Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, November 4, 2013

Wherever You Are

As a child many decisions are made on your behalf.  Depending on your particular family dynamics you may or may not be part of the conversation when hard choices, perhaps the right choices, are decided.  To move from one home to another in your state or province or even within your own country is not easy.

To move to another country, leaving all that is familiar behind, language, dress, customs, your culture, must be overwhelming; even after decades the memory remains.  In her first children's book, Here I Am (Picture Window Books, a Capstone imprint), Patti Kim uses her recollections of immigration to America to tell readers the story of another such child.  Without the use of words, illustrator Sonia Sanchez recreates the story eloquently for each and every reader.

Page by page, panel by panel within those pages, we follow the boy's passage from place to place in the outside world and inside his heart.  His arrival at the airport with his parents and younger sibling, is full of noise and newness.  Travel in the darkness on the busy streets, bordered by tall buildings, sidewalks brimming with the hustle and hurry of people, to his new apartment leaves him disheartened.

Attentive readers will quickly notice a spot of red in the boy's pocket.  A tiny seed from his home, brought as a keepsake, is a symbol of all he had, of all he left.  When everyone is sleeping the first night in their new home, he holds it in his hand imagining all the beauty it represents.

Visiting the laundromat, library, or exploring the sights of the city with his parents does little to alleviate his sadness.  School days pass in a blur of incomprehension.  Surrounded by so much strangeness leaves him feeling lost.

Leaning out the window one day, he accidentally drops his red seed.  Jumping rope down the street, a girl finds it, picking it up to place in her pocket.  Distraught the boy races from his apartment to reclaim his prized possession.

Trying to make his way through the crowds, scanning the storefronts, he loses sight of her.  In searching for her, he starts to find the beauty of the city he has been missing; the sights, sounds, and people are capturing his attention.  The taste of a hot pretzel from a vendor, the habits of a small dog, feeding pigeons and the pleasure of people watching in the park, fill his day.

In the park a girl hanging from a tree branch by her legs looses gathered treasures from her pocket.  One of those things is the red seed.  Lost and found, remembered and new, a friendship is formed, and a tree grows.

It's through this story by Patti Kim we readers can begin to understand the adjustments, the ups and downs, of being new to a country.  By giving the boy a tangible reminder, the red seed, of his past, she provides the opportunity through its loss, to help him grow.  We feel a deep empathy for this boy as she acquaints us with his sensory experiences, the sound of a language he does not know in his classroom but happy greetings from shopkeepers, the smells of fresh cooked food, the taste of the pretzel, the touch of feeding the pigeons on his hands, and all the sights of the various scenes around the city.  We are by his side every step of the way.

An unusual jacket, a semi-transparent heavier parchment, with only the boy and the title on the front, allows the buildings on the cover to glow through dimly.  It wraps around to half of the back highlighting the boy and the girl in the park.  The red edging on the front cover and predominance on the back accentuates the significance of the boy's seed. Breathtaking, lively endpapers foreshadow the story's end; a city view filled with quaint, older apartment buildings, people enjoying the day and the swirl of imagined birds and flowered branches from the boy's writing on the street span the pages framed in purple.

Illustrations created in traditional and digital mediums by Sonia Sanchez convey every emotion, each important series of events, with convincing clarity.  The visuals, each small panel, provide a layer peeling away despair, building on happiness and hope.  A marvelous layout and design, alternating picture sizes, overlapping elements along with strong lines and softer shading of colors work together to make a book of sheer beauty.  Two of  my favorite illustrations are two page spreads, the one depicting the boy meeting the man and feeding the pigeons and the other his discovery of the seed with the girl in the park.

Here I Am, story by Patti Kim, pictures by Sonia Sanchez, is a title to be read and shared again and again, year after year.  Every part of the boy's journey will resonate with readers on some level as life itself is full of changes, big and small.  Books such as this are pivotal in our understanding of one another.

For an array of illustrations from this title please follow this link to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  For more information about illustrator, Sonia Sanchez, a link is embedded in her name to access her website.

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