Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Picture Book Review - Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

One thing I love about picture books these days is that they are an absolute bounty of visual delights. Seriously, some of the artwork that illustrators and author/illustrators are turning out lately just causes me to go all goggle-eyed with admiration. I have zero artistic talent, or maybe less than zero -- an elementary school memory of gobs of clay plus the instruction "make whatever you feel like inside" still causes me to break out in a cold sweat -- but I loves me some gorgeous illustrations.

And wow oh wow, does this book have them! Filled with collage and outstanding mixed-media imagery, this is just a delight to behold. And best of all, it's a multicultural title about two boys. Win win, right?

According to the jacket copy, Same, Same but Different was inspired by author/illustrator Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw's travels in India and Nepal. While there she picked up the saying "same, same but different" -- a way of expressing that things in other cultures might be done differently, but are ultimately still the same. That simple phrase sparked the idea for her picture book, which is, I tell you truly, simply rich with culture and nuance.

In the book an American boy named Elliot participates in an art exchange at school, painting a picture of the world that his teacher mails to India. A boy named Kailash responds, mailing Elliot a picture of the world as he sees it. And so begins the correspondence, in which each boy talks about the things he enjoys, or what life is like where he's from. As the book continues, we begin to see that though some aspects of their activities are different, they are also much the same. For example, Elliot lives with his family (mom, dad and baby sister) and Kailash lives with his family (23 relatives in all). Elliot rides a bus to school and so does Kailash (though his is a large pedal-cab). Elliot and his friends do a complicated handshake to say hello, while Kailash bows and tells his friends "Namaste". All in all -- same, same but different!

I love the way that the book posits each culture opposite one another, so we get a sense of each in its uniqueness even as we see that people around the world live much the same. I would have liked it if the comparison was a little more equal -- because Kailash lives in a village, we're comparing rural life with Elliot's city life, and that feels a bit disjointed -- but Kostecki-Shaw is careful never to overtly place one culture as more important or better than the other. And indeed we can see that each boy enjoys the same pursuits, just in different ways. In one of the final spreads Elliot is drawing a bird from his perch in his treehouse, while Kailash draws a bird from the shade of a big tree. While Elliot's picture displays more material goods (books, a globe, even a telescope), each boy looks just as content, just as satisfied with his leisure time.

If you're looking for a good introduction to other cultures, a title that will open up lots of possibilities for discussion and further exploration, Same, Same But Different is an excellent choice. And if you're just looking for a book that's outright wonderful to look at and to read together -- this one fills the bill.

Same, Same But Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw, published by Henry Holt and Company
Ages 2-5
Source: Library
Sample: "A great river flows through my village. Peacocks dance under trees shaped like umbrellas. The sun is giant and especially hot here. / In my city, the sun hides behind buildings as tall as the sky. Taxis, buses, and cars fill the streets."

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