Holidays, summer reunions, weddings and funerals bring together kin who may or may not see each other often. There will be those relatives you avoid at all costs. There will be those relatives you wish you could see every single day. There will be those relatives you hardly know at all.
Visits with certain relations, those with notable standing on the family tree, are highly anticipated. My Cousin Momo (Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), June 2, 2015) written and illustrated by Zachariah OHora depicts an unforgettable stopover by a rather unique individual. They broke the proverbial mold when this squirrel was born.
This is my cousin Momo!
He's a flying squirrel!
The excitement of a boy squirrel and his younger sister (Mom and Dad too) at the arrival of their cousin is noticeable. His capacity for flight heightens their happiness. They tell everyone in the neighborhood about his special talent.
All requests for him to demonstrate his skills are met with silence. Momo is hesitant to perform. Mom and Dad offer encouragement to the siblings.
To make Momo feel more at home they suggest a rousing game of superhero. Momo's costume would make more sense in a shop selling confections. A healthy competition of Acorn-Pong ends with a crunch. A final attempt, playing hide-and-seek, finishes with a frustrated outburst by sister squirrel.
Feelings hurt; Momo packs his suitcase leaving their house. Realizing the wrong they have done, the two beg Momo to stay. The duo decides to approach activities grooving in the Momo mood. Superheroes, Acorn-Pong and a game of hide-and-seek are definitely different. Life explored with a shift in point-of-view results in more fun than you can imagine.
Simple, straight forward statements by the narrator provide the perfect contrast to the images shown by Zachariah OHora. By including dialogue and comments shown in speech bubbles OHora increases the emotional impact and elevates the humor. The placement of the text provides splendid pacing. Here is a sample passage.
So we decided we should
MUFFIN MAN! (Momo)
But Momo's idea of "superhero" was a little strange.
EVEN MAKE SENSE! (sister squirrel)
Unfolding the dust jacket reveals a continuation of the bright retro palette used by Zachariah OHora on the front and throughout this title. Initially your attention is caught by the colors and the camera-exercise-band wearing squirrel. On the back, to the left, we get a peek at the residence of the squirrel family; a tree house with a variety of rooms anyone would love to visit. A real treat is seen on the book case. The background is the green from the grass (love the avocado shade). On the left is the opened suitcase of Momo complete with stickers illuminating his travels. To the right his suitcase is flipped to reveal the contents. Both offer gems for the reader who notices the "little" things. The opening and closing endpapers are the same hue as Momo's shirt with tiny drawings in white placed in the lower right-hand and left-hand corners.
Beneath the title with a canvas of white OHora begins his story with the brother and sister making the sign they will display at Momo's arrival. A page turn reveals the first double-page illustration of fourteen containing the publication information and the beginning of the narrative. There are three single page pictures, other than the first, supplying pauses and a truly satisfying conclusion.
The details OHora includes in all these visuals invite readers to stop. They extend the story with charm, liveliness and laughter. Dad using a rotary push mower, a chipmunk with a video camera, the bookshelves and bunk beds, the capital F on the siblings' superhero costumes and the tools held for the new superhero scene all contribute to the overall sense of playful purpose.
One of my many favorite illustrations is the one displaying the passage shown above. Cousin Momo, the brother and sister are playing superhero. They are in the children's bedroom. Through an archway on the left you can see into the living room. On the left, bigger than life, is Momo wearing an enormous muffin costume holding a spatula. A tree truck is placed to the left of the gutter. On it are shelves of books. Sister wearing a mask, hero shirt and cape is climbing the bunk bed ladder. Brother, looking like Batman with a capital F on his shirt, is standing on the rug below her. I burst out laughing every time I look at this picture and read the text.
My Cousin Momo written and illustrated by Zachariah OHora celebrates embracing differences. It is full of funny moments but also depicts, especially on the wordless two-page visual, real-life sadness. It brings into focus the importance of what we say and do. At story time, bedtime or any time of the day this title will be a joy to read.
To learn more about Zachariah OHora and his work please follow the links attached to his names to access his website and his Tumblr. Zachariah OHora has been interviewed about this book and his other work at Juana Children's Illustrator, Picture Book Builders, The Little Crooked Cottage, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and Brightly.