Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora (9780316431248)
When Omu makes her thick red stew in her apartment, its delicious smell brings people to her door to discover what she is cooking. One by one, she feeds each of them some of her stew. There is the little boy, the police officer, the hotdog vendor, and many more. By the time Omu has given each of them a bowl, her large pot of stew is empty and there isn’t any left for her own dinner! Someone once again knocks on her door and it is all of the people she fed that day offering their own thanks and food to share with her.
Mora writes with the feel of a traditional tale. On just the first page, there is a cadence that feels immediately familiar and warm. Details are shared in just the right way, then the repetition kicks in, linking this even more with a traditional folktale. Mora has crafted the book with collage pages that combine different mediums. The stew itself is always red and often flowered. The smell wafts across the page in a swath of light-colored haze. Meanwhile, the vibrant urban community is brought to life and abuzz with energy.
A top read-aloud of the year, this picture book should be shared just like red stew. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
One of the vital elements that we all have to keep hold of both in this holiday season and throughout the year is how to be generous. Money is of course part of this and so is attention and time. Here are some great books on giving back to the world around you:
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
Fandango Stew by David Davis, illustrated by Ben Galbraith
The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small
Give and Take by Chris Raschka
Listen to the Wind by Greg Mortenson, illustrated by Susan L. Roth
Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe
Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith
Stone Soup by Jon J. Muth
Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones
Fox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam
Gorgeously illustrated, this wordless picture book invites readers into a snowy world. A fox finds her way into a village, warm lit against the cold snow that is falling. She is shooed away by several people but discovers an open greenhouse. A little boy sees her enter and brings her a basket of food. Now there is a fox with four baby foxes nursing. Soon after, the mother fox leads her kits to the boy’s room where they plant flowers from the greenhouse into his rug which he discovers in the morning. The five foxes disappear back into the woods.
Done in cut-paper illustrations, the images have a beautiful 3-D quality to them. You want to stroke the page and think that you will be able to lift flaps, so strong are the images. Against the white and gray snow and woods, the characters pop. The fox gloriously orange in the snow and the little boy wearing red.
Camcam lights her paper work beautifully as well, almost as if it were a stage. She conveys the welcoming warmth of the light in the village, the yellow of the windows lit against the storm. More subtly, she plays with shadows and underlighting in specific scenes, showing the cold and the night clearly.
This is a haunting picture book, done with an immense delicacy and skill. Simply beautiful. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
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.