Monday, June 12, 2017

Two Allegories of Home

The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild, illustreated by Freya Blackwood
Candlewick Press, 2013/2017,  32 pages, age 5+

When war comes to the town where Peter and his father live, everything is bombed and destroyed, including the library. As the burnt pages of library book flutter through the air, one book survives - a library book Peter’s father loved and had been reading at home. Placing it in a iron treasure box for safe keeping, Peter and his father set off with other refugees to find a place of safety. 

On the road, Peter’s father become ill and passes away. The treasure box is too heavy for Peter to carry over the mountains and beyond to safety, so he buries it under a linden tree for safekeeping until such time that there is peace again in his country and he can return to bring the put the book back on the shelf at the newly rebuilt library in town.

It seems so fitting that Peter would bury the box at the foot of a tree, since the paper made from  trees are a books very beginnings, and leaving the book about who the people of his country (never names) are, promises a hopeful future and a connection to the past interrupted by a war that tried to destroy it. In that sense, Peter’s father was right to tell him that the book was a real treasure, “rarer than rubies, more splendid than silver, greater than gold.”

Freya Blackwood’s delicate pencil, watercolor, and collage illustrations compliment the text, while the collage give the pages a three dimensional feeling. Blackwood also has used pages from The Silver Donkey by Sonya Hartnett and Once by Morris Gleitzman to illustrate the burnt, fluttering pages from the burning library.

The Treasure Box is an allegorical tale about resilience, resistance, and the importance of knowing who you are and where you come from, even as enemies try to destroy that. 

Teacup by Rebecca Young, illustrated by Matt Ottley
Dial BFYR, 2016, 40 pages, age 5+

A young boy is forced to leave his homeland, sailing away in a rowboat with a book, a bottle and a blanket as well as a teacup full of some earth where he used to play. The boy’s journey is long, sometimes dangerous when the sea is wild, other times tranquil, when the sea is also calm, and always holding tight to his teacup of earth from home. He continually looks for land in the distance, a place to call home, again, but sees nothing in the distance, but is comforted by the song of whales and the flight of an albatross. 

Eventually, a tree begins to spout from his teacup, growing into a tree that provides shelter, shade, and apples to eat. When land is finally spotted, the boy plants his tree there and begins to built. And then, one day, a girl shows up with an eggcup full of earth from her home.

Matt Ottley’s pale, almost opaque illustrations have a dreamlike quality to them. They are done in a palette of blues, ranging from almost a whitish blue to a darker, more menacing blue when the sea gets rough and sky becomes overcast. It is only as the boy approaches land that greens and yellows are added to the blues.

This allegorical story can be read in different ways, as a journey from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, which seems a little young for a picture book. It can also be read as the journey one takes into the unknown whenever they are faced with new beginnings.  I read it as the plight of refugees forced to leave their beloved homeland, and seek a new home where they can put down roots. Whichever you read it, Teacup is an allegorical story about the difficulty and the loneliness felt on a long journey, and one's eventual assimilation into their new circumstances without forgetting where they came from. 

When my father left his homeland to come to the United States, he brought some of his country's recipes, which we all grew up eating and loving. 

1 comment:

  1. Hello Alex, I wish I didn’t have such a long list of books on my must-read list because both of these are so appealing. I find myself missing my childhood home more and more as I grow older, and these tap into those feelings. I’m actually wishing I had some earth (and a few seeds) from the garden my mum loved so much as it’s since been obliterated.


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