Let’s start the year off with a good, good picture book. I get a lot of emails from people asking me to review things here and there was something about this one that made me say yes. And oh, I’m so glad I did. Wild, beautiful, fiercely distinct artwork, and a story that’s full of poignant grace. Like I said, it’s a good, good book….
Vy’s Special Gift by Ha-Giang Trinh and Evi Shelvia.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Vy’s Special Gift took my breath away. I was offered a copy of it to review by the author, and the outline intrigued me so I accepted. The book itself made me have a little moment because it’s very, very good. There’s something rather magical about Trinh’s simple, genuine story, and when it’s paired with the melancholic beauty of Shelvia’s artwork, it goes somewhere rather special indeed.
Based on a true story in Trinh’s homeland of Vietnam, it tells the story of a girl waiting in a line for free rice. As she waits in the long, long line, she expresses kindness and understanding to those about her – something that she’s rewarded for in the story’s conclusion. It’s set during the pandemic and so the vast majority of characters wear masks, personal protective equipment, and also practice social distancing.
The book wears its morals very lightly. Trinh never heads down the laborious route of ‘behaving like this is good!’ but rather lets her story speak for itself. Textually, it’s restrained and more powerful for that. Though there were maybe two or three words I’ve have deleted (I’m always one to push for less rather than more), I found the story an intensely elegant experience. There’s something very soft, honest and beautiful about it.
Shelvia’s artwork is frankly stunning at points, wedding the cultural touchstones of COVID-19 with a poetic use of line and colour. There’s a moment of crisis within the story for Vy, and Shelvia handles it with such beautiful, subtle restraint. I’m always impressed by artists who know when to hold back, and this moment in particular was perfect. I loved this. It was so beautiful, so poetic.
I’d suggest Vy’s Special Gift can be used in discussions about the pandemic, particularly for those who may be experiencing some nerves and social anxiety – the message of kindness, empathy and concern for others is a very relevant one for all ages. I’d also recommend it for people interested in picture book technique and style – I suspect there’s an essay or two begging to be written here.
You can see Vy’s Special Gift being read online here. Basically, I loved this. A lot.
I am (very) grateful to the author for a review copy.
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