Thursday, August 1, 2013

Review from NYT

Home is also at the heart of two new picture books, “This Is Our House,” written and illustrated by Hyewon Yum, and “Once Upon a Northern Night,” written by Jean E. Pendziwol and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (whose artwork for Trottier’s “Migrant” earned a New York Times Best Illustrated award). Yum, originally from South Korea but now living in Brooklyn, sets her story in a city that could very well be New York, among a family of recent immigrants whose country of origin is never specified; Pendziwol and Arsenault, both Canadian, describe a cozy home in a wintry rural landscape.
On the title page of “This Is Our House,” a watercolor illustration shows a photograph of a little girl peeking her head around a front door, as if to welcome the reader inside. On the next, a framed black and white photograph — again painted in watercolor — shows the house as it looked when her grandparents “arrived from far away with just two suitcases in hand.” In a pattern Yum continues throughout the book, the photo of the house is faced by a full-page scene. Here, the girl’s grandparents talk to each other as they stand outside their new home for the first time. The grandmother looks as if she is either shyly pleased, or hesitant. What is certain is her husband’s encouraging smile.
The photos reveal the public story, Yum seems to suggest, but there’s more to be told. And sure enough, the full-page scenes are intimate rather than posed: moments of action, and sometimes of crossness and tears; a little quarrel over the painting of the baby’s room on one side of the spread, a photo of the delighted expectant mother posing in a fully decorated room on the other. Mostly, the three generations who come to live in the house together display smiles and kind concern for one another.
Yum uses a springlike palette of yellow, pinks and greens, even when there’s snow on the sidewalk, and the little girl’s dark braids perfectly set off the fresh, happy colors. With time, the once-bare facade of the house comes to life with window boxes, flowering hedges and potted plants of the front stoop. The seasons cycle though the pictures as the family grows, including, at the end, a baby brother for the little narrator. She gives a slight twist to the book’s title in her final summary: “This is our home where my family lives.”

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