Have you ever read a picture book to your child that beautifully communicates a truth you’ve been hoping to share, but simply didn’t know how? Each of these three picture books does this for me. Each takes truths I had not yet put into words and crafts them into an unforgettable story and artwork. I am grateful to my friend and author, Amy Alznauer, for investing years of curiosity, thought, and sensitivity into these timeless stories for us to enjoy.
Each book is rich and evokes thoughtfulness.
Each book is beautiful and summons the soul’s attention.
Each book is honest and strikes the tuning fork of the human experience.
As a child, I wasn’t like Flannery O’Connor. I shaded my eyes from the glare of oddities, while she looked right at them. I cowered from the idea of death, while she didn’t. I’m an adult now, and a bit braver, but not much. As I read about O’Connor’s love of strange birds and her courage to explore ideas that have been hard for me to handle, I feel like she is grasping my hand and assuring me that it’s going to be alright. More so, I’m profoundly grateful to Alznauer and Zhu for helping me share O’Connor’s courage with my children. I want each of my children to have a “humph” of their own and the audacity to believe that “death is far too strange a thing to be all there is.”
Through her gentle and honest telling of two brothers whose lives and art were shaped by the Cultural Revolution in China, Alznauer grapples with themes that I have wanted to share with my children but haven’t known how. She doesn’t shy away from the difficulties that arise in our most intimate familial relationships and our far-reaching relationships with craft, country, civilization, and humanity. She bravely faces the reality that bookstores, brothers, countries, and art are simultaneously “beautiful and terrible,” and quietly assures the reader that beauty triumphs. The book is exquisitely illustrated by the Zhou brothers themselves, giving us the sensation of hearing from them firsthand.
“After some time, a whisper seemed to come in a dream: ‘Speak the thoughts on your tongue.'” I cherish reading this book aloud with my children for its beautiful treatment of mathematics, art, and language. I love that my children now know a bit about Ramanujan, his time, his place, and his gift. I also love that, because of this book, they may have the courage to explore the interests God has given them and to share their discoveries generously. And I love the way it has forever changed the way I slice a mango (or a grape, or a nectarine): what used to be a rote task is now a lovely mystery every time.