About the Holiday
This month we celebrate umbrellas, those perky protective accessories that have been around since earliest times. Ancient civilizations used palmetto fronds for shade and during inclemet weather. The first waterproof umbrellas were created by the Chinese, who waxed or lacquered their paper parasols. Umbrellas were strictly women’s accessories until Jonas Hanway, a Persian travel writer, used one in public in England in the 1700s. English men then took up the practice, calling their version a “Hanway.” The first collapsible umbrella was designed in 1710, and in 1928 the folding pocket umbrella appeared. Since then, umbrellas have become fashionable and necessary accessories for all.
The Umbrella Queen
Written by Shirin Yim Bridges | Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
The residents of a small village in Thailand are well known for the beautiful paper umbrellas they make and sell in the local shops. The umbrellas are colorful, but always decorated with flowers and butterflies. Every New Year’s Day the villagers hold an Umbrella Parade, and the woman who has painted the most beautiful umbrella is chosen as the Umbrella Queen.
Noot is a little girl who longs to paint her own umbrellas and partake in the parade. One day her mother gives her an umbrella to paint and shows her how to copy her design. Noot is a natural artist, and her finished umbrella is nearly indistinguishable from her mother’s. She is given her own painting spot in the garden and five umbrellas to decorate.
Noot paints the familiar butterflies and is about to start on the flowers when she is inspired to draw elephants instead. She covers all five umbrellas with elephants doing handstands, playing and squirting water, walking trunk-to-tail, and just being silly. When her mother sees these umbrellas, she is unhappy. Flowers and butterflies sell in the local shops, not elephants. Noot understands the importance of the money made from the umbrellas to her family. For the next year she paints the large umbrellas with the traditional design. At night, however, using bits and pieces, she fashions tiny umbrellas. These she paints with elephants, and displays them on her windowsill.
As New Year approaches there is much excitement in the village. It is rumored that the king will be visiting and will choose the Umbrella Queen himself. One day the villagers receive the message that the king will indeed arrive. The villagers spruce up their town and each woman displays her umbrellas in front of her home.
The king walks the length of the street, considering each umbrella until he comes to Noot’s house. He is very impressed with the umbrellas painted by Noot’s mother, but his gaze wanders to Noot’s windowsill, and he asks who painted the “strange” umbrellas.
A bit embarrassed by the attention, Noot shyly answers the king’s questions about the size of the small umbrellas and the unusual designs. In trying to explain herself, she forgets to look at the ground when talking to the king, and when her eyes meet his she realizes that, instead of judging her, he is charmed. “I like elephants,” she tells him, and he laughs. The king then takes Noot’s hand and names her the Umbrella Queen because “she paints from her heart.”
Shirin Yim Bridges has written a unique story that effectively and engagingly presents the often conflicting dilemma of responsibility to others while staying true to yourself. Noot’s journey from an observer in her family’s business to a valued artist is told straightforwardly, and the familial love and support are clearly emphasized. The king’s recognition of Noot’s talent and heart will be highly satisfying for young readers or listeners.
Taeeun Yoo’s delicate illustrations in gold, red, black, and green set the story firmly in Thailand and perfectly demonstrate the close-knit village and relationships as well as the intricate beauty of the umbrellas and the pride the villagers take in them.
The Umbrella Queen is a wonderful story about family, discovering your talents, and self-expression that would find a welcome spot on any child’s bookshelf.
Ages 4 – 8
Greenwillow Books, Harper Collins, New York, 2008 | ISBN 978-0060750404
Learn more about Taeeun Yoo, her books, and her art on her website!
Umbrella Month Activity
Rainy Day Mix Up Matching Game
A sudden storm scattered all the umbrellas and raincoats! Can you put the pairs together again? Draw a line to connect the umbrella and the raincoat that have the same pattern. Print the Rainy Day Mix Up Game here!
Picture Book Review