Culture is an interesting subject. And when you come from one and go to a different one, things get interesting. The publisher Levine Querido has stories that are about cultures we may/may not be familiar with. In the process of reading them, there is a lot to learn about how we are not only different, but the same, too.
Shirley is a child with big ideas, her family are immigrants, they live over their grocery store, and they cannot sell their gefilte fish. Her parents think she is too small to help and is in the way. But one day she finds the perfect opportunity to help when the family must help a family member. What seems like a great idea (if a customer buys anything, they get a surprise. Which is some free fish!) turns into no money in the cash register. And of course, Shirley is punished. However, it turns out that this was just the thing needed to put a new flavor on the plates of their neighbors. The author, Paula Cohen, unfortunately passed away a few weeks ago, not seeing the recent March 2022 release of Big Dreams, Small Fish. And that is not only a shame for her family, but for us the readers who would have loved Shirley and wanting more of this plucky heroine.
I remember the first time I heard someone speak a language other than English. It was, to be blunt, gibberish to me. And that is exactly how Dat feels in Gibberish by Young Vo. Dat is starting school in a country where he knows little to none of the language. What Dat hears are symbols, squiggles, and shapes. He does not hear language. And because of this, he is unable to find a place to sit at lunch. He has no one to play with and cannot even understand the bus driver that takes him to and from school. That is, until a surprise (that fell out of a tree) comes into his life and helps him start to realize that it is not so gibberish after all.
Illustrations can tell you a lot about the story and the illustrator. I am going to assume that both Cohen and Vo have a great sense of humor, plus a real love for the subject. Cohen’s illustrations are if Ramona of Beverley Cleary fame had a family owning a grocery store. The images are bold, bright, goofy, sweet and sassy. Where Vo’s artwork is colorful but have an obvious theme of “other” when people are talking Gibberish. They are monsters, wolves and not human. The transformation of the surprise (spoiler: a new friend in the form of a girl named Julie) shows that when Dat starts to understand things around him, they do not seem so formidable. It too is goofy, fun, and sweet. The illustrations are perfect for the story, giving the text a comfortable place to express themselves, and allowing it to be a safe place for the art to express itself as well.