May 03, 2018

Ten Cents a Pound

Written by Nhung N. Tran-Davies
Illustrated by Josée Bisaillon
Second Story Press
24 pp.
Ages 5-9
April 2018

I defy anyone to read Nhung N. Tran-Davies' text in Ten Cents a Pound and not be moved to tears by a mother's willingness to work at gathering coffee beans so that her child could have a better life. All the more poignant is the response from the child who recognizes her mother's struggles and does not want to leave her in order to pursue an education elsewhere. Their dialogue, told with love and admiration and respect, is the story of Ten Cents a Pound
From Ten Cents a Pound by Nhung N. Tran-Davies, illus. by Josée Bisaillon
Mama, I see your hands,
Coarsened and scratched,
By the twigs and bark of the trees, row on row,
By the leaves and berries, picked one by one.
I will stay with you.

So begins Ten Cents a Pound, with a daughter seeing the toil of hard work on her mother's hands and her declaration that she will stay with her.  Ah, but her mother will have none of that.  Calling her "silly child" or "faithful child" or similar, the mother asserts that she is working so that she might put books in her daughter's hands and set her on a life beyond their mountain and villages. Still the girl cannot see past her mother's pain and hardship and repeats that she cannot leave her.  Always with great affection and fortitude, her mother vows that the girl will be set free with an education and must go beyond the confines of their village. Finally, the girl accepts the wisdom of her mother's wish for her future but contends that she will return.
From Ten Cents a Pound by Nhung N. Tran-Davies, illus. by Josée Bisaillon
Though I cry readily, not all books move me to tears. Ten Cents a Pound did so. Many parents sacrifice much for their children, though those trials are not always acknowledged, but here a child recognizes that suffering and doesn't feel like she can accept the cost of her mother's unselfishness. I don't know if physician and author Nhung N. Tran-Davies, who came to Canada from Vietnam, ever witnessed this self-sacrificing love but Ten Cents a Pound is a testament to the determination a parent can have for wanting a better future for their child.  This mother is willing to suffer the back pains, the harm to feet and hands, and declining eyesight and more just to ensure her child has an education and a better life.

Award-winning illustrator Josée Bisaillon blends the realism of the mother-daughter relationship with a lightness that belies the gravity of their circumstances. The outdoor scenes of fields and trees are grounded in the earth but give rise to the green of dreams and expectation. Even the fluttering butterflies and the child in flight suggest a journey of hope and ascendancy.
From Ten Cents a Pound by Nhung N. Tran-Davies, illus. by Josée Bisaillon
Ten Cents a Pound may be a tome that supports the idea of education as the means for freedom and advancement or a social justice story embedded in the coffee fields of Vietnam.  But, at its heart, it is a dedication to mothers and daughters who are willing to offer anything to ensure a good life for the other.

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