Wow oh wow, are we glad to see the warmer weather around these parts! I'm telling you, it's no mean feat keeping a four-year-old busy and engaged when the weather's too foul to play outside. And so we soak up as much outdoor time as we can once the clouds start to dissipate. This year we've been working on a big yard project, and Sprout's been right in the thick of things, helping us dig, hauling dirt and weeds in his wagon, and riding his brand-new birthday bike. Bonus: he sleeps like the dead every night! :)
Of course we had to read some summer-themed books to sustain the mood, right? And among the treasures we unearthed on a recent library trip is Huy Voun Lee's picture book In the Park. This title is part of Lee's Season Series, which includes At the Beach, In the Snow, and In the Leaves. Today's pick is an oldie, so you might have to look a bit for it - I'd try the library, or a good used bookstore if you want to own your own copy.
I'm hard put to say what we like most about this title, because there are several elements that make it not only fun to read but also a treat for the eyes. Firstly, there's the plot: as the weather turns nice, Xiao Ming and his mother head to the park to enjoy an afternoon outside. Mother suggests that they work on their Chinese characters together while they are there. As the pair explores, she finds opportunities to teach Xiao Ming new characters based on what they see. The character for earth, for instance, looks like a plant growing. The sight of a bird in flight presents a chance to learn the character for bird. Even a spring storm helps Mother introduce the character for umbrella.
What's great about the Chinese characters is that Lee helps readers learn how to write them, presenting visual examples as well as helpful hints for remembering them. Each character is tied to an event in the book, and kids will have fun guessing what character the pair will be writing based on what the illustrations show. And let me tell you, these illustrations are really stunning, as Lee uses cut-paper collage to articulate the actions of the story. Each page includes lots of small elements that deepen the visual impact, such as shadows on a hilltop or dandelion seeds wisping in the wind. There's a ton of diversity here too, a real bonus for all audiences. Lee elevates what could be a didactic premise into a gorgeous one, that not only celebrates a culture but also the relationship between a mother and son.
The first and last pages of In the Park are a glossary of the Chinese characters included. For each character, Lee has included a visual reference, the character itself, its meaning, and the written word in Chinese, with its pronunciation. This is a very nice touch and helps take the book to the next level, in my estimation. Families familiar with Mandarin will en;joy the book, but it's also a nice one to share with children as an aid to reinforce linguistic similarities and differences. And kids can't help but be intrigued by the images formed by these characters - Sprout was fascinated at the thought that each word is its own little picture!
I've said it before but I'll say it again - tying books into the events happening in our lives is one of the best ways to reinforce the relevance of literature for children. And when there's an opportunity to do so while including a multicultural theme, the benefits grow exponentially. Check this one out and see what I mean!
In the Park by Huy Voun Lee, published by Henry Holt
Sample: "Xiao Ming and his mother walk until they come to a stream. 'What does this look like to you?' she asks Xiao Ming as she stops to draw. 'It looks like water flowing,' Xiao Ming says. 'It must be the character for stream."