About the Holiday
It may seem appropriate that the origins of this holiday are lost to history, like someone left to languish on a deserted island. But it’s true that—at some time or another—most of us feel marooned without a compass, flailing with decisions about what to do, who to confide in, even who we are. Today is an opportunity to reflect on the direction you are going in life and, if you find you are off course, to steer once more down the right path. It’s comforting to know that someone will be waiting for you when you reach home—wherever that may be.
In a Village by the Sea
Written by Muon Van | Illustrated by April Chu
High on a cliff a small house looks out over the sea, where fishermen are poling their craft and setting their nets. “In that house, high above the waves, is a kitchen.” In the kitchen a warm fire blazes under “a pot of steaming noodle soup.” A woman, preparing ingredients for dinner, watches, mixes, and stirs while the pot simmers.
“By that woman is a sleepy child, yawning and turning. By that child, tucked in the shadows, is a dusty hole.” If you peer into that hole, you will see something astounding—a brown cricket is “humming and painting.” The cricket, brushes in four hands is surrounded by paints contained in seashells. It is painting a “sudden storm, roaring and flashing.”
A white boat rides this roiling sea, rising and dipping with the crashing waves as lightning flashes ahead. Under the cover of the boat’s canvas roof a fisherman eyes the threatening sky and waits for the storm to end. In his hand he opens a precious box. Inside are two pictures: one of a small house high on a hill; the other of a smiling woman holding a little child while their dog looks on. Next to these sits a special cricket.
In the painting there is also a small house, and “in that house is a family waiting for [the fisherman] to come home.”
Muon Van’s lyrical tale expands and contracts through the eyes of family members to reveal not only the actions and emotions of one afternoon but those that eternally exist in each character’s heart. In the opening page readers view the small house from afar as the husband and father fisherman casts off on his journey. Children are then invited into the kitchen and finally into a small crevice.
Through the cricket’s tiny painting, readers once again see the wider world with its storms and worries. Narrowing the perspective to the fisherman’s view as he looks at his photo box, however, they understand that comfort and reassurance are always close at hand. As the next page zooms out, children are again invited into the little home to join the woman, baby, and vigilant dog as they gaze out into the bay, watching and waiting for one particular boat.
Van’s quiet and simple story holds much universal feeling as it traverses both homey and unpredictable landscapes. As each page depends on the previous one, a gentle suspense builds, enticing readers to follow wherever the story takes them. The inclusion of the “dusty hole,” where a cricket—a symbol of good luck—paints the rest of the story, is irresistible and lends the tale a mystical quality.
April Chu’s gorgeous paintings transport readers to a Vietnamese fishing village with their delicate and colorful details. The small home glows with the light of paper lanterns and the fire in the stove. As the perspective of the text changes, so does the perspective of Chu’s paintings. When readers peer into the soup pot, bubbling with delicious vegetables, the family’s Labrador gazes up at them, almost begging to know what smells so good. Another bird’s eye view lets kids watch as the dog discovers the hole under the rug, a beautiful device to increase their enjoyment of and wonderment at the story.
Kids will marvel at the cricket’s artistic talent, as the stormy sea churns with whitecaps and lightning flashes from the tip of the small creator’s paintbrush. But it is Chu’s mastery that makes each page so meaningful.
Ages 3 – 10
Creston Books, 2015 | ISBN 978-1939547156
View a porfolio of picture books and other artwork by April Chu on her website!
Marooned without a Compass Day Activity
Sometimes getting through a maze is as smooth as sailing on a calm sea—and sometimes the path is a little choppy. Get your pencil ready and chart a path through this printable Sailboat Maze!
Picture Book Review