Review: Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (9780823440559)

This book garnered high praise long before its release, all of which is well deserved. It is the story of immigration to the United States, based on Morales’ own experience as she came to the U.S. with her child. This is a story of immigration, of carrying your personal gifts with you to a new country and allowing them to blossom. It’s the story of learning a new language in order to communicate and along the way discovering the power of public libraries to inspire. It is about the importance of books, of shared stories and of finding your own abilities to tell unique tales personal to you and make those into books. It is a book that sings the vitality and importance of immigrants to our country.

Morales has written a book that I hope sweeps some major awards this year. I knew that it was the powerful story of immigrants, but I was delighted and surprised to see the role of the public library highlighted so clearly on the pages. The text on the page is just right, poetic and brief, inviting young readers and listening children deep into the storyline. Morales has created a timely book for today’s America and all of its children, but it is also a book that will be read again and again.

The art by Morales is amazing. Alight with the moon and searingly brilliant when the gifts they carry escape the pack they have been stored in for so long. There are beautiful symbols throughout the illustrations like this, connection and creativity alive on the page. She also pays homage to so many books in her library scenes, each one a testament to the voices that have been part of children’s literature for so long and some newer ones too.

A dazzling and incredible picture book that is sure to win awards this year. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Illegal by Eoin Colfer

Illegal by Eoin Colfer

Illegal by Eoin Colfer (9781492662143)

An honest and profound look at the refugee crisis through the eyes of one young boy, this graphic novel is heartbreaking. Ebo has been left alone by his older brother who is following his older sister to Europe. But Ebo refuses to be left behind, managing to get a ride on a bus to a nearby city. There he must find his brother, something he manages to do only by luck. Together, they work hard labor to get enough money to cross the Sahara Desert to Tripoli. The journey is hazardous and many people die. But the most dangerous part of it lies ahead as they board a small boat to cross the sea to Europe, placing their dreams in the hands of men who lie and cheat for profit.

Colfer works with the same team that created the Artemis Fowl graphic novel series, but this time on a much more harrowing story of humanity and resilience. Colfer does not shy away from depicting the hazards and risks of the journey, including deaths along the way. There is an unrelenting pressure throughout the novel to move forward, make enough money to leave, and then do it all again at the next point. It is daunting, frightening and shows the spirit of the people who are willing to risk their lives for freedom.

This graphic novel puts a face on the refugee crisis. Ebo is a young boy with a singing voice that can soothe babies and make money. His face is that of an angel as well, his eyes shining bright with hope and at times dimmed with illness or grief. Throughout the story, characters come and go as they enter Ebo’s journey along with him. Readers will hope for Ebo to survive but can only watch helplessly.

Smartly written, deftly drawn and plotted to perfection, this graphic novel is a powerhouse. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Sourcebooks.

3 Picture Books Featuring Families

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal (9780763693558)

Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela had a very long name, one that wouldn’t fit nicely on paper. So her father told her the story of her name. Sofia was her grandmother who loved flowers and books just like Alma. Esperanza was her great-grandmother who longed to travel the world. Jose was her grandfather who was an artist. Pura was her great-aunt who gave Alma her red thread bracelet. Candela was her other grandmother who stood up for what was right. When Alma asks about her first name, she is told that that is her name only so she can become whatever she wishes to be.

Ending with Alma feeling very proud and connected to each of her names, this picture book celebrates connections to family through naming traditions. It is lovely to see Alma identify with each of the family members and find aspects that are similar to her. I also appreciate having a father have this conversation, strengthening the paternal aspect as well. The illustrations are soft greys and blacks with pops of blues and reds that make the images come alive. A great picture book that will speak to many children. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

La Frontera My Journey with Papa by Deborah Mills and Alfredo Alva

La Frontera: My Journey with Papa by Deborah Mills and Alfredo Alva, illustrated by Claudia Navarro (9781782853886)

This bilingual picture book tells the story of a young boy who goes with his father north to cross the border and enter the United States illegally. From a small village in central Mexico, they left a place where their family had lived for over 100 years. When food got scarce, they headed north, leaving the boy’s mother and siblings behind. They traveled with “Coyote,” a man who helped them go north. Reaching the Rio Grande, they tried to cross but lost contact with Coyote. Now the boy and his father were alone. They walked and walked, hungry and tired. Even when they reached the United States though, things were not easy. The boy started school and time passed, until they could be reunited with their family again.

Set in the 1980’s, this book tells the story of Alva’s family with the Spanish and English side-by-side on the page. Written with the help of his neighbor, Mills, the book is filled with the harrowing dangers of border crossing. There are times when the two characters are clearly near death, exhausted and starving. By the end of the story though, hope fills the pages and a better future is clear. The illustrations are filled with rich gem colors. There are sapphire blue nights, emerald grass, and topaz land. The illustrations capture the drama of the story and also the closeness and love of the family.

An important book that tells the story of immigration to the United States for a new life. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Barefoot Books.)

Little Brothers & Little Sisters by Monica Arnaldo

Little Brothers & Little Sisters by Monica Arnaldo (9781771472951)

This picture book is a celebration of siblings and shows perspectives of both older and younger siblings spending time together. Throughout the book, the older siblings get the best of the younger ones. The older ones have a treehouse while the younger ones spy on them. The older ones get the couch and the younger ones the floor. The book then moves to the more private relationships of pairs of siblings, of mistakes and apologies. It shows how the older siblings help, how they lend a hand, give a boost. How they are best friends, after all.

The text in this picture book is very simple with much of the story being relayed through the illustrations. Filled with pairs of siblings, the book has a diverse cast of characters who show the universal complicated relationships of siblings. The illustrations are friendly and bright, filled with a jolly humor at the roles of older and younger siblings. A great pick for sharing with the siblings in your life. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers (9781452162812)

This book on the Statue of Liberty could not be more timely for our world today. The book first looks at the French origins of the statue made to celebrate the centennial of the United States. From small renderings to large pieces of the full-sized statue, Bartholdi, the artist shipped the statue to New York City in 214 crates. Statue assembly in New York took 17 months. The copper statue was originally copper brown, but aged to the green lady we know today. The book then focuses on the statue’s right foot, a foot that is moving rather than standing still. This symbol of our nation welcoming refugees and immigrants from around the world is stepping forward, just as we must to welcome new people to our shores.

This book is a lovely cross between a picture book and a nonfiction read. Shaped as a book that is shorter and thicker than most picture books, it offers illustrations on all of the pages. The text length is welcoming for younger readers and will also work as a read aloud.

The book moves from being a factual read about the statue itself and how it was built and came to America. It transforms into a call for our nation to live up to that symbol, to step forward as well. It becomes something more than the facts, more than the details. It brings the statue and our values to life.

Rumbles of awards surround this title. It deserves all of them. Unique and fabulous. Appropriate for ages 5-9. (Review copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

Why Am I Here? by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen

why-am-i-here-by-constance-orbeck-nilssen

Why Am I Here? by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen, illustrated by Akin Duzakin (InfoSoup)

A child wonders aloud why they are here in this specific place and in this life. They could instead be in a crowded place with lots of other people. They could be in a place torn by war. They could be a refugee, searching for safety. The land could be desert or snow and ice or rivers with trees. Does anyone else wonder about why they are where they are? Will this child ever leave this place and adventure to the spots they have dreamed of? Are they right where they are supposed to be, after all?

This is a very thoughtful and thought-provoking book that demonstrates empathy throughout. It’s a book that explores the “why” of our circumstances, looking at other places and how different a life could be just by being moved somewhere else with a different situation and a different family. The book takes the time to stay in that ambiguity and wonder about it, before releasing readers in the final pages into an understanding that we simply are where we are.

The illustrations by Duzakin have a quiet thoughtfulness about them. The main character who speaks in first person can be interpreted to be either gender adding another layer to the ambiguity of the book. The illustrations capture dreamlike settings of war, desert, ice or greenery that allow readers to wonder along with the story.

A quiet and contemplative picture book that will create opportunities for conversation. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

 

10 Great Books on Immigration & Immigrants

Immigration is huge in the news right now with the Syrian refugees, Mexican immigration to the United States, and the promises of the incoming administration. As libraries and librarians, we serve our entire community wherever they hail from. Here are some wonderful books to celebrate the power and importance of immigration for our nation and the world:

The Arrival insideoutbackagain

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

The Land of Forgotten Girls Mamas Nightingale by Edwidge Danticat

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Staub

The Matchbox Diary pancho rabbit and the coyote 

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale by Duncan Tonatiuh

the-sun-is-also-a-star-by-nicola-yoon Their Great Gift by John Coy

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice and Hope in a New Land by John Coy, photographs by Wing Young Huie

The Turtle of Oman unforgotten coat

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye

The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

the-sun-is-also-a-star-by-nicola-yoon

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (InfoSoup)

A finalist for the National Book Award, this book for teens is exceptional. It is the story of two teens, Daniel and Natasha who meet one another through a series of events. Daniel, a poet, firmly believes in love at first sight and destiny bringing them together. Natasha though does not, believing in science and what is provable. The day is a big day for both of them. Natasha’s family is being deported back to Jamaica that night unless she can figure out a way to stop it. Daniel is being interviewed for Yale, a school and a career path that his Korean parents have chosen for him. When the two meet, the chemistry is palpable, but the timing is horrible. Daniel decides that he can prove to Natasha that love is real and measurable, but can he do it in time with their deadlines working against them both?

I can see why this book is getting all of the attention and praise that it is. It’s an amazing read, filled with possibility and the sense that the universe may just be on our side sometimes. It’s filled with romance and chemistry. The prose has a lightness that is exceptional, creating space for these two amazing characters to meet, breathe, and tumble head over heels in love with one another.

Meanwhile, it is also a story of New York City. It’s a story of immigration and illegal immigrants, of losing a culture and then losing the dream of America as well. It’s a story of overt racism and the new generation of teens who see beyond that and into hearts. It’s a story of profound loss, of parental betrayal, of hope that manages to rise again and again.

A book perfect for today, this teen novel is a voice of hope despite our challenges and loving through it all. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta

we-are-like-the-clouds-by-jorge-argueta

Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Alfonso Ruano (InfoSoup)

This stunning book of poetry looks at the flood of children from Central America who are making their way to the United States. 100,000 of them have walked to our country, escaping to safety and what they hope is fresh opportunities. The book opens with a few poems that show the beauty of Central America and then swiftly moves to the problems and the gangs that are in control. Then begins the long march north, the trust placed in coyotes that lead them, the dangers they face, the rough conditions and the courage it takes to head towards the unknown. The book ends with poems of Los Angeles and hope.

Written by a Salvadoran poet, this book’s poetry soars and lifts even when speaking of dark and dangerous subjects. Throughout there is a focus on hope and the distant wonder of the United States. There are poems of the journey that are aching with loss. There are poems of strong parents who carry children and others of the children alone and fearful. It is a book that captures the range of immigrants coming to the United States, particularly children from Central America whose story is shared with such poignancy on these pages.

The art by Ruano is startling and beautiful. He has surreal moments in the art that capture a little touch of playfulness at first. That moves quickly to sense of isolation at times, of being alone in a stark landscape. Towards the end, there is one painting of a child afloat in the air on a blue, cloud-like sleeping bag who is finally heading home with his parents. It is a picture of such tenderness and captures the youth and dreams of these children.

An important book that shows the plight of Central American children as they walk to the United States, this is a challenging book of poetry that demands attention. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts

A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts

A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts, illustrated by Hyewon Yum (InfoSoup)

Hee Jun loved living in Korea where he fit in with his classmates at school and his grandmother was a respected teacher. She was also able to have an extraordinary garden there. When his father moves them to West Virginia, everything changes. Hee Jun does not fit in with his classmates due to the way he looks and the way he talks. His grandmother too is different, her inner spark gone. His little sister has problems at school too, taking out her fear physically on her teacher. So their grandmother is asked to go to school with her. Slowly, the family begins to find their place in West Virginia, even discovering a beloved flower with a new name.

Watts tells the story of immigration with an eye towards giving people time to adjust and find their footing both with a new language and a new culture. The sense of loss for the characters is palpable on the page, eliciting a real understanding of the immense change they are undergoing. The little sister’s violent reaction to school is handled with sensitivity and understanding, offering the grandmother a chance to connect with her new surroundings. The entire book is filled with deep emotions combined with a gentle nurturing attitude.

Yum’s illustrations are done in watercolor. They show a loving family that manages to thrive despite the changes. The differences between their lives in Korea and West Virginia are shown on the page, particularly with regards to the grandmother and her vibrant life in Korea compared to her lonely existence in the first weeks in the United States.

A strong and thoughtful look at immigration that beautifully explains the huge changes children undergo as they move to a new country. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.