We have an elephantom.
We have a what?
An elephant phantom. Elephantom.
This ghost is becoming quite the nuisance. He keeps the girl awake at night with his antics, eats all the peanut butter, and invites his rowdy friends over on Friday nights. The poor girl is frazzled out. (Plus, her room really stinks from all the elephantom-dung!)
So she turns to her family for help.
No, not her parents. They don't seem to notice anything's amiss.
Grandma. Yes, Grandma believes her. And she knows just who to ask for help.
Purveyor of Oddities.
How will clever Mr. Spectral help the girl with her elephantom problem?
A light and quick read for those lazy afternoons. By the way, do you know why Grandma believes the girl? Cos she also has a few phantom pets of her own! It always tickles me how precious grandparents are, both in reality and fiction.
This reminds me of the times my sisters, cousins and I "rode" on Grandma's sofa cushions, pretending they were horses and we were in some pugilistic adventure.
We slayed a few villains and rescued innocent folks from great harm. We were quite the warriors. Grandma didn't join us, of course. But she prepared hot chocolate (milo drinks) and lemon biscuits for our tea afterwards.
Great times. Can you recall any fond or imaginative moments with your grandparents? What are/were they like?
That's it for me. Have a fabulous week ahead, guys!
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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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"The second rule says that the door to a person's heart can only be opened from within.
If there is someone who will not let you in, it's no use hammering and kicking
and lamenting and complaining. For what if the door is ajar, and you push it shut?
With some people it can never be opened again."
We never get to find out her real name.
The girl - she lives near a cove, by a brook that runs out to sea, with her wise but ailing grandmother. They live secluded from the rest of the town. The girl collects mussels and sea kale for food and gathers driftwood to keep them warm and alive.
Except ... we all know that Grandmother is dying.
After Grandmother passes away, the girl buries her and mourns all on her own.
Two crows fly over her, and it is those two crows that the girl sees again several days later. "Come along, come along," she hears them call. Alone, and terrified of being engulfed by loneliness, she wraps a few pieces of clothings with a large handkerchief, ties it to a walking stick, and wraps her grandmother's shawl around her. Then she walks out of the house, down along the shore.
The Crow-Girl, as she is called by the first seemingly kind stranger, goes on to meet new people and learns about leaving and staying. She travels on with a poor, young boy whose father is too grief-stricken to take care of him, and with a pair of mother and daughter fleeing from an abusive family. Unknowingly, a family of strangers forms and their bond grows strong enough to withstand hunger and further loss.
There is a quiet tone in the telling of The Crow-Girl's adventures that I particularly like. I understand this tone isn't every reader's cup of tea. (Too gloomy for my taste, some might say.) But if you like a story about loss and findings, told through prose clear as a bout of wind, and with an undertone that is slightly sad but which, at times, still promises hope, you might enjoy this piece.
The Crow-Girl is translated from the Danish. One of my favourite middle-grade novels, The Song of the Whales, is also a translation (from Hebrew). Both of them carry a narrative style that is, strangely, classy yet down-to-earth at the same time. I wonder if you guys know of other translated children's books (picture books, middle-grade or young adult novels) that I could check out? Feel very free to let me know ~
Just Received Word On:
~ An author interview over at Carolyn Hart's Storytime Standouts. Carolyn asked several fabulous questions and I had a great time hanging out over at her place!
~ A Sea Creatures Ebook Giveaway at Brooke Blogs. The winner will receive 5 children's ebooks/apps. If you know of anyone whose kids enjoy the sea-creature theme, be sure to point them to the giveaway!
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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.