[Saturday Reads] On Being Brave While Being Small In The City


Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.

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We are featuring books that fit the following deliberately-nebulous criteria:

  1. Books that are part of an ongoing series
  2. Themed stories: books that are technically not part of a series, but fit a specific theme – e.g. intergenerational stories, nature-themed stories
  3. Short story collections
  4. Narratives of a similar genre
  5. Stories written by same author

Last Monday, I shared stories about Joy, Hope, and LoveI followed it through with a series of books on being brave and kind. Today, I am delighted to share these two picturebooks I have been meaning to share for a long time: they too, touch on courage, especially when in an unfamiliar environment.

Small In The City (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written and Illustrated by: Sydney Smith Publisher: Neal Porter Books (2019) ISBN: 9780823442614 (ISBN10: 0823442616). Literary Awards: Governor General’s Literary Awards / Prix littéraires du Gouverneur général, English-language Young People’s Literature — Illustrated Books (2019), Openbook好書獎, 最佳童書 (2019). Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

This is a complex, multi-layered picturebook that brings the reader one place and then another alley and one more corner as the story unfolds. The unexpected twists in the narrative is an invitation for the reader to examine the visual codes and clues quite closely to reveal story fragments that one might otherwise have missed.

There is also a cinematic feel with the story beginning with just images that the reader may initially think it is wordless. The actual opening lines are spoken with immediacy that it can serve as a mentor text in writing. The child protagonist seems to be talking to an invisible other, as this seemingly gender-neutral kid provides empathetic and compassionate advice on where one can find comfort in this big city.

The build-up of the narrative is such that the reader becomes increasingly curious trying to figure out who this young child is talking to. There are visual codes and clues and tell-tale signs, however, indicating who the missing loved one can possibly be.

When I read this picturebook last year, I rated it four out of five. Rereading it again this year made me give it a full 5 star. Maybe because I needed to see that last image I shared above: the quiet faith and confidence that loved ones far from us will be alright.

When You Are Brave (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Pat Zietlow Miller Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers (2019) ISBN: 9780316392525 (ISBN10: 0316392529) Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

I have always been a fan of Pat Zietlow Miller. From her Be Kind (illustrated by Jen Hill – Amazon | Book Depository) to Wherever You Go  (also illustrated by Eliza Wheeler – Amazon | Book Depository) and Remarkably You (illustrated by Patrice Barton – Amazon | Book Depository).

While the themes are feel-good and encouraging and inspirational, they never seem trite or hackneyed or forced. There is always a ring of vulnerability that skirts at the edges of one’s jaded reader’s heart, and nestles in the corner, aching and real.

While I have read and reviewed quite a number of stories that tackle the theme on transitions and moving, journeys and separation among young children, there is something about this book that blooms and glows. Maybe it is the metaphors that Miller used, or the way the art complements the textual narrative almost like a hand-in-glove, one is inseparable from the other; or just this girl’s wide-eyed uncertainty, as she flips the pages of her scrapbook, examining the girl she once was to help welcome the girl that she will become.

There is quiet faith here that comes wholly from within. There is no adult patting this girl’s back or pronouncing sage advice – the girl looked within herself and with wondering eyes looking heavenwards, she is ready to take on the world.

If you still have not had a chance to read both books, do yourself a favor and get them both immediately. I hope the stories warm your heart as much as it did mine.

September 4, 2021 at 06:31AM Myra Garces-Bacsal