When war, a world war, strikes, the lives of families are paused. A new normal begins. Days and nights become all about waiting and hoping. As a child I knew the impact on my father and on my mother of him serving in World War II. I heard his stories. Pictures are adhered in a bulging scrapbook. Other items he wore on his uniform along with his dog tags are as treasured as the memories they represent. Serving in the military leaves a mark on everyone involved, away from home and at home.
Letters are exchanged when possible. You wonder every single day about the safety of those on duty. The biggest question is: When will they be home? At The Mountain's Base (Kokila, September 17, 2019) written by Traci Sorell ( We Are Grateful Otsaliheliga Charlesbridge, September 4, 2018) with illustrations by Weshoyot Alvitre is a thoughtful and eloquent expression in poetic words and beautiful images of a Cherokee family longing and anticipating the return of a member in the military.
At the mountain's base
grows a hickory tree.
Under this hickory tree is a cabin with a wood-burning stove warming the kitchen. A favorite meal cooks on the stove in pans that have stood the test of time. Near those pans on that stove in that kitchen is a grandmother.
As she weaves, she thinks of the one who is missing as other family members gather around her. They work together and begin to sing. Their song reaches out across many miles to a battle being waged.
A plane files through the battle. Its pilot does her best to safeguard others. The plane swerves and moves up and down in a rhythm. In this rhythm the pilot sends out a prayer.
As the narrative continues and concludes, we discover the plea within the prayer. Filled with compassion we understand the reason for the plea as we are brought back to the beginning. There is a mountain and at its base . . .
As the words written by Traci Sorell are read silently or aloud, a feeling of reverence increases page turn by page turn. Layers of family life and tradition build until we find ourselves moving from one place to another before we return. We, like the pilot, are woven into a fabric strengthened by each generation. The use of verbs ending in "ing" to further describe the grandmother, the family, the battle, the plane and the pilot creates a gentle cadence. Here is a single sentence. Notice the use of alliteration by author Traci Sorell.
On that stove
simmers savory goodness
in well-worn pans.
When you open the dust jacket the image of the woman weaving colorful yarns over the mountain extends to each flap edge. Her hair flows to the far left and far right corners of those flap edges. Beneath her hair are faint clouds, sky and the pattern formed by her weaving. The landscape of trees and lower hills also extends to each flap edge. Bordering the edges is a single strand in red. This representation is truly stunning.
Under the dust jacket, on the book case, is the gorgeous woven pattern in green, red, golden yellow and cream. The details will have readers reaching to feel the implied texture. The pattern radiates from the spine.
On the opening and closing endpapers, on a cream canvas, are strands of yarn on the left in blue, golden yellow, red and green. They hang knotted and ready to be used. On the right, from the center of the edge and billowing out in the right corner is a portion of a completed weaving. The dedication and publication information and title pages are a lush two-page picture of the mountain, forest and cabin.
The art rendered in gouache, watercolor, and ink on illustration board by Weshoyot Alvitre works in perfection with the text to supply a wonderful pacing. Panels, two illustrations to a page, or a single picture on a page are framed in yarn with loops connecting them. The yarn is always present (except for three illustrations) representing an unbroken foundation.
The details in these illustrations, especially on the family's facial features, are exquisite. Several double-page pictures will have you gasping when you turn the page. A final single-page wordless picture is sure to bring forth a sigh.
One of my many, many favorite pictures spans two pages. The canvas is a crisp white. The perspective is as if we are looking down on the grandmother. Along the bottom on the right and across the gutter for a portion on the left are the grandmother's arms and hands, part of the top of her head and her face, eyes closed, in concentration. Her hands are weaving eleven strands of yarn. These strands spread out to her left, center and right, leaving the top of both pages. On the left in a space fashioned by the elements of this image are the words:
This book, At The Mountain's Base written by Traci Sorell with illustrations by Weshoyot Alvitre, is one to read repeatedly. It supplies calm, inspires courage and is a tribute to the power of family and heritage of the Cherokee. At the close of the book in an Author's Note we read about the Native women who have served in the military and continue to serve on active duty today. We are told about one Native woman, Ola Mildred "Millie" Rexroat, an Oglala Lakota pilot with a highly distinguished career and how she was and is honored. You will want to place a copy of this title in your personal and professional collections.
To learn more about Traci Sorell and Weshoyot Alvitre and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Traci Sorell has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Weshoyot Alvitre has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. At Penguin Random House you can see one of the endpapers. Traci Sorell visits and is introduced at author Jarrett Lerner's website. At author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's website, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, the artwork of Weshoyot Alvitre for this book is featured along with a discussion on her medium, process and other work.