Two months ago, Grace Lin wrote about her artistic style, wondering whether she was being boring. At the time, I couldn’t think of an appropriate comment, other than, “Nooooooooooo!” which isn’t so much a comment as a long series of one vowel. But the thought sat in my brain quietly simmering, and I’m finally ready to voice a slightly more articulate opinion. I hope.
(At one point, I had planned on posting my comments at the same time as her Edge of the Forest interview, but I guess my thoughts were still simmering. So cross-promotional opportunities suffer in favor of coherent argument. I can live with that.)
Michael Jordan. Greatest basketball player ever gets a been-there-done-that feeling and moves to baseball. He does all right, I guess, but leaves lots of disappointed fans in his wake, not to mention his team. What did that move accomplish? Maybe he got the chance to test himself, but at what expense?
So if you’re great at what you’re doing, why change? If you still love what you’re doing, and your fans love what you’re doing, why change?
Is Grace Lin the Michael Jordan of children’s literature? Well, I don’t want to give that honor to anyone (no, not even him), because it isn’t a matter of being the absolute best. The world of children’s literature accommodates many different styles of writing and illustration. But that world would be poorer without the joyful, brightly colored, multi-patterned illustrations of Grace Lin. Thankfully, she has kept that style alive in her new book, Lissy’s Friends.
Lissy is the new girl at school and feels very lonely. Too shy to approach anyone, Lissy makes an origami swan. To her surprise, it comes to life and flies next to her! She goes home happy and tells her mom that she did make a friend today. In this case, literally. Lissy then makes lots of origami friends and takes them everywhere. One day, while riding the merry-go-round, the paper animals go flying out into the wind. Lissy is upset, but just then another girl asks her how to make the swan. Lissy shows her and in doing so, makes a real-life friend.
At first read, I wasn’t sure about the flying swan and the life-size origami animals. But the second time through, I saw it clearly as Lissy’s imagination that made them come to life and look huge. I liked that Lissy’s way to make friends begins with doing what she likes to do and being herself. The theme of Lissy’s Asian-American heritage is not the source of conflict or isolation, but it is her special knowledge of origami that helps her break through her shyness and connect with the people around her.
Lissy’s Friends is exactly what I would expect from Grace Lin, and I don’t mean that in a boring way. I like knowing that I can count on her to provide a solid, sweet, lovely, enjoyable book. Don’t go changing.
(Oh, and there’s a doll! I didn’t mention the doll. It totally fits with my Twenty-One Ways to Give a Book campaign, so I have to mention the Groovy Girl-looking doll. Lin’s been merchandised!)