Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, June 13, 2019

You Belong

As an educator, as a teacher librarian, all the children in any given school in any given year enter your classroom, the school library.  They arrive from an assortment of families, economic conditions, ethnic and racial backgrounds with a range of personalities and potential.  They are all beautiful, important and of immeasurable value.

Depending on the community in which they live, some of them for reasons of physical characteristics, language, clothing, cultural or religious practices feel as though they don't belong.  They are asked questions they are unable to answer to the satisfaction of other children or adults.  Where Are You From? (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, June 4, 2019) written by Yamile Saied Mendez with illustrations by Jaime Kim gives readers the best and only responses of true worth.

Where are you from?
they ask.

A little girl is questioned by her classmates.  Adults want to know if her parents are from here or from there.  When her reply prompts them to continue to question her, she is confused. She decides to ask her grandfather, her Abuelo,

because he knows everything.

Walking together with his granddaughter, Abuelo stops for a moment to think. He tells her she comes from the Pampas, the gaucho and the brown river.  He further describes the meaning and value of each geographical feature and person.  He continues this journey by taking her to mountain peaks and oceans painting pictures with his words of the flora and fauna dwelling there.

She also is a part of wild unexpected weather found in this portion of the world as well as the calmer ebb and flow of sunshine and rain.  Each sentence from Abuelo to his beloved little girl speaks of the land and the people and the histories attached to both.  The child, like those who questioned her, wants more.  She needs a specific place.

His response is certain to cause gasps in all readers.  Without a doubt, his granddaughter stops for a moment as joy and warmth fill her soul.  As Abuelo takes her home and holds her close, he speaks of universal, timeless beliefs which will resonate with all of us.

There is not a child (or an adult) who reads the words written by Yamile Saied Mendez that will not feel a connection.  The desire to know who came before us in our families is strong but even more urgent when others press us for answers other than those we know.  Abuelo's descriptions are lyrical and simply lovely; almost like a lullaby.  Through his words we walk through all aspects of a land, its inhabitants and the history of its people.  Each of these portrayals, like layers, are designed to lead us back to the girl's original question.  This makes Abuelo's final words more potent.  Here is a passage.

You're from mountains so high
they tickle Senor Cielo's belly,

where the condor roosts his family
and the jaguar prowls the night.

In a word the image seen on the open and matching dust jacket and book case is bliss.  You can see the shared pleasure in each other's company on both faces.  The path through the field with birds against the afternoon sky contributes to the golden emotional glow.  The field stretches over the spine to the far-left edge.  There are color variations in the grass as if a gentle breeze is blowing.  Even more birds in the same flock are shown flying.  On the jacket the title text, the child and her grandfather are varnished.

On the opening and closing endpapers a vista of mountains and an ocean spreads edge to edge.  In the first a palette of green shades and yellow depicts the start of a day with the large sun rising between peaks and glistening on the water.  Birds are flying from both directions.  On the final endpapers hues of purple color the sky, mountains and water.  A darker golden yellow and orange paint the setting sun.  Birds are again flying from both directions.  Both scenes present serenity.

The pictures rendered in watercolor and digital techniques to create the digital illustrations by Jaime Kim are brimming with animation.  The sizes move from full-page pictures to double-page pictures when the little girl is chatting with Abuelo.  With each page turn you can sense the mood and emotions intensifying by Jaime Kim's use of color.

To enrich the warmth of the narrative Jaime Kim alters her points of view.  Sometimes the pair are viewed close-up or as part of a larger landscape.  Their attire might change depending on the sentences.  They are seen riding horses and wearing appropriate attire when gaucho is mentioned.  Sometimes the reader is given more of a bird's eye view of a scene as in the plaza with reference to Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.  Readers will finally notice the sky changing color as dusk descends on the pair.  This enhances the final sentences and the final image.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It is night.  A few golden stars sparkle in the deep blue and purple sky.  This spreads as a canvas on the two pages.  Along the bottom of the page, outlined in those blue and purple colors, are grasses from the field enlarged as if we are peering through them lying on our stomachs.  On the right behind some of the grass the grandfather and his granddaughter sit.  Their backs are to us.  They are looking up.  One of Abuelo's arms is around the little girl; the other is pointing at the North Star.  Simply precious.

Lovingly written by Yamile Saied Mendez and lovingly illustrated by Jaime Kim, this book, Where Are You From?, tells readers all they need to know about their origins.  At the close of this title, readers will realize the human heart is a landscape large enough to include everyone.  I highly recommend this book for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Yamile Saied Mendez and Jaime Kim and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Yamile Saied Mendez has an account on Twitter.  Jaime Kim has an account on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images from the beginning of the book.  There is also a printable activity, a family tree to complete.  Here is a link to a letter written by Yamile Saied Mendez about this book.

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