‘Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis, illustrated by Kenard Pak (9780823443260)
Written in the cumulative story style of The House That Jack Built, this picture book explores the tradition of a Hawaiian luau. The book begins with the kalo (or taro root) that is used to make poi. The kalo comes from the mud, with clear and cold water that covers it. It is picked by hands that are wise and old which have worked the land for generations. Sun and rain help the kalo grow. Wind carries the stories that the family tells until they gather together at the luau.
Loomis’ text is marvelous, moving readers backwards through how kalo is grown and the importance of it being land that has never been sold. The connection to weather and this land is evident throughout the text and then repeats over and over again as the cumulative format continues. The story then loops back around to the luau itself and a focus on family.
The art in the book is done with watercolor, gouache, and digital art. It depicts Hawaiians with many different skin tones, all part of the same family and working together. The landscapes are remarkable, whether bright green in sunshine or hazy in rain.
A celebration of traditions and family. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Holiday House.
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (9780062990297)
This award-winning teen verse novel deals with gender, identity and fabulous drag performances. Michael’s father is entirely absent in his life, leaving the room when they are in the same house together. Michael does have a connection with his father’s Jamaican family, receiving gifts from them and time spent together. He lives with his Greek-Cypriot mother in London; she accepts Michael entirely, from the time he was a small boy wanting to play with Barbies to college as a gay man. Along the way, Michael must deal with racism, of not being black enough and assumptions being made about him by society. He doesn’t know any other gay black people, forging a path on his own that leads him to university and a club that does drag where he finds his voice and a stage persona too.
Atta is a poet and this is his debut YA novel which has already won the Stonewall Book Award. Just starting reading, it is clear that the poems are done by a master storyteller. They allow readers to deeply understand the struggles of Michael from his family life to friendships that come and go to coming out and then performing. There is a valuable evolution on the page where Michael comes out and yet doesn’t quite become himself fully for several years, until he finds a place to belong.
Atta’s writing is beautiful. He mixes his own poetry with that of Michael the character, moving gracefully between the two. Somehow they are distinct from one another, the voices similar and still separate. The use of poetry to tell such a personal and deeply-felt story makes this really work, as poetry and verse are a fast way to allow readers to see the heart and soul of a character.
Brave, beautiful and deep, this teen novel is masterful. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.