Painted Words and Spoken Memories
By Aliki
Published by HarperCollins Publishers
Age Range: 4+

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“Aliki has captured the emotions and experiences of many of today’s children.”  —School Library Journal

Returning to her own childhood for inspiration, Aliki has created an exceptional sixty-four-page book that presents Marianthe’s story — her present and her past. In Painted Words, Marian paintings help her to become less of an outsider as she struggles to adjust to a new language and a new school. Under the guidance of her teacher, who understands that there is more than one way to tell a story, Mari makes pictures to illustrate the history of her family, and eventually begins to decipher the meaning of words. In Spoken Memories, a proud Mari is finally able to use her new words to narrate the sequence of paintings she created, and share with her classmates her memories of her homeland and the events that brought her family to their new country.

Reviews & Accolades
“In perhaps her most personal work to date, Aliki presents two equally moving sides to Marianthe’s story, the first as a new arrival to a foreign America, and the second the explanation of why she came. A third-person narrative describes the girl’s first days of school; Mari struggles with English until she realizes that art translates to all languages. One day, as Mari prepares to tell her story through her paintings, the sympathetic teacher announces that “there is more than one way to tell a story. Someday Mari will be able to tell us with words.” Readers then flip the book over to begin the second installment, for which Mari capably uses words to explain her background. Here Mari’s first-person narration recounts her early years in the old country, where extended family and community pulled together to grow food and to weather such tragedies as war and famine. Like her character, Aliki spins her tale gracefully in two media, placing words and art in impressive balance, and inventively incorporates a reverse-chronological sequence to fill in the details. Aliki takes an artistic leap, as she paints her characters with a range of extraordinarily expressive faces in close-up portraits, and effectively employs a changeable palette from the dusty grays of troubled past times to the chipper hues of a contemporary classroom. In an America comprised of immigrants, many youngsters facing the same sea changes as Mari will likely find her a stalwart companion, and those with a Mari in their lives may gain a newfound respect for the strength it takes to make the journey.”
Publishers Weekly

“These two carefully written stories, combined in one book, show the difficulties a child faces when coming to a new land and the unique heritage each one of us has. In Painted Words Marianthe, or Mari, starts school knowing no one and unable to speak or understand the language. She expresses herself and her feelings through her art. She shares her experiences and new knowledge with her mother, who provides the girl with warm reassurance. Finally the day comes when Mari is able to stand before the class with her paintings and tell her story with her new words, “page by painted page.” Flip the book over for Spoken Memories. It is Mari’s turn to tell her class what her life was like in her native land. The setting is a small, poor village, probably in Greece, but it could be anywhere. In simple, understated language, Aliki has captured the emotions and experiences of many of today’s children. Colored-pencil and crayon illustrations in soft primary and secondary colors reinforce the mood of the text. Sometimes the art occupies a page by itself; sometimes the space is shared with text. The occasionally oversized heads and wide eyes of the children in otherwise realistic drawings lend a childlike and endearing quality. An illuminating book for all collections that serve youngsters from other lands.
School Library Journal

One picture book tells two stories and two aspects of the immigrant experience from the perspective of a child. The first story, “Painted Words,” follows Marianthe, new to the US, and her mother on the dreaded first day of school. Her mother tries to reassure the girl, but the classroom experience is all but overwhelming. Knowing no English, Marianthe draws pictures about herself during the art period, communicating in the only way she can. A patient teacher, some not-always-nice classmates, and success in English (“Slowly, like clouds lifting, things became clearer. Sticks and chicken feet became letters. Sputters and coughs became words. And the words had meanings”) give Marianthe the courage to take part in Life-Story Time, in the “Spoken Memories” section of the book. She tells the class of the baby brother who died before she was born, the village where she lived, the closeness of friends and neighbors, who rejoiced with the family when twin sons were born. Softly colored pencil and crayon drawings show the loving, supportive family, and the anxious and finally triumphant Marianthe, who finds a place in a new country. The storytelling is vivid and exquisitely emotional, making Aliki’s story painfully personal, yet resonant, in very few pages.”
Kirkus Reviews

Groups Represented
Greek (Presumed)

Building Futures
Cross-Group Friendship
Cultural Differences
Cultural Identity
Education & Literacy
Family Death
Family Relationships
Learning English
Multicultural Friendship
The Arts

United States

Engagement Projects & Resources
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