Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Collecting Culture--It's Who We Are

The first listed definition in Merriam-Webster names it as an account of incidents or events.  Newbery author and former National Ambassador of Children's Literature, Kate DiCamillo believes it connects us.  In an interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN, the National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, who wrote and recited the Inaugural poem, The Hill We Climb, on January 20, 2021, says:

I'm a poet.  So often I don't work in images.  I work in words and text. . . .

To me words matter.

More than one hundred years before Amanda, another Black girl was born.  She believed words mattered.  She believed in the power of story to connect us as does Kate.  Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston (A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book, Atheneum Books For Young Readers, January 12, 2021) written by Alicia D. Williams with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcantara is a wondrous, joyful celebration of this remarkable author and this searcher and gatherer of folklore.  Let us take a leap as she did again and again.  Let us be inspired by her courage and conviction.

a place where magnolias smelled even prettier
than they looked, oranges were as sweet as they
were plump, and the people just plain ol'
got along---lived a girl who was attracted
to tales like mosquitoes to skin.

Zora was her name.

This girl listened to the stories told at the local general store, she made her own character dolls out of whatever she could find placing them in stories, and she even joined travelers as their cars slowly moved down the nearby road telling them tales.  She had to be careful, though.  Her papa was a preacher, and he figured her stories were lies.  Her grandmother agreed with him, but her mama did not.

Her mother embraced Zora's storytelling.  She knew it was a path Zora needed to follow to change the direction of her life.  Unfortunately, Zora's mother passed when Zora was barely a teen.  She was sent to a boarding school by her father until he remarried.  Her stepmother refused to pay for her education.  By the time she was fourteen, Zora left home.

For too many years Zora could not stick with a job or any more education.  What did stick with her was her gift for gathering and telling tales.  At twenty-six-years old she lied about her age and went to school as a sixteen-year-old girl. After graduating from high school, she started college only to be pulled by her deep desire to write.  New York City called to her.  She flourished with others during The Harlem Renaissance.

Hearing her mother's words of encouragement in her ears and carrying them in her heart, she entered a writing contest.  The praises from the judges brought her writing to the attention of Barnard College.  This time a scholarship and friends financially supported Zora.  For her final semester project in anthropology, Zora did what she loved best,  


She continued with this love for the rest of her life.  She wrote down those stories and penned her own.  Today they are alive for all who read them because 

words matter and

stories connect us.

Each time this book is read, you know Alicia D. Williams has a passion for Zora Neale Hurston and her work.  It shines in every sentence she writes.  It's as if we are reading a folktale woven with truth.  Portions of Hurston's collected tales appear as captions in speech balloons within images.  Quotations and conversations appear are part of the narrative.  The references to Zora's mother telling her to 

"jump at de sun"

sprinkled with intention in this biography bind decisive moments in Zora Neale Hurston's life together beautifully.  Here are three paragraphs on two pages.

Zora was miserable---
except for when she spooned
out Eatonville trickster tales to
whoever'd sop 'em up.  And, sakes
alive, folks were hungry!

The sun, however, was getting antsy
waiting on Zora, so he called down, saying,

"Ain't you s'posed to be meeting 
me up here?" Reckon Zora was getting
antsy too.

How was Zora to jump all the way
to Ole Big Yellow?  By doing what made
her happiest.  And Zora was happiest
at school and hearing those stories.

Looking at the open dust jacket. you want to join this effervescent girl in jumping at the sun.  The radiating sun's rays are urging her to go higher and higher.  Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox, shown here, follow her throughout the book, acting as observers and guides.  (They are sometimes joined by other animals from folklore.)  The grass and trees seen on the front, right, of the jacket move over the spine to become a part of another image.  The four-word main title text is varnished in red.

To the left, on the back, an older Zora wearing signature clothing is seated outside her home, typewriter on a small table, typing tales.  These tales are pictorially represented on pieces of paper floating from the typewriter to arch upward toward the spine.  In this visual the sky has deepened with more orange wash than yellow.

On the book case the deeper sky color provides a canvas, back to front, including the spine.  From back to front, animals follow a jumping Zora shown on the lower portion of the front. The animals, in order, left to right are a snail, a frog, a raccoon, a bluebird, the fox, the rabbit and a turtle leads in front of Zora.  Mirroring the book case the opening and closing endpapers use the same color as a background.  On the opening endpapers a flow of hats, represents moments in Zora's chosen (and not chosen) paths.  On the closing endpapers those hats are arranged to frame an author's note, additional reading, sources, and publication information.

Rendered in 

markers, gouache, and Photoshop,

these illustrations by Jacqueline Alcantara heighten the text, infusing it with place, time, symbols of folklore, and emotion.  Every visual feels like movement frozen for a mere second, ready to animate.  On the title page the pictorial interpretation begins with Zora walking down the road in Eatonville surrounded by native flora, Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox.  The dedications are displayed in speech bubbles on the left.  (These dedications are among my favorites.)

Most of the pictures are double-page images.  Sometimes Jacqueline Alcantara will include two different moments in the same setting.  This fashions impeccable pacing.  Her color choices are stunning, especially the blend of complementary colors.  Her people are portrayed realistically, ready to jump off the page and into our lives.  

It's nearly impossible to select one, but one of my favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  It's inside at night in a club during The Harlem Renaissance.  Zora is dancing with Langston Hughes.  Other couples are swinging and swaying and leaping around them.  Still more people are standing as waiters move among them.  Toward the back, in the upper portion of the visual, the band is playing.  The colors used in this illustration are striking.  There is a red wash over realistic hues with splashes of purple, black, and white.  Wow!  

This outstanding picture book biography, Jump at the Sun: The True Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston written by Alicia D. Williams with art by Jacqueline Alcantara, is one to read repeatedly and to share widely.  The words and art partner to make a perfect representation of who Alicia D. Williams calls a national treasure.  She is indeed that.  If you have not read any of Zora Neale Hurston's books previously, you most certainly will after reading this book.  You need this in your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about author Alicia D. Williams and artist Jacqueline Alcantara and their other work, please visit their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Alicia D. Williams has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Jacqueline Alcantara has accounts on Behance, Instagram, Tumblr, and TwitterAt the publisher's website you can view interior images, the dust jacket, book case, and opening endpapers.  At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's site, Watch. Connect. Read., John interviews Alicia and Jacqueline about this book.  I know you will enjoy reading their insights about their book.

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