Welcome to Mari Takabayashi’s cozy world, where adorable animals eat, play, and relax together or with their human friends.
I discovered Mari’s work by lucky happenstance one day while browsing the internet. Something about her naive, childlike style caught my eye, and upon further investigation, I learned she was a children’s book author and illustrator (where have I been?).
She is the oldest and most beautiful mother of all the elders. At once gentle and powerful, she is mountain, seed, cornfield, flower. Mother Earth. She is all and everything; she is life itself.
In Tierra, Tierrita/Earth, Little Earth (Piñata Books, 2023), Mother Earth introduces herself, detailing her expanse, majesty, and ongoing evolution. The fourth title in Argueta and Alcántara’s award-winning trilingual Madre Tierra/Mother Earth series about the natural world, it follows Agua, Agüita/Water, Little Water;Fuego/Fueguito/Fire, Little Fire; and Viento, Vientito/Wind, Little Wind. All four books illustrate the interconnectedness of all living things and express a deep reverence for our precious planet.
Mi nombre es Tierra
pero todos me conocen por Tierrita.Yo soy la Madre Tierra
Ilena de todos los colores
y de todos los sabores.
My name is Earth
but people call me Little Earth.
I am Mother Earth
full of all the colors
and all the flavors.
Encompassing north, south, east and west, she is the Mother of Water, Fire, and Wind. Though others may call her “planet,” “nature,” or “creation,” she most likes “Mother Earth, Little Earth.” Spinning around the sun since time immemorial, she sings of flora and fauna, and is “the tiniest insect, the juiciest fruit, the most delicious greens you’ve ever tasted.”
Are you up for a little food shopping? Come along then, let’s go!!
New York’s Chinatown is our destination, as we read about a Chinese American girl and her mother buying ingredients for a family dinner. Written and illustrated by Qing Zhuang (“ching juong”), Rainbow Shopping (Holiday House, 2023) is a delectable feast for the senses that touches the heart.
The story opens on a rainy Saturday, where a little girl who feels “as gray as a pigeon” is in bed sketching. She’s wistful and lonely, missing her native China. Everything is different in New York, and her parents and grandmother are always busy working.
But on this Saturday, her mom pulls her out of bed, telling her that since everyone will be home for dinner, they need to go to Chinatown for special ingredients. After a long subway ride, they first stop at the bakery for a snack: strawberry cheesecake for her, a sesame ball with red bean filling for her mom.
Then it’s time to shop! They get fresh garlic, ginger, scallions and bamboo shoots, sweet red persimmons, mysterious mushrooms that “curl like thunderclouds,” and the bumpiest squash among “rows of vegetables in a hundred greens.”
They next explore “long aisles of noodles, sauces, spices, pickles and tea,” making sure to add medicinal herbs for Grandma and “numbingly hot peppers for Dad” to their cart. At the seafood section, the girl notes “the fish seem to stare,” right before she rounds the corner to the candy aisle — were she grabs everything (but Mom says can only have one bag)!
Recently, by lucky happenstance, I ran across Aunt Margaret’s Pudding as I was browsing the online shop of – *wait for it* – HappenStance Press,a small indie publisher based in Fife, Scotland.
Truth is, I simply cannot resist a charming title, especially when it contains ‘Margaret’ (my mother’s name), and the word ‘pudding,’ which usually makes me want to hug myself, it’s so dang adorable.
Aunt Margaret’s Pudding, by British poet Alison Brackenbury, is a collection of poems and recipes inspired by her paternal grandmother Dorothy Eliza Barnes (“Dot”).
Dot (b. 1894) worked as a professional Edwardian cook in Nottingham before marrying a shepherd and living in various cottages around Lincolnshire. She recorded her family’s favorite recipes in a black notebook which Brackenbury later inherited along with Dot’s wooden desk.
The poems are not only a revealing bit of family history, but an interesting glimpse of early 20th century East Midlands farm and country life. This was a time when almost everything was homemade, people walked to work, and neighbors “saved” each other (when Dot was bedridden after the birth of her fourth child, one of her neighbors cooked and washed for Dot’s husband and children for weeks).
Dot herself used to feed itinerant farm workers and invited children waiting at the school bus stop near her gate in for sweets. Practical, frugal, hardworking, and generous, Dot lived a quiet, isolated life. It is interesting to see that her smudged notebook contains not only her small, neat penmanship, but the hands of other women, suggesting that Dot liked to collect recipes from friends and neighbors. Their shared lives were “rich with old knowledge and individual talent.”
Enjoy a little taste of Brackenbury’s book with two sample poems and a recipe. Many thanks to Alison for permission to share her poems and for providing the wonderful photos!
But you were tiny. Not one toe
could stretch from sofa to the floor.
Unwise to marry a tall man? For
the fourth child left you bed-bound, so
kind neighbours cooked. Your eyes were weak,
yet blue as harebells. You would go
sleepless, to cram old trunks with cake
the men took to the Royal Show.
I have one picture, leather-bound:
you as a young, still-anxious cook,
flowered velvet in your collar's tuck.
Like food, you could make cash go round.
Only your hair grew wild. Its fine
strong waves defied your careful buns.
French marigolds by your washing line
met cabbage, hoed by husband, sons.
You never cut your springing hair.
Time washed past you like rain, your skin
so soft a child's lips would sink in.
My face, rough from hill wind, stays bare
of blusher, gloss. No powder tins
littered your rooms. I stay up, too,
cook, type, as horizons dim.
My father said I looked like you.
Carrots kept Christmas pudding plain.
No gold leaf flattered Nottingham.
Choclate -- you wrote, brisk, young.
What sweetness touched your tongue?
Your first friends were cornflour, ground rice.
Your middle age still sang with spice,
spooned, generous to a fault.
Cinnamon. Ginger. Salt?
Steam smudged your letters. Leather Cups?
I squint. The words are: Quaker Oats.
Your trust in brand names shone.
King, Country, only one.
You knew dessert. You wrote
the old name: cocoanut.
Through bright Treacle I see
the dark Imperial tree.
A married student, money short,
I spooned rough ground rice at the start --
strong, workaday, low-cost --
like all the tastes we lost.
I first saw the walking eggs, then the flying books and the TV set with arms and legs. By the time anthropomorphized tableware, teeth playing musical instruments, and a bear vacuuming the moon appeared, I was hooked.
Initially, I didn’t realize these fanciful pictures were from children’s books. They certainly felt child-centric, but they also had an elegance and sophistication that belied classification. I loved the subtle watercolors, innovative composition, precise drawing and masterful rendering of details, all bathed in refreshing optimism and off-center humor.
Just who was this artist whose work was so unique, making it easily identifiable once you were aware of it?