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In a Village by the Sea Hardcover – May 12, 2015
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From School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 2—This is a magical story set in Vietnam, with moody and emotive illustrations. With a classical storytelling structure and lyrical text, the narrative describes a fisherman at sea thinking of his home, as the images draw viewers in closer and closer, first to the house, then to the kitchen, and onward until finally they focus on a tiny brown cricket in a tiny hole painting a tiny picture of the very same fisherman at sea dreaming of home while waiting out a scary storm. The illustrations are lovely, with an amazing use of perspective, changing the viewpoint on every page and conveying the simple tale of a fisherman longing for the warm home, wife, baby, and dog that are waiting for him. The text pairs beautifully with the detail of the images, which offer plenty to pore over. VERDICT A delightful and quiet read that effectively evokes the book's setting.—Sharon McKellar, Oakland Public Library, CA
Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Thank you SO MUCH for sharing In a Village by the Sea with me. . .It is spectacularly gorgeous and wonderfully creative."
Minh Le, Huffington Post
"At first glance, In a Village By the Sea appears to be a traditional story about family, but Van's clever nesting doll narrative and Chu's playful illustration gives this family's story a healthy sprinkling of magic."
The Best Is Yet to Come: An Early 2015 Picture Book Preview, Huffington Post
"A powerful & beautiful picture book!"
John Schu, librarian, Oak Brook, Illinois
"Berkeley author Muon Van, who left Vietnam as a child with the exodus of boat people, brings us In a Village by the Sea, an homage to her homeland’s culture. Magnificently illustrated by Oakland artist April Chu, this story’s poetic language brings emotion and longing to the simple tale of a fisherman’s family, who wait for him by the sea. Chu’s lovingly drawn details will give you lots to talk about with your child, as you explore another way of life yet recognize the similarities to your own lives, such as the importance of home and family."
Linda Lenhoff, Diablo Magazine
"I absolutely love Village by the Sea! I think it will be a strong contender for awards. Our families love multicultural books, and it's extremely rare to find a good one with a Vietnamese setting."
Kathy Balch, BookTree
"In circular fashion, this simple story’s narration unfolds, with great power behind the few words on each page.
The intense illustrations, done in pencil and digitally colored, set human and animal characters into seascapes and interior scenes in an almost timeless Vietnam and extend the story far beyond the words. A wife and a baby are in their traditional kitchen anxiously awaiting the fisherman-husband’s return. He is in his boat, fearfully viewing the dark waves and black clouds but also looking at family photos (a hint of modernity). Will he get home to his wife and baby in his village by the sea” in the small house” mentioned at beginning and end? Of course readers hope that he will, but there’s far more to this book than just the story. The visual surprises here are a faithful, loving dog that appears in most illustrations and leads eyes to a brown cricket, humming and painting” beyond a hole in the wall. This is not just any cricket but perhaps illustrator Chu’s avatar. After all, the cricket is seen painting the scene of the stormy seas and the little white fishing boat with the husband sitting nervously on the deck. Near the author and artist biographies, the cricket is even signing AC.”
"Van’s circular, incantatory writing closes in on the house. . . where a woman cooks, a dog explores, and a baby rests. Skillfully using a variety of visual perspectives, Chu’s delicately detailed and colored illustrations invite close study; the fishermen’s nets have a gauzy translucence, and papery garlic bulbs, veiny basil leaves, and softly glowing lanterns are all drawn with naturalistic care. As Van directs readers down a hole in the corner of the room, the story shifts into fantasybeneath the floorboards, a cricket paints a majestic picture of a stormy sea, in which a fisherman (previously seen in the opening pages) longs to return to the woman and child in the hillside home. A lovely, resonant portrait of family life that hums with quiet magic."
Publishers Weekly, starred review
"In a Village By the Sea" offers truly hypnotic illustrations and a quiet, singing narrative to draw readers into the seaside life of a fisherman's family, waiting for him to return from the sea with his catch. . . "In a Village By the Sea" touches the heart directly, through images so beautifully detailed, charming, and soothing the soul...This book is perfect for culture studies and expanding global awareness for children ages 4-10
The Midwest Book Review
"The tender tale unfolds in familiar patterned verse, akin to nesting dolls: In that house, high above the waves,/ is a kitchen./ In that kitchen is a bright glowing fire./In that fire is a pot of steaming noodle soup,” and so on. As Northern California residents, both author and illustrator draw inspiration from their shared heritage to honor a traditional way of life, thanks to them not forgotten."
San Francisco Chronicle
"April Chu’s serene, intensely detailed artwork offers a lovely and fully realized scene, and invites us into an equally well-calibrated story by the Vietnamese-born Muon Van. Together, they’ve made a picture book that’s somehow both modest and captivating...For the illustrations of the house alone, with its clean spaces punctuated by just a few treasures, this book is a must-read for Marie Kondo fans, people who long for domestic spaces swept free of the relentless detritus of modern living.
Even if you don’t go to those extremes, there is something breathtaking about the sweet, simple domesticity on display. Inside the house, we see a bright, glowing fire” and a woman cooking noodle soup on a stove over it. Her ingredients are chopped and waiting in little ceramic bowls: herbs, peppers, onions. Yet this is no control freak’s paradise. Next to her in a basket is a sleepy child, yawning and turning,” with his shirt riding up and blankets askew. The dog licks the child’s toes. What we are witnessing is almost primal: man, woman, child, water, fire, food, animals.
And then, lest the adult reader get too carried away in lifestyle reveries, we are reminded that this is a book for children: Magic happens. By that child” is a hole in the floor that contains a cricket, who is painting a picture. It’s an unusually adorable insect, and we see it in full close-up, a brush in each of three arms, another in its mouth, as the dog’s snout looms above the hole. The picture the cricket paints shows a fisherman at sea in a dangerous-looking storm, and soon we are there with him. As any child knows and adults all too often forget, the comforts of home can only temporarily keep at bay the darker, scarier forces of nature that we are all subject to, sooner or later.
The subject of the cricket’s picture, of course, is the baby’s father, the man who lives in the house, and the story ends by coming full circle, with woman, baby and dog looking out to the sea for the man, as he had looked toward the land for them. We can only hope, as they do, that he makes it back. Among the pleasures this book offers is a celebration of home and family that’s made all the richer by its awareness of the ever-looming possibility of tragedy. And in a playful parting image of the cricket putting the finishing touches on the painting the signature reads AC,” April Chu’s initials there’s a nod to the mysterious power of art to help get us through that kind of waiting, too."
Maria Russo, New York Times Sunday Book Review
"The perfect book for teaching about diverse cultures and lifestyles, children will delight in this beautiful story which pays homage to the vanishing fishing culture in Vietnam, honors courage and sacrifice, and celebrates hearth and home."
The Naptime Reviewer
"In this beautifully illustrated story, the simple text allows the reader to focus truly on the powerful images and illustrative scenes. The story begins with a wife and child anxiously awaiting the return of the fisherman/husband (father). The looming storm and dark clouds cause concern. Will he get home safe? There are many visual treasures in this book, including the repeated appearance of the family dog and the clever foreshadowing of the 'artist in residence,' a brown cricket, living beneath the wooden floor. This book promotes opportunities to foster language development and critical viewing."
Literacy Daily, International Reading Association
"Part of what I like so much about the storytelling in this book is not just its nesting nature, but also the questions it inspires in the child reader. At first we’re working entirely in the realm of reality with a village, a fisherman, his wife, and their child. But then when we dive down into the cricket’s realm we see that it is painting a magnificent storm with vast waves that appear to be a kind of ode to that famous Japanese print, 'The Great Wave Off Kanagawa'...So what is going on precisely? Is it all a clever cricket’s imaginings or are each of these images true in some way? I love the conversation starter nature of this book. Younger kids might take the events at face value. Older kids might begin to enmesh themselves into the layered M.C. Escher-ness of the enterprise. Whatever draws them in, Van and Chu have created a melodic visual stunner. No mean feat. . . It reads like something classic but it looks and feels like something entirely original. A great read aloud, beautifully illustrated, destined to become beloved of parents, librarians, and kids themselves for years to come. This is a book worth discovering."
Betsy Bird, A Fuse #8 Review
"As minimal as the text might initially appear, Muon Van’s debut picture book is as deep as the Sea she references in her title. The resplendently rendered story seems simple: a family awaits for the safe return home of the fisherman father. But, of course, this is a narrative to examine and enjoy far beyond its exquisite surface.
Van hauntingly intertwines each double-page spread into the next with a single word that dovetails and expands from one spread into another: In a fishing village by the sea / there is a small house” continues into In that house, / high above the waves, / is a kitchen ” and so on and so on until the story is told.
A mother, her baby, the dog, and a prescient cricket are gathered within, warmed by a glowing fire,” above which a delicious hot pot simmers, ready for a family to savor. Architect-turned-artist April Chu’s intricate illustrations elaborate and amplify Van’s careful words: from the rocky cliffs to the meticulously-kept home, from the expert preparation of the pho to the table laden with all the fresh ingredients. Chu even bestows the loyal family dog, who is never specifically mentioned in the text, a lovely narrative of his own: his gentle devotion toward the slowly waking child, his curious eyes as he peeks at the artistic cricket from above, his prominent inclusion in the family portrait that keeps the fisherman company, his patient waiting for his master’s return.
Inside the back cover are perhaps the most resonating details that enhance the story: the Author’s Note” provides the inspiring family history about boats, about waiting, about danger, about loneliness, and more. Vietnamese-born Muon Van was just nine months old when her family became one of the boat people’ to seek refuge away from her war-torn country. Boats and the sea would prove vital to Van’s family’s survival, not only for escape, but later for sustenance when her father continued the work of his fishing ancestors on the other side of the world. . .[This] manifestation of family and history is magnificent. . .Read it, love it, share it."
Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center
Pennsylvania Center for the Book Best Children's Book for Family Literacy 2016
"Glorious art and lush visual storytelling combine to tell this deceptively simple tale of family. A clever, circular story, a story within a story, and a lovely glimpse into another culture."
--Staff pick, Powell's Books
Top customer reviews
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So far she hasn't found the little dog on the hill. But she's only 2!
The energy of the book is gentle.
Pros: A deceptively simple tale that moves outward from the sea to the tiny cricket in the hole then back out again. The illustrations are gorgeous and evoke a feeling of home while showing details of the Vietnamese culture. Each picture shows a unique perspective. The author’s note adds an interesting dimension to the text and illustrations.
Cons: I didn’t find the cover as appealing as the illustrations, so it took me awhile to get around to reading this book.
On the title page a single brown cricket grabs a rolled piece of parchment, an array of watercolor paints and paintbrushes spread below her (to say nothing of two soon-to-be-necessary screws). Turn the page and there a fisherman loads his boat in the predawn hour of the day, his dog attentive but not following. As he pushes off, surrounded by other fishermen, and looks behind him to view his receding seaside home we read, “In a fishing village by the sea there is a small house.” We zoom in. “In that house high above the waves is a kitchen.” The dog is now walking into the house, bold as brass, and as the story continues we meet the woman and child inside. We also meet that same industrious cricket from the title page, painting a scene in which a fisherman combats the elements, comforted by the picture of his family he keeps beside him. And in another picture is his village, and his house, and in that house is his family, waiting to greet him safely home. Set in Vietnam, the book has all the rhythms and cadence of the most classic rhyme.
When it comes to rhymes, I feel that folks tend to be fairly familiar with the cumulative form. Best highlighted in nursery rhymes likes “The House That Jack Built” it’s the kind of storytelling that builds and builds, always repeating the elements that came before. Less celebrated, perhaps, is the nesting rhyme. Described in “Using Poetry Across the Curriculum: A Whole Language Approach” by Barbara Chatton, the author explains that children love patterns. “The simplest pattern is a series in which objects are placed in some kind of order. This order might be from smallest to largest, like the Russian nesting dolls, or a range of height, length, or width . . . A nursery rhyme using the ‘nesting’ pattern is ‘This Is the Key to My Kingdom’.” Indeed, it was that very poem I thought of first when I read “In a Village by the Sea”. In the story you keep going deeper and deeper into the narrative, an act that inevitably raises questions.
Part of what I like so much about the storytelling in this book is not just its nesting nature, but also the questions it inspires in the child reader. At first we’re working entirely in the realm of reality with a village, a fisherman, his wife, and their child. But then when we dive down into the cricket’s realm we see that it is painting a magnificent storm with vast waves that appear to be a kind of ode to that famous Japanese print, “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa”. When we get into that painting and find that our fisherman is there and in dire straits we begin to wonder what is and isn’t real. Artist April Chu runs with that uncertainty well. Notice that as the fisherman sits in his boat with the storm overhead, possibly worrying for his own safety, in his hands he holds a box. In that box is a photo of his wife and child, his village, and what appears to be a small wooden carving of a little cricket. The image of the village contains a house and (this isn’t mentioned in the text) we appear to zoom into that picture and that house where the sky is blue and the sea is calm. So what is going on precisely? Is it all a clever cricket’s imaginings or are each of these images true in some way? I love the conversation starter nature of this book. Younger kids might take the events at face value. Older kids might begin to enmesh themselves into the layered M.C. Escher-ness of the enterprise. Whatever draws them in, Van and Chu have created a melodic visual stunner. No mean feat.
For the record, the final image in this book is seemingly not of the cricket’s original painting but of the fisherman heading home on a calm sea to a distant home. What’s so interesting about the painting is that if you compare it to the cricket’s previous one (of the storm) you can see that the curls and folds of the paper are identical. This is the same canvass the cricket was working on before. Only the image has changed. How is this possible? The answer lies in what the cricket is signing on the painting’s lower right-hand corner. “AC”. April Chu. Artist as small brown cricket. I love it.
So who precisely is April Chu? Read her biography at the back and you see that she began her career as an architect, a fact that in part explains the sheer level of detail at work in tandem with this simple text. Let us be clear that while the writing in this book is engaging on a couple different levels, with the wrong artist it wouldn’t have worked half as well as it now does. Chu knows how to take a single story from a blue skied mellow to a wrath of the gods storm center and then back again to a sweet peach colored sunset. She also does a good dog. I’ll say it. The yellow lab in this book is practically the book’s hero as we follow it in and out of the house. He's even in his master's family photograph.
One question that occurred to me as I read the book was why I immediately thought of it as contemporary. No date accompanies the text. No elements that plant it firmly in one time or another. The text is lilting and lovely but doesn’t have anything so jarring as a 21st century iPhone or ear bud lurking in the corners. In Van’s Author’s Note at the end she mentions that much of the inspiration for the tale was based on both her family’s ancestral village in Central Vietnam and her father’s work, and mother’s experiences, after they immigrated to American shores. By logic, then, the book should have a bit of a historical bent to it. Yet people still fish in villages. Families still wait for the fisherman to return to shore. And when I looked at April Chu’s meticulous art I took in the clothing more than anything else. The mom’s rubber band in her hair. The cut of the neck of her shirt. The other fishermen and their shirts and the colors of the father’s. Then there was the way the dishes stack up next to the stove. I dunno. It sure looks like it’s set in a village today. But these things can be hard to judge.
There’s this real feeling that meta picture books that play with their format and turn the fourth wall into rubble are relatively new. But if we look at rhymes like “This Is the Key to the Kingdom”, we can see how they were toying with our notion of how to tell a story in a new way long long before old “Stinky Cheese Man”. I guess what I like most about “In a Village by the Sea” is how to deals with this duality. It manages to feel old and new all at the same time. It reads like something classic but it looks and feels like something entirely original. A great read aloud, beautifully illustrated, destined to become beloved of parents, librarians, and kids themselves for years to come. This is a book worth discovering.
For ages 3 and up.
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