Once an empty container has passed into the hands of children, it's as magical as a blank sheet of paper. Juna's Jar (Lee & Low Books Inc., January 15, 2015) written by debut picture book author Jane Bahk with illustrations by Felicia Hoshino asks readers to think about friendship, family and the potential of imagination. It's not about looking at life as a glass half full or not but what can happen when we fill the glass.
Juna's family always had a large jar of kimchi in their fridge. After they finished eating all the kimchi, Juna sometimes got to keep the empty jar.
Juna and her knowledgeable friend, Hector, would take the jar going on explorations in the nearby park. There was treasure to be found among the grass, bushes and trees; eye-catching pebbles and crawling bugs. After she rushed downstairs in their apartment building one morning to knock on Hector's grandmother's door, Juna got a sad surprise. Hector was gone; his parents had taken him far away to a new home.
To cheer Mina up, her older brother Minho took her to a nearby shop to find a new pal. It was a little fish she could keep in her jar. When everyone was asleep that night, something extraordinary happened.
Juna put on fins and a mask, diving into the jar with her fish. Together they swam discovering all the wonders of the watery world except for one thing Juna could not name. If only Hector were there. The next morning the fish was so big it couldn't live in the jar any more.
Minho helped his sister fill her jar again with a tiny bean plant he had grown for a school project. That night, after everyone went to sleep, another adventure unfolded. Rain forest animals were met but Hector was not there to identify all of them. Guess what was huge the next morning?
An empty jar was filled a third time. After a journey taken at night a dream was realized. Overnight, antennae had grown too large for the jar. Juna looked and was found.
There is much to enjoy in this story written by Jane Bahk. In the character of Juna we have a girl who understands the value of a good friend, the importance of looking at the little details in everyday life, the courage needed to search for answers, and the wonder to be found when daring to dream. Her brother Minho is portrayed as a patient and supportive sibling willing to take the time to help his younger sister. In all their interactions (and with the other characters too) there is an element of mutual respect tying them together.
Readers will appreciate the three very different fantastical trips, swimming, hiking, and flying, Juna takes. She is always ready with the appropriate gear. Care for the natural world is woven into the narrative by explaining how Juna and Minho fill and empty the jar. Here is another sample passage.
Juna's fish took her everywhere. They swam with sea turtles,
played with dolphins, and discovered a giant clam.
"Can you help me find my friend Hector?" Juna asked
A wash of soft glowing greens is predominant not only on the matching dust jacket and book case but throughout all the illustrations. This adds a sense of renewal and life to the full color palette of pastel shades. Juna's thoughtful gaze at the empty jar on the front and her care in cleaning it out on the back are indicative of her nature. The purple used in the title provides the color for the opening and closing endpapers. Beneath the text on the title page Juna's fish is swimming in the jar on her bedroom window sill. With a page turn a double page picture shows us Juna's shelves replete with books and jars filled with her favorite things. A four word glossary and a dedication appearing as a note taped to the wall are easy to spot but do not detract from the theme of the image.
Felicia Hoshino rendered the illustrations using watercolor. There is a delicate elegance in all the visuals; most are displayed on single pages except for the bedtime outings which extend edge to edge over two pages. Readers will appreciate looking at all the details; the activities for the other people in the park, shop displays and street signs, the alligator watering can, a flower from the rain forest appearing in her bedroom, the pictures of the animals and plants on her walls and the bugs on Hector's pajamas. All the characters have soft smiles on their faces.
By sharing several of my favorite illustrations I would be revealing too much of the story. Another image I really like is Abuelita hugging Juna after she finds out Hector has left. Her back is to the reader as she holds Juna. Our eyes are drawn to Juna's face. We can feel her sadness at his leaving but also the comfort she is receiving.
I can understand why Lee & Low Books honored Juna's Jar written by Jane Bahk with illustrations by Felicia Hoshino with their New Voices Award. This is a multi-layered story with the feel of a folktale told in an urban setting. Readers will enjoy it first for the wonderful narrative but the other themes of events coming in threes, the significance of friends and siblings, a love of nature and the places we can go in our minds will gently envelope them. I highly recommend this title.
To discover more about Jane Bahk and Felicia Hoshino please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. To see a few more interior images please visit the publisher's website.