Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Beginning With A Letter

Yesterday a long-awaited delivery was made.  (Actually, it is the start of the realization of a dream, but that is for another post.)  The two men who carefully unloaded my items from the truck spoke Spanish to each other, but to me they spoke perfect English.  In the course of our conversations, they told me they were from the Dominican Republic.  They reminded me, regardless of the length of time we or our families have resided in the United States unless we are members of one of the more than five hundred Native Nations, we are all immigrants.

After the men left in their truck, an effort was made to locate the boxes holding a special group of books soon to be placed on one of the four, six-foot-tall bookcases now in my dining room.  For decades, the number of alphabet books in my personal collection has been growing. Alphabet books range from the simple to complex, a single word for each letter or a selection of thoughts centered in a letter. They are a distinctive manner in which to present information or to expand our imaginations.  I Is For Immigrants (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, June 15, 2021) written and illustrated by Selina Alko is a gorgeous portrait in words and images of what our country is and what it can be.

African Dance

We journey through communities noting items for sale, food and beverages consumed, hair styles, sports, holidays, cultural traditions, instruments, and things gathered for facts or fun.  Larger words, in meaning, are inserted.  These words promote individual musings or group discussions.

We savor the flavors bubble tea, churros, dumplings, frankfurters, kimchi, and samosas.  We study the countries of their origin.  We seek the recipes which best duplicate the original delectable sensations.

We honor the Day of the Dead, Hanukkah and Ramadan.  We rejoice with those participating in their quinceaneras.  We search for the meanings behind each of these celebrations.

We listen to the notes traveling over the air from drums, mandolins, and zithers.  We hear the chatter and cadence of languages spoken in every corner of our planet.  We enjoy books, flea markets, Japanese gardens, Lady Liberty, and stories.  Oh, the stories we take into our hearts for their individuality and their universality.

We ponder belonging, endurance, freedom, and truth.  We acknowledge the struggles of others, the dreamers and refugees.  We, like all individuals, hold tightly to hope.

In her author's note Salina Alko states:

The topic of immigration is close to my heart.

This statement is reflected in every word displayed in the visual designed for each of the twenty-six letters.  There are a multitude of words to select, but Salina Alko chooses those mirroring a reality in communities, large and small across our country.  She picks words familiar to numerous people.  She invites us to understand those words new to us.  With her choices, she wants us to know the richness to be found all around us.  Here are some of the words for the letter F.

food trucks
fish & chips

Gouache and collage on Arches watercolor paper were used to create the illustrations for this book

by Selina Alko.  When you open the dust jacket the sky and ground extend from right to left over the spine.  The water breaks and continues on either side of the spine.  Multiple styles of transportation are featured on the land, water, and in the air.  All the text, including the large I in the center, is varnished.  The bold, bright colors highlighted on the dust jacket are used throughout the book.  They indicate the liveliness of the text and the bounty of its meanings.

The lovely turquoise in the water covers the front and back of the book case.  The large letter I with the Statue of Liberty is embossed in gold on the front, right side.  The author's last name, title and publisher are in gold on the spine as is a smaller representation of the Statue of Liberty.

A royal blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Inside the large capital I on the title page are the faces of people from many cultures.  For twelve of the letters two pages are devoted to the images.  Of the other fourteen letters, the single pages blend together as one visual.  

Each page turn asks us to pause. We study each element wondering why it has been carefully placed in this book for us by Selina Alko.  We notice the tiny details like the cancelled US postage stamp in honor of Grandma Moses for the letter G.

The backgrounds are varied.  Some are from other pages of documents or books or other papers.  The colorful hues reach out to us and envelope us.  A variety of fonts add to the superb effect.  

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the letter C.  The predominant colors are shades of red and yellow with pink, green, and black for line work and letters.  The three largest words are Chinatown, CULTURE and CREATIVITY.  We feel as though we are walking through Chinatown, but churros are part of the visual, too.  There are numerous letters, small and large for C.  There is a group of three Children.  There is a COMMUNITY CENTER sign.  Cherries and cherry blossoms are shown.  The hanging lanterns look like large cherries.  A hand is holding a set of chopsticks.  Selina Alko has used the word CENTS, also.

In order for us to embrace all the wonder of the individuals residing in the United States, it is important to read and share widely I Is For Immigrants written and illustrated by Selina Alko.  It is a joyous tribute to this country and the people who now call it home.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Selina Alko and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Selina Alko has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view several of the letters.

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