cover image SILK UMBRELLAS


Carolyn Marsden, . . Candlewick, $15.99 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-2257-2

Set in northern Thailand, Marsden's (The Gold-Threaded Dress ) graceful, compact novel centers on an 11-year-old who delights in helping her grandmother paint jungle-inspired designs on silk umbrellas to sell at market. Noi, accustomed to contributing only minor details to the artwork, trembles when her grandmother instructs her to paint a butterfly on the silk, advising, "Paint with all of you. Become the butterfly." Since the land Noi's father once farmed was sold to a developer, he now, ironically, lays bricks for the houses that will fill his former farmland. The family barely gets by with his part-time income, that from the silk umbrellas, and the mosquito nets Noi's mother stitches. Then Noi's mother signs up Noi's 15-year-old sister, Ting, to work in a factory making radios—a tedious, joyless task. Marsden laces her lyrical passages with effective imagery: when Noi's grandmother protests Ting's factory work, their mother says, " 'Without [Ting's] work, we don't have enough.' Her words sounded like coins being counted out one by one." The creative, free-spirited Noi holds out hope that her umbrella painting may be her salvation from a fate like her sister's. The author captures the exotic smells, tastes and sounds that define Noi's world and shapes an equally affecting portrait of a family coping with the changes thrust upon it. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)