight of them as I’d lug a stack out of the school library, the anticipation of getting them home, the pleasure of sitting surrounded by them, on my bed, on the floor; every one of them smelled the same—of what? other people’s PJs? warm bed covers? snacks? Nothing smells like picture books from the library—the result, perhaps, of a particular intimacy with many—and those pages, soft from turning, being turned, and turned back again…

I remember laughter at some point. Not mine, someone else’s; comments and laughter at the stack of big square books clutched to my chest as I made my way home in falling down socks and MaryJanes (sigh; book snobbery begins early). Seems other kids had moved on to the abridged Heidi or whatever. At least publicly. Privately, I realize now, they would have still been read to at night. But no one read to anyone at my house; it was every man for himself, which I didn’t find odd in the slightest. Never crossed my mind in fact until Peter and I, a few years ago, were talking about a book I’d bought for a nephew and he said how he’d loved that one being read to him.

Read to you?

By then, of course, I understood that children were read to, I’d read to a few myself, it just hadn’t clicked that someone might have read to me…

Maybe that’s why I didn’t have any sense of categorizing books as childish, or being for babies. I read what I liked. No one chose for me.

Having said that, I did eventually move on to Heidi and beyond, but I didn’t outgrow my love of big square books, to which I returned as an adult and which I now appreciate for what they actually are: bite sized literary gems of art and poetry, illustrations worthy of a gallery—prose, poetry, humour and life lessons, worthy (no, better than worthy) of sharing shelf space with the likes of any zennish tomes written by the ubiquitous ‘life coach’.

I have a small collection, which would be larger if I didn’t keep giving copies away to small people—although I’ve noticed many of the kids in my life are getting to that Heidi age and may not return to the pleasure of PBs for another few decades.

All of this to say, my most recent (truly) gemmish discovery is The Sound of Colors, by Jimmy Liao, a Taiwanese writer and artist who embraces the small in life and makes it expandable enough for all ages.

The story is about a nameless girl in a nameless place who is going blind and finds her way, through the dark tunnels of a subway system (what a strangely perfect vehicle), back to colour and light and life. And then back underground. The degree of actual darkness or light around her not much mattering, she realizes—it’s what she ‘sees’/hears/feels/carries within her as memory and sensation that makes all the difference.

The ‘paintings’ are beautiful—packed subway cars in primary colours, box cars painted with Matisse dancers, bright geometrics, giant green mazes (that “if you look hard enough, there’s always a way out“), elephants in apple printed capes, whales for sleeping on, a caged crescent moon—all this and more juxtaposed with the real world of grocers and traffic and mobs of people.

Then there’s the text:

“Trains rumble and clank and rush past me.
Which is the right one?
It’s easy to get lost underground.
I wonder where I am and where I’m going
and if I’m getting closer to what I’m searching for.
A little boy asks me how to get home.
“I’m looking, too,” I tell him.
Home is the place where everything I’ve lost
is waiting patiently for me to find my way back.”

And that’s just a tiny slice of the middle.

I’m not sure the kids I know are the right age for this book at the moment—they’re in that awkward stage of being both too old and too young at the same time.

Fortunately, I do know a few adults who’ll love it.


instructions: becoming real

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse.  “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are Real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

(From—The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams)