Review: Double Happiness by Nancy Tupper Ling and illustrated by Alina Chau

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Hardcover, 48 pages
Published August 4th 2015 by Chronicle Books
Source: Raincoast Books

Double Happiness by Nancy Tupper Ling and Alina Chau is about a pair of siblings who have to leave everything and everyone they know to move to an unfamiliar place. Gracie and Jake live in San Francisco with their parents, comfortable in the proximity of their extended family; their grandmother is just a few streets away as are their aunt and uncle. When their parents tell them that they are moving far away, they protest the idea until their grandmother teaches them a way to capture their memories in the form of treasures and gives them a box in which to keep these keepsakes.

Chronicle Books have once again outdone themselves in the production of this book; it is extremely well-made with beautiful end pages and a naked hardback that has the same illustrations as the removable dust jacket. The book was designed by Schneller.

Alina Chau’s illustrations are superb; the watercolour paintings (or so they feel to me) add an effervescent energy to the tale. I particularly love the way Jake is drawn–as though he’s going to leap off the pages at any minute and start running around in real life. Gracie, as the older sister, has a bit more calm to her expressions. There are a myriad of things to look at and exclaim over and I happily spent an hour just looking at the illustrations.

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Not that the prose is anything to scoff at. Ling captures the apprehension and fear that almost always accompanies change especially for children who have no control over their lives. Jake and Gracie are not just losing the proximity of their loved ones but also their familiarity with the landscape and I like the discourse that centers around their interactions with nature. I also liked the extended family relationships portrayed in this picturebook. I’ve noticed that many picturebooks though they focus on family almost often focus on nuclear units and not the whole extended family that is a for many of us. So it was a pleasure to see the extended family unit reflected in fiction.

I also really liked the homage to traditions–Gracie and Jake’s NaiNai (grandma) was given a box in which to keep her treasures and she in turn is giving boxes to Gracie and Jake, perpetuating the tradition. The narrative verses are short and simple and capture the feelings of the children with sensitivity–respecting their emotions without condescension. The language is bright and fun and perfect for its audience.

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Double Happiness would be ideal for teachers teaching creative writing and poetry. The book would also make wonderful gifts for children who have to move soon and will have to deal with exactly the same kind of feelings Jake and Gracie have to deal with in this book. And the fact that this book has all titles written in two languages (English and Chinese) is the cherry on top of all the cakes. The diversity present in Double Happiness is very important and a pleasure to experience. Highly recommended.