CAN, JP, US, INT)
Written by: Alicia Potter
Illustrated by: Melissa Sweet
Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Published: March 13, 2012
The first few weeks of this year I participated in one of the best picture book-related activities around: serving on the Round 2 panel for the CYBILS Nonfiction Picture Book Award. It was so amazing to have the chance to read the best of 2012's picture books and discuss in depth with other picture book lovers what makes a great nfpb and to get down to the nitty gritty.
Of the 7 amazing books that the Round 1 judges narrowed down for us, we chose Mrs. Harkness and the Panda as the winner.
The story of a woman going to Asia on her own and then unintentionally staying is obviously close to my heart. Ha!
Seriously though, this is a great story of adventure and perseverance, and I like the discussions it prompts (is it okay to go to another country and take back a living souvenir? Are zoos good for wild animals? etc.). The colours are rich and vibrant and so evocative of China at the turn of the century. The texture of the paper as well as the collage effect is visually enticing.
I loved the scrapbook feel of this book which is not only perfect for recording a travel experience but cluded so much that added so much visual information for young readers: the illustration of the journey on the old map, the authentic Chinese diaries (which also seem to be about a turn-of-the-century exploration), use of another language and the way it is easy to understand the meaning, how absolutely adorable that baby panda was, good bibliography, and the incorporation of a photograph of real Chinese money.
I've read thisa number of times now to not only my children but also our group of bilingual children and the Japanese-ing children for whom I hold a regular storytime. This story never fails to get them talking about, like what it's like to travel by yourself to somewhere no one knows about, whether it would be okay for people to come and take Japanese tanukis or snow monkeys home with them, and even whether the fur coat Mrs. Harkness is wearing in one picture is okay or not.The fact that it spurs so many conversations is possibly the best thing about this amazing book.
Ruth Harkness' 1930s journey to the middle of paved the way for women like me, and that's why her picture book biography is my pick for Women's History Month.