Quote of the Month

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

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Remembered Reunion

How we define the word family is highly personal.  It's as if there is a meaning found in dictionaries and an entirely different one with respect to our lives.  For some family does not always consist of those related to us biologically.  People whose love and support are unconditional can be thought of as family, whether there is a genetic connection or not.

For others, family is comprised of deep-seated traditions going back generations.  The voices of ancestors, their wisdom, still speaks with clarity in the collective hearts and minds of brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, uncles and aunts and lots of cousins.  Going Down Home With Daddy (Peachtree Publishers, April 1, 2019) written by Kelly Starling Lyons with illustrations by Daniel Minter takes us to one family's special commemoration.  

On reunion morning, we rise before
the sun.  Daddy hums as he packs
our car with suitcases and a cooler full of snacks.  He says there's nothing like going down home. 

From city to open highway, Lil Alan, Sis, Momma and Daddy travel.  Sis quickly falls back asleep, but Lil Alan is too excited and too worried.  He longs to see Granny, his great-grandmother.  What can he do for the anniversary festivities? 

Both Sis and Lil Alan are wide awake when they spy Granny near her wood-frame house feeding her chickens.  Her open-arm welcoming hug is the beginning of a day filled with relatives' arrivals and good-natured fellowship.  The cousins gather and chat about what each one will do for the celebration.  Lil Alan is stumped.  What can he do?

Daddy drives cousins around the farm, pulling them in a wagon behind the tractor.  Lil Alan's soul is filled with pride at his family's accomplishments in owning their land.  At dinner, joining hands before the meal, members are brimming with gratitude.  The next day, Sunday, Daddy reminisces in church with Lil Alan.  The child is still concerned about his role in the gathering at dusk.

After the Sunday service, a comment by Momma sends jubilation through Lil Alan.  Moments and memories align in his mind.  When his turn in the evening comes, his hands hold objects representing dreams fulfilled and his words sing of familial achievements.  On Monday morning Lil Alan, Sis, Momma and Daddy leave Granny and her wood-frame house, but everyone's thinking of the past, present, future and family.

The words written by author Kelly Starling Lyons wrap around readers like a hug from Granny, inviting and bathed in warmth.  Her descriptions of place transform our surroundings and transport us to down home.  The affection depicted in the conversations between family members is soothing and born of mutual respect.  Here is another passage from this book.

I doze off in a cloud of worry and wake to
sunbeams tickling my face.  I squint and see a
familiar John Deere tractor store and a gray silo
standing at attention.  We're almost there.

One look, your initial glance, at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case, leaves you wanting to know about these children.  Fully animated, they all seem to have something to say except for one.  Like the words in the narrative, the color palette, hues of blue, brown, red, orange, green and golden yellow, envelopes you in calm and comfort. 

To the left, on the back, a similar use of color fashions a canvas of swirls of orange and golden yellow and marbleized blue and white.  Stretching through this is the outline of a blue/green tree.  Two hens are placed in the lower, left-hand corner.  They are patterned in traditional prints.  These hens, the children and title text are varnished on the dust jacket.  

On the opening endpapers two shades of blue form enlarged brush strokes of a symbolic image.  This continues until the verso and title pages.  Here the illustration from the back of the jacket and case becomes the background for the text.  This is continued on the closing page and closing endpapers.

Rendered in acrylic wash the artwork of Daniel Minter is a lush blend of ancient African symbols and present-day realism.  Readers will pause to notice the exquisite details on the family's building, their clothing, on the chickens and clothing worn by the extended family members.  White etchings overlay some scenes with intentional purpose.  Each image is an eloquent double-page portrait of generations rooted in dreams and triumphs.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when Lil Alan and Daddy are talking.  Daddy tells him to 

think with your heart.

The two of them are in that position which is between sitting and kneeling but still close to the earth.  The background is a larger version of the pattern seen on the closing endpapers.  We have stepped back and can see the symbolic shapes, fully formed, among the trees.  In the foreground on the left is Lil Alan and on the right is Daddy.  The boy, eyes closed, reaches for some gathered pecans.  His daddy looking at him is speaking.

Going Down Home With Daddy written by Kelly Starling Lyons with illustrations by Daniel Minter is a marvelous, heart-warming two-day ode to family.  Through expressive words and illuminating illustrations we can witness this reunion's power and value.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Kelly Starling Lyons and Daniel Minter and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Kelly Starling Lyons maintains accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  Daniel Minter has an account on Instagram.  There is a post at The Children's Book Council with Daniel Minter speaking about the symbolism in this book.  At author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast you can view interior illustrations. At the publisher's website there are links to multiple resources including an Author Q & A.  You can also view several of the initial images in the book.

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