Today, April 22, 2021 is Earth Day! The theme for this year's Earth Day is Restore Our Earth. For those who treasure this planet, every day brings new news, some good, some bad, about the state of this home to all living things.
In September 2019, Time magazine released a double issue devoted to climate. One of the articles in this issue, The Amazon Rain Forest Is Nearly Gone: We Went To The Front Lines To See If It Could Be Saved, contains some startling facts. Did you know in 2019 there was an 111% increase in fires in the Amazon? Deforestation is claiming this vast area at a devastating rate. We do have choices.
Zonia's Rain Forest (Candlewick Press, March 30, 2021) written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal presents an intimate and affectionate view of the Amazon rain forest. In a single day, a little girl, a member of the Ashaninka people, reveals her bond to this natural wonder and its inhabitants. Her tie, her pledge, to this space becomes our tie, our pledge, to this space.
Zonia lives with those she loves in the rain forest,
where it is always green and full of life.
As this child starts her day, the world around her speaks to her. She listens and replies. When she encounters animals, some familiar and some unfamiliar, she greets them all equally.
Conversations with new arrivals are joyful occasions. Zonia stops to remind special friends of their status, favorites. She rides on top of a speedy pal. You'll never guess its name.
At the riverbank, two mammals residing in the water, swim away. She asks them a question. Mothers and their new children remind her of her new brother. Zonia plays games with some animals, considers the point of view of others and selects a few to help her center and calm.
Heading home after a morning spent with her rain forest companions, Zonia suddenly stops. Spread before her is the opposite of green and full of life. What has happened? This worried and alarmed little girl hurries home, showing what she has gathered to her mother. Her mother answers her declaration. Zonia makes a choice as she has done each day of her life. We, too, do have choices.
As you read this story penned by Juana Martinez-Neal, you feel a melody stir within you. When Zonia meets each rain forest dweller, a declarative sentence is usually followed by dialogue, she talking to them. These couplets (or single sentences) are like separate tunes, contributing to a whole song. Running through the song is sheer joy until she can't believe what she sees. This dramatic pause leads us to what Zonia is in the center of her soul in the center of her world. Here is a passage.
If she is lucky, her fastest friend will invite her for a short ride
through the thicket.
"We are mighty!" Zonia says, for that is what she feels in her heart.
The greenery seen on the front, right, of the open dust jacket extends to the edge of the flap, on the top and the bottom. It continues on the other side of the spine, going to the far-left edge of the flap. These rain forest leaves frame beautiful Zonia and her blue butterfly companion as well as three other rain forest inhabitants shown on the back, left, of the dust jacket. A single sentence here invites us to journey with Zonia. Even now, after seeing Zonia on the front multiple times, I am mesmerized by her expression. It is as if she knows something we don't, her wisdom far beyond her years.
On the book case a stunning display in shades of green blended with hues of blue are rain forest leaves. Among them, on both the back and the front, are tendrils of yellow flowers. How many readers will notice the hidden insects on the back and the front, one more camouflaged than the other?
On the opening and closing endpapers in two colors of muted orange are butterflies. Some alone and others so close they appear as one. You want to stand there and have them flutter around you. On the initial title page ferns and tendrils frame the text as the blue butterfly pauses under the words. On the verso and title pages, more flora frames text and Zonia. The delicate blue butterfly is near to her.
Each illustration by Juana Martinez-Neal was
created with acrylic, colored pencil, pastel, ink, and linocuts and woodcuts on handmade banana bark paper.
The fabric of the paper fashions a welcoming surface for all the additional elements and us. The fine lines used everywhere, the intricate patterns of the leaves, the exquisite details on the homes and the colorful material of the clothing worn by Zonia and her mother all supply us with a sense of being in the rain forest with this little girl. With each page turn, readers will be looking for the blue morpho butterfly.
All the double-page images in this book are my favorite illustrations, but one is the essence of good cheer. In this scene, Zonia discovers three Andean cock-of-the-rock birds. Their bright orange-red feathers on their upper bodies contrasts strikingly with the black and gray plumes on their lower bodies. Their tiny circular eyes seem to look straight at you. Their chatter has Zonia smiling with her eyes closed as she presses her hands to her cheeks. She and two birds are on the right and the third bird shares a vine-entwined branch with the butterfly. The way the branches, ferns, and leaves weave around the birds, Zonia, and the butterfly is enchanting.
Readers will willingly step into the world revealed in Zonia's Rain Forest written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. We walk and run from place to place with this remarkable little girl as she approaches and interacts with her animal friends. And without even a second thought we agree with her final sentence. At the close of the book is an Ashaninka translation of this narrative, words about the Ashaninka people, facts about the Amazon, threats to the Amazon, and thumbnail portraits of Zonia's friends with their common and scientific names. and a few Selected Sources and Resources. There is one final page of back matter. This is a book to be read and shared widely and often. Be sure to have a copy in your professional and personal collections.
To learn more about Juana Martinez-Neal and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website. At her website and on the page for this title are multiple resources. Juana Martinez-Neal has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. At the publisher's website are links to a teacher's guide and author notes. At Penguin Random House are interior images. At author, reviewer, and blogger, Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Juana Martinez-Neal and this title are featured. There are multiple process pictures. At author, blogger and teacher librarian Travis Jonker's 100 Scope Notes, the cover is revealed along with a short interview with Juana Martinez-Neal.