Growing A Reader
by Liz Wong
I read a lot of pretty weird picture books as a child. At home we had a number of books published by a local Hawaiian press: Japanese, Chinese and Hawaiian folktales, mostly. Folktales are on the whole, shall we say, bonkers, but Hawaiian folktales really up the death and destruction game. I mean, check this out. This is from the story of Kamapua'a, described by wikipedia as a "hog-man fertility superhuman," which is also now my new favorite phrase.
But I'm getting off track here. The book I really want to talk about, my favorite of these books, is Urashima Taro, a Japanese folktale about a kind-hearted boy who saves a sea turtle and is repaid when the sea turtle offers to carry him on his back to the kingdom of the sea princess. I loved looking at the illustrations in this book, marveling over the underwater scenes. It was beautiful and magical and wondrous.
Urashima Taro is often described as the Japanese Rip Van Winkle, since in the end he comes back to his village and learns he’s been gone for years and everyone knows is dead. Then he dies in the end. The last page is actually an illustration of his tombstone. I was a bit of an odd kid and apparently did not mind the morbidness of the tale. But hey, who needs a happy ending when the middle part is so good?
I was raised by an Anglophile. I vividly remember curling up with my mom on the couch to watch Prince Charles and Princess Di’s wedding and eating snacks off our Charles and Di commemorative tea tray. Though I like to picture us eating petit fours and cucumber sandwiches, I know for a fact that I never laid eyes on such things until I was an adult, and am quite sure we were eating cheese puffs and fruit punch off that tray. Anyhow, that’s not really important to this story. The whole reason I knew about things like cucumber sandwiches was because of Diana Wynne Jones’ Charmed Life, which remains one of my favorite books to this day. That book was so delightfully British, and old-timey, and again, magical. I fell in love with the whole world that Diana Wynne Jones created, the charming British villages, the dapper Chrestomanci, the elegant Chrestomanci castle. I read about scrumping and dressing gowns and prickly blue-serge suits and playing a game where you thread chestnuts onto shoelaces, and even though I understood very little about what any of those things were, I found them utterly enthralling. Added to that the story of an orphaned boy who goes to live in a castle full of wizards and witches and yes, it does sound awfully familiar doesn’t it? I imagine kids these days discovering Harry Potter feel how I did reading Charmed Life for the first time.
The thing I remember about reading in high school is that there was so much homework that there’s very little time for reading for pleasure. Sure, there were assigned readings that I loved, but still, they were assigned readings and my natural tendency to procrastinate made me reluctant to read them. There was one 11th grade English teacher, who I loathed, actually - he was pompous and overbearing and I hated his class - but he had a small shelf of books in his classroom, and one day we got to choose a book off that shelf to read entirely for pleasure. We didn’t have to all read the same book, we didn’t have to discuss it in class, we didn’t have to write a paper or take a quiz about it. We just got to read it. I chose Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits. Now, this is a book for adults and not for teens, but when I was a teen, young adult as a category hadn’t really taken off the way it has today, so I mostly read books for adults. Allende was my introduction to magical realism. By now you may have deduced that I loved magic and here it was, in a serious book for adults! Magic and descriptions of a whole new fascinating far away place. Who knew books for adults could be interesting? I loved this book so much I convinced myself I would read it in the original Spanish, which never happened, but at least I got this book with this really sweet cover out of it.
About the Author
Liz Wong was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she spent her early childhood painting and clambering about in mango trees. At age five she won the first place trophy in the school poster contest, which encouraged her to pursue art instead of a sensible career in finance like the rest of her family. Liz's debut picture book, QUACKERS, comes out on March 22nd from Knopf Books for Young Readers.
A cat who thinks he’s a duck? He must be Quackers!!
Quackers is a duck. Sure, he may have paws and whiskers. And his quacks might sound more like…well, meows, but he lives among ducks, everyone he knows is a duck, and he’s happy.
Then Quackers meets another duck who looks like him (& talks like him, too!)—but he calls himself a cat. So silly!
Quackers loves being among his new friends the cats, but he also misses his duck friends, and so he finds a way to combine the best of both worlds. Part cat, part duck, all Quackers!
Learn more about the Growing A Reader series here!