The Stolen Button (2017), by Marianna Shek & Leila Honari
Contains spoilers of the ending
The Stolen Button, written by Marianna Shek and illustrated by Leila Honari, is a beautifully written and illustrated work with slightly more words than your average picture book. It’s because of this extended word-length that, after seeking publication through traditional sources, Shek made the decision to publish it using Kickstarter. The campaign ran through June this year and was successful, with 104 backers pledging AUD$6,618 to bring the project to life. My copy arrived in November, along with several gorgeous postcards of illustrations in the book. It has taken me this long to sit down and read it, and it is a beautiful work. The illustrations are colourful, mysterious, and evocative, the language is lilting and rich; full of imagery, emotion, and depth.
Mei Ling is the spoiled only daughter of the rich, beautiful widow Lady Lin. Mei Ling begs her mother to take her to the gypsy circus, and in the mirror maze she is tricked into giving her navel away to the cunning, lonely orphan Fang Fei. After Mei Ling escapes the mirror maze she finds that she no longer has a home, but, instead of this being the beginning of a longer road to self-improvement and enlightenment, it is the end of the story. Although it is somewhat refreshing to encounter a cautionary tale where the very worst does indeed befall the spoiled child, the sudden ending after so much detail and set-up feels jarring. It almost reads as though there is another volume to come, one in which Mei Ling redeems herself and can return to her mother.
The shape and progression of this story reads like a fairy tale; a cautionary tale told to spoiled, mischievous children to keep them wary. Unfortunately, as with many cautionary tales, it is not entirely appropriate for young children – the author recommends an audience of 12 years+ as it contains some dark themes. As an adult I enjoyed reading it, and I like the versatility of an illustrated work that is intended for a broad audience.