Silk Umbrellas Book Poster Image

Silk Umbrellas

Lyrical slice-of-life from rural Thailand.

What parents need to know

Violence & scariness
Not applicable
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this is a slice-of-life from the other side of the consumer cycle -- the people whose labor produces the cheap electronics and native art.

What's the story?

Noi's life changed when the land her family rented and farmed was sold to a developer of vacation houses for foreigners. Now they are barely getting by on her father's part-time job as a bricklayer, her mother's work sewing mosquito nets, and her grandmother's painted umbrellas, sold to tourists at the market. So Ting, Noi's older sister, is sent to work in a local factory, making radios.

The factory is not brutal, but it is long hours six days a week for little pay, performing repetitive tasks that strain the eyes, exhaust the body, and dull the soul. Noi is terrified that she will soon have to join her sister at the factory. Her one hope is to learn her grandmother's art of umbrella painting well enough to be able to sell to the tourist trade.

Is it any good?


Though rather slow, and with a heroine who can be maddeningly timid in getting to the easily predicted solution, this gentle little book is also satisfying and, at times, fascinating. The author paints a vivid picture of Noi's life, including customs, holidays, and the occasional word (glossary at the back). Equally vivid are the descriptions of Noi's creative process in learning to paint delicate plants and animals onto the silk umbrellas that foreign tourists snap up at bargain prices in the market.

Author Carolyn Marsden refrains from stacking the deck. This is not a polemic, just a picture of a difficult life far away from those of her readers. The small victories enable life to go on and be marginally bearable, and the love of family makes it more than that. This delicate book will not be to every child's taste, but some young readers will identify with Noi and cheer for her success.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the impoverished people who work at factory jobs to contribute to America's consumer lifestyle. Have you ever given much thought to who makes the products you enjoy? How do you feel about buying the kind of tourist goods Noi works on? Is it exploiting cheap labor or supporting needy people?

Book details

Author:Carolyn Marsden
Genre:Family Life
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Candlewick Press
Publication date:March 13, 2005
Number of pages:134

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Kid, 11 years old February 4, 2012

A good book

This is easy to read, but not too young. It is easy to understand and fun to read, because it isn't confusing!
Parent of a 6 and 8 year old Written bypeony April 9, 2008

age-appropriate introduction to child labor

The story is a gentle depiction of a loving family of another culture, and their hardships and celebrations, including Buddhist and other ceremonies. The younger daughter, Noi, is horrified by the thought of having to work in a factory, like her older sister, and hence is motivated to work hard at her painting in hopes of being able to bring home money from selling painted umbrellas. Thus this is a gentle introduction to the concept of child labor. A message of the importance of cultivating your talents (so that you can do work that is personally fulfilling, rather than numbing work) is a great message to start conveying early, as is the implicit message of how fortunate most modern day American children are compared to children of other times and places. So for a younger or more sensitive child, not yet ready for, say, "Counting on Grace", this is an age-appropriate introduction to child labor, as well as a lovely depiction of another culture. So I give this book 4 stars for the much-appreciated message at an age-appropriate level. But it's a fairly leisurely and gentle depiction, probably only interesting to some kids; in particular, with its rather quiet and docile heroine, probably not interesting to many boys. (For older kids, in particular including boys, I might suggest the much grittier, dynamic graphic novel/memoir by Lat, "Kampung Boy", as a picture of a future comics-writer's childhood in Malaysia.)
Parent of a 5 and 8 year old Written bykarinajohnson November 27, 2011

A good read

This was a very much enjoyed book. My daughter is 8 years old and had no trouble understanding it and she really loved it. The characters were very likeable and so was the story line. Very recomended.