You Are Home

I was always a library-dwelling indoor kid by nature, but some of my fondest childhood memories are from summer day trips in the Smoky Mountains — just a quick, early-morning drive to stake out a swimming hole before the tourists got there. It all comes back in sense memories of warm sun, shrieking laughs at the feeling of frigid water, and collecting neat-looking rocks from gritty sand for shoebox treasure chests.

These memories immediately lit up in my mind when I read Evan Turk's You Are Home for the first time; the fireflies and fallen trees and big sunny rocks — so many things to crawl on and scrape your knees — that depict the Smokies I know so well are achingly real, even as the smudged pastels give it a distance that feels like a fuzzy childhood memory. Turk’s book, a celebration of the national parks, accomplishes both that serene dreaminess and the majesty of sweeping landscapes as firmly grounded in their own specific kinds of beauty: simultaneously almost otherworldly and very real.

You Are Home starts with the sun low in the sky at Acadia National Park in Maine, a distant orange glow that sets the scene for the changes of the coming pages: stretches of starry skies; bright, lit-up scenes; and the awed moonlit or sun-warm faces of people experiencing  the beauty around them. The entire book is marked by light and shadow, sun and moon. The Rocky Mountains' aspens are “turned golden by the shortening days,” bobcats move stealthily through the shadows of Yosemite, and the sun peeks out of blue orange-tinged clouds at Haleakala. Each scene is its own distinct day and moment that begs you to pause and take it in. All the locations are provided on a map in the back that, along with the illustrations, will no doubt inspire young adventurers to start making their own plans to explore these landmarks.

Turk’s rich, expansive illustrations  — endless swathes of sky, dense woods, deep canyons — are rendered with pastels on black paper and use color for maximum impact. The illustrations draw you into individual details but don’t limit you to them. This feels like the point: the world around us is fascinating, different everywhere you go, but it’s all under the same sky and on the same Earth — and so are we.

Throughout the book, the consistent refrain is "you are home." This is shared with kids in cities, an immigrant family taking in the sight of their new home in Texas, wildflowers in a field, and creatures in the ocean. The faces we see are diverse, and Turk goes further to make an important point, one that a less intentional author may have skipped over: the National Parks were established by people who had no claim to the land. They were someone else’s home, he emphasizes; this is highlighted on a spread featuring a brown-skinned family, staring with obvious love at a warm scene from the Mesa Verde. “You are still home,” the text says here, a poignant variation on the book’s refrain.

Turk shares similarly important messages throughout the book that resonate just as much in the illustrations as they do in the text — one of the more striking examples being a glacier melting in Glacier Bay, illustrated with jagged, shattered lines, lending a sense of urgency. But the strongest message is one that’s found on every single page. Through a scene of a small child gazing up, awe-struck, at a huge, star-studded sky, we’re reminded of this bigger message: that we are part of the entire world — Earth, the galaxy. On some spreads, characters take up more space, and on many they’re tiny in comparison to the world around them, but Turk manages to make it clear that they — and by extension, we — are never insignificant. Humans and animals and plants all have a place here. We are all inhabiting a universe that’s vast and is sometimes only visible to us in breathtaking snapshots, through family trips, through the lens of a child’s perspective.

You Are Home is subtitled An Ode to the National Parks, which it certainly is, but it is just as much a love letter to this planet and the people who inhabit it. This world is ours. We are home here. And that sincere love and sense of connection to all beings is exactly the kind of message we need right now.

 

Chelsea Tarwater

Chelsea Tarwater is a master's candidate in the University of Tennessee's SIS program and a youth services specialist at the Blount County Public Library in Maryville, Tennessee, where she is primarily known (by the preschool demographic) as the Storytime Lady. 

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