Borders by Thomas King

Cover image for Borders.

Borders by Thomas King, illustrated by Natasha Donovan (9780316593069)

When his older sister decides to move to Salt Lake City, a boy and his mother take her to the border between Canada and the U.S. His mother decided one day to make the trip to Utah to visit. They got dressed up and ready to leave the Blackfoot reserve. When they reached the border though, his mother refused to say that she was Canadian, giving her citizenship as Blackfoot. Caught between two countries, refusing to deny her true citizenship, the boy is caught with her as they demonstrate the power of their identity and family.

Written by an award-winning author of Cherokee and Greek descent, the graphic novel is illustrated by a well-known Métis illustrator. The book insists that readers see Native identity and recognize it as valid in a way that neither country is willing to. The story is immensely uncomfortable as readers wait for a resolution to come along with the boy and his mother. There is a brilliance to this discomfort, allowing readers to sit with it and learn.

The illustrations honest and simple, portraying the love among the family, even when his sister leaves for the United States. The focus on the people allows the illustrations to move beyond the desolate border and into the people being impacted.

An important middle-grade graphic novel that will inspire thought and discussion. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 Hopeful Picture Books

Next Year by Ruth Vander Zee

Next Year by Ruth Vander Zee and Gary Kelley (9781568462820)

A gripping look at the Dust Bowl from the point of view of a child growing up in the 1930s, this picture book combines strong imagery with a poetic prose. The book takes no time in becoming dramatic, showing a dust cloud coming towards the boy: “Like midnight in the middle of the day, without moon and stars.” When he reaches home after crawling for two miles because he can’t stand in the dust and the wind, he discovers his parents despairing and desperate. While they may have been hopeful at one time, the boy knows that he has to help and learns about alternative ways to farm. As the days pass, the rain returns but it’s too late for his parents’ hope to return. Powerful and fascinating, this picture book look at the Dust Bowl is exceptional. (Reviewed from library copy.)

StolenWords_Jacket.indd

Stolen Words by Melanie Florence, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard (9781772600377)

A little girl asks her grandfather how to say grandfather in Cree. Her grandfather pauses for a long moment and then explains that he lost his words a long time ago. He then explains to his granddaughter about being taken away from home and put into a boarding school. He wasn’t allowed to speak Cree there at all, only English. The next day, the little girl comes out of school with a book, an introduction to Cree for them to learn together. The author of this picture book is half Cree and never got to speak with her own grandfather about his language and his history. The book is filled with beautiful language, capturing the harshness of the boarding schools and the love of close family as contrasts of cold and warm, hard and soft. Grimard’s illustrations also show the contrasts through images, turning black and white for memories rather than the soft colors used in the modern parts of the book. An introduction to the importance of language, families and identity that is appropriate for small children. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Three Balls of Wool by Henriqueta Cristina

Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World) by Henriqueta Cristina, illustrated by Yara Kono (9781592702206)

Published in partnership with Amnesty International, this picture book uses colors of wool to speak to the conformity required under Communist regimes. The book focuses on a family who flees their home country in the hopes of finding a better, kinder place to live. At first their new country is good. The children can go to school and the parents are less worried. But steadily things change and soon there are only three colors of sweaters for the children to wear. The mother of the family though, realizes that she can make a difference and sews the yarn from the different sweaters into new patterns that incorporate all three. Soon the new designs spread and things begin to change for the better. Cristina has written this picture book analogy from her own experiences as a child. There is a straightforward nature to the writing that allows the analogy to really work, giving it a strong foundation. The art is graphic and strong, leaping off of the page and yet also paying homage to Communist buildings and structures. This is a clever and intelligent book worth discussing in classrooms and families. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Enchanted Lion.)