Saludos todos and boa tarde gente! I am popping in today to bring you another international Mira, Look post on two more wonderful Brazilian children’s books. These books, like the books from my last Mira, Look international post, were also lent to me by Dr. Leila Lehnen from the Department of Spanish & Portuguese here at the University of New Mexico. This semester we have started a new section of the blog, “Mira, Look International” in an effort to focus more attention on Latin American children’s books from Latin America. In particular, I’ve chosen to take this time to focus special attention on Brazil, since Brazilian books are not often featured in the United States, and since my summer travels there this summer have made me more personally interested in Brazilian literature, both for children and adults.
The first title I’ll share here is a picture book written by Claudia Nina and illustrated by Cecília Murgel called A Misteriosa Mansão do Misterioso Senhor Lam (Mysterious Mr. Lam’s Mysterious Mansion). The book is about a big mysterious mansion that rests atop a hill in a small town where all the little houses look alike. The house is large, ominous, and sticks out like a sore thumb. Nobody knows who lives in the house, and in the wintertime, snow falls only on this one plot of land, and never on the rest of the village. The house is made of gray brick, surrounded by white snow, and the mysterious sounds of a lovely piano emanate from within its walls. Sometimes the town’s people see shadows against the walls, or figures in the window, but still, no one knows who lives in the great big house on the hill.
One day a big hurricane hits the town and all of the little, identical homes are destroyed, leaving the town’s people homeless and injured. However, the big brick house on the hill is left perfectly intact. In a lovely turn of events, the mysterious inhabitant of the great, big house finally emerges from his home and, to the surprise of the town’s people, invites them all into his home for shelter, helping them tend to their wounds. The town gathers together to rebuild the houses, making sure to make rooves that are even sturdier than before, to avoid such a catastrophe from happening again in the future—a valuable strategy for any post-disaster situation. This books shows readers that you can never judge a book by its cover. At the end of the book there is also a charming little twist of romance, proving that beautiful things can rise out of the rubble.
The creatively scaled illustrations of this book are fun and engaging for young children. The long, vertical shape of the book itself elongates the view of the town with the house at the top of the hill, emphasizing viscerally the sensation of gazing up at a looming, enigmatic home.
Finally, one of the concluding messages of the book, which I find especially compelling, is that some things are better left unanswered, and there is always a little bit of mystery in any good story. The narration leaves readers with some pending questions. For example, why did the man never come out of his home before the hurricane? However, the narration also answers its own question: “Porque os mistérios fazem parte das histórias e porque nem tudo se pode ou deve contar/ Because mysteries are a part of stories and because not everything can be told or should be told” (Note: the translation is my own).
Ultimately, this book explains that not all mysteries are meant to be solved, giving young readers the freedom to exercise their own imaginations and their own creative inclinations.
The second book, Peripécias de minha infância (Adventures from my Childhood), written by Sacolinha and illustrated by Roberto de Lima Dorta, also emphasizes the wonderful element of mystery in storytelling. This book is unique from many other children’s books that I’ve read, particularly in the introduction written by the author, Sacolinha.
Sacolinha explains how his story reflects on the childhood of Artur Alves de Freitas, a person who was materially impoverished but who had abundant creativity and energy. Whether or not these tellings are autobiographical is left unknown. In the introduction, Sacolinha emphasizes this bit of mystery, without giving a clear answer. In this regard, this book relates to the previously described book, as it relishes in the resonating wonder of mystery. Solinha also laments the changing culture of play and creativity for children nowadays. He writes that when he was a kid, the children would play outside for hours on end, but now many children spend hours playing video games or watching T.V. He also claims that nowadays healthy children will get sick from a light breeze, because growing up in environments that are overly sterile compromise the immune systems of growing children, and in his day, children were allowed to roll around in the dirt without any fuss, which actually strengthened their immune systems. Perhaps what is so unique about this book is that, while many children’s books are oriented towards the future and a focus on future aspirations and achievements, this book is infused with nostalgia.
This title is for more advanced readers than the one I reviewed above, and could be read as an early chapter book. However, it does still have some illustrations, which are simple but colorful and cheery. Each page of the book is also a different color paper, which adds to the playfulness of the book and the happiness evoked by looking back on fond memories. Nonetheless, of course, not all memories are cheerful, and this book evokes certain philosophical questions about memory, nostalgia, and perception.
These two beautiful books are unique and compelling with stunning illustrations, and are proof of what awaits when we expand our literary horizons.
Stay tuned for more ¡Mira, Look! International posts, as well as my regular, weekly ¡Mira, Look! book reviews!