One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Used to just dropping their baskets when they wore out, people in Njau, Gambia did the same thing with their plastic bags, but the plastic bags decayed like the baskets would. They also didn’t last nearly as long. Torn bags can’t be mended or used at all, so one by one, then ten by ten, and thousands by thousands they were thrown to the side of the road. They accumulated in heaps, poisoning the goats that tried to eat the garbage around them. Water pooled in them and brought more mosquitoes and diseases. Burying and burning them weren’t the solution either. Then Isatou Ceesay found a way to recycle the plastic bags and get jobs for her community by transforming them into something new.
This book speaks to the power that one person can have to change things, both for themselves and their entire community. The prose here is straight-forward but also has moments of poetry thrown in, showing the devastation the plastic bags were creating in the Gambia. The book also shows the way that an idea is born, comes to fruition, passes through being scorned and is finally embraced.
The illustrations by Zunon are remarkable. Using collage, they bring together the textures of the weaving and baskets as well as the plastic bags from photographs. The textiles of the Gambia are also incorporated and vibrate on the page. They are combined with painting and other more playful textures to create the natural setting and the people.
Strong writing and superb illustrations combine to tell the true story of how one woman transformed pollution. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls
Emmanuel was born in Ghana, West Africa, with a deformed leg. His father left the family but his mother continued to encourage Emmanuel to make something of himself. Emmanuel taught himself to crawl and hop, so he was able to hop the two miles to school and then hop all the way back home at the end of the day. At school kids would not play with him at first, so he saved up his money to buy a new soccer ball that he shared with the others as long as they let him play too. Soon he was playing soccer using crutches to get around. It was at school that Emmanuel also taught himself to ride a bike. Then his mother fell ill and Emmanuel had to leave school to support his family. He headed for the big city of Accra where he looked for a job. It took time, but he started working as a shoe shiner and for a restaurant that also gave him a place to stay. He sent money home and two years later returned home because his mother’s health was failing. After her death, he decided to follow his dream to bike around Ghana. He worked to get help with his dream, becoming a spokesperson in his country for people with disabilities. He completed his journey of 400 miles in just ten days, an amazing journey that proved that one person’s dreams could deeply change a culture.
Thompson’s writing is in stanzas and moves between feeling like poetry and prose. This fluidity makes the book very readable, it also lets her make her points with a grace and brevity that is purely poetic. Thompson’s text shines with her appreciation for Emmanuel and his achievements in life. Where his culture told him that he was cursed and unworthy, he has become a hero. It is also a sort of tangible heroism that children will completely understand. They will know what his achievement is and how difficult it would be to accomplish.
Qualls’ illustrations are incredible. Filled with beautiful people, strong color, patterns and light, the illustrations let the backgrounds fade to white and black and the people come forward and shine. Bright colors ripple across skin, fill cheeks, and color the air around people. There is a sense of life within these illustrations, one that can’t be contained.
A truly inspiring story that shows the creation of a national hero from his infancy through his achievements. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House and Edelweiss.
Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell
Having loved Rundell’s Rooftoppers, I looked forward to reading this book. I wasn’t expecting such a different read from her first novel. Will has grown up on her father’s farm in Zimbabwe. She plays with the boys on the farm, spending her days on horseback, hanging out with her best friend, and exploring the land. Her days are pure bliss, filled with golden sunshine, fresh air, and freedom. But that is not to last. When her father dies and their farm is sold, Will is reluctantly sent to England to boarding school by her grandfather in a plot devised by her new grandmother. But Will does not fit in with the girls in the school who torment Will because she is different, refuses to comb her hair, and can’t do the schoolwork. There is only one choice for Will and that is to run away and try to survive on her own in the wilds of London.
This book moved me over and over again. First the beauty and the freedom of Will’s life in Zimbabwe is so beautiful and written with a tension. It’s almost as if it is a bubble that must inevitably break, and it does. The father’s death scene is one of the most poignant deaths I have experienced in books for children. Will’s emotions are so strong on the page, that you literally ache for her and for the further changes to come that readers will see much earlier than Will does. Going from such beauty to such loss is wrenching and masterful.
Rundell grew up in Zimbabwe and London, so Will’s time in England is equally well drawn. From the bullying students to the kind teacher to the people she meets on the street, Will encounters all sorts of people. As her situation grows more dire and one thinks she can’t go on, Will draws from the years of golden sun and freedom and continues on. Through it all, that golden light continues to shine, hope glows even in the darkest of times.
Will is a strong, wild heroine, a girl that you want to ride bareback with across Africa and one that all readers will fall madly head over heels for. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Draw! by Raúl Colón
In this wordless picture book, Colón recreates his love of drawing as a child and the way that it could take him to new places. Here a boy is sitting on his bed looking at a book about Africa. He sets the book aside and picks up his drawing pad and a pencil. Soon readers can see the images in his head as he puts them on paper. The boy is transported directly to Africa, setting up his drawing easel in front of each of the different animals of Africa. The elephant is first and after seeing his picture gives the boy a ride to met the zebras. The book moves from one animal to the next, the boy changing how he approaches them according to what animal it is. Until finally a group of monkeys make a picture of the boy. Readers and the boy return to his bedroom, now littered with all of the drawings of the animals.
This book nicely captures without using any words at all the transformative power of art and creativity. It beautifully shows how art can transport you to a different place and time, moving you into the flow of creating a work. It also demonstrates how inspiration can strike and the flow of creativity can overtake you in the best possible way.
Colón’s illustrations are done in pen, ink, watercolors and pencil. They move from line drawings with pastel tones of real life to a more lush and rich color and style when we are inside the boy’s imagination. Colón uses lines on these more colorful pages to give texture and movement to the image. They are illustrations that invite you to walk right into them.
Imagination, creativity and art come together in this book to transport readers right into Africa. Now it’s time to get out your own pencils and see where they will take you. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Amira is an artist who spends her free time drawing with sharp sticks in the dirt. She has just turned twelve and is now old enough to wear a toob. Amira longs to go to school, but her mother doesn’t believe that girls should go to school. So Amira stays on the family farm with her parents and younger sister who was born with misshapen legs. Then the peace is shattered when their farm is attacked and Amira’s beloved father is killed. Now they must leave their farm behind and head to a refugee camp where people are crowded into a small space and hunger is constant. But when Amira is given a red pencil, her mind once again is able to escape into her art and she starts to once again dream of a different future and how to get there.
Set in Sudan, this verse novel is filled with power, wrenching written. The brutality of the attack is captured clearly on the page as is the shock of loss that continues to ripple and tear at the small family remaining. Pinkney captures grief on the page, writing with a clarity and beauty that is stark at times and layered and subtle at others. Her verse speaks to the power of dreams to lift people out of where they are trapped and make a difference.
From waves of wheat on the page to the family together, Evans’ illustrations support the powerful verse. As the tone of the poems shift, so does his art which moves from playful to dramatic along with the text. My favorite images capture small pieces of life, little glimpses of what makes a home and a day.
An impressive novel in verse, this book offers a strong survivor of a protagonist who uses art as a force to lift herself. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger, illustrated by Robert Byrd
Based on a real person from history, this fictionalized account is told through the eyes of Margru, one of the few children aboard the Amistad. Due to a famine in Mendeland, West Africa, Margru’s father was forced to pawn her out to feed the rest of the family. From there, Margru is taken captive and put upon a slave ship with many other people heading for a plantation in the Caribbean. But on the journey, the captive men rebelled against their captors and took over the ship, attempting to sail it back to Africa. Deceived by the ship’s navigator, they landed in Long Island, NY and the adults were put on trial. The children were kept as witnesses to the crimes aboard the ship. Margru longed for her African homeland but also ended up learning not only to read but graduating from college as a teacher. This is Margru’s story of fear, bravery, slavery, captivity and freedom.
Edinger beautifully captures this famous moment in history from Margru’s point of view. The use of the first person perspective makes the book read as easily as fiction, but throughout the reader can also feel the weight of the historical research behind the story. The use of historical information throughout the book is very helpful and combined with that first person view it is a book that is compelling reading with a heroine who is equally fascinating.
Byrd’s art is stunning. He uses moves gracefully between historically-accurate images that capture important historical moments to more stylized pictures that flow with lines and dream of Africa. He starkly contrasts the worlds of the greens of Africa and the cold, formality of the United States.
Beautifully written and illustrated, this book gives a first-person account of the Amistad, looking beyond the revolt into the trial and what happened to one little girl caught in history. Appropriate for ages 8-10.
Reviewed from library copy.
Don’t Spill the Milk by Stephen Davies, illustrated by Christopher Corr
Penda lives in a tiny village in Niger with her family. Her father has headed up into the grasslands with the sheep. Penda volunteers to take her father a bowl of milk and has to try not to spill any along the way. She puts the milk on her head and starts to walk. She has to walk along the sand dunes and between the dancers at the rainy-season mask dance. Then she takes a boat across the Niger River with the milk still on her head. After that she has to climb one last mountain and there is her father. She’s almost there when… You will have to read whether Penda delivers the milk successfully or not.
Davies has traveled extensively in Africa and carefully chose the setting of the Niger River thanks to its varied landscape and intriguing animals. All of the landforms in the book exist in this area as do the animals too, including the unusual and endangered pale giraffes. Davies writes with a lovely rhythm that moves the book along quickly. Penda speaks to herself as she walks, reminding herself to pay attention in couplets of natural verse.
Corr’s art is eye-poppingly bright with yellow skies, orange hills, and blue water. Against those bright colors, the characters wear even more color filled with designs. The book evokes the vibrancy of Africa and the bustle of its villages.
Expect small children to want to try to carry bowls of liquids on their own heads after this beautiful introduction to Africa. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi
Released October 8, 2013.
Lalla wants to wear a malafa just like the other women in her family do. Lalla tells her mother she wants to be beautiful just like her, but her mother says that a malafa is about more than beauty. Lalla tells her sister that she wants to be mysterious just like her, but her sister says that a malafa is about more than mystery. Seeing all of the women in their malafa, Lalla tells her cousin that she wants to be like all of them, but she replies that a malafa is more than that. Her grandmother too says that a malafa is about more than tradition. Finally, Lalla goes back to her mother and explains that she wants to be able to pray like her mother does. Her mother agrees, saying “A malafa is for faith." And the two face east and pray together in their malafa.
Set in Mauritania, this book celebrates the Muslim faith in a very beautiful way. Written in the second person, readers are invited to see themselves as Lalla and learn about her faith and her world. Cunnane writes beautiful descriptions of both the malafa themselves and also the community where Lalla lives. There are donkeys, camels, and other exotic things, but Cunnane goes deeper than that and paints a world with pink houses shaped like cakes and silver heels that click on tiles.
Hadadi’s art is jewel toned and filled with details. She has created a warm and loving community for Lalla to explore with the reader. The beauty of the malafa are shown, the colors of the rooms, and the tangible love of an extended family.
An accessible and beautiful look at a Muslim community that dazzles. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.
Busy-Busy Little Chick by Janice N. Harrington, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Mama Nsoso and her chicks needed a new home. They spent each night shivering and cold in their dark, damp nest. So Mama Nsoso said that tomorrow they would start work on their new home. But the first day, Mama Nsoso found worms to eat and decided to eat rather than build a house. The family shivered through another night. The next day there were crickets to eat and no work was done. Except by Little Chick who set out to gather grasses and mud to create their new home. His hard work resulted in a fine new home for them, and then he was off finding himself some delicious bugs to eat.
Harrington writes like a storyteller. Her words flow beautifully when shared aloud. She has reworked a classic fable from the Nkundo people of Central Africa and throughout has woven in Lunkundo words from their language. She has also added lots of sounds to the book, so there are wonderful patterns that emerge as the hen and her chicks move through their day. She clearly enjoys wordplay and creating rhymes and rhythms, all of which make for a great book to share aloud.
Pinkney’s art is large and bold, filled with warm yellows and oranges. He has created images of the hen and her little family isolated and floating in cold blues. They are brilliant orange, evoking the warmth of family and shelter. His art is simple but filled with moving lines and playfulness with white space.
A great pick for spring story times, don’t be chicken to share this one. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The Herd Boy by Niki Daly
Malusi looks after his grandfather’s sheep during the day, taking them grazing and also protecting them from predators. Malusi has to be able to work in the heat of the sun, keep the sheep away from the ravine, and keep close watch for snakes and baboons. His friend Lungisa is also a shepherd but he has his own dog, something Malusi wishes for. He also dreams of becoming something more than a herd boy, maybe even president!
Daly weaves in African details to create a setting and society in this picture book. The details are small but vibrant such as the food, the animals out in the wild, the landscape, and language. She uses a few words and phrases of throughout the book, just enough to add some African spices to the tale. Using poetic language, she draws the strong character and large dreams of Malusi clearly. He is a young hero with large responsibilities and a willingness to lead.
Daly’s art embraces the landscape of Africa with ravines and hills framing the page, eagles soaring in the sky, and distinctive plants in the foreground. There are full color images but also sepia toned ones that show small touches of the story as well. The large format of the full-color images make this book good for sharing with a group.
Thanks to the beauty and depth of Daly’s writing, this picture book trends a little older than many. It will also lead to interesting discussions with slightly older children. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.