“Bend words. Stretch them, squash them, mash them up, fold them. Turn them over or swing them upside down. Make up new words. Leave a place for the strange and downright impossible ones. Use ancient words. Hold on to the gangly, silly, slippy, truthful, dangerous, out-of-fashion ones.”
“Some friends are like sisters. You can never use too much butter. It is best to be a child FOREVER!”
“It was so cold my breath became a picture.”
“You can make change or it can make YOU. Change is to keep us on our toes. Change is to make us look more closely. What doesn’t change are the arms you use to hug with. Those stay the same.”
“The book the boy thought couldn’t do anything did many things. It carried him to the deep sea and steered him towards a faraway land. It dazzled him and stumped him and made him laugh and gasp. He read it through. Then he turned back to the beginning and read it again.”
“Be patterned (but unafraid to smudge the pattern.)”
Who wrote these wonderful words? … Kyo Maclear.
The caret has been blinking for a while now while I have written, erased and rewritten sentences over and over again in my head. In all honesty, my own words won’t give enough credit to those of such an exceptional talent. I will say this, Kyo Maclear notices things, “Big things. And tiny things. Shiny red things. And soft feathery things.” Kyo Maclear has the ability to bring hopes and memories and wishes and creativity to life in a single sentence. Kyo Maclear has never written a book that we don’t cherish. We’ve collected our favourites together below.
“They made their lists in winter, spring, summer, fall. They made their lists every day except Sundays, which were listless. Their lists filled the house. Scratch, scratch…The lists grew and multiplied. Then one day a visitor arrived. His feet were tired. The door was open.” The visitor lets himself in. “I’m here,” he tells the Liszts family, who are all preoccupied with their many lists. So, he heads outside, waters the flowers and trims the hedges, and his hair too. He meets Edward, the middle Liszts child, who is welcoming in his own quiet way. The pair are shy at first, but a bond is quickly formed once they discover that both are inquisitive sorts. The visitor has a list of questions. Edward asks his own. The visitor makes a home with the Liszts. They all write lists together, but—they also leave room for the unknown and unexpected.
The Liszts, by Kyo Maclear and Júlia Sardà
The Liszts illustration
Is my door open to the unknown and unexpected? What would I do if a stranger came knocking? I had many questions of my own after reading The Liszts, by Kyo Maclear and Júlia Sardà—a little self-reflection. For me, life is a list. For my kids and their busy routines, it is too. The unknown and the unexpected can sometimes be like an avalanche of problems. But, more questions, what if we looked at things differently? What if we looked at these problems as possibilities? Lists don’t particularly make room for change or spontaneity. They don’t allow for out of the blue surprises. Don’t get me wrong…I’m a list maker myself. I love them and would be lost without them, but, do I disregard everything not on my list? Yet again, more questions.
Being open and inclusive are two qualities we endeavour to teach our kids, and it’s all here in The Liszts, with a delightfully weird and beautiful dark edge. The quirks of Maclear’s tale are amplified by Sardà’s depiction of the eccentric Liszts family. Collected curiosities clutter the pages. While the deeper readings of The Liszts may only be apparent to older readers, those slightly younger can enjoy the many discoveries to be made within the illustrations.
What makes a friend a friend? Yak and Dove’s tale shares some insight with three short stories that are real and honest and absolutely darling. We had fun reading this one aloud. The interconnected stories are told in dialogue. The kids and I took turns choosing characters and putting on voices. Story one: If We Were Twins—the unlikely friends wonder what it would be like to be twins, to wear matching clothes and have rhyming names like Peter and Dieter, but in reality, Yak and Dove are not alike. Yak is large. Dove is small. Yak enjoys the quiet. Dove is loud. Their interests don’t align, which brings us to story two: The Audition. Marmot arranges auditions to help Yak find a new best friend. Yak makes a checklist. Someone loyal, who values furriness and appreciates fine music. Who wins? … a hungry Wolf. Eeek! Luckily, there’s one more contestant and it’s someone who knows Yak very well—Dove. Story three: Yak and Quiet—shows us that friends don’t need to be a perfect match. Friends simple need to be there for each other and genuinely care.
Yak and Dove, by Kyo Maclear and Esme Shapiro
Yak and Dove illustration
I’m so happy that Kyo Maclear and Esme Shapiro came together to create this subtle tale of friendship, tolerance and empathy, as I greatly admire the talent of both. Shapiro’s illustrations are bold, distinctive and bizarrely beautiful and Maclear’s message weaves its way slowly into your heart, where it settles for a time, interacts with your own experiences and becomes a sweet memory to be treasured forever.
Before I even knew what it was about, I was drawn to it, drawn to those wispy watercolours. Post read, I adore it even more. The Fog shares a powerful and compelling message with subtlety and gentle humour.
Warble is a little yellow bird who lives in the icy north. His hobbies include reading, listening to music, painting, and human watching. Humans visited Warble’s icy island, and Warble enjoyed observing them and documenting their traits, this was until the fog rolled in from the sea. Many birds were indifferent to the changes that occurred. Things got so bad that even Warble’s hope dimmed—but it didn’t diminish.
The Fog, by Kyo Maclear and Kenard Pak
The Fog illustration
One foggy morning he spotted a colourful speck in the distance—a singing child—#673 Red-hooded Spectacled Female (Juvenile). The pair became fast friends. Warble shared his insects with the young girl and she shared one of her interests—origami. They spoke in every way except with words, until… “Warble made a surprising discovery—the human also saw the fog.” Paper boats with the message, Do you see the fog? were sent out to sea. One after the other. Answers came. The pair had sparked change themselves, prompted awareness and (though this is missing from the book, it’s implied) encouraged action. The fog began to lift a little.
Having older children (7 and 9), the symbolism of the fog was understood. Immediately our thoughts turned to human impact on the environment, but other metaphors can be interpreted. Perhaps sadness and reaching out, making mistakes and asking for help, calling awareness to any negative issue and inspiring action, so we can enjoy the “Big things. And tiny things. Shiny red things. And soft feathery things.” Time under the stars and the clear night sky.
How cute is Boggan?! “Whishhhhh.” How cute is this book?! Charles eagerly wants to find a wish tree, and isn’t discouraged by his brother and sister telling him that such a thing doesn’t exist. He’s determined. With a happy, hopeful friend by his side, Charles is sure to find what he’s looking for. “La-di-da-di-da-di-daaaa,” sang Charles. “Whishhhhh,” sang Boggan the toboggan, Charles’ cheerful friend who always has a smile on his face. “Where Charles went Boggan followed. Where Boggan went Charles followed.” They ventured into the woods, but did not see the wish tree. They did however find many woodlands animals in need. Charles and Boggan helped each and every one. As the day drew to a close, as their shadows stretched out over the snow, Charles could not. Search. Any. Longer. Something magical happened while Charles rested on Boggan—his good deeds were returned and he was able to make his wish at the wish tree.
The Wish Tree, by Kyo Maclear and Chris Turnham
The Wish Tree illustration
With themes of friendship, kindness, selflessness, hope, faith, and confidence, exquisite illustrations and lyrical text, this enthralling book has a lot to offer. It subtly encourages self-analysis, that we should fill our lives with service to others, and the idea that the journey, what we do day to day, the choices we make, our experiences, the friends we meet along the way, these could be considered just as sweet as our destination.
The Good Little Book was an instant hit, as all books by Kyo Maclear are with us, but this one more so than others because we could see ourselves within its pages. Not that we’re often getting in trouble and sent away to think things over—beyond that page… The boy pulls the good little book from a shelf and with a great sigh, he begins to read.
The main reason why I started reviewing books here on Instagram is because my son would not just sigh at the thought of reading, he would groan and moan and think up any excuse not to start. Begrudgingly and very slowly he would grunt through the pages. We’ve always been readers, from the very beginning, but from the very beginning, my boy was never keen. During play his imagination was rich. He’d create his own stories for wordless books flawlessly. And I love the songs he’d think up on the spot and sing to me. But—he’d run a mile from the written word. I knew we just needed to persist, and we did, but I wanted story time to be an experience he looked forward to. Sharing our story time with you excites my son, so thank you for following our journey. Thank you for helping my son find joy in reading.
The Good Little Book, by Kyo Maclear and Marion Arbona
The Good Little Book illustration
The Good Little Book is every book we’ve fallen in love with. For some, it may be one good little book, and for others, a few favourites. For the book obsessed, it’s every book they’ve read that’s become a part of them.
Midway through the story, we learn that the men running with her and many in the crowd supported her every step. They cheered for her and were inspired by her. Back matter records that today more than 12,000 women run in the Boston Marathon each year. It’s been fifty-one years since Bobbi’s race, and sadly the fight against inequality and other social injustices are like running a marathon, or a hundred marathons. But, if we’re able to push through every agonising step, if we can come together and support one another, share hopeful stories like Bobbi’s with the rising generations, then we’ll burst through every finish line tape exhausted but exhilarated.
Two sisters share a close bond. When one wakes in a “wolfish” mood, the other, with patience, love, imagination and art, helps lift her sister to a place of joy. Yesterday, one of my children woke up in a “wolfish” mood and it did feel like the whole house was sinking. “Up became down. Bright became dim. Glad became gloom.” Our kids need examples like this beautiful creation, Virginia Wolf, to help them get through these times, help them heal, help them realise that it happens and that they’re not alone.
Virginia Wolf, by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault
Virginia Wolf illustration
Maclear has loosely based the characters off writer Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell, a post-Impressionist artist. The place of joy in our story is Bloomsberry, which references the Bloomsbury Group. I’m pushing the boundaries a little when adding this to our pile of #womenshistory books, but I think it works, especially since we combined our read with the Virginia Woolf section in Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.
Virginia Wolf appeals to both adults and children of varying ages. It’s poignant and profound. I love the page where we see Vanessa’s hand painting a stunning red flower. It could be any hand, Arsenault’s, our own, our children’s. With the book on their lap, kids can imagine themselves creating a wondrous world through the tip of a brush to help the downs become ups, dim become bright, gloom becomes glad. Or perhaps use the tip of a pen and write. Writing, like art, can clarify thought, inspire. It’s an empowering form of expression.
Spices that take away the worry and bring wonder, delicious food that slows the hurry and cupcakes that remove the feelings of never-enoughness—we all could do with some of young Julia’s miraculous cuisine.
Like the story of Virginia Wolf, Maclear has been influenced by an iconic woman from history. Elements of truth are woven with fantasy to create the story of Julia, Child—a child named Julia with a love for french food and a belief that you can never use too much butter.
Julia, Child, by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad
Julia, Child illustration
Julia and her friend, Simca, enjoy shopping at the market and gathering new ideas for recipes. They experiment. Things don’t always go to plan. They learn tricks of the trade, and practice and practice and practice. Cooking makes them happy. Cooking strengthens their friendship. Their desire is to cook forever, never growing old, because grown-ups are “big, busy people—wary and worried, hectic and hurried.” But—Julia and Simca have a plan, to bring joy and colour back into the lives of grown-up through food.
Julia, Child is a cheerful story for kids with a wonderful message, and too a reminder for us grown-ups to enjoy the simple pleasures, to take time away from the worry and hurry and never-enoughness. To instead slow down every now and then, be generous, and eat cupcakes iced with imagination, sprinkled with curiosity, and topped with rosy fun.
Two books to look out for, the first of which I am eager to read, coming 6 Feb 2018, Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli, by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad— “Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli is a stunning and sophisticated picture book biography that follows Schiaparelli’s life from birth and childhood to height of success.Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad (creators of Julia, Child) have gorgeously interpreted Schiaparelli’s life. Maclear tells a lyrical story with moments both poignant and humorous and Morstad’s elegant imagery saturates the pages with Schiaparelli-inspired shapes and colors.Informative backmatter and suggested further reading included…Elsa dared to be different, and her story will not only dazzle, it will inspire the artist and fashionista in everyone who reads it.”
Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli, by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad
Flo: A Picture Book, by Kyo Maclear and Jay Fleck
And the second, coming 27 Feb 2018, Flo: A Picture Book, by Kyo Maclear and Jay Fleck— “Meet Flo, a relaxed little panda. In a world with so much to do, she likes to sleep in, explore, and enjoy everything around her. But sometimes Flo takes too much time to get going, and the other pandas get impatient. One day they find themselves in trouble, and it’s Flo’s floppy ways that just might save the day. This funny picture book suggests that rather than racing to keep up with the crowd, we take our time to do nothing much at all—to go with Flo!”
What is your favourite Kyo Maclear story?