Written by Emil Sher, author of Away
The seeds of a story are scattered everywhere. Which ones do I cultivate? is the question I carry in my back pocket. I am drawn to stories wrapped around the core of simple but enduring truths. One such truth was laid bare in “A Final Message From My Mother,” an essay I read in the New York Times Magazine. Josiah Howard described the unadorned, life-affirming messages he exchanged with his mother when he was a child. He was black, she was unwed and white, and the notes they left for each other — in the fridge, under lamps, stuffed in a shoe — were “a lifeline — a communication with each other that no one else shared.”
It wasn’t long after reading Howard’s moving essay that I began picturing a picture book, a story told entirely through sticky notes. Skip, the biracial daughter of a single mother, dreads her first trip to an overnight camp. A grandmother and a family cat were added to the mix. Qin Leng’s wonderful illustrations reveal how a deep-rooted love between a mother and daughter sprouts in the most unlikely places: on an empty milk carton, on a fish bowl, beside a plate of biscuits. Sometimes, a few scribbled words carry the soothing weight of a sonnet.
Between work and school, homework and housework, a mother and daughter don’t always get to spend as much time together as they’d like. Add to that a little girl’s fears about leaving home for the first time, and the need to stay close through handwritten notes becomes even more important. As the camp departure date gets closer, Mom does her best to soothe her daughter’s nerves. A visit from her grandmother helps to calm her fears and convince her that she’ll have a good time, even away from her mother and beloved cat. Camp ends up being a wonderful adventure – but nothing is sweeter than a back-at-home reunion.
Qin Leng’s watercolor illustrations are the perfect complement to Emil Sher’s simple text. This nuanced story about a parent and child’s unconventional way of connecting is full of humor and affection. Young readers will enjoy spotting Lester the cat as he paws his way into the story.