NAPI MAKES A VILLAGE/NAPI FUNDA UN PUEBLO by Antonio Ramirez, illustrated by Domi (Groundwood/Libros Tigrillo) Drawing from the author's own childhood memories, we have the story of a Mazateca girl (from Oaxaca, Mexico) whose family and village is relocated into the jungle so the government can build a dam. There, the community works struggles to tame the wild landscape so they may continue to live and farm there, all under the watchful eye of a stoic jaguar in a tree. When Napi's father is injured in an accident with a workhorse, the jaguar comes to Napi in a dream, soothing her and advising her on what such a little girl might do to help facilitate his healing. Even in the midst of great adversity unique to the geography and circumstance, the universal love of family and the challenges of a big move stays focal in this story. Oversized and especially bright, the simple, folkloric watercolor illustrations have an extreme vibrancy and vim, seeming to bleed into unexpected rainbows and pools in the heat of the jungle's canopy. Children will appreciate the engaging drama of this real conflict combined with the magic of a dream, and the hopeful ending that underscores the resiliency of both the child and the group that works together. Created by two activists for Mexico's native peoples, the story never strays from genuine feeling while never resorting to the didactic; rather, it is an extremely personal story treated with great beauty, sure to build an empathetic bridge across miles of experience for many American children. Alternating Spanish and English text make this an extra marvelous pick for bilingual collections. (7 and up)
Also of interest:
RAIN SCHOOL by James Rumford (Houghton Mifflin)
Thomas arrives at the schoolyard, but there are no classrooms. There are no desks.
It doesn't matter.
There is a teacher.
"We will build our school," she says. "This is the first lesson."
And so the children learn to make mud bricks and desks, construct a roof of grass and saplings, and bring in chairs of wood. And inside, amidst the warm smells of fields ready for planting, the children learn and learn and learn. When the big rains come, nine months later, the winds tear at the grass roof, and the walls slump back into sod. "It doesn't matter. The letters have been learned and the knowledge taken away by the children." Come September, the children will be back...and ready to build again. This is a lovely story of renewal and resilience, by an author who has already earned so much admiration for his contribution to readable and fascinating multicultural literature (SEQUOYAH:THE CHEROKKEE MAN WHO GAVE HIS PEOPLE WRITING; TRAVELING MAN: THE JOURNEY OF ABN BATTUTA; SILENT MUSIC: A STORY OF BAGHDAD for a few "for instances"), but I think this latest book has a special grace in its unfettered, more minimal telling, and the loose artist's hand lent to lively figures against a clay-colored backdrop. But even though this style seems new, Rumford never loses the thread of the theme that weaves through so many of his books: language and learning is often hard won, a joy worth whatever journey allows us to arrive. And what child wouldn't like to build his or her very own school! (6 and up)
Speaking of Africa, I also want to give you a heads-up about an especially charming new series: ANNA HIBISCUS by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia (Kane Miller). Move over, Junie B., Judy Moody and Ramona, make room for your African cousin! Rather than being told in the immediate first person as is the style here in the states, Anna's stories are told more omnisciently, broad enough to bring in the (albeit unspecific) setting of "Africa, beautiful Africa" and with a special read-aloud flair brought to the table by the author's professional storytelling background. Anna lives in a bustling houshold with her African father, Canadian mother and a bevy of cousins, aunts, uncles and elders. In this first volume, Anna goes on vacation, meets with an auntie who has moved to the exotic United States (and hopefully hasn't lost all sense of tradition), creates a problem when she tries to sell oranges like the girls on a neighboring street, and dreams of snow under the African sun...a wish that may surprisingly get granted. This book is straight-up potato chips in that by chapter two it was clear just one wouldn't be nearly enough, and luckily, readers can chomp right into the sequel, HOORAY FOR ANNA HIBISCUS! which ups the mischief ante. Black and white spot illustrations combine a sensitive line with lots of personality, kind of like an African-influenced Tricia Tusa. These stories are definitely fresh, and full of the vulnerabilities, mischief and unique situations that make a series worthy of a following. Keep 'em coming, Atinuke! (5 and up)
On a personal note:
Thank you for your patience between postings. I am happy to report that as of September I have started a new job at a Chicago Public School (undisclosed) as a school librarian for kindergarten through eighth grade, and I needed time to focus on finding my footing there. It is just about the loveliest and sweetest public school in all of the city, in a fine old building with lots of happy ghosts, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with such fine people, both big and little! Now that I am settled in a bit, I look forward to sharing more books both here and there. Happy fall, all!
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More Esmé stuff at www.planetesme.com.