Vy rushes in the morning to reach the line to get rice. She is running late, but still gets a spot. Set in Vietnam during Covid, she wears and mask and stands in line on the marked spot to be socially distanced from others. The line is very long and everyone is tired. Ahead of her in line is a woman with a baby and a small boy. Vy sings to the baby, a lullaby to get him to settle. She reads the little boy a poem of rice and rain. Then the two of them draw a picture together that they give to an older woman in line. Vy lets the woman go ahead of her in line, but when Vy reaches the end, there is no more rice. But the small kindnesses she performed in line come back to her in rice for her family.
Trinh tells this story with a real grace. She shows the poverty and need with frankness while also showing how small acts of kindness in the midst of a pandemic can make all the difference in people’s lives. The story has a genuine quality to it, the acts of kindness are thoughtful and realistic as is the final sharing of rice amongst everyone who was impacted by Vy’s kindness. The text is written in a mix of narration and speech bubbles, combined with poetry and song lyrics.
Shelvin’s illustrations embrace the mixtures of texts, highlighting the song and poem with freshly bright colors of bright pinks, yellows and blues. The majority of the book is done in a subtle color palette with golds, pale blue and gray.
A quiet and lovely look at the pandemic and everyday kindness in a crisis. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Eli was born in the tiny community of Svalbard, Norway. She was raised by a mother who loved stories that made their lives extraordinary. From magical tales in front of the fire to three girls set free from their destinies to marry princes, her stories were both a comfort and a concern. Then one night, Eli’s mother vanished from a frozen fjord leaving Eli behind in the icy darkness as she was swept up by the Northern Lights. Since then, Eli has lived a very normal life with her father in Cape Cod. Everything changes though when she receives a mysterious note brought by the wind and left in a bush for her. The Northern Lights are coming to Cape Cod, and Eli realizes that she may be able to bring her mother back. After whistling for her mother under the sweep of colors in the sky, her mother does return, but not without other consequences. Her mother is icy cold with fingernails that melt away and eyes full of darkness. When meteorites start to fall around them and narwhals beach nearby, Eli knows she must make the trip to Svalbard and find out how to save her mother.
Lesperance’s fantasy novel is beautifully crafted, full of echoes of stories like “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” It builds from these stories, creating something new and magical. The story spans continents, taking readers from Norway to America and back again. The contrasts between ways of life are profound and interesting. They support the wild and raw stories that come to life around Eli and her family. The settings are both depicted with clarity and a real attention to the details that make them special.
Eli and her mother are fabulous characters. Eli must find her way through the layers of the stories to see the truth within them that will lead her to her mother. She has to figure out how to trust, and it may just be the most unlikely people around her. The depiction of her grandmother is one of the best in the book, showing what could have stayed a stereotypical cruel woman and turning her into something complex who supports the entire story.
Clever writing, beautiful world building and a twist on classic folk tales make this a book worth exploring, perhaps with mittens. Appropriate for ages 12-16.