Silk Umbrellas

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Silk Umbrellas Book Poster Image
Lyrical slice-of-life from rural Thailand.

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 7+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Violence & Scariness

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
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... Continue reading
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 youn... Continue reading
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!

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.

Talk to your kids 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

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