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Finding One’s Place in the World: Home (2004) and Window (1991) – a Jeannie Baker 2-in-1 Special

One of my really great discoveries for our Bimonthly theme apart from Fernando Krahn (whose works we reviewed here, here, and here) and Suzy Lee (whose wordless picture books we reviewed in a 3-in-1 here) is Jeannie Baker, an Australian Book Artist who uses collages in her picture books. We have already done a feature of her Mirror here, now we do a 2-in-1 Feature of two of her famous works for our theme this March-April: “When Words are not Enough: A Wordless Picture Book Special.”

Window

Staring out the Window for 24 Years. As the title indicates, the entire wordless narrative shows a window for every page, with someone from the inside looking out. Each of the page likewise shows 2-year intervals; so we see an infant who is being carried by his mother in the first page go through his developmental milestones every two years. I love the details included in the very first page of the wordless narrative:

This image is copyrighted by Jeannie Baker. Click on the image to be taken to the websource, Jeannie Bakers Website.

Over and above the exponential change in the environment as witnessed through looking out this window through the years, I would like to highlight Baker’s intuitive sense of how a young boy grows up from toddlerhood to middle-school age, to teenage years and finally into adulthood. Through this windowsill, we are allowed to take a small peek into this boy’s life: the teddy bear phase he must have had when he was two, his Superman phase at age four, his fascination with dinosaurs at age six, his mandatory rocket-ship phase at ten which shifted into a helicopter mania (not to mention slingshots) at twelve, until he reaches twenty-four years old. We literally see this boy grow up before our eyes, thanks to Baker’s keen eye for detail.

When the vegetation was still rich in this part of the world... our little toddler playing with his cat at age two while momma dries the laundry out in the sun

The ‘reader’ also gets a sense of how stable this boy’s life must be (regardless of the changes going around him outside). Why did I say this? For a boy to be firmly rooted in a place for twenty-two years is something – perhaps one of the things that a lot of people take for granted. The most I stayed in one place would be five years or so when I was a child, so moving is kind of a constant. A veritable gypsy, yes. I do wish to establish this sense of rootedness, though, and it’s lovely to see it in this red-head boy’s life.

Environmental Degradation and Destruction (and Rebirth) and Teacher Resources. In the Author’s Note found at the very end of the book, Jeannie Baker noted the following:

We are changing the face of our world at an alarming and an increasing pace.

From the present rates of destruction, we can estimate that by the year 2020 no wilderness will remain on our planet, outside that protected in national parks and reserves.

By the same year 2020, a quarter of our present plant and animal species will be extinct if we continue at the current growing pace of change.

Already, at least two species become extinct each hour.

Our planet is changing before our eyes. However, by understanding and changing the way we personally affect the environment, we can make a difference.

At age 22, we can see how the same community has been radically changed with the presence of more houses, graffiti on the street walls, and the ever-present fast food chains that abound in the city

In an interview with Jeannie Baker conducted by Classroom Magazine entitled “Window on a Changing World,” she was asked whether she was disturbed by the fact that critics might view her work as propaganda with its unspoken mantra about sustainable growth. She replied that her intentions are more to stimulate questions and raise discussion. Baker also explained why she feels that a wordless narrative would work better with this three-year project that is Window:

For what I was trying to express in this, a wordless picture book seemed right. There was never any point at which I thought that I’m going to need words to say what I want to say here. In fact, I feel the opposite – if I’d used words, it would have come across as a very moralising book, and I would have had a lot of problems with it, whereas I can imply things using pictures. The viewers supply their own words.

I also found quite a number of resources for educators on how they can make use of this book inside their classrooms. In this unit created by Joanne Coghlan for the Making MAP Meaningful Project (a downloadable PDF file) in 2005, she shared a Walking Talking Text Column Planner unit of work complete with an Assessment Record and directions on how to facilitate a 5-week Science program.

In this downloadable DOC file entitled A Window into our Environment prepared by Michelle Ashworth, Michelle Hamer, Sue Norton, and Kellie Kingston from the sustainable schools website in Australia, the teacher is taken to fundamentals of discussing sustainable futures, along with a table that details different phases/stages through which the wordless text could be gradually introduced, the learning experience expected from the students, resources to be used as well as assessment tools.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I honestly didn’t know how to feel when I saw the image in the last page of the book:

We see our young boy, now a father, building his home in a place not unlike that which he initially grew up on. I wonder how long it would take for this beautiful place to be transformed to a more “progressive” “citified” way of life. Makes one wonder how ‘progress’ and ‘development’ should be defined.

Home/Belonging

I didn’t realize that these two books were actually identical when I borrowed them from our community library. Flipping through the pages, however, revealed that save for the cover jacket and the title, the wordless narrative is the same.

24 Years of Love and Life and a Transition back to Nature and Greens. This book is a striking contrast to Window which began with vegetation and ended in an urban cityscape, much like the one most of us are familiar with. Here, we could even claim that Baker picked up where she left off from her earlier book since the first few pages show a modern, progressive landscape dotted with fastfood chains and walls littered with graffiti – and ended with the urban landscape merging beautifully with the trees and plant life.

A young family with our newborn girl, Tracy

As the reader flips through the pages, one gets to share Tracy’s life as the reader sees how she would ‘camp out’ in their mini-grassy-lawn when she was four, her fairy phase at age six (where she wrote a lovely note to her mother “I am going to fly over the houses” complete with a lovely crayon scribble on a paper tacked to the windowsill) and her fascination with cut-out paper dolls and gardening at age eight.

Tracys camp out in their lawn

Through this window, the reader is able to ‘watch’ Tracy’s tenth birthday (which she celebrated while down with the flu), the neighborhood’s collective attempt to ‘help bring back our local plants‘ at age twelve. The book also has a voyeuristic feel to it as the reader sees Tracy cuddling with her boyfriend under the starry night sky at eighteen. I watch her fall in love, consider universities in a prospectus, and finally get married to this red-haired boy (who seemed to be wooing her from childhood) at twenty-two. It is a full life indeed and you would feel fortunate witnessing Tracy’s life through Jeannie Baker’s amazingly-detailed collage art work.

Author Note and Teacher Resources. Once again, I am pretty fortunate to be able to gather together quite a number of educator resources for this book, which seems to be a popular reference among teachers, particularly in Australia. This downloadable PDF file is a Belonging-Education Kit where the teacher is provided with “teaching strategies that encourage play, exploration, discovery learning, use of the imagination and sensory awareness to research and communicate ideas.” This is created by Christine Joy, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne (Belonging-Integrated Units). Madeleine Kelman Snow, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (Visual Arts), with assistance by Jeannie Baker, Lisa Slade, & Lisa Havilah and published by the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre 2004.

Here we see how the vegetation has blended beautifully with the modern city scape

This downloadable PDF file highlights Teacher Notes on Belonging as prepared by Scholastic. There are several recommendations on possible small-group activities that can be done in class to accompany this wordless picture book.

In this interview with Jeannie Baker which is part of an extended review of ‘Belonging’ in Magpies Magazine, Volume 9, no 3 July 2004 – Baker shared how her ideas evolved from her initial publication Window to Home/Belonging:

In the past ‘home’ meant not only the building in which a person lived. One’s ‘Home’ alsoincluded the street, the landmarks and the special places in the neighbourhood. But now our street spaces are usually so full of cars and their noise and their dangers, people no longer use their streets in the ways they used to. Often people have never even seen or met some of the other people also living in their street. In evolving my ideas for ‘Belonging’ I became conscious of the worldwide movement ‘Reclaim the street’ in which street residents collectively decide they want to stop or dramatically reduce their street traffic so that their street can once again become a place for social interaction, for children, community and plants.

Throughout the world, there is a drift to uniformity, everywhere and everything looking andfeeling the same. In ‘Belonging’I try to show an alienating cityscape (that could be anywhere) reclaim its Australian character. Australia is still wonderfully rich in its variety of native plants and animals. ‘Belonging celebrates using local indigenous plants to give a sense of place and regional character. And through the use of local plant species, the local native birds, animals and insects that had long since left are attracted back. This community then becomes a nurturing home not just to people but to the larger community of life.

Where is Home?

As I was going over these two books, this question kept recurring in my head. For someone with a transnational identity, this is difficult to define. My family and I have been staying in Singapore now for three years, and for all intents and purposes we have made a home here. Singapore has been nothing but kind to us. I am sure that most expatriates would likewise resonate with this unvoiced sentiment of being neither here nor there, the boundaries of what signifies one and the other being somewhat tenuous. I believe that the struggles of someone like Fats who is an immigrant in the States may be quite different, and for Mary who is in the Philippines the issues may be coming from another world altogether. One thing I realized though is that the tangibles (the things you buy, your house, your car, the stuff that you collect through the years) may come and go, but you ultimately live with yourself – that which you bring with you wherever you may go. It becomes important then to not only make friends with the community in which you currently belong but also to be a friend to yourself, and to find that sense of home within – then, it would not matter where your geographical boundaries are – because you have established a sense of who you are relative to the rest of the world, wherever you may be.

For Mary and Fats and our Home that is GatheringBooks. While I was writing this piece, I am thinking of both Mary and Fats, our daily life struggles, and the many things that constantly happen to the three of us – and our quest to find ‘home.’ Regardless of the tumultuous events in our life and no matter where the winds take us, do know that we shall always find a home in GatheringBooks, my two psych babies.

With my lovely Fats in Oldtown, San Diego, as she and THE Mikey tour me and my family around last December 2010

When Mary came to visit me and my family here in Singapore with her sister and good friend

And so, for you two lovely ladies, and our dear readers, I would like to share Ingrid Michaelson’s Are We There Yet? This was the song playing in my head as I was reading Home and Window. I hope you enjoy the video clip:

They say that home is where the heart is
I guess I haven’t found my home
And we keep driving round in circles
Afraid to call this place our own

And are we there yet?

They say there’s linings made of silver
Folded inside each raining cloud
Well, we need someone to deliver
Our silver lining now

And are we there yet?
And are we there yet?
And are we there yet?
Home, home, home
Home, home, home

They say you’re really not somebody
Until somebody else loves you
Well, I am waiting to make somebody
Somebody soon

And are we there yet?
And are we there yet?
And are we there yet?
Home, home, home
Home, home, home

Where you will lie on the rug
While I play with the dog
And it won’t be too much
‘Cause this is too much
‘Cause this is too much for me to hold
This is too much for me to hold

Home, home, home
And are we there yet?
And are we there yet?
And are we there yet?

Home, home, home
Home, home, home, home

And are we there yet?
And are we there yet?
And are we there yet?
And are we there?

Window by Jeannie Baker. Published by Random House Children’s Books, 1991. Book borrowed from Community Library.

Home / Belonging by Jeannie Baker. Published by Greenwillow Books, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. 2004. Book borrowed from Community Library.

Picture Book Challenge Update: 50/51 of 72

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13 comments on “Finding One’s Place in the World: Home (2004) and Window (1991) – a Jeannie Baker 2-in-1 Special

  1. Lovely Review. I love the contrast of the two books, as well as the way it sticks to the window theme. It’s like peering through someone’s life, while only seeing glimpses of it, one witnesses the changes.I can only imagine how tedious it is working on collages, but I know it would be wonderful to be able to see them in real life.

    On the latter part of the review the tone changes. Home has always been a tricky concept for me. I’m basically a nomad, so i agree that home resides in us and in the people we keep ourselves connected to. And strangely enough Home is where we do belong…so the two titles are quite apt. :)

    • I suppose all three of us are gypsies at heart. =)

      I hope I can visit Australia this year so I can get to really see Jeannie Baker’s artwork – truly amazing. She did mention that the photographs of the collages have a different feel when compared to the original collage. =)

  2. I am wondering if Jeannie Baker has ever done a tour here in the Philippines.

    Because I remember when I was in fifth grade, my class got to meet an author named Jeannie… but it was on a day I was absent (stupid vague storm signals), so I’m not entirely sure! I’ll have to ask my classmates.

  3. [...] Krahn, to award winning book artist Suzy Lee, the traveler Mitsumasa Anno, the collage-artwork of Jeannie Baker – (among others) and now to the subdued beautiful wordless artwork of Peter Collington. We [...]

  4. [...] mind-blowing. Again it brings to mind some of the key issues I’ve raised in my review of Jeannie Baker’s Home/Belonging and Window about finding a sense of ‘home’ within and knowing one’s place in the world [...]

  5. [...] Home by Jeannie Baker (Part of a 2-in-1 Review) [...]

  6. [...] to know each other, Chris mentioned that he was contemporaries and good friends with Shaun Tan and Jeannie Baker whose works we have featured here in GatheringBooks. I am simply in love with Australian [...]

  7. I had goosebumps both reading your personal reflections, Myra, on the meaning of home, but also in your review of these two books. I find it intriguing that these wordless books can evoke such strong emotions as I experience “reading” them; the stability of the lives of this boy and girl growing up and yet the transience of the rapidly changing world around them, with its potential to alienate instead of nurture.

    I suspect we are of a nomadic generation for whom it maybe be easier to accept this challenge to find home wherever we are transplanted. What a difference from our moves twenty years ago, when a letter between Malawi and The Netherlands (boyfriend at the time ;)) could take 4+ weeks!

    • I am glad you enjoyed the post Joanna. Your reflections on ‘home’ have moved me greatly as well – and it’s lovely to be able to share this with you – since we seem to have the same ruminations running through our head.

      And yes, I do embrace the gypsy within. With Facebook, Twitter, Skype (and wordpress haha) around, how can we not be connected to our loved ones – be they in Malawi, Japan, or Nice. =)

  8. [...] Window (1991) Click on the image to be taken to my review of the book [...]

  9. Thanks for alerting me to this book myra. I’ve looked at it once long ago, and had fogotten it, so good to be reminded, and could be v useful for what I’m looking for.

  10. [...] I believe that Zoe from Playing by the Book once asked me about a book similar to this sometime in March – she was asking about books that show the changes in society in a specific town over time in an Asian setting. While this book is not set in Asia, it does show how the little house originally built in the countryside found itself right smack in the middle of a bustling, hurried, noisy, smog-filled city after several generations. It is interesting how the entire house remained untouched while everything around it has radically changed. I especially liked the typography in this book as it seems purposefully and ingeniously crafted to complement what the narrative is saying. However, I had an issue with the page number being placed in a prominent section of the text, rather than somewhere in the left or right-hand corner as one would originally expect. Oftentimes, I wondered whether the number has a special significance to the narrative only to realize that it was actually the page number. Regardless, I thought that this was a charming book that clearly illustrates the passing of the seasons and how society’s evolution is naturally tied to the transformation of the natural world around it. I would also recommend that the book be read alongside Jeannie Baker’s Window (1991) and Home/Belonging (2004). [...]

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