Review of Desert Song

Desert Song Desert Song
by Laekan Zea Kemp; illus. by Beatriz Gutiérrez Hernández
Primary    Porter/Holiday    40 pp.
6/24    9780823453924    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780823459162    $11.99
Spanish ed.  9780823457977    $18.99

When the nocturnal animals that surround a family’s house in the desert come out, “they howl and buzz and hoot—a chorus in need of a band.” On the ample porch, each family member plays an instrument (some passed down from ancestors) that complements a natural sound—maracas that sound like rattlesnakes, a flute “calling down the wind.” The child narrator is learning to play guitar from Grandma and practices diligently to be able to join in the nightly concert. Gutiérrez Hernández’s expansive illustrations—digitally rendered from acrylic gouache and colored pencil—open with sunny pinks and gradually deepen into inky blue-greens and pearlescent whites as night falls. Kemp’s lyrical metaphors set the desert stage, and “an audience of [the family’s] ancestors” dances in the stars above and in their memories. The narrator’s parents remind them that nature is full of memories: the moon is “a memory of the sun,” and Mami sings “about the cacti remembering the rain.” A gorgeous, intergenerational reflection on being mindful of the present while remembering and honoring loved ones from the past. Notes from author and illustrator are appended. Concurrently published in Spanish as Canción del desierto.

From the May/June 2024 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Monica de los Reyes

Monica de los Reyes is editorial assistant for The Horn Book, Inc.

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