Review: My Heart Will Not Sit Down by Mara Rockliff

my heart will not sit down

My Heart Will Not Sit Down by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Ann Tanksley

Inspired by the true story of a village in Cameroon donating $3.77 in 1931 to the city of New York to help feed the hungry during the Great Depression.  In this picture book version of the story, the main character is Kedi, a girl who learns from her American teacher that people in his hometown of New York City were going hungry due to the Depression.  Kedi could not stop thinking of the hungry children in America, even though they lived so far away.  Her heart would not sit down until she did something.  So she talked with the grownups in her village and all of them told her at first that nothing could be done, they had no money to spare.  But then, one by one, all of the adults gave coins to help the hungry children. 

The author’s note at the end of the book, tells more about the Depression and about the donation too.  It explains that even in the Depression, this small amount of money would not have had a large impact.  But for the villagers who sent the funds, it would have been a fortune.  This book is a lesson in following your heart, finding compassion for others, and making an important difference in the world, even if it is just $3.77. Children will easily understand both the sacrifice made by the villagers and the meager amount that was raised.  It makes the story all the more haunting.

Tanksley’s illustrations have a roughness and organic quality that really grounds this story in reality.  Done in watercolor, pen and ink, and oils, they are filled with rich color and show the poverty and the beauty of Cameroon.

Throughout the book, the phrase “my heart would not sit down” is used.  It evokes a yearning, a calling, an inner distress that could only be quieted by doing something to help.  It’s that feeling that we need to cherish in both ourselves and our children.  It would also make a very good discussion book about what makes children’s hearts “not sit down.”

Based on a true story, this book is a call to follow our unquiet hearts.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Alfred A. Knopf.

Review: Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge

lies knives and girls in red dresses

Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge, illustrated by Andrea Dezso

Just for teens, Koertge has created subversive poems based on fairy tales that look at what happens after “Happily Ever After.”  You will meet a Little Red Riding Hood who wanted to be swallowed whole just to see what it felt like inside a wolf.  There’s also a Beast who longs for the days of wild abandon rather than being a prince again.  What happens when the boy who said the emperor had no clothes is pressured to fit in with the crowd?  Hansel and Gretel may just have been a lot closer and a lot more disturbed than readers thought.  And could Rapunzel long for the days when the witch thought only of her rather than her prince who is distracted?  Koertge plays with the idea of “ever after” and works in the same darkness and sexuality that is already in the stories if you just look at them differently.

This is not a poetry collection to hand to younger readers who are interested in fairy tales.  Rather, this is a dark delight for teens who remember the stories.  There are more obscure tales included in the book, a couple of which I had never read.  I enjoyed those poems as well, since Koertge works in backstory in his poems.  In most of the poems there is an adroit twist about them, sometimes involving the modern world and other times looking at the story in a new and twisted way.

Deszso’s illustrations are done entirely in black and white.  They are paper cutouts that have astonishing details cut into them.  The mood of the illustrations matches that of the poetry, there is a playfulness about them but also a terrific darkness too.

This entire book was like a box of the darkest chocolates.  They held surprises inside and you simply can’t stop reading them.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.