Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Honoring Generations And Cultural Traditions

Life leaves marks on every living thing, some are visible, and others are unseen.  These marks symbolize all manner of things, events, encounters, values, or cultural practices.  For many these visible signs or patterns are by choice.  They are badges of honor.  For all, they are reminders.

When these characteristics are noticed by others their reactions vary.  They may be puzzled, curious, accepting, or critical.  One thing is certain; in knowledge there is understanding and in understanding there are bridges not walls.  Nana Akua Goes To School (Schwartz & Wade Books, June 16, 2020) written by Tricia Elam Walker with illustrations by April Harrison is an eloquent account of love in action.

It's Circle Time, Zora's favorite time of the day.  She scoots to a spot next to Theodore and crisscrosses her legs on the rainbow-shaped rug.

As the class listens to their teacher, Mr. Dawson, he reminds them of the following Monday being Grandparents Day.  When the grandparents come to school, they are speaking about

what makes them special.

Zora is worried about her Nana Akua coming to school.  Nana Akua is the most-valued treasure that Zora holds in her heart, but sometimes people make unkind comments about or stare at the tribal marks on her face.

After school and at home, noticing her granddaughter's unhappy face, Nana Akua speaks with Zora and suggests an idea she has.  Zora is not sure, but she agrees to bring the quilt Nana Akua made for her.  On the quilt are Adinkra symbols.  They signify valuable qualities like

beauty and care or
learn from the past
to build the future or
strength and wisdom.

On that Monday both Nana Akua and Zora wear African clothing. Voices in the classroom murmur in appreciation.  One by one the grandparents are introduced and each talks about their unique characteristics or abilities.  After Zora presents her beloved grandmother, Nana Akua faces everyone in the classroom.

She addresses the children with affection and starts with a question.  At one point she stands and walks among the listeners.  She then proposes an activity so all present can achieve greater awareness.  Zora's quilt figures prominently in this endeavor. At the close of this story Zora returns a distinctive gift to her grandmother.

This is a narrative steeped in compassion and gentleness.  The words of Tricia Elam Walker reveal a deep love of parents for children, of grandparents for grandchildren and of grandchildren for their grandparents.  It is built on mutual respect and wisdom.  A beautiful blend of text and conversation envelopes readers and brings them into the world of Zora and her Nana Akua.  Words from other cultures are carefully woven into the story.  Descriptions are poetic.  Here is a passage.

When Zora's paapa brings her home from school, 
Nana Akua, her favorite person in the whole universe,
is peeling potatoes for dinner.  Although Nana's feet
don't even reach the floor, she seems as tall as the giant
playground slide.  Maybe that's because she's filled to
the brim with stories about growing up in West Africa,
where people carve statues out of wood, trees drip with
mangoes, and crayon-colored outdoor markets sell
everything you can imagine. 

There is majesty and sense of purpose present in the images on the front and back of the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  The hues chosen by artist April Harrison are rich, royal and complementary.  On the front, Nana Akua and Zora look forward together; each thinking their own thoughts, but also knowing how they are bound together, heart to heart.  To the left, on the back, a colorful wider oval shape holds a picture of Nana Akua and Zora standing side-by-side in front of the classroom after they enter. This illustration is placed on a canvas that seems to be a wash of many of the shades used in these first two pictures.

On the opening and closing endpapers, placed on a similar background as the back image on the jacket and case, are a series of Adinkra Symbols And Their Meanings.  They number twenty.  Readers look at each one, wondering which might represent them best.  With a page turn we see the verso and title pages.  Readers will pause to read the dedications on the left as well as a note from the author.  On the right, the title page, geometric shapes hold the Adinkra Symbols as the create a frame around the text.

Each vibrant illustration rendered in

mixed-media collage

by April Harrison spans two pages, a full page, or is a wide-shaped oval or circle on a collaged pale background.  Every page turn invites us to pause, enjoying all the intricate details and the expressive facial features on all the characters.  Each carefully placed element contributes to the vibrancy of these images.  There is a current of interconnectedness flowing throughout all these pictures.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a circular picture on a single page.  It is placed on a fusion of textures and hues depicting comfort and calm.  The image is a close-up of Nana Akua and Zora.  Nana Akua has paused her work in peeling potatoes for dinner.  She sits in a sky-blue chair at a sky-blue table with intricate white stenciling on its top.  Her eyes are closed as she wraps her arms around Zora giving her hug.  Zora's eyes are closed, too, in total contentment.

More than once, no matter how many times you read Nana Akua Goes To School written by Tricia Elam Walker with art by April Harrison, you will pause, emotionally moved by the story.  On the final page is a glossary, list of sources and acknowledgments.  It is in celebrating our differences that compassion is elevated.  I highly recommend this title for any collection.

To learn more about Tricia Elam Walker and April Harrison, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Tricia Elam Walker has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  April Harrison has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At Penguin Random House you can view interior images.  At author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's site, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, this title is featured.  A guest post at We Need Diverse Books is written by author Tricia Elam Walker and is titled, Why Diverse Books Are Important for Everyone---Not Just Marginalized Kids.

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