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Reviews of the 2016 Belpré Illustrator Award winners

Winner:

engle_drum dream girlDrum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage 
Changed Music
by Margarita Engle; 
illus. by Rafael López
Primary    Houghton    40 pp.
3/15    978-0-544-10229-3    $16.99

A young girl dreams of becoming a drummer. Though she lives “on an island of music / in a city of drumbeats,” hers is an impossible dream: only boys play drums. An appended note reveals that the story is based on Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a “Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers” and in the 1930s played with her sisters in an all-female band, Anacaona. Engle’s poetic text takes its cues from Zaldarriaga’s chosen instrument, its rhythm at times steadily assured and at others loose and improvisational. There’s ear-pleasing onomatopoeia (the “boom boom booming” of sticks on a timbale), copious descriptive adjectives, and thoughtful alliteration, with both lots of hard ds and softer, rolling rs appearing throughout: “Her hands seemed to fly / as they rippled / rapped / and pounded / all the rhythms / of her dream drums.” López’s saturated acrylic-on-wood illustrations capture the musicality of the island (most everyone plays an instrument) and the surreal dream-images (even a mermaid is shown playing percussion) that inspire young Millo to pursue her love of drums. Warm blues and purples swirl against hot pinks and bright oranges — every spread is full of motion, with some of the illustrations requiring a ninety-degree turn, as if the book itself has got to dance. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Honor Books:

rivera-ashford_my tata's remediesMy Tata’s Remedies / Los remedios de mi tata
by Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford; illus. by Antonio Castro L.
Primary     Cinco Puntos     40 pp.
4/15     978-1-935955-91-7     $17.95

Aaron wants to learn about herbal remedies, so he watches Tata, his grandfather, help friends and neighbors all day long. People come looking for remedies for colds, burns, and toothaches — and Tata always has “just the cure.” The bilingual text is repetitive in both English and Spanish. The realistic illustrations are also repetitive (a few are unintentionally humorous). Includes medicinal plant glossary. TIM WADHAM

From the Fall 2015 issue of The Horn Book Guide.

 

medina_mango, abuela, and me

Mango, Abuela, and Me
by Meg Medina; 
illus. by Angela Dominguez
Primary   Candlewick   32 pp.
8/15   978-0-7636-6900-3   $15.99

When her “far-away grandmother” arrives, Mia worries. Her grandmother doesn’t speak English, and Mia’s “español is not good enough to tell her the things an abuela should know.” Mia can’t talk about herself or about what happens at school; her abuela can’t share with Mia stories of her grandfather and their house nestled between two rivers. What Mia knows of her grandmother comes from the items she unpacks from her suitcase, among them the red feather of a parrot that lived in her mango trees. Mia engages her grandmother in games of Hear and Say, Oye y Di, and they begin to understand each other. But it isn’t until Mia spies a parrot in a pet-store window and persuades her mother to buy it, naming it Mango for its brightly colored feathers, that Mia and her abuela truly connect. With Mango, they learn each other’s languages until their “mouths are full of things to say.” Medina (Tía Isa Wants a Car, rev. 7/11) tells a heartwarming story about intergenerational relationships, finding common ground, and adapting to change. Dominguez’s (Maria Had a Little Llama, rev. 11/13) digitally adjusted ink, gouache, and marker illustrations capture the various emotions and moods of the characters, from shyness to frustration to happiness. The subtle tones of the wintry city, complemented by splashes of bright tropical colors throughout, convey the feeling of clashing worlds. Young readers will enjoy seeing the relationship between Mia and her grandmother develop — with the help of Mango. CELIA C. PÉREZ

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

tonatiuh_funny bonesstar2 Funny Bones: Posada and His Day 
of the Dead Calaveras
by Duncan Tonatiuh; 
illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate   Abrams   40 pp.
8/15   978-1-4197-1647-8   $18.95

Artist José Guadalupe Posada (1852–1915) didn’t invent calaveras, the iconic skeletons associated with Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration, but they attained their greatest popularity during the twenty-four years that he drew them. Posada died poor and relatively unknown, but interest in his work grew steadily after his death, and now Tonatiuh brings his story to a child audience. In his signature flat illustrative style reminiscent of the Mixtec (an indigenous Mesoamerican people) codex, Tonatiuh digitally layers various colors and textures onto simple, black-outlined line drawings. Appropriately, Posada’s own artwork also plays a prominent role in the book and provides a nice complement to Tonatiuh’s illustrations, especially in a series of broadsides that ask the reader to consider the relationship between art and politics in Mexican culture. The straightforward narrative incorporates biographical highlights and personal anecdotes, while extended sidebars illustrate the different processes of lithography, engraving, and etching (one of which contains a small error). An author’s note, glossary, bibliography, and index round out the full assort-ment of nonfiction features, making 
this book a worthy successor to Tonatiuh’s 2015 Belpré– and Sibert honor–winning Separate Is Never Equal (rev. 7/14). JONATHAN HUNT

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2016.

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