Images of Home in Three Picture Books

What it is about us humans that we keep longing for home? Wherever we are is never quite it. Home is always some far place, or in a time long ago, or even just a dream in the heart.

From Groundwood Books, here are three picture books, each addressing the notion of home in a very different way.

MalaikasWinterCarnival.jpgIn Malaika’s Winter Carnival, Mummy is marrying Mr. Frédéric. Suddenly Malaika not only has a new sister, Adèle, but has to move to a different country. Here’s a fresh twist on the immigrant story that raises questions of what constitutes home. Look at  how very strange Malaika’s new country is! It’s cold, for one thing, and people speak with a “different talk.” For another, the new sister “kiss me two sides of my face,” a little gesture that leads us to the setting—Quebec, where people speak French. A gentle resolution results in this child-centered story.

Onlyinmyhometown.jpgKisimi Taimaippaktut Angirrarijarani/Only in My Hometown by Angnakuluk Friesen, illustrated by Ippiksaut Friesen (they’re sisters), is a bilingual book with three fonts. How can that be, you ask? It was written in English and translated into Inuktitut (the Aivilik dialect). The Inuktitut language is represented in two fonts–syllabics and transliteration into roman script. And the illustrations–how fantastic is this?–were painted with watercolor and acrylic on elephant poo paper. Yes. That is correct. I thought I was seeing things too, because the book opens with these words: “Sitting on the elephant…” Elephant? In the frozen north? You have to read the book to understand this particular and heartfelt evocation of home.


bitterandsweet.jpgIn Bitter and Sweet by Sandra Feder, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker, Hannah doesn’t want to move, but her father has a job in a new town. Hannah’s grandmother tells her there are bitter and sweet parts to change. As the move becomes reality, Hannah keeps trying to find the sweet parts, and with each new spread, even as she opens up to hope, the sweetness keeps eluding her. The chocolate “ptooey” page is especially charming. The story circles naturally around with Hannah’s phone call to her grandmother, arriving at a final turn of understanding and resolution.

Childhood is a place of emotion barely understood but deeply felt, and in a different way, each of these books captures the fresh new feelings of a young life, newly lived.


Revising an Already Published Book

Book_Uncle_and_meMy chapter book, Book Uncle and Me, won the Scholastic Asian Book Award back in 2011. It was first published in India, then in Australia. Now it’s going to be published in Canada and the US by Groundwood Books.

Which is nice for lots of reasons, but one of them is that it gives me a chance to take a second look at the text for this new market–something that doesn’t happen that often.

Not that I didn’t like the Indian edition. I liked the sassiness of it, the bright yellow cover, the illustrations by Priya Kurian. And yes, it was in lineated prose and I will confess that I liked my line breaks.


The Australian edition was fun to see. They kept Priya’s art. They took out the line breaks. To my great surprise the story still worked.

However, reworking the whole thing yet again is, in some ways, a writer’s dream come true. I’ve sometimes read in public from published work and had the experience of longing to pull out my pen and start fixing the text as I read! I wrote Book Uncle and Me some years ago, so it’s great to have the chance to look at it again. I know the story so well that I don’t have to go through the usual plotting agonies. I can play with words, juggle scenes, add a couple of new ones if I wish. I can look forward to the editing and production as if it were an entirely new book. I can recreate it knowing what I’ve learned as a writer over these last four years.

It almost doesn’t feel like work.