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Reviews of the 2019 Belpré Illustrator Award winners

Winner

Dreamers
by Yuyi Morales; illus. by the author
Primary Porter/Holiday 40 pp.
9/18 978-0-8234-4055-9 $18.99
e-book ed. 978-0-8234-4125-9 $18.99
Spanish ed. 978-0-8234-4258-4 $18.99

Two pairs of eyes shine from the cover of Morales’s book — the infant’s eyes brilliant with curiosity, his mother’s gaze pensive. These two “migrantes” arrive on “the other side, / thirsty, in awe, / unable to go back.” Here they meet cultural challenges (customs, language) that are resolved at the San Francisco Public Library, with its welcoming staff and “unimaginable” wealth of books. These offer paths to literacy, community, even a career: the stellar picture books Morales found there inspired her to create her own. Nicely recognizable in the art, they’re also identified in a lengthy list of “Books That Inspired Me (and Still Do).” Enriching the artist’s palette of turquoise, indigo, crimson, magenta, and gold, another migrant — a vibrant orange monarch butterfly — flits freely throughout. Folkloric figures, too, engage in the action, while the diaphanous garment from which the mother seems to emerge — it’s like flowers, feathers, flame — protects and propels her. Occasional Spanish words enrich the succinct, gently poetic text. Back matter includes “My Story,” setting the narrative in personal and historical context (Morales came to the U.S. in 1994); a note describes the natural and culturally significant materials used in the pen-and-ink, acrylic, and collage art. A wise book and, to praise it in its own words, “resplendent,” an eloquent vision of the “resilience” and “hope” of the “dreamers, soñadores of the world.” Concurrently published in Spanish as Soñadores. JOANNA RUDGE LONG

From the November/December 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Honor Books

Islandborn
by Junot Díaz; illus. by Leo Espinosa
Primary Dial 48 pp.
3/18 978-0-7352-2986-0 $17.99
Spanish ed. 978-0-525-55281-9 $17.99

Lola’s school, in an unnamed U.S. city, is full of immigrants like her. For homework one day, Ms. Obi tasks her young students with drawing “a picture of the country you are originally from.” Lola has a problem: because she left “the Island” when she was a baby, she doesn’t remember it. Fortunately, she can tap the memories of her family members and neighbors, all eager to help…except for elderly building superintendent Mr. Mir (“Nobody cares about that old stuff…Just be glad that you live here”). When Mr. Mir finally agrees to speak with Lola, he relates something no one else has: that “a monster fell upon our poor Island,” terrorizing it for thirty years; the creature was defeated only when “heroes rose up.” That monster is the piece missing from Lola’s until-now glossy portrait, and her drawing, which concludes the book, shows her homeland in its complexity: revelers, animals, and greenery share the two-page spread with activists smiting a fanged enemy. Although the island is likely a nod to the Dominican Republic, whence hails Pulitzer Prize–winner Díaz (The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), the monster can stand in for any country’s political destabilization. Islandborn (concurrently published in Spanish as Lola), whose pages hustle and bustle with Espinosa’s vibrant illustrations of city and island life, is a welcome community and immigration story in which a young character’s existential concerns stem not from being different but from losing what makes her so by diminished connection to the past. NELL BERAM

From the May/June 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Making a Difference.

When Angels Sing:
The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana
by Michael Mahin; illus. by Jose Ramirez
Primary    Atheneum    48 pp.
9/18    978-1-5344-0413-7    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-0414-4    $10.99

In When Angels Sing, Mahin’s staccato second-person text (“One day, you went to Aquatic Park. Los congas rumbled into your chest. There was magic in their beat. A breath. A breeze. A feeling”) lends immediacy to his account of Santana’s youth. Mahin relates the boy’s experiences of migration (first within Mexico and then to San Francisco), racial discrimination, and poverty in a manner both accessible and deep. He shows how Santana’s brother’s activism and determination during California’s 1960s farmworkers’ struggle inspires Santana to keep playing guitar and never give up (“If they can, I can”). Ramirez’s full-bleed Mexican-folk-art–influenced acrylic and enamel marker illustrations expertly capture mood and propel the narrative forward, subtly incorporating year stamps on many spreads to mark the passage of time. LETTYCIA TERRONES

Originally published as a group review with Carlos Santana: Sound of the Heart, Song of the World; read full review here. From the November/December 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2019.

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