Brace yourself. This isn't a happy story.
Still, it is a sweet, sad one that's likely to give you a big lump in the throat.
Xiao Le, a little Chinese boy, hasn't seen his grandmother in a long time. Grandma lives in Perfume Village, which is rather faraway. One morning, his mother tells him they are taking a long train ride to visit Grandma. Xiao Le happily carries his backpack and brings along his toy truck.
To show Grandma.
When they reach the village, Grandma's neighbour, Aunt Zhou, answers the door.
"Hurry in! Your grandma is not feeling well. She's in bed."
This isn't a normal visit. This is a visit to say goodbye. But Xiao Le doesn't know it. He only sees frail Grandma lying in bed and he's a little afraid of going near her. Mother tells Xiao Le to look after Grandma while she makes some snacks and does some chores.
Xiao Le runs to his mother when Grandma needs water, or when she tosses and turns in her bed. He carefully places pills in Grandma's mouth, one by one, when she needs to take some medicine.
(Precious boy, this one.)
Weakly, Grandma chats with Xiao Le. They talk about the photo of Grandpa and Mother by her bedside, play a wood sorrel game when Grandma feels like sitting in the sun, and have afternoon tea in the yard.
When Grandma feels tired and wishes to take a nap, Xiao Le leaves his truck with her. He doesn't know exactly what is going on, but he sees Mother wiping away tears as she talks to Aunt Zhou. Later in the evening, they bid goodbye to Grandma, who wants Xiao Le to visit her again soon.
From that day on Xiao Le never saw Grandma again.
Xiao Le can tell Mother is hurting. In his kind, pure-hearted manner, he gets her (and us) through grief. The sense of loss will always be there. But grief, in this case, can be eased.
The writing is nice and the illustrations, my goodness, are gorgeous. (I'm not a big, big fan of realistic artwork in children's literature but here I am in awe of the images.) The storyline isn't new. We've all read about children coping with grief and loss in picture books. However, I got a bit emotional reading this book because it reminded me of my grandmothers. And I felt very sorry for Xiao Le's mother. There must be many like her in China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan, where their aging parents still stay in rural areas while they have moved to big cities to work and raise their own family. Visiting their parents perhaps takes place only a few times a year, if lucky enough. Some in China, I hear, only get to go home to their village during Chinese New Year. (Have you read about how it's like at train stations during Chinese New Year in China? Packed crazy. Check out this BBC article.)
Once a year. That's all.
And just like Xiao Le's mother, they all wish they can take better care of their parents.
Are you lucky enough to be near your family and friends?
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A childless couple, John and Marta, finds a boy asleep on the porch of their farmhouse one day. They haven't seen him around before. They don't know who left him with them or why. All they have is that scraggly note.
There's nothing they can do but take the boy, Jacob, in. (Not that they aren't secretly happy to.)
The boy doesn't talk. He taps. Tap tap tap. Tap-tap, tap-tap. It takes Marta a while to figure out that's how he communicates. John trades in his belts and hat at the store so Jacob has paints and a drum set. Marta checks on him when he goes to bed every night.
Jacob rides the cow and forms a deep friendship with the couple's beagle. Funny thing being, all three of them didn't belong to John and Marta. They have each "found" their way to them, like children finding their way to parents.
Together they make up a warm, happy family. The boy arrives on their porch along with many questions, but there's one in particular that constantly haunt John and Marta, one they dread and fear:
Those people who left Jacob with them, when are they coming to claim him?
There are two Sharon Creech stories I hold dearly (which I must have mentioned to shreds on this blog) : Heartbeat and Walk Two Moons. It's not surprising that whenever I read another of her novel, I compare it to what those two have given me.
The Boy on the Porch is a touching story about parenting and unexpected connections. It is sweet and, naturally, a little sad ~ just the type for me. I wish there was a wee bit more flavour in the narrative. Just a bit more. Like a pot of soup I would have preferred to be left brewing for a while more. Still, I'm very glad I picked this up from the library. Sometimes strangers who become family remain closer than real families do.
Have you read this book?
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I write children's books and I love my local library. Recently, Singapore's National Library Board made a disappointing decision to withdraw and pulp three children's picture books that feature non-conventional families.
I still love my library. I am also still much disappointed with the board's decision.
I know ~ changes take time, especially changes or shifts of mindsets in a growing yet fundamentally traditional culture. I'm also glad to know ~ a change IS taking place, what with writers and readers speaking up about this. Hopefully very soon, we will all practise embracing diversity as warmly as we talk about it. (This is a reminder I suppose everyone needs.)
An announcement on Allyn Stotz's picture book giveaway: The winner is Stephanie Robinson. Congratulations, Stephanie!
I am overseas working on a picture book for a start-up company and taking a mini-vacation. Sorry if I miss your blogs in the meantime, I'll catch up soon. Have as good a day as you can everyday. Love reading. Love books. Love introducing your children to old and new ideas. Love watching them learn and explore. Love hearing them wonder. Love letting them figure out the answers, or accepting that not everything has an answer. Love teaching them to love to grow.
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Hey, I'm Claudine. Welcome!
Want to know what children's stories can inspire & lead to?
by Kate Hanney
Really enjoyed the honest voice of this narrator ~ a teenager let down by his mother and the foster care system, and almost-picked up through his involvement with a gang.