Between the heavily guarded borders of the countries of North and South Korea lies a demilitarized zone (or DMZ). This stretch of land has become a home, a refuge for all kinds of wildlife, and stands a waiting bridge of peace between two countries in turmoil.
South Korean author and illustrator, Uk-Bae Lee, originally wrote his book When Spring Comes to the DMZ as part of the “Peace Picture Book Project” organized by illustrators from Korea, China, and Japan.
This touching picture book is about the hope of peace amidst the ugliness of hate, told by showing how beauty and nature flourish between the heavily militarized borders of North and South Korea. The pictures are both beautiful and starkly unique, scenes of peaceful animals at play framed in barbed wire.
Not every children’s book needs or should be light or a half-joking lesson about sharing. I enjoy books that can assist me in bringing heavy topics down into understandable bites for children. I felt this book qualified for that. I loved how reading it with your child could open up discussions about peace, war, and the hope of reconciliation.
Coraline horrified me as a child. So much, that I purposed never read Neil Gaiman again. Years later, I read Neverwhere and he immediately became one of my favorite authors.
I decided to revisit Coraline this year. I spent my read trying to dissect what it was that upset me as a child. I mean, it’s intentionally creepy. The heroine, Coraline, is a self-proclaimed explorer who finds a hidden door in her old house. It leads to an alternate version of her life, with an “other mother” who has buttons for eyes. The other mother invites Coraline to live in this new world forever. All she must do is allow her other mother to replace her eyes with buttons.
But I remember it being more than the danger and suspense of the plot that unsettled me. The feeling went deeper, into a dark place I feared to explore as a child.
She seemed lonely to me, forgotten and ignored. She had no friends her age to play with and the adults dismiss her frequently throughout the story, even when she’s in danger. Her interactions with her father reinforced the story’s atmosphere of abandonment. He always seemed to have his back to Coraline when she spoke to him.
Enter the other mother who is eager to meet all Coraline’s needs, including Coraline’s desire for affection. But the intensity of the interest is unsettling, stalker-like. A silent watching and waiting, that quickly turns dangerous.
“It was true: the other mother loved her. But she loved Coraline as a miser loves money, or a dragon loves its gold. In the other mother’s button eyes, Coraline knew that she was a possession, nothing more. A tolerated pet, whose behavior was no longer amusing.”
~ Neil Gaiman, Coraline
Back then, Coraline read like the story of a girl offered the choice of living as outcast or prey. That is what made the book true horror to me. Ghosts fade in the daylight and demons can be exorcized, but if everyone abandons you, then loneliness is always.
I often describe my childhood as silent. I combated my loneliness by retreating behind the door of my imagination, where I lived my hours in daydreams of closeness and acceptance. I had a whole other family in my mind, whose button-eyed gaze never looked through me. I wasn’t superfluous to them; I was loved.
Coraline disturbed me because I would have traded my eyes for buttons. In some ways, I already had.
During my reread, I paid close attention to how her real parents treated her and saw that they weren’t as neglectful as I’d remembered. There is, however, enough repetition in the text of her father turned away and of her desire for physical touch, that I don’t blame my younger self for picking up on it. It’s difficult to filter out the part of a story that speaks directly into your life. What encourages me most now is how, despite his neglect, she turns to his wisdom to cope with the oncoming darkness.
Coraline’s story is actually about how bravery comes from fear. Fear is essential to bravery, for without fear, bravery has no purpose. This is a lesson Coraline learned from her father. He helped her choose to face her fears by walking back into the claws of the dark.
“‘Because,’ she said, ‘when you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.'”
~ Neil Gaiman, Coraline
Coraline’s parents may have denied her the closeness she needed, but she was still able to learn from them, lessons essential to her survival and maturity. Dysfunctional, even broken, families have something to give.
My childhood will remain silent. But now, in the family I’ve chosen to be part of, I can fight to fill the rooms with love. I know the mistakes of yesterday because I lived them and braved their shadows alone. And as Coraline reminded herself that she was brave many times before she believed it, I will preach the pain of my past to myself again and again until it makes me stronger.
When I first got my Kindle, I was amazed at how many fantastic books were floating around to download for free. FREE! I went kinda crazy and tried to download all the books, paying little attention to content. I now attempt to be more discerning, but it’s so thrilling to be introduced to a fabulous new author.
If you pay any attention to my reviews, you’ll notice I tend to read a good deal of Middle Grade. This is just as much because I enjoy light reading, as it is that I am searching for gems to pass on to my children when they’re old enough.
And this one was certainly a gem.
Darcy Pattison’s adorable story is about Kell, a young alien trying to navigate life on Earth after he and his parents become indefinitely stranded here. The characters are super sweet and lovable, and the plot is full of innocent fun. Rich Davis’ excellent illustrations scattered throughout the chapters make the story extra cute.
The first children’s book I received from Plough Publishing was Charlie the Tramp by Russell and Lillian Hoban. They sent it to me bundled up in a red bandana, as though the book itself had been a traveler and needed a place to stay. It was an adorable read about a little beaver named Charlie who wants to experience the beauty of the world by wandering the fields and forests as a tramp. I read it that night to my little brother-in-law, then tucked it safely onto my bookshelf. It hasn’t gone wandering since then, so I guess it’s still just as happy in my home as I was to welcome it. 😉
Around Christmas time, I was sent another children’s book. Andreas Steinhöfel’s If My Moon Was Your Sun didn’t come to me wrapped up in a red bandana, instead it came with a lovely audiobook version attached, which is exciting for a whole new set of reasons. Unfortunately, this time I didn’t sit down and read it right away, but even though I waited several months before I cracked the binding, I got the blessing of reading this book to my own child instead of someone else’s.
Yes, I know it was far beyond her level of understanding, but I am of the opinion that it’s important to start reading to your children early, and at 6 months old, the only books she’s shown a real interest in are the ones that have finger puppets attached. So as far as I’m concerned, so long as it has pictures I’m going to read it to her, and she liked the pictures in this as much as the ones in Goodnight Moon. Frankly, so did I.
It took a few days to get through it with her, because her attention span is limited, but it still felt so special to share it with her. The illustrations are warm and whimsical, and fit perfectly with this sweet story about a little boy who kidnaps his Grandfather from a nursing home so they can spend the day together in one of their favorite fields. If you read my book reviews at all, you know I’m a sucker for anyone who has the ability to take difficult subjects and translate them into language gentle enough for young readers to metabolize. Steinhöfel did this beautifully, and got me choked up a little as his prose sang about how love can remain through loss.
No, my 6 month old didn’t understand it, but one day she will, and I can’t wait to read it to her again when she does.