Liza Ferneyhough makes her author/illustrator debut with the delightfully clever Nana, Nenek & Nina. The picture book opens with a double-page spread introducing a three-person family. On the left page, Mom holds a phone ("brring"), an overflowing suitcase at her feet; on the right, Dad and Nina anticipate a virtual connection ("beep beep") using a screen. Already, Ferneyhough adroitly reveals an impressive melding of minimal text and glorious art.
On the second double-page spread, the left and right sides create a cohesive image, but the gutter divides the illustration into two clearly different locations. The rings from the previous page are matched to faraway locations: "beep beep" is Nana, standing in front of a country cottage; "brring" is Nenek, her tropical home aloft on stilts. "Nina has two grandmothers who live on opposite sides of the world," the text explains. The next bisected spread shows England (Big Ben) and Malaysia (Petronas Twin Towers), with speech bubbles capturing greetings in British English and Malay.
Visits commence. Ferneyhough keeps Nana on the left page, Nenek on the right, deftly revealing similarities and differences with each spread. Contrasts are artfully plenty, but Ferneyhough brilliantly connects similarities through text that reads across the top of both pages: "Everyone sits together," the left side begins, "at the dinner table to eat," the right side finishes. Details differ, yes, but the familiar routines lovingly bind everyone.
Ferneyhough is part of a worldly brood: she was born in Kuala Lumpur and grew up visiting Nana Irene in her village and Nenek Jariah in her kampung. Those beloved memories clearly inspire her whimsical, heartwarming debut, painted on tea-strained paper with gorgeous watercolors, all dazzlingly enhanced by her ingenious presentation. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon