Khalil and his family moved into a new house with two floors. They lived on the top floor and Mr. Hagerty lived downstairs. Khalil’s family was loud while Mr. Hagerty was quiet. Both Khalil and Mr. Hagerty loved the backyard. Mr. Hagerty gardened there while Khalil looked for bugs and rocks. On a hot day in the summer, the two of them had a disappointing day where the carrots were small and shriveled and the ground was too hard to dig for treasure. They took a refreshment break in Mr. Hagerty’s place, sharing chocolate cake and cold milk. Later, both of them had an idea. The next day was much better when Mr. Hagerty found big carrots in his garden and Khalil found buried treasures! It called for more shared cake!
Springstubb shows how two very different people: quiet and loud, old and young, different races, can form a friendship that builds slowly and steadily over time. She keeps her story very focused, allowing many of the details to be shown in the illustrations rather than told in the text. The characters first bond over helping one another with words, which grows into something quite special. It’s that initial acceptance, the creation of a shared space of the backyard, that makes this book work so naturally.
Taherian’s illustrations are done in collage with oil and colored pencil. They have a great depth to them, the layers of the collage offering a real backyard to explore alongside the characters. The colors are vivid and glow with the summer heat and sun.
A lively look at emerging friendship and what it means to be neighbors. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick Press.
Yolanda’s family has lived on the pecan farm for generations, but they aren’t accepted by the townsfolks who call the brujas, or witches. Yolanda herself seems to have not gotten a magical gift though. Her younger sister has hers, with bees flying around her head and the ability to make plants grow and flower. It’s similar to her Wela’s gift with butterflies. Now though, Yolanda’s family is dwindling with only her sister and grandmother left. As her grandmother falls into a strange sleep, Yolanda sets out on a journey across their property. Joining her is her ex-best friend, her sister whom she also isn’t really speaking to, and a boy who may have a big crush on Yolanda. The grass has magically grown over the last few days, obstructing the view across their land, lengthening the journey to several days rather than hours, and putting real dangers in their path. They must all work together, Wela included, to complete the journey and find the answers to their family puzzle.
Impossible to summarize in any way that makes sense, this novel is a marvel of natural magic, connection to a place, and an in-depth exploration of a family. The connection to nature is evident throughout the novel both in the way that characters can work their magic with insects and plants but also through the grass that grows and the way the land stretches to create a world to explore. Throughout the book there is an intensity, a focus that allows the strange world to become solid and real.
A large part of that intensity is Yolanda herself, a character who holds grudges and demands to walk her own path, even if it’s foolish. She has lost contact with the people she had been closest to in the world, her best friend and sister, and had also lost connection with her grandfather before his death. The journey is just as much about her finding a way back to these people as it is about solving the larger family puzzle.
Strange and unique, this magical realism novel is an enticing summer read. Appropriate for ages 12-15.