I first learned of today’s Perfect Picture Book when I read a Lee & Low Books blog post last summer about tackling heavy themes in children’s stories. As this is a debut picture book by Lebanese-American author, editor and poet Hayan Charara and as it features an international setting and main character, I think it’s a Perfect Picture Book to help us celebrate the fourth annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day.
Title: The Three Lucys
Written By: Hayan Charara
Illustrated By: Sara Kahn
Publisher/date: Lee & Low Books/2016
Suitable for Ages: 8-9 or older
Themes/Topics: war, loss, cats, Lebanon, diversity
On the hill behind our house in Lebanon, there is an olive tree. I like to sit in the shade of the tree with the three Lucys: Lucy the Fat, Lucy the Skinny, and Lucy Lucy.
Brief Synopsis: When war breaks out in Lebanon, a young Luli and his parents must remain at the home of relatives, even as Luli worries about the pet cats that are waiting at home. Upon Luli’s return home, at least two of the cats are found to be safe.
Links to Resources:
- Learn about Lebanon;
- Make & eat traditional Lebanese cookies;
- Discussing war, hateful speech or actions, and tragedies with children is never easy; a few sites I found that may help include a Unicef site, Race to Peace, a site that includes links to many peace-promoting organizations, and a Parent Resource on the Fred Rogers Organization site.
Why I Like this Book:
The Three Lucys begins and ends with a description of domestic life and pet ownership that I think will captivate any child. I loved the glimpse into Luli’s life and the reminder that even in regions which many of us consider “war torn,” there is beauty. Luli “learned to catch fish” in the sea to the west; Beirut is “full of taxicabs, buses, and honking cars…falafel sandwiches and freshly squeezed fruit drinks.” And like kids anywhere, Luli loves his pet cats and takes good care of them.
When fighting erupts, Charara shows readers the war through Luli’s perspective. We learn that the school is badly damaged, but that a tree in the schoolyard remains. We also learn that Luli’s heart “feels as heavy as an apple falling from a tree,” an image that shows Luli’s grief so vividly.
The images of Sara Kahn, a cat-loving Iranian-American, capture the bond between Luli and the Lucys, the terror felt by the family as bombs fill the sky, and the destruction left in their wake.
A Note about Craft:
Presumably because of the difficult subject matter, the older target audience and the relative unfamiliarity of many American readers with this region and subject matter, at 1854 words, the word count of The Three Lucys is notably longer than the average picture book. I think books of this nature generally are longer, as more background is necessary to place the events and emotional journey into context.
War and loss are never easy subjects, especially in picture books. To soften the blow, while maintaining the messaging, I think Mr. Charara’s choice of loss is insightful. As a pet owner & lover, I understand that the loss of a pet is never easy, but unlike a person, the cat could have wandered or been frightened away – Lucy disappears but Charara never states that she dies. This leaves open the possibility that Lucy could be living happily elsewhere, which generally couldn’t be true if Lucy were a person. I think this glimmer of hope is important. Additionally, including three Lucys with two survivors enables Charara to circle back to the beginning, even as Luli remembers Lucy and grieves for her.
Finally, The Three Lucys is written in the first person, bringing immediacy to the story but also letting Luli show us that he is surviving, even as he grieves for Lucy.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!