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Jemmy Button by Jennifer Uman & Valerio Vidali

Jemmy Button 1
Jemmy Button 2
Jemmy Button 4

I think real life is usually a bit over-rated – in the fact that ‘stories’ can be so much more exciting than ‘real-life’ could ever really be. But this ‘real-life’ story is really quite remarkable.
In the early 1800s Captain Robert Fitzroy set sail from England to the islands of Tierra del Fuego (South America). He found the native people to be savages, lacking in any kind of sophistication. He believed it was possible to transform one of these wild children into a fine English Gentleman if given the right education. He brought a boy named Orundellico back to England with him. He gave his parents a Mother of Pearl button in payment – which gave rise to his new name – Jemmy Button.

Jemmy Button 5
Jemmy Button 6
Of course Jemmy flourished in England with schooling in Christianity and upper-class Victorian manners and even attracted the attention of King William and Queen Adelaide. In 1832 he returned to his home islands – where the hope was he would spread his learning of civilisation – Darwin joined him on his journey home to study him in his original habitat. What happened I’ll leave for you to find out ….
Jennifer Uman and Valerio Vidali have adoringly illustrated this real-life ‘My Fair Lady’ tale. The two illustrators met online with a shared appreciation of each other’s work – but with Jennifer only speaking English and Valerio only speaking Italian their friendship was formed using online translators to talk about their ideas. They finally met when they had the idea to illustrate this story together and it is such a beautiful partnership – one of those books where every page could be framed.

The book is available from Amazon (US and UK).

-Mo x


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Comments (10)

ZL
May 14, 2015

Many thanks for these book reviews – it would be great to give an idea of the age group they can be read at.


Mo
May 14, 2015

Hello there – I’m always reluctant to give age groups as Im no expert as to what children can read themselves or understand at any given age and so can only base enjoyment levels on my own children – my children are completely varied – my 8 year old is severely dyslexic and can not read anything himself but can understand quite complicated books read to him. My 6 year old is above her own age group in reading but gets lost in stories with too much information / facts. It is really hard to say. As this is a very beautiful picture book I think it can appeal from a pretty young age – my 3 year old loves the pictures but probably finds the concept of the story a little bit tricky. My 6 year old likes the story – she follows it and enjoys it. The wording is kept quite sparce during the story but there is a few paragraphs at the end giving the background historical story. For my 8 year old the story was perhaps a little too simplistic – but he really enjoyed that this was a true story and afterwards we looked up a little bit about Darwin – so it was a good platform to start conversation with him – he is probably the top end of the age group – maybe other 8 year olds would quite enjoy reading this book for themselves. I can’t measure that. I hope that helps somewhat.


ZL
May 14, 2015

Thank you very much!


Ella Hill
May 14, 2015

I have loved all of your book recommendations Mo – thank you! I’m struggling for interesting / lovely to look at books for babies and toddlers. Any suggestions you might have would be very welcome! 🙂


Mo
May 14, 2015

Hi Ella – thank you. I’m glad you enjoy the reviews. Well my littlest is almost out of that age now (boo!) but he has loved Richard Scarry books – books with lots going on (often slightly surreal versions of real life) that they can stare at and practise new words with – my favourite is the Biggest Word Book Ever – which when we bought it for Otto was nearly as big as him. I have to admit it’s quite expensive for a board book (currently £19.99 on Amazon) but we’ve had so much ‘use’ out of that book. My kids also really liked the Pip and Posy stories when they were tiny – I think they seem to achieve a similar charm that Peppa Pig does – that very gentle humour about subjects they can identify with. For more ‘designer’ books – have you discovered Paul and Ann Rand and Bruno Munari yet? Paul Rand and Bruno Murani were both amazing graphic designers who illustrated a couple of kids books – I think they are wonderful and as they are very simple (as most good design is) and very graphic (of course) they are perfect for babies and toddlers. Look for ‘Sparkle and Spin’, ‘Little 1’ and ‘Bruno Murani’s Zoo’ are all good and in print. Bruno Murani’s ‘Tic, Tac, Toe’ is a lovely book if you can get hold of a copy (don’t spend a lot of money on it as it is very thin and a bit flimsy but if you ever find it for under £10 it’s worth it!!!). Hope that gives you a few ideas. Mo. x


Anna
May 14, 2015

Always thankful for your book reviews. And on this one thanks for making us so curious to see what will happen when Jemmy is back on the island. Different question: Love your rug in the background of the pictures – Do you remember where it is from? Thanks


Mo
May 14, 2015

Hi Anna – the rug is from Olli Ella – http://www.olliella.com.au/teepee-geo-rug-pink
I think I bought it on sale!


Joanne
May 14, 2015

Mo – is the use of the word “savages” to describe the native people of Tierra del Fuego in the book, or is that your word choice? If it’s in the book, then I don’t find that this book is appropriate reading for children, if we want our children to grow up to be world citizens equipped to deal with people of all kinds. If it’s your word choice, then it is incredibly disappointing. Native people of the Americas are not savages or experiments who needed or need European “civilization” and “upper-class Victorian manners” to “floruish.” Rather, they belong to valuable civilizations. Really, I love this blog, but I find this blog entry incredibly troubling.


Mo
May 14, 2015

Hi Joanne – of course savages is not my word! It is used in the book to describe what Captain Robert FitzRoy thought of the native people. It is very much used in the context of what a Victorian Captain would have thought of the native people on first seeing them. I personally think we can teach our children a lot by educating them about these kind of mistakes made in history and I think this book could be a great starting point for talking about why in ‘olden days’ people didn’t understand or respect each others cultures as we do today. I didn’t want to give away the ‘ending’ of this story but I think you’d like it – I certainly did. This story is of how the stupidity of thinking your culture is superior to any other is not founded. I think it is a fascinating story. The audacity of the Brits to think they could ‘civilise’ someone from one culture by introducing them to their own. But obviously this was a different time – a time when different cultures were not understood and I find it also interesting to see how Darwin himself takes an interest in this story – even to the point of making the long journey back to the island to see what happens when ‘Jemmy’ gets home. I didn’t mean to cause you any offense Joanne and I’m sure the book has no intention to do so either – it is a great, true story beautifully illustrated. I’d love to hear what you think if you do decide to look up a copy. Mo x


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Joanne
May 20, 2015

Many thanks for your lovely reply and detailed explanation, Mo. Much appreciated. I understand your points now, and I look forward to reading the book. Best to you.


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