Thursday, November 11, 2010

Yasmin's Hammer, Rickshaw Girl, and Amadi's Snowman

Yasmin's Hammer by Ann Malaspina could in many ways be a picture book companion to Rickshaw Girl, the simply and beautifully written chapter book story by Mitali Perkins in which a girl struggles between her love for a traditional art form and her family's needs, all the time seeing her own education about to be held hostage.

What is so refreshing about both books is that neither features the culture as the source of conflict. One of the most touching spreads in Yasmin's Hammer is the one with the family poring over the book she has just purchased with her hard-earned taka. Before the father stands up, before he makes his announcement, we are poised with this family, on the edge of that story turn. It's quite remarkable.

I also really appreciated that while there is the obligatory glossary, words like taka and the glorious, mythic Bangla word for the water buffalo, mohish, are allowed to be understood contextually on the page without pulling the reader out of the story for the purposes of translation.

And I'm happily reminded yet again of Katia Novet Saint-Lot's lovely book,  Amadi's Snowman. It also deals with the power of books and reading but it does something else I absolutely love. It  takes a sly jab at the notion of what it means to be "exotic."


  1. I love the fact that the 'foreign' words in this book are used in such a way that they are understood from context. I've been trying to do that in my stories, with Japanese words. I HATE reading books where foreign words are explained in a way that seems pedantic -- and working them into the context is so much harder than it looks. When you're reading a book that integrates words seamlessly, you can't see all the hard work the author has put in. Which is really the beauty of it.

  2. Mary I have to confess that this is a pet peeve with me. It just pulls me way out of the story and makes me grouchy. And I hate that anyone (editors, writers) would think we need to do this for young audiences, that kids would not be smart enough to get meaning from context.

  3. I agree with you, too. I think you pick up on the nuances of a word much better from its context than from a glossary - and that word then becomes part of your own vocabulary too. And as you say, readers aren't stupid...