Jemmy Button

Overview

A beautiful collaboration based on a true story.

Jennifer Uman and Valerio Vidali discovered a mutual interest in this story and overcame language obstacles with the help of translators. Jemmy Button, a native of Tierra del Fuego, was brought to England in the mid-1800s to be "educated and civilized." The book illustrates Jemmy’s adventures in England, his extraordinary encounters, his homesickness and experiences as an outsider in a strange ...

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Overview

A beautiful collaboration based on a true story.

Jennifer Uman and Valerio Vidali discovered a mutual interest in this story and overcame language obstacles with the help of translators. Jemmy Button, a native of Tierra del Fuego, was brought to England in the mid-1800s to be "educated and civilized." The book illustrates Jemmy’s adventures in England, his extraordinary encounters, his homesickness and experiences as an outsider in a strange land, and his return home.

A New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book of 2013

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Exchanged for the single mother-of-pearl button that gave him his nickname, an indigenous Tierra del Fuegan boy named Orundellico spent many years in England in the early 1800s as part of a failed experiment in forced civilization. Less a biography than an attempt to represent this alienating experience from Jemmy’s point of view, it is distinguished by lyrical prose-poetry (“Come away with us and taste our language, see the lights of our world,” the British explorers tell Jemmy) and intensely creative and beautifully conceived paintings. On matte pages, Jemmy, a paper-doll figure with red ochre skin and curly black hair, walks naked through throngs of top-hatted and gowned silhouettes, all the same shade of blue. His guardians buy him clothes and take him to concerts, but the paintings show him always set apart from his companions. “Jemmy felt almost at home. Almost, but not quite.” As a snapshot of colonial betrayal, it evokes regret, longing, guilt, and awe—an assortment of feelings that might make the book more attractive to grownups than to children. Ages 4–7. (Mar.)
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
The true story of Jemmy Button begins when strangers arrive at the young boy's home on Tierra del Fuego in the early 1800s. They name him after a pearl button and take him back with them across the ocean. Jemmy's experiences among the buildings and the people of the city are many; he even meets the king and queen. But he misses his island, the trees, and the stars. He takes the long voyage back across the sea. He is happy to find the island the same, as he resumes his early name and life. On the jacket/cover, a small Jemmy peers at us through a wall of tall greenery. Across from the title page he sits, unclothed and smiling, atop a palm tree. As the simple text begins, he stares up at the starry sky. Then black collage figures enter the gouache and oil painted world; they sail away together. The artists use the large pages to illustrate the crowded city, tall buildings, and ornately dressed people depicted with cut-out-like shadows and engaged in unusual actions. When Jemmy tires of this world, we find him back smiling atop the palm tree, with additional factual notes. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 1–3—This picture book is based on the true story of Orundellico, a boy from Tierra del Fuego who was taken to Victorian England by a British sea captain. The captain gave the child's family a mother-of-pearl button in exchange for him, hence his nickname, "Jemmy Button." The boy experienced the music, food, and education of England, but realized where he belonged when he returned home. These historical details are related via an endnote, but the story itself wisely focuses on the emotions and sensory experiences of Orundellico's journey. From the cover where he peeks out through lush greenery, to the vast visions of the night sky over the island, illustrations of Orundellico's home pop with color. The scenes in England, in contrast, feature muted tones, with people who appear only as silhouettes, emphasizing the boy's sense of displacement. This treatment brings the story home for young readers and provides an excellent discussion-starter.—Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, Carroll County Public Library, MD
Kirkus Reviews
In this true story, an indigenous boy from Tierra del Fuego is transported to London in the early 1800s, where he encounters a vastly different world. Living on a "faraway island" a boy named Orundellico climbs the tallest trees, views the stars, listens to the ocean and wonders what's "on the other side." Strangers arrive in a ship, call him Jemmy Button and invite him to visit their land. Reaching the other side of the ocean, Jemmy finds houses made of rocks "stacked in towers taller than the tallest tree." The people, colors, noises and costumes make him feel "very small indeed." Soon, he's wearing their clothes, attending concerts, and even meeting the king and queen, but he never quite feels at home. When the time comes, he returns to the island, announcing: "My name is Orundellico and I have come home." The powerful, spare text contrasts Jemmy's innocent island life with the isolation he feels in England. His alienation is cleverly reinforced by gauche, oil and collage illustrations using flat patterns and color to compare the island's verdant vegetation and quiet, starry nights with the sterile, geometric shapes of urban London. Diminutive, flesh-colored, bemused Jemmy always stands out in a sea of repetitive, anonymous, faceless silhouettes. The ultimate home-away-home story, beautifully rendered. (author's note) (Picture book. 4-7)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763664879
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 3/26/2013
  • Pages: 48
  • Sales rank: 541,330
  • Age range: 4 - 7 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.90 (w) x 11.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jennifer Uman is a self-taught painter and illustrator. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and in publications throughout the world. This is her first illustrated book.

Valerio Vidali is an Italian illustrator. His work has been published in several countries and has received notable recognition in competitions and exhibitions arround the world

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