Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings
Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings
In my mother’s bedroom, behind the family pictures and the jar that holds her wedding-day flowers, a painting sits on a shelf.
It’s a painting of me, my eyes almost closed, like I’m dreaming. My braids hang like coal-colored ropes. My face fills the frame, so big and so close that if you look long enough, it starts to look like a whole land—brown hills melting into yellow valleys melting into red riverbeds, and even the rivers’ silver light, running smooth over the rocks.
Each winter, a young girl leaves her home in America to visit family in Haiti. During one of these trips, the girl gets her first opportunity to sit for her Auntie Luce, having her portrait painted and hearing the stories of Haiti’s past, present, and future hopes.
With poetic language and expressive illustrations, Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings (written by Francie Latour and illustrated by Ken Daley), is a beautiful book inspired by the famous Haitian artist Luce Turnier. In this story, the character of Luce is auntie to a young American-Haitian girl who struggles to identify with either the place she was born or the place from which her family emigrated. While visiting Haiti, Auntie Luce shows the girl the colours of her ancestral homeland, introducing her to the family’s history while also encouraging the girl to embrace her joint heritage.
Francie Latour does a marvellous job detailing the girl’s journey of discovery as she visits Auntie Luce’s home. There is an obvious sense of awe that settles over the girl as soon as she lands in Haiti and is enveloped by warmth and the singing sound of Luce’s metal bracelets. But while her auntie shares wondrous sights, smells, tastes, and sounds, she discusses the heavier aspects of her homeland as well. When explaining to the girl why she paints, Auntie Luce says that “[t]o paint Haiti takes the darkest colors and the brightest ones, and all the colors in between”. This honesty is handled nicely, both in the way it portrays the girl’s confusion over the conflicting viewpoints of her family members (some of whom only refer to Haiti as a broken place), as well as her gradual understanding that, while Haiti is a country brimming with beauty, it is not without its troubles and fears.
Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings is unquestionably a story about family and history. But this book is also about art, and both the text and illustrations live up to the expectations of such a subject. Francie Latour uses descriptive language that, even without the accompanying pictures, makes it easy to envision the landscape of Auntie Luce’s paintings and the home in which she creates them. Yet, Ken Daley’s illustrations add another layer of wonder to this tale. The vibrant palette, heavy with shades of pink and teal and accented with bright flowers and warm lapping waves, is quick to evoke the tropical landscape of Haiti. In addition to this, each object is crafted into its own, colourful landscape of shades—a style complemented by the narrator’s description of her portrait as being like a whole land of hills, valleys, and rivers of colour. The vibrancy of Delay’s paintings helps to emphasize the connection between person and place that is at the tale’s core, and together the illustrations and text combine to make a story that, when read aloud, is stirring both to the ear and the eye.
With a strong, honest message about the beauty and pain of Haiti and the importance of preserving and sharing our past, Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings is a lovely tale that highlights one girl’s efforts to connect with her history and home through the beauty of her auntie’s art.
Meredith Cleversey, a librarian in Cambridge, Ontario, loves to read, write, and live in a world of pure imagination.