Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Freedom To Have Fun

There are many individuals who adhere to the unofficial beginning of summer as Memorial Day weekend and the ending of summer after Labor Day weekend.  In truth, summer begins on the summer solstice and ends on the autumnal solstice.  Those dates are usually around the third week in June and the third week in September.  There are others who base the beginning and ending of summer with the ending and beginning of the school year.  

Regardless of when it starts, there are other signs of this seasonal shift.  Morning and evenings are heralded by the sounds of birds and crickets.  The air is thick with humidity and the scent of blossoming flowers.  In my neighborhood, fawns wander with their mothers.  Children race past on scooters and bikes.  Thunderstorms quench thirsty lawns and gardens.

As a child summer meant floating stick and leaf boats down gutters during rainy days, spending hours under a large tree playing Monopoly when seated on an old quilt, playing softball on the vacant lot with the neighborhood kids, running through sprinklers until our skin was wrinkled, and calling out here I come, ready or not as we played hide-and-seek until mothers called us inside.  In The World Belonged to Us (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, May 10, 2022) written by Jacqueline Woodson with illustrations by Leo Espinosa, readers are transported to the freedom summer offers children.  Let's follow them!

In Brooklyn
in the summer
not so long ago

grown-ups always had someplace to be or some kind of work to do, but the minute school ended, us kids were free as air.
Free as sun.  Free as summer.

The heat in the city was intense even before school ended.  Wearing their school clothes, children ran through the water released by a hydrant enhanced with a can as their moms yelled at them.  The person handy with a wrench and the rest of the children intended to enjoy every single minute of summer.

All day long games were played on chalk-drawn boards on the streets.  The children were in constant motion, hopping to jump-rope chants, running, and spinning tops.  Their hearts soared.  When bumps and bruises happened, the older kids would step up and help and tell their own tales.

Cardboard creations rose like skyscrapers and the children admired the work of all their fellow builders.  During the summer in Brooklyn, imaginations and hope grew.  When others rose to renown in the world of sports, music, and literature, the kids believed they could, too.

Balls, bats, and cans were ready gear for more than one kind of game.  Senses were honed during play.  It was hardly surprising that everyone could hear the music of the ice cream truck blocks before it arrived.   Moms tossed money from windows inside tied handkerchiefs.  Ice cream was enjoyed and shared.  As the sky darkened, children still played calling out to one another in an array of languages.  When their moms began to call them home, they shouted out promises to each other.  Promises of another day filled with the freedom to have fun.

Author Jacqueline Woodson has an adept ability to reach into the past and bring it alive in the present. Five times the initial three phrase refrain is placed in the narrative to invite us into the summer with these children.  We experience what they are experiencing.  When dialogue is placed in the story, it rings with truth.  We know.  We've heard the same or similar words.  This is what Jacqueline Woodson does beautifully, she connects us regardless of when or where we were (or are) children.  Here is a passage.

In Brooklyn 
in the summer
not so long ago

we learned to watch and listen
playing tag, ringolevio, and hide-and-seek
inside hallways and behind thin-limbed trees
and garbage cans.

And our block was the whole wide world
and the world belonged to us.

There is so much fun happening on the front and back, right and left, of the open and matching dust jacket and book case, you want to jump in and join the children.  Many of the remembered activities highlighted in the text are featured in these two scenes.  These depictions do reflect when we believed

the world belonged to us.

To the left of the spine, on a background the same hue as the title text, is a golden oval.  Children are running inside and outside the oval, playing kick the can.  Underneath this image are words of praise for previous books by both the author and the illustrator.

On a marbled, muted canvas of dark orange on the opening and closing endpapers are drawings in red.  These drawings appear to be made in chalk or crayon.  They are childlike portrayals of activities enjoyed by the kids in Brooklyn.  You cannot look at these without smiling.  On the title page, we are given a more bird's eye view of the block in Brooklyn.  Along the bottom of the verso and dedication pages  are the tops of buildings in Brooklyn beneath a summer sun on the right.  The dedications read:

To young people everywhere.
Keep playing!---J.W.

To my childhood friends.
Tag, you're all it!---L.E.

Rendered by Leo Espinosa

with a mighty pencil and Adobe Photoshop

these single-page and double-page illustrations radiate warmth and happiness.  The children are placed foremost in the images in full color.  In one of the visuals, we are looking down on the block as the kids are actively engaged in a variety of games.  By their facial expressions and body postures, we know they are overjoyed that it's summer.  

Each line drawn by Leo Esinosa vibrates with fun, even when a child might be seated.  We know they are ready to spring into action.  Leo Espinosa has shown us what summer was, is and should be for all children.  Even though these scenes are in Brooklyn, there is a universality to them.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  Dusk is arriving in the upper parts of the sky.  Darkening clouds move across a pale golden horizon.  Streetlights are on.  In the background on either side of the street are homes and buildings.  Children are running and calling to each other in the foreground.  One child, close to us on the right side, hands cupped to her mouth is shouting at readers.  Each of us can imagine what she is saying.

In truth, everyone feels different in the summer.  That subtle change in how time is spent affects each of us, thankfully.  In this book, The World Belonged to Us written by Jacqueline Woodson with artwork by Leo Espinosa, we are not only reminded of this, but encouraged to continue and support it.  It is a time to be cherished.  You will want to place a copy of this outstanding title on your personal bookshelves and more than one on your professional bookshelves. 

To discover more about Jacqueline Woodson and Leo Espinosa and their other work, please access their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Jacqueline Woodson has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Leo Espinosa has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website, you can view the title page.  At Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Julie Danielson talks about this book as only she can and shares multiple interior images.  This book is included with two other Jacqueline Woodson titles in an Educator's Guide.  The publisher has a sneak peek preview here.

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