Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Seeing Soul

One of many differences between being a teacher librarian in a middle school setting for the first twenty-one years of your career and then switching to an elementary school is the unrestrained honesty of the younger children.  It is not that the middle school gals and guys are not honest, but usually you must through careful conversation based on trust find answers.  The elementary students will, without being asked, offer their opinions.

They notice every single detail about you.  No part of your physical appearance goes undetected.  Your words are remembered.  This is why they observe the same things in others and themselves.  Eyes that Kiss in the Corners (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, January 5, 2021) written by Joanna Ho with illustrations by Dung Ho is an exquisite portrayal of a young girl realizing and accepting her wondrous self.

Some people have
eyes like sapphire lagoons
with lashes like lace trim on ballgowns,
sweeping their cheeks as they twirl.
Big eyes, long lashes.

Not me.

The girl goes on to say her eyes

kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea.

Her mother's eyes, like her eyes, show one more characteristic when she arrives home from work.  Embracing, the two find themselves on the floor laughing.  Before she goes to sleep, her mother's eyes reflect other truths to her.

In the morning she tells us her mother's eyes are like Amah's eyes.  Amah is her grandmother.  Her grandmother's eyes see physically less than when she was younger, but they have other abilities.  They see into the child's soul.  Her eyes are brimming with stories she shares with her granddaughter.

Mei-Mei, her younger sister, has eyes like her mother, her grandmother, and her.  In Mei-Mei's eyes a whole new kind of look follows the girl.  It sends her spirit soaring.  This sense of soaring is something the girl wants to share with her little sister for the rest of their lives. 

Through the eyes of the women in her family, the girl sees a power passed from generation to generation.  There are sparks ready to ignite possibilities and promote change.  These eyes, her eyes,

that kiss in the corners

are lovely in every respect.

Each sentence penned by Joanna Ho is a marvelous study on the souls, shining through the eyes .of the women in this child's life.  Her choice of words is breathtakingly beautiful.  It's an intimate reflection told in the girl's voice.   Readers will understand, like the girl, there is beauty in eyes like her eyes.  It's been there for generations.  It will always be there.  Here is a passage when the girl is speaking about her grandmother.

Her eyes are filled with so many stories.
I can fall inside them
and swim until time stops.

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case, you cannot help but smile at the delightful image which extends flap edge to flap edge.  The girl's hair billows from her face as a breeze blows it to the far left-hand corner.  Two other Monarch butterflies flutter toward the spine on the back, left, as the peony petals drift past them and the child's hair.  Warmth radiates through the use of light and shadow, not only on this jacket and case, but throughout the book.

Hues of golden yellow, some white, and chocolate browns color the opening endpapers in a glorious display of peonies, chrysanthemums, and what look like white buttercups.  On the closing endpapers we move closer to the flowers, now in full bloom.  Monarch butterflies appear and move among them.  (I've always seen the butterfly as a symbol of change.  I wonder if their placement in these images is for that reason.)  

On the two pages dedicated to the title a garland of flowers begins in the upper, left-hand corner and drapes down to the right.  The girl stands among the flowers, holding a single blossom up to her right eye.  A butterfly moves toward her, right to left.

Rendered digitally by Dung Ho, each illustration, most of them double-page pictures, depict familial scenes of great affection and joy.  The details in each visual contribute to these overall truths and emotional impacts.  When the girl and her mother are creating a mural on a wall, she is wearing a newspaper sailor hat as they both paint and smile.  When her mom comes home from work, her purse is dropped on the floor as is a bag of groceries so she can hug her child.  In the pictures mirroring stories and legends, the artwork is a swirl of historically strong women, fierce dragons, birds, and fish.  The artwork throughout embraces the text AND the reader.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spreads across two pages.  The sky is a faint blue washed in delicate white clouds.  On the right side a field of flowers fashion a colorful palette.  On the left in this field of flowers are the girl and her little sister, Mei-Mei.  Mei-Mei is on the girl's back.  They are pretending to be bunnies.  The youngest has paper bunny ears they've made on her head with a fluffy tail attached to her clothing on her back.  Dressed in a long pink shirt, belted with a darker-colored scarf, over a flowing white skirt, the girl has flowers in her hair with two large blue-ribbon ears on her head.  The girl is smiling as her younger sister laughs.  You can tell how much they love each other.

You cannot read this book, Eyes that Kiss in the Corners written by Joanna Ho with illustrations by Dung Ho, and not be happier.  The celebration of self reaches out to all readers.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.  [Note:  One year at my elementary school a new student, an Asian American girl, unable to speak English arrived.  At every opportunity I tried to help her.  This book is for her, to all the Susans who need to see themselves portrayed beautifully.)

To learn more about Joanna Ho and Dung Ho and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Joanna Ho has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Dung Ho has an account of Instagram.  At the author's website you can view interior images.  Joanna Ho is interviewed at Nerd Daily.

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