Before I Grew Up by John Miller

Cover image for Before I Grew Up.

Before I Grew Up by John Miller, illustrated by Giuliano Cucco (9781592703616)

This surreal picture book takes the paintings of the late Giuliano Cucco and uses them to tell the story of his childhood. Cucco’s journey to becoming an artist is shown in his creativity as a child. From games he played with his mother to imagining paper boats he made floating away. His father was a scientist who studied light and preferred to spend time alone. Cucco spent time in his mother’s garden, dreaming and imagining as he lay surrounded by flowers. Sent to the city to live with his aunt and uncle, the book becomes more surreal and wild with a moon rising out of a box, swinging priests, and doves saved from the dinner plate. Returning to the country, he reconnected with the land and water of his childhood, creating paintings of ocean, violins, and the landscape.

This tribute of a picture book is one that celebrates the creativity of childhood and how allowing unfettered time and space allow that creativity to carry into adulthood. Miller uses his words as a minimal framework to offer a glimpse of the artist’s life and also to share his work. It is those paintings that truly tell the story, sharing emotions through the art. From darker moments to those filled with inspiration and light. The art is whimsical at times, literal at others.

A lovely surreal look at an artist, creativity and childhood. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion.

The People Remember by Ibi Zoboi

Cover image for The People Remember.

The People Remember by Ibi Zoboi, illustrated by Loveis Wise (9780062915641)

This nonfiction picture book explores African American history by connecting it to the seven principles of Kwanzaa. The book starts with Africa during a time of war when people disappeared or were sold. The history continues as they are taken into slavery, landing in places like South Carolina, Hispaniola and Brazil. Some escaped while those who could not escape found a common language and unity. People today remember the days of slavery, seeing that they have self-determination to change the nation. When slavery ended, the Great Migration came along with music on the streets and in churches, showing their collective work and responsibility. The history continues with examples of places that Black people created themselves and Black people who were successful, showing the principle of cooperative economics. Purpose came with voting rights, marches for civil rights, and the grief and hate of lynching. Creativity is shown again and again with music, dance, writing and more. The book ends with faith, a commitment not to forget and to carry forward with hope for change.

This Zoboi’s picture book debut. Her writing is exceptional, an ode to African Americans and their collective impact on the world. Using the Kwanzaa principles to guide the structure of the book works well, as the book naturally forms into seven sections. Zoboi uses a repeating structure of the various African tribes who were taken to America as slaves. In these sections and throughout, there is a call to Black pride, to seeing oneself as survivors and removing any shame from the narrative. Zoboi works to clearly draw the connection between history and today, showing the continuum that reaches backward and forward.

Wise’s illustrations are filled with lush colors, depicting connections between modern times and history. Their art is flat and graphic, almost poster like in its powerful simplicity. Each one could be framed and used to call out a movement or moment in history.

Powerful, unflinching and important. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.