Moving from place to place is difficult for any number of reasons. There is the packing and unpacking along with a multitude of items to complete on a written or mental checklist. There is the sense of loss at leaving what you have known. There is the sense of unease at arriving where you've never been. You are in a state of uncertainty multiplied tenfold.
When this happens, there is an answer to our frustration and anxiety. It is waiting for us. It does not cost us anything, but our time. Southwest Sunrise (Bloomsbury Children's Books, May 5, 2020) written by Nikki Grimes with illustrations by Wendell Minor is the joyful journey of a young African American boy. He, like many of us, discovers by listening, and looking we can find answers and previously unknown wonders.
Too old to cry myself to sleep,
I hide behind my baseball cap,
close my eyes, and pout
all the way from New York
to New Mexico,
mad about moving to a place
of shadows. . . .
The boy does not understand the reason behind the move. When he wakes up the following morning, and looks out his bedroom window, one without bars, he is startled by what he sees. The mounding landscape in the distance has shifted into shades of color.
Still not happy about his current circumstances, he is sure the red chili peppers in their kitchen are the only bit of brightness one can expect to find in a desert. He does decide, with a nature guidebook given to him by his mother, to go outside. Again, his surprise is complete. Spread before him like waves are fields of flowers noted in the book.
Gazing in another direction he sees yet another color; this one on a home formed of materials different than his. Unaccustomed to the silence, he soon notices an unusual tree ahead with a group of black and white birds sharing the local news via their articulate noise. Standing for a moment, the boy looks around. The sky rolls on and on unbroken by the skyscrapers he has always known.
A bird certainly acting like royalty strides past him. A lovely lizard glides across his palm. Skeletal pieces of those long-gone gleam against the sand. As the path he follows ends, he realizes the desert has seen him and fills his emptiness with a final treat. A soul brimming with happiness returns the favor.
With each reading of the words written by Nikki Grimes, they reach farther into your heart. Her use of language, its poetic pacing and rhythmic beat fashioned by carefully placed punctuation, draws us into the experienced moments of this boy's arrival at his new home and his first day of exploration. His emotional voice sings to us as it is transformed by his sensory morning stroll. Here is a portion of another poem.
I look up,
try to understand
the deep waves of turquoise
I search for the end of blue,
but there is none.
When you first look at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, the majesty and the silence of the panorama envelope you. They allow you to be with the boy, hand to his head to sharpen his gaze, as he scans his setting. The slight smile on his face is an indication of the pleasure he senses in his surroundings. The rocky vista extends over the spine to the left on the back. Here, the sky is a textured, watercolor blend of blue and white.
On the opening endpapers is a detailed, almost architectural depiction, of a cityscape. A line of buildings, most of them skyscrapers, reach into the sky. On the closing endpapers is a vast expanse of grasses, flowers, and a few trees reaching toward layers of rocky mounds, plateaus, and hills. Above these is a sky awash with clouds. A lone bird floats over one of the left ridges.
These illustrations rendered
with gouache watercolor on Strathmore 500 Bristol Paper
by Wendell Minor, paint an emotional portrait of change within the context of a gorgeous natural space. There is a union of soft textures, intricate lines, light and shadow and bold, almost photographic, elements. The sizes of the images and their perspectives change with the narrative. There are dramatic double-page pictures, single-page visuals and smaller images with wide white borders.
In many of the illustrations we get a real sense of the immensity of the location where the boy's home is located. Even when we are brought close to the child like when he is holding the lizard, behind him is the New Mexican landscape stretching as far as the eye can see. Readers will enjoy the altered points of view, not quite knowing what presentation they will see after a page turn. This aspect ties us even closer to the boy and his morning walk.
One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a single-page picture. On either side at the bottom are rounded tops of shrubs. We see a portion of the boy in his striped polo shirt, from mid-chest upward. His right hand is raised in farewell. Above him and close to readers is a magnificent magpie in flight, wings spread, and tail extended. The bird is placed on white with a blue wash on the left and right sides. What a magical moment created in this visual interpretation of Nikki Grimes wondrous words.
In this book, Southwest Sunrise written by Nikki Grimes with illustrations by Wendell Minor, readers travel from frustration to fascination with an African American boy who takes his first walk at his new home. Nature, our natural world, has a huge capacity to soothe and calm. I first read this book nearly two months ago, and with each subsequent reading, I find myself stepping into serenity. I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.
To learn more about Nikki Grimes and Wendell Minor and their considerable body of work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. On a page at his website Wendell Minor has multiple interior images from this book. Nikki Grimes has accounts on Facebook, and Twitter. Wendell Minor has accounts on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Please take a few moments to listen to Nikki Grimes read a poem from this book. It's one of my many favorite entries.