I got an email from someone at Candlewick about Zonia’s Rain Forest(available March 30, also available in a Spanish edition) by Juana Martinez-Neal back in February, when it was cold and damp and cold and distinctly grey and unwarm and did I mention cold and dingy? I don’t actually mean that complainingly– February is supposed to be all of those things. I feel unnerved on years (such as this year) when it warms too quickly (probably climate change at work). But let’s just say when this email hit my inbox, the idea of a rain forest seemed even more remote than usual. And kind of appealing in its remoteness? And a Candlewick email is always a good email!
I read about the book with interest. I love Juana Martinez-Neal‘s work, so I trusted her, but part of me was wondering, “What’s going to be new here?” Not that every book has to do something altogether new– sometimes you can quite simply write a fun book, which is totally fine! But for me to review it, I usually need a hook to something special, something distinctive, especially in a book that’s addressing issues of ecology, sustainability, or otherwise focusing on the damage the human race has been inflicting on our home planet. Given the number of picture books (whether nonfiction or fiction) I’ve been reading in that wide arena (the Changeling is deeply invested in endangered species, so I end up with lots of these), I was wondering what the new angle would be, and then two points jumped out at me from the email: the illustrations were “created on paper made from banana bark” and the story and back matter are set among and provide background on the Asháninka community which lives in the Amazon and is at risk from changes imposed by, frankly, the rest of us.
This told me all I needed to know! I was in and wrote to say I’d love to see the book. The art and story were going to be rooted in a new and important arena in picture books: the rain forest in this story wasn’t just somehow disembodied as “the lungs of the planet,” though certainly that’s true– it’s also home. A kids’ book on saving one’s home? That’s personal in a way that “home planet” can feel remote. By making that “remoteness” I mention in my first paragraph “home,” the entire notion of the dangers faced by the Amazonian communities and, by extension, the rest of the planet, become precious to us.
One of the lovely things about this picture book is that it’s layered– much like the art, which uses the nuanced textures of paper made from banana bark to create art that’s both cozy and homey and deeply serious, the story is textured. I scanned the blurbs and reviews out there, curious about what’s popped out to others: Shelf Awareness gleefully jumps to the “super-cute critters” Zonia greets on her way through the rain forest; School Library Journal (starred review) talks about Zonia’s “determination to save her home”; and Booklist (starred review) emphasizes the layers, noting “at its simplest level” the book is about a child who loves her home, but her uncomplicated view is shaken by the swathe of clear-cut forest she discovers.
All of these are true (even if I have to grumble a little at Shelf Awareness‘s squealing over cuteness in a book that touched me deeply– I mean, ok, they are super cute critters, yes), and there’s more there, too. The book begins simply as a family story. “Zonia lives with those she loves in the rain forest.” The illustration shows her with her mother and her baby brother, a blue morpho butterfly flying by. Will the story be about the three of them? Yes– and more: about the four, and more…
“Every morning, the rain forest calls to Zonia. Every morning, Zonia answers.”
And, following the blue morpho, Zonia goes into the rain forest. She meets old friends and new ones. These friends include sloths, jaguars, water lilies, and the Arrau turtle, among others. We get to know them through Zonia as neighbours, friends, almost family (all helpfully named at the back of the book if you find yourself curious to look up more about them). We watch them be playful, beautiful, curious, serene, and chatty. Like most of us, Zonia knows who to visit when she feels like one type of interaction over another: “Zonia knows just who to visit when she wants to be quiet and still.” And then she heads home, eager to see her human family again…
And is frightened to encounter a devastated swathe of the rain forest which we now know, with Zonia, is her home, a special home, perhaps, but as much hers as our homes are ours, whether in cities, towns, or the countryside. How would we feel if we were walking home and saw the path to our front door was crushed rubble in place of stone slabs, we think?
Then there’s a brief dialogue: Zonia shows her mother the dead, broken sticks in her hands, saying the forest needs help. Zonia’s mother turns it around: “It is speaking to you.” Zonia doesn’t hesitate: “Then I will answer,” and, after a page turn, you see Zonia gazing over the rain forest, the blue morpho leading forward, “We all must answer.”
The startling drama of the conclusion is extraordinary after the quiet intimacy of the rest of the book.
The most appealing aspect is Zonia’s quick and upright response to the trauma of her home being invaded and destroyed: she, herself, rooted in the forest, will take up the action here. The story leaves it in her hands, but invites us to help.
There is backmatter, naturally, to help us with this process– but before that, we get something else. The text of the story is translated into Asháninka by Arlynder Sett Gaspar Paulino, a firm recognition that this is her story, the Asháninka story. The backmatter goes on to tell us more about Zonia’s home and community, such as the use of red plant-based paint to “signal strength and determination,” as Zonia does at the very end of the story (and is represented on the cover). Finally, we are given a list of threats to the Amazon, such as illegal logging and mining, and resources to learn more.
While all of the backmatter is useful and great– the part that sticks with me, writing here, is that this is a book about it not being your story, the reader’s story. This is incredibly unusual in picture books. Picture books very often talk to the reader about how this is your story: the feelings, the responsibilities, etc.– these are yours.
In Zonia’s Rain Forest, it’s in the title: her rain forest, her community. Would we please stand aside. We may be beside her as she does the answering, but, honestly, the best thing we can do is get out of the way.
What a lesson. What an important lesson, especially, to the adult reader– I think kids get it earlier and better. “Knock on my door if you want to come into my room!” they tell us.
It’s an easy phrase, often repeated, and if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’d nod to that expression– you will echo the sentiment, and mean it when you say it. I’ve written about it myself, as regards the music world and writing about music. But what about when you’re a parent or a teacher or a librarian, say, and you don’t really know about a thing and maybe it’s published but it’s not your thing, precisely, and it’s out there but it’s not a thing you’re comfortable with and…
Look, I’ve never reviewed a book specifically dealing with a trans character here. I actually regret that, because I thought I “wasn’t qualified,” and after thinking it over this past few weeks… I might not be trans, but I’m a medievalist. I think I’ve got a better historical perspective on the range of LGBTQ+ issues and their prevalence globally than many a reviewer of kids’ books (look: if that puzzles you because you thought the Middle Ages were somehow sexually dry– there’s a story about a man and his nephew who get transformed into animals of different sexes so they can copulate, there’s the lovely and moving Roman de Silence which I’ll let you look up for yourself, and a fascinating story about a wife who dresses up as a knight to try to seduce her own husband to a homosexual encounter… there’s more, believe me), so, even though that’s not what this post is going to be about, I look at the past five years of reviews with humility and remorse: I should have said something, somewhere.
In fact, I’m going to own up to re-reading this post with a jaundiced eye today. Half the reason I remember buying It’s So Amazing is because I felt uncomfortable with the binary representation of “you can tell who’s a boy and who’s a girl solely by the equipment under the clothes.” Why didn’t I say that made me uncomfortable, like I was lying to my kid? Why didn’t I say I was asking around for a sex ed book for the Changeling that at least mentioned the existence of transgender people? I honestly can’t tell you. Maybe, back on (checks date of post) March 1, 2019 I felt concerned about who might read that? But if I don’t say directly “I want trans representation in books about sex written for kids” as a cis parent of a girl who’s apparently cis as well… it feeds directly to the advantage of bigots who consider the existence of transgender people problematic, and I see that with blistering clarity today.
Why? OK, here’s the thing: Kyle Lukoff is an author, once upon a time an elementary school librarian (I think he must have been great), and as a trans man and author, he channels his experience to represent transgender characters in kids’ lit. So, among other books, he’s written Call Me Max and When Aidan Became a Brother, among other books, both of which are narrative introductions to being trans or encountering transgender friends geared towards children. And what I’m wondering is– how many of us are just naturally picking them up for our own young kids? We wouldn’t exactly censor them, because representation matters! But are we buying and reading them? Yes, I’m talking to myself, too.
I admit that when I first encountered Aidan I thought, “Cute story, but in between the Changeling and the Spriggan– I’ll keep it in mind for down the line.” I didn’t consider reviewing it at the time. Apparently, the Changeling had other ideas. She pulled it off the shelf and read it without my noticing. We’ll come back to that.
Fast-forward a few months and it’s about mid-February 2021. I read this article about a Utah school district which is reviewing all literature in its “equity book bundles” program because– get this– a kid brought a copy of Call Me Max from home (it was not in the “equity book bundles” nor is it in any of the district’s libraries) just to make sure there’s nothing that, I guess, makes anyone upset. The issue rather exploded, and I was one of the many readers who was outraged. I imagine you are, too, hearing about this. The reporting was also notably problematic, to put it delicately. Take this tweet from Chelsea Clinton, for example:
Let’s move on. Another schoolroom, another problem. Kyle Lukoff finds himself once again defending Call Me Max, this time to the Eanes School District in Texas. I’ll let you read about that yourself, since he responded in his own words.
What I noticed, again, was in myself– I’m not here to rant (too much) about the sins of others, when you can perfectly well see that, again, I haven’t said much myself in the past. So, I was, indeed, ranting about all of this to my husband, when my daughter popped her head up: “Kyle who?” “Kyle Lukoff,” I said. “He’s an author– you may have seen…”
The Changeling interrupted: “HE WROTE When Aidan Became a Brother!” she squealed. “I love that book!”
I was shocked, since, you know, I didn’t buy it. “Where did you read it?”
“It’s really good,” she told us. “It’s about a boy whose parents are having a baby and he wants to make sure the baby feels comfortable and understood because when he was born they thought he was a girl and he didn’t feel comfortable and he wants to make sure the baby is happy and feels loved and–”
Very quickly, I understood something myself: the Changeling was identifying with Aidan in the story. The trans protagonist was excited to have a baby in the family– just as she was. She wanted to make sure our baby was loved, was comfortable, was happy. She wanted to cuddle our baby. Aidan wanted to be a good brother. Aidan was trans. The Changeling is not. But she identifies with the humanity of Aidan. Representation doesn’t just matter for trans kids seeing themselves. It matters for my daughter, too, seeing that trans kids exist.
Representation matters because for the rest of the Changeling’s life, she will have had the experience of seeing a trans protagonist as “different in some ways, but in many others, just like me” so that when someone calls trans people “they” in front of her, it will hopefully clash and she’ll maybe have the courage to say “we’re all human” in reply.
Before I move on from her role in this post, I have to fulfill a promise to her. “If you’re reviewing Aidan, can you put in pictures?” I told her I always make sure to include the cover of a book. “What about inside the book? There’s the last page, where Aidan is cuddling the baby. Can you put that in? Please?” She held it up. I saw what she saw: There’s an older sibling, just like her, holding a new baby, sitting in a chair because no grownup lets a kid hold a newborn without careful support from a chair and an army of adults to make sure that new little neck is supported. He seems to be feeling the soft baby fuzz against his chin and cheek and even though there’s fuss around him, his eyes are closed and he’s entirely focused on the baby. The Changeling saw, in a word, herself:
Look, I know. I remember when the Changeling was asking about sex and gender at age 3. I had so many conversations! Someone kindly reminded me “you don’t have to teach her everything all at once.” True, I guess, but I had books that were teaching her incorrect things as facts: the equipment under the clothes is not an infallible sign of gender. So that put me in an uncomfortable position– do I allow incorrect facts on gender, even though I won’t allow them in other books? Do I go through the books with a red pen? Do I hover in the background and explain everything myself? Do I print out articles for her? Or do we actually procure books with correct information and real representation by someone who has lived the experience and knows how to write about it for kids? I think I know which route I think makes the most sense.
“You don’t have to answer every question fully!” Honestly, I grinned and I told that line to my cousin who literally ROARED because she’s met my Changeling and she gets it. But even if you don’t have a feisty “answer my question fully or I will continue badgering you until the windows explode from the force of my questioning” child, why not? Why deflect? Honestly, what are we so afraid of? If we believe representation matters and trans rights are human rights– what’s wrong with telling kids that transgender people exist? I’ve just demonstrated the Changeling’s happiness in reading it. I promise– she’s fine! In fact, when I bought the book, she held it up and giggled, “When I Became a Sister!” I wasn’t going to tell you that because it’s so adorably on the nose you’ll think I made it up, but it’s actually true.
In my experience, the people who feel the discomfort and anxiety and confusion about transgender characters in books aren’t the kids… Only the adults feel that discomfort. And, naturally, if we’re uncomfortable we might convey that to the kids. “What’s upsetting my mother about this?” is a frequent child thought. But the Changeling read it on her own and skated right through: “ah, yes, transgender– that’s like the thing mentioned in It’s So Amazing, cool,” and she recalled that I told her about our trans friend. Her true, natural focus was on the bits she identified with.
In the article linked above (hang on, here it is again), Kyle explains very directly: “It’s only a problem if you think that being transgender is itself wrong,” Lukoff said. “And it’s not. That’s something the parent then has to work through.”
He’s right, and that’s why I feel bad that I haven’t written about this before. Whether I had anxiety or discomfort with speaking up because I didn’t want to be attacked for it (and, come on, I’d rather be called out for supporting trans rep than deal with a fraction of what trans folk deal with for the mere fact of being trans, so…) or whether I just didn’t notice the lack of rep on my own blog– it was wrong of me not to say anything.
So I want to tell other parents, teachers, librarians, other grownups in general: really, if you’re concerned about “talking about it” with your kids– it’s really ok. It’s more than ok, it’s great! Talking about gender is very different from talking about sex because with gender the worst they can ask you is “what gender are you?” rather than, mercy on me, “Can you and Daddy show me how sex works, though?” (Although that did lead to a useful and interesting conversation about intimacy and privacy, at least. It’s also very much the same. Kids are direct (see questions quoted above). They are also very matter-of-fact. “OK, so that’s what that is.” And they’re proponents of justice: “Well, I think the school district should just read those books, then! There’s nothing wrong with them, they’re cute! They should read them!”
If you’re afraid of introducing discussions of gender with your kid, maybe think about where that fear comes from. I’m not saying that as an indictment of you! When I asked myself why I had no trans rep on the blog I think the answer was fear of outside accusations: would a reader reproach me? And I thought, “So what if they did?” And then I wasn’t afraid any longer. So– think about the question for yourself. And, I would recommend, read some of those books yourself! Kyle’s books, as you can see from my daughter’s reaction, are warm, lovely, hugs of books, and I found them comforting, too. In When Aidan Became a Brother, the mother is asked about whether she’s having a boy or a girl. Lord, did I always hate that question! It was nice to see the mother smile and say, “I’m having a baby.” Cheers for Mom!
So, this is not to say we’re bad people. But let’s recall: trans kids exist, trans authors exist, and if cis kids like my daughter can identify with trans kids? Give them the chance to! I love that my daughter is experiencing a chance I simply didn’t have because Kyle Lukoff wasn’t writing these books when I was her age. So give your own kids that experience.
Representation matters. Trans representation matters, too.
As you can see from the title, this is a hefty post in three parts, so I’m giving you a breakdown and Table of Contents for ease of navigation: PART 1: To put it politely, I will discuss the great value of Canadian illustrators! To put it candidly, I will whine at length about how nobody knows my favourite, beloved illustrators, or if they do they don’t know they’re Canadian, and how it’s a raw deal because if you don’t know an illustrator and an illustrator isn’t widely distributed, you don’t find their stuff– oh no I’m off again. PART 2: Here I review a book by wonderful Canadian illustrator Lauren Soloy, who draws on wonderful Canadian artist (and author!) Emily Carr. PART 3: The fun! A Canadian-focused giveaway of Lauren’s book– signed and personalized yesss! She is currently around Halifax, better known as the location of the glorious Woozles children’s book shop, and offered to pop in and sign a book for us! (Bet you anything if you don’t win but you want one– you could contact them and her politely and she’d do one for you at the same time.) NB: This giveaway has a firm deadline of entering by March 8 at 5 pm so that Lauren Soloy can have time to go to the shop and personalize the prize book!
Addendum: I will be dropping MANY names and a whack of pictures in this post for a simple reason: I want you to click my links, be intrigued and search for more of their work, whether they’re still in print or not, so you can read and enjoy– and gaze at the art.
PART 1: I have something of a mild grumble to make, as a Canadian living in the USA, and it’s this: for whatever reason (and there are reasons, there’s a whole border between the countries) I sometimes feel that the books I love from Canada just… don’t cross. They’re hard to find, they’re unknown– they’re beautiful… and just not around. I grew up with Robert Munsch (generally associated with illustrator Michael Martchenko, although he was paired with others, too) being just as much a given in everyone’s house as Goodnight Moon, but around here you can only reliably find Love You Forever (and no one knows the tune) and The Paper Bag Princess. If you ask me, this is ridiculous because in New England you should at least be able to find: Thomas’s Snowsuit, I Have to Go!, and 50 Below Zero, and, I’m sorry, is there a parent on earth who doesn’t need Mortimer? (Hint: it’s about a cheeky kid who just won’t fall asleep… until everyone gets too upset arguing with each other to check on him, and he’s bored of waiting for them to check on him– so he conks out.)
But what’s been getting my hackles up lately is that folks in the USA are often completely unaware of Canadian illustrators outside of the really tightknit kids’ lit world. My point is very far from “Canadian illustrators are undervalued by publishers and don’t get work.” They do! That’s brilliant, it makes me happy! But my bigger point is: a) OK, not to harp on, but I will never not be sad that the Caldecott rules are so exclusive (this article is from 2013 and there’s one like it pretty much annually); b) I’m Canadian and pouty that other people don’t get all thrilled over Canadian brilliance because, I repeat: I’m petty like that (I conducted an informal poll about “your favourite Canadian illustrator” and— well, I won’t talk about it because my heart cracked a bit); c) more seriously: There are genuine distribution issues across the border that have precisely zero regard for artistic merit, meaning that no matter how popular and relevant a title may be in Canada, and it may be a title with equal relevance to the States, with equal likelihood of popularity– it may not get distributed, it may have no chance to be known. That’s not anyone’s fault except for the Top Secret Masterminds Behind Distribution (who handles that and do you have a phone number?), but it does make me sad and frustrated.
Let’s look at success: the author Mac Barnett is paired up with illustrator (and author in his own right) Jon Klassen (they’re good friends and a brilliant team) and while Klassen does live in Los Angeles at the moment, he’s originally from Winnipeg and grew up in Toronto. He’s known, he’s widely recognized, and he publishes with Candlewick as both author and illustrator. I have a mad crush on his wit and his art (turtles) (ho, seriously, if you love turtles and I love turtles you need to read Klassen) and I want his new book The Rock from the Sky now but it’s only being released in April (“Dear Jon Klassen: If you send me a review copy I will send you butter tarts. How many butter tarts can you find in LA? Outside of your own kitchen? Hmmm? Come on, send me the book, and I’ll send you homemade butter tarts, and you get to choose whether with or without raisins, and I won’t even judge. Sincerely, Deborah”). Because he lives in the USA and publishes in the USA, he is known in the USA.
There are certainly others who have had wonderful success here, even without crossing the border! Sydney Smith springs to mind: I don’t know anyone in the kids’ lit world who’s not kicking as sulkily at rocks as I am because he’s not eligible for the Caldecott. He gets face out displays at every indie book shop, and even people who don’t scrutinize displays and make multiple trips to multiple book shops per week (I’m totally not describing myself, shut up)may actually own a book illustrated by him. Are there others? Sure! Isabelle Arsenault, Qin Leng, Julie Morstad, Elly MacKay— these are illustrators who get good work and whose books I’m able to buy relatively easily. Most of them. Most of the time.
It shouldn’t matter to me that no one knows they’re Canadian (but it does: see point b above re: Deborah is a pouty pouty rock-kicking sulky puss), because, honestly, they’re succeeding in a tough field. The reason I justify my poutiness about something so utterly irrelevant is this: When something reaches us, and we fall in love, we look for more of it, and it’s nice to be able to get it… but if you don’t know it exists, you can’t. Consider:
When I was growing up, Martin Springett’s art for Mei Ming and the Dragon’s Daughter was so lovely I read the story over and over and I wanted more. I was starry-eyed over his work, and I’m pretty sure that in my heart it paved the way for Grace Lin‘s books (Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, in particular) today. (You should get her books. They’re amazing.) When I grew older and saw the Fionavar Tapestry (then with the original covers), the style rang a bell, and I checked– it was Martin Springett’s art! It was the first time it occurred to me that Grown-Up Books Can Have Art, Too, and I can’t tell you how that link made me glow. To this day, I check good covers for the artist– and go out of my way to get special editions with covers by my favourite artists.
Nothing is as frustrating as falling in love with no hope of finding the object of your love without paying about $30 in shipping which I’ve certainly never done no never stop it (FINE I’ve done that, and ok yes I’ve paid even more than that, but not everyone is as willing as I am to say “it’s cheaper than a plane ticket, though!”) (It is cheaper than a plane ticket and during covid you can’t travel). However, the fact is that if you go to a book shop and think, “Well now, my kid loves books by Mac Barnett. I shall now find every Mac Barnett book here and buy as many as I can,” which is a lovely thing to do, it’s quite easy. You get to go and look on the shelves, search alphabetically by author’s last name, and you will find all of the available lovely books by Mac Barnett– some illustrated by Jon Klassen, others by Isabelle Arsenault or Christian Robinson.
However, unless you’re at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, which is a wonderful idea, but not so easily achievable worldwide, and anyway it’s closed now because of covid (though the online shop is open, so patronize it, my friends), you don’t get to browse shelves by illustrator.
Further, I say, and yes I’m getting all wound up: classics, particularly illustrated classics, don’t have the staying power if you’re, for example, the abovementioned Martin Springett or, say, Frances Tyrrell, or Stéphane Poulin, or Phoebe Gilman, rather than Ezra Jack Keats or Maurice Sendak. Oh, and let’s not forget that Keats and Sendak were author-illustrators. Note that Margaret Wise Brown is far more of a household name than Clement Hurd, the skillful illustrator of Goodnight Moon. (Did you know Mac Barnett wrote a lovely book about Margaret Wise Brown? Illustrated by Sarah Jacoby.)
So I get rather fussy about my beloved Canadian illustrators, who don’t get quite the prominence unless attached to a good USA distributor, somehow, and whose names won’t be as recognized unless they’re capable of writing as well as drawing, and who won’t last as well… Example? I really wanted to give Marjorie Pickthall and Frances Tyrrell’s beautiful The Worker in Sandalwood to a friend for Christmas, but had to get it secondhand. Stéphane Poulin’s Joséphine books, even in translation, are hard to find. And so on and so forth. Oh yes, I’m fully aware that old books go out of print! Sure, the vast majority of books by the Lobels are hard to find, and I recently bought a hardback copy of In the Night Kitchen, classic of classics, simply because I FOUND IT SO IT’S MINE. Of course I already have one, don’t be silly. This is to give to the next person I hear lamenting that “they only have the paperback.” So, no, this is not exclusively a Canadian issue. It is difficult and expensive to keep every book ever produced in print in the editions everyone loves. But it is definitely harder for Canadian content than American. (And, I repeat, I’m being specifically pouty as a Canadian here: this is personal for me. I have also been known to spend exorbitant amounts of money getting books from the UK or from France. And Australia, once.)
But my issue is, very simply: how do we get more if we don’t hear about them in the first place and it’s hard to get them? I’m not an average buyer of books, but this is how an ordinary experience has gone for me: Neil Gaiman writes of Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making: “A glorious balancing act between modernism and the Victorian fairy tale, done with heart and wisdom.” (100% accurate, by the way.) Now, I know and trust Neil Gaiman and that sounded like something I like, so I got it. I loved it, and got more of Cat Valente’s books, which have led me not only to more of her own excellent work, but also to the work of others (Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver, and so much more). That’s how book-purchasing functions, normally. But let’s throw in a stumbling block: Cat decides to publish a story with an indie publisher in another country and they don’t distribute here. If we’re talking about a die-hard bibliophile and fan, this would cross the reader’s radar and maybe they’d go out of their way to get it. The average reader wouldn’t know. It wouldn’t pop up through an online algorithm because the book’s not available for purchase in the USA so a website serving the USA won’t pop up a notification “Oh, guess what? Why not get in touch with a store across the border and get this book?” If you are in a good store around the USA, a bookseller may mention it in the store, but only if you have a chatty bookseller who says: “Oh, hey, you like her? Wish we could get that new book, eh?” (Side note: Don’t worry, I know of no such book.)
Look, there’s no easy solution here. But I want to encourage you, dear readers, to think outside of the distribution bubble. When I travel (Remember travelling? I hear we might get to do it again one day!), I look for books at indie shops wherever I go (yes this is a problem when flying and the airlines make a fuss about weight limits), and I do my best to get local books– ones I know my Boston people can’t get me. In the UK, I have been known to reserve books in advance for purchase when I arrive. In Canada, I just pop in because I, um, know the booksellers and they know me. In Jerusalem, I have a local shop I love (Adraba, yes, they’re amazing). It’s worthwhile, I promise, and will enrich your library, and if it enriches your library it will enrich your mind, your heart, and your soul. And sink the foundations of your house, potentially.
PART 2: So, I’m going to show you work by a new-to-me illustrator (author-illustrator, too!), Lauren Soloy, from Canada: her earlier years in British Columbia gave her insights into the work of artist Emily Carr (how I love Emily Carr!), and she now lives on the other coast of Canada, in Nova Scotia, not far from where I grew up. She’s currently not far from the wonderful children’s book shop in Halifax, Woozles, and has offered to sign and personalize a book for ONE OF YOU, my dears, which I will pay to ship anywhere in Canada (yes, I want to focus on Canada, just this once– indulge my patriotism, I miss my home!). Rules to follow. Read on.
Her first author-illustrated book is When Emily Was Small, and it’s rooted in the story of Emily Carr as both writer and artist. I was so completely delighted that she wrote about Emily Carr just when I wanted to introduce the Changeling to Canadian art that this became personal to me.
Lauren Soloy did a wonderful job of making this story– and the art– both general and specific. Any child will be able to relate to Emily-as-Small’s feelings of repression and liberation, I think– and the story of the artist as well as the art is perfectly attuned to the historical context, too. The Canadian author-artist story goes back so far, both as far as and far preceding Emily Carr. One of the things to love about Emily Carr’s art, in fact, is that it represented a world of nature and art far beyond her own work. She was not a self-aggrandizing artist, though she knew her own worth, and you can see how steeped she was in the richness of her environment in so many ways. Lauren Soloy points to this one painting by Carr, “Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky,” as a particular influence on When Emily Was Small, but “Totem Forest” shows her keen eye for the world around and the Indigenous art surrounding her yet more explicitly:
Now, if you want an example of how Emily Carr’s eye for narrative and nature in her art is reflected in the narrative art of Lauren Soloy? Look here, at a page which made me gasp aloud:
I chose to highlight this book for a few reasons: a) I love it and she so kindly agreed to sign a copy for one of you, b) it links art and narrative in Canada across time and culture, c) it tells the story of yearning to make art, to be seen, to be heard… to be bigger than yourself, yet, ultimately, to be yourself most fully. It makes the reader yearn to live in a broad, beautiful way in this broad, beautiful world, and it feels real to me. Real– and personal. (Did you know Lauren Soloy has a new book coming out soon? She does! Etty Darwin and the Four Pebble Problem, May 18, 2021, and I’m very excited!)
PART 3: So: One of you Canadian readers! Remember that this time it’s for residents of Canada only, just this once. Please do my heart good! By Monday, March 8 at 5 pm either pop into the comments of this post and write about a Canadian illustrator you love– include the name of the picture book they illustrated, please! Or email me: email@example.com with the info– and attach a picture of the picture book you’re talking about if you’ve got it! I will choose a winner at random that night, email you immediately for name and address, and once I have the name for personalization and address for mailing, I will make the order from Woozles in Halifax to get to you ASAP!