3 Picture Books from Jimmy Liao
M: Be warned. You might think you're just buying another set of picture books when purchasing Jimmy Liao's WHEN THE MOON FORGOT, THE BLUE STONE, and THE SOUND OF COLORS, but you're not. You're getting so much more. In addition to the gorgeous illustrations, Liao's books deal with such subjects as longing, sadness, and blindness, along with friendship and the power of the imagination. In WHEN THE MOON FORGOT a little boy finds the fallen moon in a field. Soon they become friends, and the boy helps the moon remember its place in the world. In THE BLUE STONE we travel around the world with half of a rare blue stone that would like nothing more than to return to its other half. In THE SOUND OF COLORS we journey with a young blind girl as she travels daily on the subway and lets her imagination carry her away.
What did you think of these three stories, Julie?
J: I don't think I can begin to do them justice--particularly THE SOUND OF COLORS. As a result, I'm having all kinds of trouble writing my portion of this review. But awe for a book is hardly a justification for keeping silent about it, so here I go.
Let me start with Liao's art. In my view it's near-about perfect for picture books. I flip through these three books and find myself admiring page after page, each covered with breathtaking, child-friendly images that capture mood and character and world. The colors are spectacularly vivid. There's plenty of humor and whimsy: a cat with a startled expression, a penguin holding an umbrella, a boy wheeling the moon in a stroller. So much care has been taken with each image--the longer I look at any given one, the more I notice. What better gift can you give a child too young to read, than a book filled with this art?
As for the stories, they are all unusual and interesting and poetic. Unsurprisingly, some are more successful than others. As I said above, I'm especially fond of THE SOUND OF COLORS, though I hesitated when I read its opening sentence. It provides a good example of how far Liao strays from typical picture book fare:
"A year ago
I began to notice
that my sight was slipping away."
Too scary! I thought, when I first read that sentence. But I quickly changed my mind. For one thing, what kid hasn't closed his or her eyes and imagined what it would be like to be blind? I used to walk around my room with my eyes closed and my hands out, wondering. Why shouldn't THE SOUND OF COLORS address that fear head-on? Particularly given how beautifully it conveys the spectacular flights of imagination this girl has as a result of her blindness, and the courage, and the optimism.
A typical picture book would limit itself to that hopeful message. But Liao adds an element of longing: The girl follows a butterfly, "straining to hear the delicate sound of her flight through the clamor of the city," hoping that the butterfly will, among other things, "take me to the friend I need to find."
I wondered, would only adults find that beautiful and interesting? Is the book too sad for kids, or too boring? I asked my older daughter, who is ten, to read it. She loved it without reservation. She thought younger kids would enjoy the art and the idea of a blind girl's adventures without really understanding the sadder elements of the story. I agree with her.
I also gave her WHEN THE MOON FORGOT, and she liked it less. I too think it doesn't measure up to THE SOUND OF COLORS. But the more I read it, the more I like it as a tale of an unusual friendship.
As for THE BLUE STONE, I find the story a little boring. But, in my view, it's worth owning for the cover and much of the art. Mia, which of the books is your favorite?
M: I'm going to stick up for THE BLUE STONE here, Julie! I loved it and found the tale of loss and longing heart-wrenching.
I liked WHEN THE MOON FORGOT mostly for its quirky, unusual idea (I also liked its momentary homage to WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE). And I found THE SOUND OF COLORS to be a gorgeous tale with illustrations that often overshadowed the words on the page. I wondered if this was a just a first impression, but upon reading it again I was still mesmerized by the illustrations and continued to find the language lacking just a bit. When I 'read' it a third time I approached it as a wordless picture book and that was when I really fell for it.
Which is why I'm going to pick THE BLUE STONE. There was just simply something about the quiet repetition of the final phrase ("Its heart breaks a little. It wants to go home.") that tugged at my heart every time. That repetition paired with the breaking of the stone over and over again until it was just a small speck was really haunting. It really (for me anyway) touched on the concept of loss and death how much of our true selves we lose over time.
J: “Haunting” is the perfect word for the underlying message about death and losing oneself in THE BLUE STONE. I just think that from the perspective of story, the book less successful than the others. But each and every one of them is worth owning and poring over. Just holding them makes me happy. I'm weird that way.
M: [awkward silence] uh...ok, Julie. Just kidding. Did you notice the guest cameos in each book?
J: Love them!