JULIÁN IS A MERMAID Written and illustrated by Jessica Love (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Julián is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love, is a brilliant debut picture book. As Julián and his abuela leave the public pool, they share the subway ride with some women dressed as mermaids. Julián loves mermaids and feels he is one too. He demonstrates this while his abuela’s away taking a bath. At the crucial moment of discovery, Abuela encourages Julián and takes him to his tribe: a gathering of likeminded people.
Jessica Love’s beautiful sentiment is echoed in her vibrant, festive art done by hand with ink, gouache, and watercolor on brown paper. Richly rendered, expressive characters stand out against muted backgrounds. This 40-page picture book gently shows how easy it can be to accept others. Potentially contentious moments are, instead, depicted with understanding.
Using words sparingly, Julián is a Mermaid captures the colorful expansiveness of our imaginations when given free rein.
About the author: Jessica Love is an illustrator and Broadway actress. She has a BA in studio art from the University of California, Santa Cruz, as well as a graduate degree from Juilliard. She lives in New York.
THE GIRL WHO SAVED YESTERDAY Written by Julius Lester Illustrated by Carl Angel (Creston Books; $16.99, Ages 4-9 )
From the Newbery Honor award-winner and master storyteller Julius Lester comes his long-awaited picture book, The Girl Who Saved Yesterday. In this poetic myth, “when the people of the village sent the girl into the forest, it was the trees as ancient as breath who took her in and raised her.” The young girl, named Silence by the trees, is soon tasked with returning to her village to save all of the Yesterdays. Beyond this unusual instruction, the trees can give her no further detail.
The villagers feared that Silence would anger the mountain “which loomed like a memory no one could recall.” When Silence returned, the villagers watched her brave a mysterious night alone, where shafts of light from the mountain filled the sky and passed through her; the voices carried by the light were “all shrieking like bolts of lightning sharpened by hopelessness, and the very land shook as if it were sobbing.” The girl realizes she must return to the forgotten place and find her parents.
In this beautifully written book, Silence recognizes the sounds of an unloved heart. Determination takes her to the mountain’s top; there she discovers the source of sadness and understands how to end the illness which had befallen this land.
Lester’s poetic lines are complemented by Angel’s bright, expressive images that help young readers understand the heart of this story: you cannot have Today without Yesterday. Once the ancestors’ memories are found, the spirits “encircled the people of the village, holding them in an embrace as gentle as eternity.”
Don’t skip the “Introduction.” It clearly and succinctly explains the Norse world. Napoli describes how the geography of this area (Norway, Sweden, and Denmark) affected the Norse “worldview” and how their Norse passion for storytelling kept these myths alive long after the spread of Christianity.
What follows are eighteen traditional myths, retold in Napoli’s beautiful prose and dramatically illustrated by Balit. From the creation of the cosmos to the final terrifying battle between the gods and the giants, the stories presented in this collection include arduous quests, terrifying monsters, devious shape-shifters, and thwarted lovers. The stories, each several pages long, are preceded by Balit’s two-page spreads, which perfectly capture dramatic moments and complement Napoli’s vivid and accessible prose.
In the myth “Cosmos,” Napoli clearly explains the creation of the universe and the mind-blowing Norse belief of multiple worlds. The ash tree, Yggdrasil, stretches through these worlds, which include Asgard (the home of the gods) and Midgard (humans). Balit creatively and colorfully depicts the nine worlds, giving the reader an excellent visual of this complex concept.
“Destruction,” another fine example of Napoli’s and Balit’s collaboration, is the final, hair-raising battle between the gods and the giants, ending with the fall of Yggdrasil and the fiery consumption of the cosmos. Balit’s illustrations of the raging fires’ glowing flames, set against the frigid white of the snowy land, are breathtaking.
Extensive and substantial front and back material and sidebars in each story are included to help readers understand the background of the myths. Readers will find a map of the ancient Norse world, thumbnail sketches of the characters, a timeline of Norse history, and a detailed index. The afterword discusses the history of the different versions of the myths as well as linguistic challenges faced by the author.
REVIEW: IMANI’S MOON is written by JaNay Brown-Wood and illustrated by Hazel Mitchell (Charlesbridge/Mackinac Island Press, $17.95, Ages 5-8)
Imani, the smallest child in her African village, has been teased mercilessly by the other children because of her size. Their heartless jabs are just beginning to take a toll on Imani’s self-confidence when her mother tells her the legend of the brave moon deity Olapa. Inspired by a dream in which she stands hand in hand with the lunar goddess, tiny Imani awakens with the desire to do something great, to touch the moon.
In pursuit of her dream, Imani tries to reach the moon by climbing a tall tree, and building herself a giant pair of wings. The village children, even a snake and a chimpanzee, scoff at her valiant but failed attempts to reach the sky. But Imani’s mother still believes in her, offering the tale of Anansi the spider as a soothing and inspirational bedtime story. “A challenge is only impossible until someone accomplishes it,” she reassures her young daughter.
Although discouraged, Imani attends a village celebration featuring the adumu, a special Maasai warrior jumping dance. She is particularly fascinated by one dancer who jumps higher and higher with each beat. Imani wakes the next morning, determined to try jumping her way to the moon. All day and into the night Imani jumps, a little higher each time. Despite her aching legs and throbbing feet, Imani keeps her focus on the moon, resolute on her goal.
Readers will yearn for Imani’s success in the face of her faith and tiny warrior-like endurance, and cheer when her persistence is ultimately rewarded by the moon goddess herself.
Gleaming and triumphant with arms stretched wide, the cover of Imani’s Moon welcomes readers into this magical story touched with mythology, folklore and story-telling traditions. Mitchell’s watercolor illustrations offer sharp contrast between the soft earth tones of the African landscape and the rich, star-studded night skies. Lovely details abound, from cuddly goats to beaded jewelry and colorful shuka robes.
This sweet, inspiring fantasy will rouse young readers to leap for their dreams, and dance, spellbound, until they hold the proverbial moon in their hands.
Where Obtained: I reviewed a promotional PDF file copy of Imani’s Moonand received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Q&A WITH HAZEL MITCHELL:
Good Reads With Ronna:Imani is a beautiful person and a wonderful role model. She feels so real. Did you have someone in mind when you drew her?
Hazel Mitchell: Thank you! It’s lovely to know that. I didn’t have a particular child in mind when I began. The text conveyed a strong sense of Imani to me. So that’s where I started. And then I spent a lot of time looking at photos of Maasai children, who are very charming and full of character. So I began to make sketches. I did have a live model, but mostly for positions and expression and not for facial features. But she was a very lively model and I think that came across!
GRWR:The artwork in Imani’s Moon is joyful, even despite the local girls teasing Imani for being small. That’s an impressive accomplishment. What medium do you generally work in? Or, do you approach each picture book as a blank canvas that you’re eager to experiment with?
HM: I am glad the illustrations gave you such a good feeling – I feel I accomplished my task. I do approach each book with an open mind. I let the manuscript, the age group and the subject suggest to me the mood, the characters and what might work with medium. Sometimes an editor/art director tells me that they like something particularly that I have done before and that is the starting point. But mostly I am left to my own devices. I don’t have one set style, so I guess it can be a leap of faith on the publisher’s part sometimes! Having said that, I’m experimenting much more in my work, using more watercolour, collage and mixing in digital techniques. Imani’s world spoke to me of rich colours and textures and dramatic effects, so I had a lot of fun with this book!
GRWR: What tends to be the hardest part of working on a new picture book: Starting it? Trying to capture the author’s vision while remaining true to yourself? Finishing the book, or waiting for the next assignment to roll in?
I personally find the initial roughs the hardest part, but also the most interesting. It’s where the first thoughts of the book come out. It can be frustrating, as the vision is only half formed and sometimes it’s exhausting. The hardest part is trying to keep the freshness that you have in the initial sketches. Once you get to finals, the vision is there and it’s time to have some fun with technique and any little surprises that come along that you didn’t expect. After the book is finished, it’s like you gave birth. Then it incubates, until it finally arrives in book form. Then it’s a love/hate relationship!
GIVEAWAY: Hazel Mitchell has kindly offered one lucky reader a signed copy of Imani’s Moon. Please enter the Rafflecopter below and good luck!
GREEK MYTHOLOGY FOR THE FOUR & UNDER CROWD FROM JOAN HOLUB & LESLIE PATRICELLI
A board book series that gently introduces toddlers to mythological characters, Pandora and Hercules, is a great idea. Rita and Ronna have each reviewed one of the following two new books, the first titles in what we’re sure will be a popular read-aloud series. Both board books feature a contemporary take on classic literature to help little ones learn simple life lessons in a very understandable way.
Meet Hercules, a rough-and-tumble type of little boy. Then meet his calm, alphabet-blocks-playing sister. Despite being told by his dad to “Play nice, Hercules!” Hercules insists he’s not nice. “I am strong. I can wham-bam monsters!” Uh oh, things are looking a little shaky here, especially when he ka-booms the carefully stacked castle of blocks his sister has constructed. With the castle in shambles and sister in tears, Hercules feels awful and apologizes. But watch out, Hercules! While you’re rebuilding your sister’s castle, she’s starting to get a glint in her eyes. The book’s back page includes a condensed version of the actual myth for parents to share with interested youngsters. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Be sure to pick up a copy of the other new board book in the series, Mini Myths: Be Patient, Pandora!,that cleverly conveys the message that maybe it is indeed better to heed one’s parent’s advice than let impatience get the upper hand.
Patience might be a virtue, but it’s a learned one, especially for young children. Mini Myths: Be Patient, Pandora!chronicles Pandora’s temptation to open a boxed present. The box looks so pretty and even though opening is against the rules, touching it isn’t. How about leaning, sitting, or standing on it? It’s so hard to ignore the box when it’s right there! Will Pandora open the box, and what will happen if she does?
Based on the Greek myth, Be Patient, Pandora! is a charming board book that explores the importance of being patient. With the main story just under 60 words long, it is easily understandable for young children. The illustrations are adorable, and their simplicity is a perfect complement to the language. As a bonus, the final page has a child-friendly retelling of the original Pandora myth. Your children won’t be able to wait to get their hands on this book! – Reviewed by Rita Zobayan