Ash is a quiet, lonely magpie who also happens to be a very talented seamstress! By sharing her special gift, she discovers a way to bring joy to others and to herself.
I’m drawn to book covers, I’ll admit, and I defy anyone to look at Ash Dresses Her Friends and not want to explore further!
Ash is a quiet, lonely magpie. She lives in a nest by herself and is ignored by the other birds at neighbourhood gatherings because they think she is shy. Her life then takes a turn for the better when she meets a sad elephant who really wants a new shirt. Ash, as it so happens, is a talented seamstress and she rustles up a shirt from the stunning red floral fabric featured on the book cover, singing all the while. Soon, she is busy making all sorts of items from her beautiful cloth for the other animals in the forest. Despite a temporary blip when Ash finds herself alone yet again (and out of cloth), the story ends happily when her new friends return to acknowledge her gifts and friendship.
The text sings along in this sweet, simple story about the joy an individual’s talents can bring to others and themselves. The animals are delighted with the items Ash has made and given to them. And it is clear that Ash has enjoyed using her special gift – what’s more, she’s made a little community of friends in the process.
The real highlight for me is the glorious artwork in this book. Fu Wenzheng uses a palette of just three colours: red, grey and white. The beautiful red patterned material features throughout, including the end pages where readers will have fun identifying the animals from the story. The same rich red tone is used elsewhere, on Ash’s adorable sleeveless jacket, on tree trunks, leaves and toadstools. It’s a deliberate choice: teacher’s notes on the publisher’s website advise that in China, red is the colour of good fortune and joy. I also like the use of a predominantly grey palette in scenes where Ash is feeling lonely.
There are many beautiful illustrations to explore and the feel-good factor is high as Ash tends to her friends’ needs. My children (aged 6 and 4) also enjoyed spotting which animal was due to appear next (each one is tucked into the preceding spread). In my opinion, though, the neighbourhood banquet scene tops them all for characterisation, colour and composition. While Ash sits quietly clutching a cup at the end of a long table, the other birds tuck into a feast of food and drink. They look like an imposing bunch, with their vibrant plumage, fancy attire and supercilious expressions. I think Ash does well to find other friends in the forest!
Ash Dresses Her Friends is a delightful read and I look forward to discovering more of Fu Wenzheng’s work in the future.
Ash Dresses Her Friends by Fu Wenzheng, translated from the Chinese by [unknown] (New Frontier, 2018)
Fu Wenzheng is a picture book creator who is particularly well known for her work in China. In 2016, she received an Excellence Award in the Golden Pinwheel Young Illustrators Competition at the China Children’s Book Fair. She also teaches in the Cultural Products Department at Fujian Normal University’s Union College.
I have been unable to find out who translated this picture book into English.
Read more about Fu Wenzheng here
And find out her answers to 12 curly questions here