‘Grandfather’s Journey’ by Allen Say

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Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say is a moving and poignant story of identity and emigration. It is a book with a powerful and personal message. It is a Caldecott Medal winner and is a stunning piece of art work. Allen Say delivers a poignant account of his family’s unique cross-cultural experience as his grandfather moves fro Japan to America. He shows his love for both countries through a series of beautiful portrait style oil paintings. His grandfather loves both Japan and America and longs to be in both countries at once. He tells the feelings most migrants must experience. When in one country, he invariably misses the other.

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The strength of this book lies in the personal experience of Say’s grandfather, his love of the mountains and rivers of Japan are compared with his love of the rivers and mountains of America. We see Say’s grandfather age in the book,going from a young boy to an old man full of memories. I enjoyed this book immensely as it is almost like a photo album. The protagonist is often posing in the picture, acknowledging that the reader is looking at him. The text is simplistic and plain, it adds to the sense of journey in the book.

I had to say I identified with the story itself, it is true to say that the author captured the sense of longing that fills the heart of every migrant. It also acknowledges the connection people have to land and how rural people have a strong affiliation with the landscape they grow up in and sometimes cities can inhibit their spirit.

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Allen Say is a master storyteller, there is nothing hidden in his illustrations, no symbolism or underlying meaning; what you see is what you get, and I love this aspect of his drawing. It is a marvelous picture book and is well worth picking up if you are living in a distant shore or sometimes wish you were back home. There is a beautiful mixture of Japanese and American culture and I enjoyed the contrast in the fashion in the two countries as show in the book.

Did you enjoy Grandfather’s Journey as much as me? Did you read any of Say’s other quirky picture books?

‘There’-Irish Picture Book Illustration at it’s best

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There by Irish author-illustrator Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick is a marvellous picture book. It is the story of a young girl who asks the dreaded question ‘When will I get There?’ The strength of this book lies in it’s illustration and play on words. It is one of my favourite picture books due to the duality of the book- it is aimed at children but the message of the book is firmly aimed at adults.

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Fitzpatrick’s illustrations are stunning, soft, somber colours mix with vibrant reds and blues. The illustrations are simple and subtle but in my opinion there is a very ‘Irish’ feel to this book. There is beautiful drawings of huge rolling green hills and soft rainy days and the girl goes through various scenes which look right out of Ireland, like this one shown below.

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There is a great use of repetition in the book where the child is constantly asking about this special place called “There” for example ‘And will I know everything, There?‘ The child is asking what adults would feel are ridiculous questions but when one thinks about it you could argue the author is making a clever point in including these questions, at one point the child asks:

‘Can Teddy come too?

Can I stop along the way?

Can I pick daisies?’

The child reader will love the simplistic nature of the questions and the illustrations accompanying them but the adult will also stop to think about this magical place called ‘There’. Most adults, myself included are constantly worried about goals and ambitions, we are so caught up in our career paths and personal ambitions that we often forget about life’s joys. Children enjoy the simple things in life and the author reaffirms this cleverly in the concluding page. It reads ‘I’ll go There  tomorrow.’ and it is accompanied by a beautiful picture of the girl flying a kite.

I cannot speak highly enough of this book, it would be a wonderful book to read to your child at night, it could be read again and again with different things spotted on each page. Children love repetition, and they could easily read this book with their mothers or fathers before going asleep at night. A brilliant book with a real celtic feel!

A Review of ‘The Graveyard Book’ by Neil Gaiman

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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is a book for young adults which I enjoyed immensely. The story begins with a triple homicide, the surviving child wanders into the local graveyard and is raised by ghosts. Now if that opening sequence doesn’t grab your attention, nothing will! The young protagonist, Nobody Owens, is brought up by the various ghosts who live in the graveyard and they all have a story to tell.

I enjoyed the fact that most books and films dramatize graveyards as a spooky place where sad things happen, Gaiman turns this idea on it’s head and makes the reader feel safe within the walls of the cemetery and wary of the outside world. In most graveyards, there are hundreds of people from hundreds of different backgrounds and time periods buried beneath the soil. The author used this feature brilliantly, I loved hearing the different characters deaths and ideas of life and death. They ranged from a witch burned at the stake to an ancient Celtic spirit.

Although the book starts brilliantly, I felt let down at times at the way the book meanders along towards the end point, I felt that Gaiman could have incorporated Nobody’s quest to find his parents killer more into the development of the tale. I also thought Nobody was quite a bland character, he didn’t have many personable traits, in my mind he was the perfect son. Nobody learns different ghoulish powers from various ghosts, I was thinking how I’d use such skills to other more mischievous ends!

My edition of the book was brilliantly illustrated by David McKean, only upon finishing the book I realized there is a graphic novel version produced, which I must pick up at some stage.I would recommend this book to younger teenagers as well as young adults. I enjoyed the book as an adult, it is funny and full of historical references, an aspect of which I enjoyed.

‘Three Little Dreams’- A picture book, but not a book at all?

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Three Little Dreams by Thomas Maguire is a very unique picture book. I like unusual books myself and I was eager to get my hands on this particular title. I was not disappointed. It is a picture book without words. It is presented in a beautiful box, as shown below. It is a compact box about the same size as a small novel book. Inside the box is three beautifully crafted stories. I’m unsure whether you could call this a book or a piece of art. It is a fascinating piece nonetheless.

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The stories themselves are three dreams. The stories are confusing as they have no beginning or end and each story is not a book as such. They are long fold out pages which extend about 6 feet long. The first dream is about a bird like creature(as shown below), the second dream is about a sheep like creature and the last about a flying tiger-serpent. I know this sounds like an odd book but that’s exactly what it is. It is not in the traditional book format with covers, the story neither has a beginning or an end and the story makes no sense in a way. This might be part of the whole dream concept the author is trying to create?

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I loved this book first of all for aesthetic reasons, the box is an item to be cherished, the books inside are beautifully crafted on card. The illustrations are beautiful, coloured in dark, bluish hues which add to the night time dream like state the book presents. I would not recommend this book for children as it is confusing and I don’t think it would appeal to them. I would recommend this title to a person  who is into picture books or art. I feel this is a book which needs to sit on the shelf and to be explored from time to time. It would be a beautiful gift to receive as the illustrator has taken huge effort in the presentation of the whole item.

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This book will be kept safe and sound upon my shelf so it can never be damaged. I didn’t enjoy the story I must say, but the illustrations are exquisite and the whole concept is so weird it adds to the unusual aspect of the book. If you struggle to buy gifts for a person who is into illustration, I’d highly recommend ordering Three Little Dreams.

Some thoughts on ‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman

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Once I opened Maus by Art Spiegelman I could not close I finished the whole edition. I read the complete Maus, where both of Spiegelman’s books were compiled together. This book was the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer prize and it rightly deserves it’s place among the greats.

The story revolves around Art and his father Vladek, who is a survivor of the concentration camp of Auschwitz. Vladek tells the harrowing tale of his family’s persecution in Poland and the horror’s they endured under the persecution of the Nazi’s. It is a graphic novel, where the Jews are portrayed as mice, the Germans as cats, the poles as Pigs and the Americans as dogs. I know there is controversy in Poland with Maus as they were deeply offended to be portrayed as pigs, they come across as cruel as the Nazi’s in the book if I’m being honest.

I have become somewhat fatigued with the whole wartime stories genre lately, it seems nowadays that every second novel is based around the world wars or a conflict in general. This book was different and refreshing. The book portrays the horror of the Holocaust but also the complicated relationship that exists between Vladek and his son Art. Art is trying to piece together the story of his fathers experience during the war for his comic book.I enjoyed this part more than the war time extracts as it acknowledges to the reader the process by which Art put together Maus and the troubles he encountered on the way. His father is a cantankerous character and Art struggles with his peculiarities and his failing health. I laughed at the many instances where they were embroiled in petty fights, that only exist within a family over the simplest of subjects.

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Spiegelman’s drawings are simplistic but effective, the content of the story itself is powerful and moving therefore the illustrations did not need to be detailed in that regard. There was no need for the blood and guts approach that is present in most war novels or films His skill was to compile a graphic novel which was clear and to the point, the story jumps from present to past seamlessly. I was amazed at the complex relationship that existed between father and son. They seemed to be stuck in two separate worlds , but a strong bond existed between the two.

This book is a must read for everyone. A friend commented once he saw that I was reading Maus that I was trying to relive my youth reading comics again. This book is a graphic novel of course but the content and storytelling in it is as powerful as any other literature on the Holocuast. I was captivated by the misery and cruelty that existed within the tale and found great amusement in the arguments which took place between father and son for comic relief. A moving and brilliant piece of writing.

‘The Conductor’ by Lartitia Devernay-A Wordless Picture Book of minimalist beauty

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‘Pairing two seemingly disparate elements an orchestra conductor and a grove of trees award-winning artist Laetitia Devernay herself orchestrates a visual magnum opus. Her spare, yet intricate, illustrations truly appear to take flight before our eyes and her wordless narrative nearly roars with sound as the conductor prompts the leaves to rustle, then whirl, then swirl to unexpected life with each turn of the page.’

The Conductor by Laetitia Devernay is a wordless picture book which tells the tale of a conductor orchestrating the leaves off the tree’s. The book is very simplistic, it has greenish hues to it and is full of dark colours. The  trees and the conductor are the only shapes present on most pages. I found this book to be beautiful but disappointing. From an artistic point of view I could not fault the illustrator. Her drawings are exceptional and have a minimalist beauty about them, they are meticulously executed. The best example being her ability to make the leaves take on a birdlike image as seen below. That said, I felt that not a lot happened in this book. The protagonist basically guides the leaves off the trees and that’s it. I had to re-read the book a few times to see if I could find another interpretation but sadly that was lacking.

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On a more positive note, the book is a communicative piece, as the leaves fly from the tree they take all sorts of highs and lows and the reader can almost hear the music or rustling the leaves must be making on each page. I think that this book wouldn’t appeal to a child as much as other wordless picture books such as Flotsam by David Weisner. There is very little play or amusement in the book. That said, adults would enjoy this books beauty. It is an exquisite piece of art. The book itself is a long rectangular shape which gives it an added aesthetic appeal.

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In summary, The Conductor is full of beautiful illustration but the story lacks the drama or complication that makes a good picture book.

 

 

Racism and Stereotyping in ‘Gone With The Wind’

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Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell is an immensely popular love story which has sold over 30 million copies since it’s publication in 1936. However, I found this book to be an infuriating experience on numerous levels. The trials and tribulations of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler in and around Atlanta during the American Civil War have captured the heart’s of many readers but not for me.

Being honest, I found this book to be racist and full of lazy stereotyping. I also failed to empathize in anyway with the characters in the book and their ‘heroic’ fight to maintain power and wealth at the expense of the poor masses. In relation to racism, I accept entirely that this book is set in a specific time and context where slaves were used and abused at their masters will but I found some of the descriptions repulsive. Scarlett at one stage in here home of Tara gags at the ‘n****ry’ smell around the slaves living quarters. She at another time compares the physical features of a man to that of a gorilla. I felt there was no need for comments like this, the reader had got an elaborate sense of the deep seeded hatred that existed between races then at this point already in the book. Each page was filled with a degrading slang word for African Americans. I paused at many times to consider could I read further on with the story as I was so annoyed with the over the top portrayals of the slaves of the rich aristocracy in the story.

In terms of stereotyping I felt the author failed to recognize or develop certain characters in the story. All the slaves were simple, obedient pet like creatures to their masters, with the exception being the character ‘Mammy’ in the story who was developed brilliantly by the author. The slaves were completely subservient to their owners, incapable of living independent lives away from white people. They were depicted as craving praise for their work and punished when not completing their tasks I also found on a personal level the Irish stereotyping irritating and tiresome. Gerald O’Hara, Scarlett’s father was the hard drinking, singing, stubborn rebellious Irishman. Negative traits such as defiance or impulsiveness were frequently referred to as the ‘Irish’ in them. Gerald and Scarlett were seen as outsiders in society due to their Irish character. Both liked alcohol too much and were warned about their drinking by other characters. There was frequent references to Geralds rebellious past and that there was a general feeling that all Irishmen hated England and Orangemen. Simply untrue.

I cannot deny that this book brilliantly portrays the horrors of war or the beauty of love, Mitchell’s obvious disdain of war and violence were expertly facilitated through Scarlett and Melanie’s nursing of soldiers. It painted a vivid picture of the reality of war instead of the bullets and heroes accounts we are used to. That said, I found the plight of the protagonists cause infuriating. In my opinion, they were fighting to get free slave labour and to go back to the lifestyle of being useless socialites who profited from their huge estates. On the other hand, I enjoyed seeing the fall of the aristocracy which controlled society and how the courtesy and ridiculous etiquette were quickly quashed once the walls of shelter came tumbling down around the families as the Yankees advanced upon Atlanta.

I did not enjoy this book whatsoever. The racism really disgusted me, despite acknowledging it was in the historical context. The stereotyping of the Irish and slaves stuck out as a laziness in an otherwise fantastic tale full of twists and turns, I found the dialogue of the slaves hard to comprehend, there was too much of it, I had to re-read paragraph’s quite often. I found the book to be too long as well, surely Mitchell might have cut out some of the less descriptions or incidents?

I realize that people hold Gone With The Wind with huge affection and is many people’s favourite book but I have to say I didn’t care for the novel, some of the above issues did not sit well for me. I know I’m in a minority here in expressing this opinion but Gone With The Wind will not be a book I will re-read at some time in my life. I know there is huge qualities in the book I’m not referencing and people far smarter than me can point them out easily. Did anyone feel the same way with the book? Am I the only person? Could I be doing the author a disservice? If you love the book please tell me why, I definitely missed something.