Tag Archives: Pets/Animals

Two Parrots by Rashin, inspired by a tale from Rumi

Two ParrotsAccording to a note at book’s end, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī of 13th-century Persia, also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, or simply Rumi, “… is currently considered to be the ‘most popular poet in America.’” International award-winning illustrator/writer Rashin wants to make sure that even the youngest readers can access and appreciate the timeless poet. To that end, in a simple, contemporary translation illuminated with captivating pictures, Rashin presents a story about love and freedom from Rumi’s iconic, extensive Masnavi, his six-volume poem of Sufi spiritual lessons.

“Once upon a time, in Persia,” begins this tale of “a wealthy merchant who had everything.” Still, he found himself a bit lonely, and bought a lively talking parrot to keep him company. In spite of all the endless comforts the merchant offers his fine feathered friend, the parrot remains sad in his beautiful golden cage.

As the merchant makes plans for a trip to India, he generously asks all his servants what he might bring back as gifts. Rather than any luxuries, the parrot’s only desire is but a message to a friend: “‘Tell him I would love to see him, but I can’t because I live in a cage.’” The merchant dutifully delivers the missive, only to witness the friend’s sudden death at the news. Upon his return home, how the merchant’s own parrot reacts to his regretful report teaches the merchant “a lesson [he] will never forget.”

Rashin, too, is just as ingenious as her avian characters, as she creates a complementary ‘hidden-in-plain-sight’ narrative in Farsi. In case you’re not lucky enough (like grateful me) to have a literary Persian friend, allow me to share a few tidbits. The three servants’ requests penned on a long scroll, begin with the word ‘sogati,’ the Persian concept of gifts gathered from one’s travels to specifically share with family and friends waiting at home (think souvenirs with purpose) – in this case, items include “perfume, clothes, jewels, sweets, wine, fruits, scarf, fabric.” The merchant is surely indulgent.

Most revealing of all is the parroted epistolary exchange: the sealed envelope at story’s beginning suggests that the Indian parrot’s name is Sina, as he writes, “My dear friend, salaam [hello] …,” to his caged buddy; as the ending nears, the scattered pages around the parrot’s cage show a letter in progress, in which the trapped parrot replies to his friend: “Salaam, my dear friend, I wished I could see you,” and “You are lucky because you are free.”

Love should never be at the cost of freedom, and Rashin-via-Rumi offers an important early lesson about healthy relationships (21st-century helicopter parents – who me?! – might take careful note). Thanks to Rashin’s vivid, empathetic presentation, here’s a teachable moment translated into an enchanting, memorable experience.

Readers: Children

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Iranian American, Persian

Coyote Run by Gaëtan Dorémus

Coyote RunHere’s your oxymoron for the day: wordless books that convey so much.

French illustrator/author Gaëtan Dorémus pays a kid-friendly homage to the American western … with whimsy, ingenuity, and (of course!) chocolate chip cookies. Somewhere in the wild surrounded by red rocks and jaunty saguaros, Coyote watches a tiny friend flying free while he remains behind bars. The sheriff and his somnolent deputies are otherwise distracted, so Coyote grabs the keys and makes for the hills.

The sheriff gives chase, and a mesa-top face-off ensues with the hunter and huntee angrily pointing guns. But Coyote’s tiny ladybug friend appears to distract the enemies, its tiny flights of fancy inspiring foes to become friends. [Yes, getting along can be that simple: just put down the weapons, raise a toast, and roast a meal together!] Alas, peace proves short-lived … until once again, the ladybug rallies to provide quite the Coccinella septempunctata ex machina rescue.

Dorémus’ latest import, which arrives Stateside thanks to delightfully innovative indie press Enchanted Lion Books, is proof-positive that his pictures are worth thousands of words, especially when his artistry is so full of action, humor, and just plain fun (you wouldn’t expect less from someone who, according to his back flap bio, enjoys eating his green tomatoes with cinnamon, right?). Rest assured, nothing gets lost in translation here!

Readers: Children

Published: 2014 (United States)

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, European

Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons by Jon J. Muth

Hi, Koo!What is it about panda bears that makes them soooo utterly irresistible? Click here to see if you could possibly be immune to those “chubbly-wubbly.” Curmudgeon that I usually am, even I succumbed to “beary love.”

Jon Muth personally knows their inevitably undeniable appeal: his giant panda, Stillwater, and his nephew, Koo, have helped make Muth a mega-bestselling, multi-award winning author/illustrator many times over with Zen Shorts, Zen Ties, and Zen Ghosts, as well dozens of other titles to Muth’s name.

His latest – hitting shelves today – is an ingenious celebration of young Koo’s multifaceted talents: Koo is a prolific poet who can embed all 26 letters of the alphabet (watch for the capitalizations) as he shares his appreciation of the unique sights of the changing seasons in 26 haiku. The wordplay is especially clever and entertaining: a charming challenge for older kiddies, a lyrical delight for the youngest.

Koo opens with autumn, anticipating a change in wardrobe, leaves, and warmth. He’s joined by two friends as they chase melting icicles and a vanishing cat. Crocuses announce the coming of spring, when too much indoor TV time finally turns to outdoor adventures. Birds make nests, and Koo mourns the accidental death of a bug (oh, be still my heart!). Summer arrives with violet petals and butterfly kisses, and Koo takes a moment of quiet, sharing the splendor with two avian companions lovingly perched … on his head, of course!

Spring is in the air (finally!), the perfect reason to share this whimsy and glee: say ‘hi, Koo’ with his heartfelt haiku.

Readers: Children

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific

Norman, Speak! by Caroline Adderson, illustrated by Qin Leng

Norman, Speak!When Norman and his parents go to the animal shelter, they return home with a brown-and-white dog with a stump for a tail because he’s the “saddest.” “‘No one knows his real name,’” the shelter employee explains, “‘Norman is what we call him.’” As soon as his cage door is opened, Norman begins to wag until “his whole rump swung from side to side. His wag was a hula dance of happiness.”

Wagging proves to be the only communication between boy and dog. “Norman didn’t understand a word we said … after a few days with Norman, we knew the truth. He just wasn’t very smart.” And yet Norman’s energetic glee is just irresistible and “[w]e loved Norman anyway.”

One day at the park, Norman’s family learns quite the language lesson: a man and his playful canine companion show that Norman is actually fluent in Chinese (!), which prompts Mom, Dad, and the boy to sign up for Saturday morning Chinese classes. In spite of the difficult challenge (“‘More effort. Fewer jokes,’” Teacher Wang warns airplane-throwing Dad), the boy works hard to speak to his new best friend. Oh, the many languages of love …

Caroline Adderson, an internationally lauded Canadian writer for adults as well as older readers, debuts her first picture book which arrives south of the border already prized with the 2012 Helen Isobel Sissons Canadian Children’s Story Award. Adderson’s thought-provoking, diversity-celebrating (oh, so cleverly so!) tale is superlatively enhanced by Qin Leng‘s whimsical, humorous illustrations. Most noteworthy are the expressions Leng imbues on both her canine and human subjects – from the quizzical head tilt to classroom giggles. Get ready to join in on that “hula dance of happiness.”

Readers: Children

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Canadian, Canadian Asian Pacific American

Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore, illustrated by Susan L. Roth

Parrots Over Puerto RicoCo-authors Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore, whose last project  à deux was the glorious The Mangrove Tree set in the tiny African country of Eritrea, travel south to the Caribbean to present another memorable story of preservation and conservation.

Welcome to Puerto Rico, home of the Puerto Rican parrot, also called iguacas in imitation of their cry: “They lived on this island for millions of years, and then they nearly vanished from the earth forever.” Roth and Trumbore tell their avian story, intermingled with the island’s past, from the first island settlers that included the Taínos who hunted the parrots as both nourishment and pets, to Christopher Columbus who claimed the island for Spain, to the Spanish settlers who followed, to the stolen Africans enslaved to tame the land. Spain ruled Puerto Rico for centuries until it was lost in war to the United States, which claimed the island a U.S. territory in 1917.

Through all those millenia, the parrots suffered – their tree homes were devastated, they were hunted, killed, trapped, and what was left of their nesting areas were invaded by other birds. “By 1954, there were only two hundred parrots left.” Fourteen years later – why did it take so long? – the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program was established to “save and protect the parrots.” And yet by 1975, a mere 13 parrots flew through the rain forest … how will the bright green flocks be saved?

Part history, part morality tale, part political treatise, part inspiring redemption, Roth and Trumbore’s collaboration is as much a lesson for us old folks as it is a story to share with our youngest. The “Afterword,” with its many photographs, is proof positive of a hopeful future. The timeline that follows of “Important Dates in the History of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican Parrots” demands we learn from the past as we work to ensure that future in the present.

Roth’s richly detailed paper-and-fabric collages dazzle eyeballs of all ages, showcased in Christy Hale‘s brilliantly clever book design. By just (just!) turning the book’s orientation 90° − so that you flip the pages up rather than turn them from right to left – Hale adds soaring height that underscores the parrots’ flight (and plight); she literally sends the story aloft.

Final note: This Roth/Trumbore/Hale accomplishment is a memorable example of why e-readers are just not enough (Luddites unite!); the magic will disappear on the screen. So to fly with the iguaca, you’ll definitely need to choose the page.

Readers: Children

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Nonfiction, Caribbean, Nonethnic-specific, Puerto Rican

Triton of the Sea (vols. 1-2) by Osamu Tezuka, translated by Eugene Woodbury, edited by Eileen Tse

Triton of the Sea 1.2

When I say ‘brought to you by popular demand,’ I have indisputable proof here: 715 supporters put up almost 150% more than the requested funds in answer to Digital Manga‘s 2012 Kickstarter campaign to bring Triton of the Sea (along with two additional Tezuka titles, Unico and Atomcat), to an English-reading audience four decades after its native Japanese publication. How grateful are we for unfaltering groupie devotion for the ‘godfather of manga’?

Mermaids, monsters, and even more mythic creatures, oh my! “Since the dawn of time, legends of the sea have been with us. Tales of beautiful, terrifying, and mysterious oceans have aroused our minds with notions of fantasy, of phantasm,” the double-volume adventure begins. Following his grandmother’s astonishing tales, young Kazuya climbs down the dangerous cliffs surrounding his seaside village and discovers an abandoned baby boy.

Swaddled in “seaweed instead of bedding,” Kazuya takes the wide-eyed, gleefully-grinning bundle home. “If that baby stays in this village, bad fortune is bound to follow,” Kazuya’s grandmother warns. Her words prove prescient when a sudden earthquake hits, followed by a tsunami that kills Kazuya’s father. Resolutely determined to give Triton a family, Kazuya’s mother moves to Tokyo with Kazuya and Triton to begin a new life.

As a naive teenager, Kazuya is easy prey for city slickers. In grave frustration, Kazuya wreaks violent revenge after being cheated yet again and must flee for his life. Triton, meanwhile, grows quickly, maturing many years during a single growth spurt; although Kazuya and his mother realize Triton is not of this world, both remain unconditionally bound to him for life.

Triton is a creature of the sea, the last of a once mighty clan slaughtered to near extinction by order of King Poseidon. With Kazuya on the run, Triton is loath to leave their mother alone but he can no longer ignore his aquatic calling. Guided and protected by a golden dolphin, Triton must hunt and eradicate Poseidon’s monstrous children one by one, until he can confront the ignominious king himself. Alas, the watery despot is not Triton’s only adversary… the human race proves to be a far greater threat to the deep seas.

Part myth, part family drama, part biology lesson, part dire environmental warning decades ahead of its time, Triton is, like many of Tezuka’s beloved titles, ultimately a desperate plea for peace. Far too often, we humans are our own worst enemy, tragically destroying too many others as well: “However strong and powerful the people of the land may be, they are wrong when they try to claim both the ocean and the land as their own. There are many other living things besides humans,” Triton’s young son warns. Out of the mouth of babes, generation after generation, Tezuka masterfully continues to provide timeless lessons to be repeated again and again and again …

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 1969, 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang, translated by Chi-Young Kim, illustrated by Nomoco

hen Who Dreamed She Could FlyThis new year couldn’t start off with a better title. At a mere 134 pages, it’s perfect to read in a single sitting, although the story’s loving spirit is sure to linger. It’s also the ideal gift to share with anyone and everyone who holds a place in your heart.

“Sprout was the best name in the world. A sprout grew into a leaf and embraced the wind and the sun before falling and rotting and turning into mulch for bringing fragrant flowers into bloom. Sprout wanted to do something with her life, just like the sprouts on the acacia tree. That was why she’d named herself after them.”

Confined to a tiny space all her life, Sprout simply decides one day she will not lay another egg. She is soon culled from her coop, but survives the “Hole of Death,” even escaping the murderous weasel with the help of her duck friend Straggler, another less-than-accepted animal in the farmyard. In spite of her initial fear and worry, Sprout is newly empowered on her own. Out in the”vast fields” in which she can roam free, “Sprout stood tall and proud, clucking joyfully.” And then her wildest dream comes true when she finds another animal’s still-warm egg, protects and nurtures it, until Baby arrives to make her world wondrous and tragic, joyful and wrenching, and everything in between.

An international bestseller with over two million copies sold around the globe, Hen arrives Stateside more than a decade after its native South Korean publication. The author of over 40 Korean titles, Sun-mi Hwang makes her English debut via Chi-Young Kim, who has quickly become the lauded, in-demand, Korean-to-English translator since her rendition of Kyung-sook Shin’s 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize-winning Please Look After Mom. London-based Japanese designer Nomoco adds just enough haunting whimsy with black-and-while line drawings that introduce each chapter.

In straight-forward, simple sentences, Hwang manages to create a multi-layered tale of the most improbable connections that make up a family – and the surrounding community. Powered by the deepest emotions, strengthened by immeasurable bonds, Sprout proves to be a conduit for every kind of love … for her child, for her friend, and even her fiercest enemy.

As we ready ourselves for the many challenges we’re certain to face in the new year, may Sprout be our beacon for enduring inspiration and unconditional love for us all.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2000, 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ...Absolute Favorites, ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Translation, Korean

The Year of the Horse: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin, illustrated by Jennifer Wood

Year of the HorseGet ready to ring in the new year … we might know it as 2014, but by the lunar calendar, January 31, 2014 through February 18, 2015 is also the latest Year of the Horse. Thanks to Oliver Chin, founding publisher of San Francisco-based indie press, Immedium, each lunar year gets an energetic, giggle-inducing welcome with his Tales from the Chinese ZodiacHorse marks the ninth installment (already!) in the 12-part series.

Meet Tom and Hannah – gleefully gracing that grand cover – who are new best friends who share quite the sense of adventure. When Tom’s teacher Lao Shi receives a royal summons for a new painting, she’s at a loss as to how she will deliver her art to the capital so far away. Intrepid Tom volunteers, but he can’t possibly go alone! After interviewing many possible companions, the best candidate is none other than Hannah herself. “‘Trust in each other and move as one,’” Lao Shi advises as the pair head off to make their precious delivery.

As she did in The Year of the Dragon and The Year of the Snake, illustrator Jennifer Wood continues to provide the same delightfully equitable page time for all the zodiac animals, adding another engaging level of ‘hide-and-seek’ for younger readers. Author Chin again introduces rollicking exploits to inspire and entertain, all the while celebrating the Asian culture that infuses our daily American lives.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, adventurous new year indeed!

Tidbit: In case you’re wondering about the equine members in your stable … “People born in the Year of the Horse [1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026] are energetic and animated. They are proud and love attention. But they can be impatient, hot-blooded, and headstrong. Though they are free spirits, horses are steadfast and resilient companions.” Going on a trip? Make sure to take a Horse along with you!

To check out some of the other Tales from the Chinese Zodiac on BookDragon, click here.

Readers: Children

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Chinese American

Upside Down: A Vampire Tale by Jess Smart Smiley

Upside DownSince I temporarily seem to find myself in Utah – although I admit it’s not quite as frightening here as I thought it might be, ahem! – I figured this spookfest would not be complete without a Utahn Halloween manga, right? Jess Smart Smiley, who “lives in the bewitching mountains of Utah,” according to his back flap author bio, “ma[de] rad pictures with his bare hands” to create this 2012 graphic novel debut (a case of ‘better late than never’).

Meet vampire Harold: his darling – I mean, scary! – mug haunts the novel’s cover. He’s got quite the candy addiction that causes him to lose his cavity-riddled fangs on the dentist’s tray. Without his sparkling bite, he’s too ashamed to go home to his parents, who happen to live in Professor Adams’ piano, so he decides he might as well hang (upside down) with the neighborhood bats.

Meanwhile, mean-witch Vermillion mistakenly dissolves the rest of her kind, but figures she can live forever if she can just get to Professor Adams’ latest elixir. But thanks to Harold, his batty buddies, flying toads, and wads of used gum, the world is made safe once more … and dear Professor Adams even finds his spellbound soulmate.

For younger readers (and parents) in search of some non-cavity-inducing fun, Upside Down is a sweet, goofy treat to share, in between a limited few lollipops and chocolates. Dr. Eaves, of course, will be waiting with pliers for those who overindulge!

Smiley’s (gotta grin at that fitting name!) charming graphics are made whimsically more “rad,” presented  in “black, white and Halloween green.” That’s right – not a smidge of pumpkin orange in sight (except for a tiny bit of t-shirt on an adorable monster who shares Smiley’s author photo)! Oh, these Utahns are just so renegade!

Readers: Children

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, ..Middle Grade Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, Nonethnic-specific

Nasreddine by Odile Weulersse, illustrated by Rébecca Dautremer

NasreddineHere’s the perfect companion to Mar Pavón and Nívola Uyá’s A Very, Very Noisy Tractor which posted Saturday.

Young Nasreddine’s answers his father Mustafa’s request to ready the donkey for their journey to the market. Mustafa and their large sack of dates sit atop the donkey, while a shoeless Nasreddine follows behind in an attempt to keep his slippers clean. Of course, the passing vizier has something to say about that, calling Mustafa lazy for making “his son slosh through the mud.” Mustafa merely replies, “‘Your words, sir, are hurting my ears,’” but Nasreddine’s embarrassment sends him home full of shame.

The next week, the patient donkey bears young Nasreddine who claims a twisted ankle, along with wool to be transported to the weavers. Along the way, nearby women washing clothes voice their opinion about overprivileged children who make their elders walk: “‘Fathers have no authority at all.’” Mustafa calmly offers the same reply: “‘Your words, women, are hurting my ears.’” But, alas, that hurt is amplified in embarrassed Nasreddine.

A few days later, another trip elicits further unsolicited comments. And another week later, even more. And so on and on. Finally, having tried every permutation of father, son, and beast, Mustafa gently addresses his son: “‘I’ve let you do as you wish until now, but today you need to understand your mistake … It’s up to you to decide if what you’re hearing is wise, or if it’s only a silly and hurtful remark.’” Young Nasreddine’s understanding is “triumphant,” and surely a lesson to learn well for us all.

Nasreddine apparently has much wisdom to impart: “Stories about Nasreddine are told throughout the Middle East and beyond. They are often said to be based on a real man who lived in Turkey during the Middle Ages,” the ending historical note explains. “The stories have been changed and added to over the years, but Nasreddine has never lost his ability to offer both wisdom and delight.”

French author Odile Weurlersse (who also teaches film at the legendary Sorbonne) and French illustrator Rébecca Dautremer surely increase the delight factor with an absolutely enchanting literary presentation balancing just the right repetitive text with ineffable illustrations. Nasreddine’s thoughtful expressions, Mustafa’s tender responses exponentially enhance the story, certainly emphasizing the much-appreciated wisdom with utter delight.

Readers: Children

Published: 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, .Translation, European, Turkish