Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Seeking, Finding, And Protecting Life

Adults, family, friends, and educators, have a marvelous opportunity in the presence of children.  They have the choice, some would say responsibility, to advise, instruct and assist younger gals and guys in the care of our planet.  This nurturing of the natural world benefits all.

When our children see the results of their efforts, it inspires them to continue.  It inspires them to spread and share their excitement.  I Am Farmer: Growing An Environmental Movement In Cameroon (Millbrook Press, February 5, 2019) written by Baptiste Paul and Miranda Paul with illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon informs readers about the life and work of Cameroonian, Dieudonne Tantoh Nforba.

The rainy season has begun. 

As a young boy, Tantoh enjoys walking among the plants and grabbing handfuls of dirt in his grandmother's garden.  He even tries to plant some "borrowed" onions which eventually die.  His grandmother explains these bulbs, plants, need the sun, dirt, and, most importantly, water to survive and grow.

As if a spark has ignited in the child, he asks more questions in school than his teachers believe one mind can create.  His classmates think all his inquiries foolish.  By the time he is a teen, Tantoh's father is ill but he still manages to gift his son with a shovel.  The boy uses the tool to further his knowledge of planting and growing.  He is nicknamed Farmer.  To be a farmer is not a compliment.

During high school Tantoh writes FARMER on his school uniform shirt and wears it until he graduates.  Encouraged by his older brother to ace his final exam in order to make a better living, Tantoh deliberately fails in order to farm.  After graduation he works in his village expanding his gardening skills until someone notices his outstanding work, offering to pay for Tantoh to attend college.

A debilitating illness strikes Tantoh and sets him back for seven years.  Drinking water is the cause.  Now Tantoh has another focus.  More education arms him with knowledge; knowledge he shares.  He gathers others to his purpose.  Together they grow like plants given sunshine, earth and water.

Baptiste Paul and Miranda Paul bring us directly into the narrative with those first twelve words.  In fact, green, wet and alive, are words which could be used to describe the life work of Tantoh.  Children see the value of his pursuits through his expressed joy, constant questions, and the support of his grandmother and father.

Paragraph by paragraph words bring Tantoh's purpose more sharply in focus for readers with explicit details of his failing on his exam, his gardening in his village after graduation, and nothing stopping him from higher education.  Another thing which binds readers to Tantoh is his attitude and proverbs.  If you were not cheering for him in his youth, by the time you complete this book, you will be cheering for his continued contributions for the betterment of people in his country.  Another writing technique readers will notice is the use of growing, gardening, terms to depict circumstances.  Here is a passage.

Together they build botanical gardens and rain gardens that
will hold water in the soil.  These areas produce food or flowers
all year long and provide green spaces to reconnect people with
nature.  The mayor of his home village, Nkambe, is impressed.
Eventually, the mayor promises to make sure the garden stays
beautiful for years to come.  By now, everyone in Northwest
Cameroon is calling Tantoh "Farmer"---and they say it with pride!

Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case, readers are treated to two separate images which flow like Tantoh's water together. On the first Tantoh is looking directly at readers with villagers carrying water as they pass him at work.  To the left, on the back, we are given a countryside landscape view of green hills replete with paths and people carrying water.  The signature artwork of Elizabeth Zunon, like the words of the authors, invite us into the book.

On the opening and closing endpapers a created vision of green hills and blue sky supplies a canvas for photographs taken in Cameroon when the Pauls visited Tantoh and his country.

Using cut paper collage, watercolor, pen drawing, and pasted color pencil

Elizabeth Zunon fashions realistic displays of gardens, vast vistas, family moments of love and guidance, classroom settings and village gatherings.  To elevate the text her illustrations vary from double-page presentations to full-page depictions.

Sometimes we are given a bird's eye view and other times we are looking over the shoulder of Tantoh and important people in his life.  Readers never doubt the commitment and accomplishments of Tantoh.  It is evident in his every look, gesture and the way in which he holds his body.

One of my many favorite illustrations accompanies the above quoted text.  The text is placed higher on the page in a pale blue sky with soft clouds.  Beneath this is a line of trees and a village building.  On either side is a grove of trees.  Moving down the page is an area of green with swirls of variegated pink shades.  One is shaped like a heart.  People stand and look at these gardens.  The second half of the page, on the bottom, is a close-up of Tantoh and the mayor in another garden with large pink flowers.  They are engaged in conversation.  Two villagers are working near them.

We know one person can make a difference for the good of a great deal of people, but when you can hold their story in your hands, it's incredibly powerful.  I Am Farmer: Growing An Environmental Movement In Cameroon written by Baptiste Paul and Miranda Paul with illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon will motivate and strengthen individuals in their resolve to achieve their dreams.  At the close of the book there is an Authors' Note, Linbum Glossary and Pronunciation Guide, Words for Water and a map of Cameroon and Africa.  I highly recommend this for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Baptiste Paul, Miranda Paul and Elizabeth Zunon and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Miranda Paul has a blog here. Paul, Miranda and Elizabeth have accounts on TwitterElizabeth Zunon has an account on Instagram.  You can view interior pictures at the publisher's website.  There is a post on the publisher's blog by Elizabeth Zunon about her artist process for this book.  It is utterly fascinating.  UPDATE:  Author Traci Sorell interviews both Baptiste Paul and Miranda Paul at author Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog, CynsationsThey talk about their collaboration on this title and their other work.  It is a wonderful, informative interview. 

To view the titles selected this week by other participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.

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