Fond memories of living in London for thirty years and visiting Borough Market inspired Satoshi Kitamura’s most recent book, The Smile Shop. It is the perfect book for the times we live in today but its message of kindness is one that will give this book the timeless appeal that applies to all of his work. The story is simple. A young boy has saved his pocket money and today is the day when he can go and spend his own money. Remember the thrill of being allowed to shop and choose whatever you want to buy? No one there to hurry you or admonish you for your poor choices. I confess to being that parent who cannot stand by and watch their children fritter their pocket money on ridiculous frivolities. Perhaps that is one reason for the strong connection I felt towards this book.
The boy begins to explore the busy market. The sense of the time he has to luxuriate in his browsing is conveyed in his stance which contrasts with the hustle and bustle of the crowd. The crowds simply don’t bother him. Their muted tones contrasting sharply with the boy’s bright blue outfit and vivid red scarf. He is unaffected by their hustle and bustle taking his time to stand and appreciate all the wonders on offer. As he realises that he must make a decision, the crowds get brighter and eagle-eyed readers may spot the menacing figure on a skateboard who will knock the boy and his money to the ground. What horror! His money, apart from a single coin, is gone. It is fortunate that in his moment of deepest sorrow appears a smile shop where he meets a friendly photographer (based on the Jamaican poet James Berry). However, he cannot buy a smile. Fortunately, the photographer tells him a smile can only be exchanged and shared and he captures his smiling image. Proudly clutching his photograph, the boy makes his way home. This time he can’t help but notice the busy crowd, now shown in vivid colour, who are all smiling too.
This is a perfect picturebook. The simplicity of the story is its strength. There is so much to notice in the detailed illustrations which enhance the story. In these particular times where our smiles may be hidden by masks, it reminds us of the simple power of a smile.
Satoshi Kitamura captures the wonderful way that the everyday experiences we take for granted are magical for young children. The sight of busy pavements and bustling cafe areas made me long for a time when we can browse markets enjoying the sights and smells rather than dash in and out of shops for essentials. The book could spark a great deal of talk about the sights of the market and children could make connections to places they have shopped and also consider what they would spend their money on. It might be interesting to ask whether they think the skateboarder is at fault.
It is a book to share with all ages. One I would recommend for a range of situations. It would be perfect for a whole school assembly with a focus on kindness and challenging the children to see how many smiles they can give and receive. It could make a very fruitful text to explore in-depth with a small group of children with many rich discussion opportunities that will evolve naturally. It has very obvious links to PSHCE and could easily support discussion around the things we value. Sharing the words of Satoshi Kitamura would add to the quality of talk:
‘When you exchange a genuine smile with another person, it is a show of goodwill as well as equality. When you share a smile with someone you are both equal. A smile might be the finest asset we possess – like kindness.’
However you choose to use this book, it is a stellar addition to an exceptional body of work by Satoshi Kitamura.
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