Friday, November 12, 2010


MirrorMIRROR by Jeannie Baker (Candlewick, 2010)
“The idea for this book came from my delight traveling in a country very different from my own. At the time, in my own country, there was much political poisoning of attitudes of foreigners and foreignness. But traveling along in remote Morocco, a woman 'stranger' myself, I was met with much friendliness and generosity from 'strangers.' The idea for the book was right there: that outward appearances may be very different but the inner person of a 'stranger' may not be a stranger at all.  Like each other, we live to be loved by family and friends and to be a part of a larger family, a community.  Inwardly we are so alike, it could be each other we see when we look in a mirror."
- Jeannie Baker
Get ready for something out of the children’s book “box.” Two parallel stories of two families: one in urban Australia, one in Morocco. When you open the single book, two bound texts are revealed, one on the front side of the binding and one on the backside, one you follow right to left, the other, left to right, in mirror image, with pages to be turned at the same time. In this way, we go wordlessly through an average day for both families, both involving shopping, one side featuring a boy’s trip to the mega hardware store in a shopping mall, the other to a sandy desert market. Not since Mistumasa Anno’s ALL IN A DAY has parallel timelines gotten such unusual play.

Where the Forest Meets the Sea
Jeannie Baker is a seasoned children’s book illustrator (some teachers may recognize her earlier work, WHERE THE FOREST MEETS THE SEA from rainforest units). I hope it can be appreciated what a major, major undertaking this latest work must have been. Even the conception of the project, requiring some reader acrobatics decoding narratives in two different directions, literally and figuratively, redefines in some way the structure and expectation of a book. The wordless text gives the story universality, with a storyline intended clearly to unify, while never sacrificing the cultural integrity of each country represented. But whoooosh, look at that art, meticulous paper cut and collage on every page, integrating sand, tin, wood, plastic, clay, paint and vegetation. The whole world seems in this book, and fittingly so; most of all, this is a book about love of the world, in it’s sameness and its differences. It doesn’t require us to believe everyone is “just like us” in order for us to love them and want them to be free.  At the same time, the book allows us to notice our commonalities in a real world context. The story ends with the Australian boy’s imagination being lifted by thoughts of a “magic carpet” imported to and bought at the hardware store, while the Moroccan family is swept away by their own market purchase: a desktop computer. It is interesting she chose to end on that note, albeit subtle, where the Westernized family is still holding to outdated stereotypes of the Arab world, while the other family, for all the isolation of the landscape, is moving forward toward the technological age; but rather than reading as an accusation, it comes off as an invitation to an updated global view. Teachers, students can research other countries and cultures to create a similar parallel illustration, a picture that tells a thousand words.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: A Pop-up AdaptationIn a world of electronic beeping and booping, buttons to press and glowing screens, this is a straight-up analog book for the 21st century. It deserves way more buzz than it has been getting, and though the author's nationality might get it tripped up on the residency criteria of “most distinguished contribution to American literature,” I hope the award committees are on the alert for how to give this American edition its due in the states; it reminds me of the year Robert Sabuda created his first big pop-up, ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, requiring hundreds of hand-carved block plates and probably deserving of a Caledott and a half, but might have been considered a “novelty book.” Please pay attention, ya’ll. (7 and up)

Also of interest:
They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  It can begin with a single page, too!  Encourage your young readers to atke a trip around the world by exploring titles on the "Book a Trip Around the World" list, here!  Teachers, make passports with a page for every continent, and rubberstamp pages as they read books from particular locales.  How far can children travel with books?

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.
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Jo said...

Wow. This sounds really great. I'm not sure I'm picturing it exactly right, but if it's anything like I'm imagining ...

7 and up is a little old for my niece (2 this month) and nephew (3) yet though. Do you think younger kids could enjoy it?

Esme Raji Codell said...

I do think 2 and 3 years old is a little young for this book. The back-and-forth narrative is relatively complex even though it is wordless, and the pages are easy to rip...though I'm sure they could enjoy it in their own way. Why not check it out first at the public library and see? Happy reading!


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