A few years ago, there was a big furor about the "death of the picture book". I've blogged about it before, but the gist is that an article claimed that in the push to get kids reading younger and younger, picture books were no longer relevant. I think that's patently false -- for nearly all of us who love books, that love was born out of the experience of being read to, and as a parent, that's an experience I am determined to pass on to my son. Sure, chapter books are great read-alouds, but there's something about the magic of picture books that can't be replicated in any other form.
And artists like Allan Say prove that picture books are not just for the youngest members of the family. His photorealistic illustrations and detailed, nuanced text is perfect for sharing with school-age children, who will also appreciate the subtleties of his plots. We read Say's Grandfather's Journey in a class I took last semester, and there was more than enough there to keep a classful of grad students conversing for weeks!
In Tree of Cranes, Say gives us the story of a young Japanese boy who has been playing in the pond, which he's been told not to do. When he comes home wet and chilled, he thinks his mother is angry with him. All afternoon she's busy doing strange things -- making many paper cranes, digging up a tree from the garden and bringing it inside. Then the boy's mother explains to him that where she grew up, in California, the family celebrated Christmas, a wonderful holiday with presents, lights, and a "day of love and peace". The boy thinks that nowhere on earth could there have been a more beautiful sight than what his mother created, a tree of cranes.
When Sprout's old enough, I think we'll take time out to read Tree of Cranes and learn to make our own origami cranes to hang on the tree. Examining a holiday from the outside in can give us a unique perspective to share with our kids, one in which we look past the piles of gifts and holiday treats to the spirit that drives our celebration. This peaceful portrait is more than just a glimpse into another culture - it's also a reminder to be mindful of what the holiday really means, to us and those we love.