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Orani: My Father’s Village

It’s time to look at a quiet book, the kind of book that kind of sneaks up on you. In some ways, it’s the opposite of graphically stunning Where’s Walrus? that Lolly just presented.

A tale of reverse migration, Claire Nivola’s story recounts her frequent trips to her father’s village in Sardinia from the States. While the text is simple and heartfelt, evoking the beauty of the island and the town of Orani, it’s the illustrations that drew me into this story.

Naïve watercolor and gouache (which remind me of Barbara Cooney’s work) follow the young Claire (wearing a red dress in each spread) as she moves among her Italian family in a town time seems to have left untouched. It’s the tiny details that sold me: the cousins with their arms around one another, the fascination with a dead body, the flatbreads stacked, the flies, a wedding. The full spreads showing the village from a distance invite long inspection, perhaps with a magnifying glass to see the scaffolding on a house and the tiny suggestions of people walking up the mountain. This town is alive with music, food, dance and the play of the generations together.

Will the committee appreciate the tiny details of this illustrated memoir? Will they see how the scale of village life was perfect for little Claire and appreciate how she interprets that life through her folk-like, but never nostalgic, illustrations? What do you think?

Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.



  1. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Look for next week’s Notes from the Horn Book, wherein Jennifer Brabander interviews Claire Nivola about Orani.

  2. So glad you mentioned this one. I’ve loved it ever since I saw the F&G months back.

  3. I liked how she immerses us so thoroughly in the pace, mood, and colors of the village that the last illustration of the city is a real surprise. The city feels foreign, not the town.

  4. I read this one through twice and found myself really lingering over the pictures the second time through – I thought there was a strong connection between the text and the pictures, and that the pictures really expanded on the text in the way that good picture books do (as opposed to books that simply have good illustrations). The sense of place was fantastic – and I agree with Melissa that the last picture of the city is what feels foreign by the end of the book.

  5. Sam Bloom says:

    Just looked at this a second time, and agree with all the praise. Love the interplay between the text and the illustrations; in the scene highlighting mealtime, I love the way Nivola gives you the wide shot of the table and all the details there, and then a close-up on the far right going along with the last line on the page: “And there were flies, always flies!” She does a similar thing on my favorite spread in the book, the view of the village from above (makes sense that I loved this spread because I’m a map nerd), when she mentions a stream coming from the mountain – and there is the lovely little shot to the right of the stream. And how many of you were like me and did a little Where’s Waldo-esque search to find said stream within the wide shot? =)

    One concern, and I wouldn’t have realized it without reading Betsy Bird’s excellent review – when the narrator gets back to NYC, the crowd surrounding her includes a couple folks looking awfully modern clothing-wise (in particular, the girl – third from the left – with the purple scarf and college-girly black boots, the dude – third from the right – with Eddie Vedderish facial hair/long hair, and the person next to the college girl with cornrows) – I don’t see them fitting in to the 1950s (or earlier?) world of the rest of the book. I hope this rather small (to me) problem doesn’t turn off the committee.

  6. Sam, I tried to post this a few days ago, but the site was acting up and I am just catching up a bit.
    I read Betsy’s review too and was forced to remember the words of K.T. Horning, when speaking of illustration, “everything is a choice.” So, what is Nivola trying to say in this illustration? She, as her young self, wonders if the strangers on the streets of New York might have an Orani of their own. The illustration shows all sorts of people surrounding the young Claire. I like her size and the tilt of her head as she considers this big idea. Though some of the folks look a bit modern, I am not sure you could say that no one in New York of the ’50s would not wear cornrows or riding pants or excessive facial hair. (I know cornrows have been a part of traditional African and Caribbean hairstyles for centuries.)

  7. Sam Bloom says:

    Okay, Robin, I can go with that interpretation. It certainly would follow the feel of the rest of the book.

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