Bright Star

Waiting for a new Yuyi Morales picture book feels a bit like waiting for your favorite band to finally release their new single. Luckily for us, Morales does not disappoint.

Bright Star begins as a meditation. “Child, / you are awake! / Breathe in, / then breathe out, / hermosa creatura.” A fawn curled up among the cholla and cacti peers up at the reader with one large, shining eye. We are in the desert, with its waves of sand and pink sky. On the next page, the fawn is greeted with a kiss by its mother and the exclamation “you are alive!” This is followed by “you are a bright star / inside our hearts,” which becomes a repeated refrain throughout the book. The fawn bounds and plays while observing its surroundings in the following pages, never straying too far from its parent. Other small desert creatures join the pair on their travels. A hare bounds on and off the page while a hummingbird buzzes about. Suddenly, smoke appears, and the animals panic. The mother doe instructs her fawn to lay low beneath a bed of cacti and remain safe. Here the fawn hides out alone until glancing up to see a massive wall topped with wire fencing standing before them. “Let the world know / what you feel!” The animals oppose the wall, united in their anger. In the book’s final pages, the fawn is replaced by a child looking back at you, the reader. The story has taken on new meaning, but the message remains the same: “You are a bright star.”

But let’s rewind to the beginning. The book’s jacket is the perfect indication of what lies within —  illustrations as sweet and poetic as they are haunting. On the front cover we see the wide-eyed fawn, gazing out through a patch of flowering cacti. Even from first glance, the art is arresting. Morales uses a variety of mediums throughout the book, including both acrylic and digital paint, as well as photographs of weaving and embroidery. The back cover reveals a child peering out through the other side of the cactus, looking both concerned and curious. The illustrations make the child's brown skin and dark, wispy hair appear nearly photographic. This realism portrayed throughout the book is fitting. Morales’s story is written as a love letter to migrant children facing uncertainty and danger at the border every day. We’ve all seen the images in the news (and many have seen firsthand), so embellishment is unnecessary. Morales perfectly captures the juxtaposition between the beauty of the landscape and the horrors that occur there.

Though realistic, there is still a dreamlike magic to the artwork throughout the story. The burning coral hue of the sky stretches across the page, making it hard to tell where the sky ends and the desert sand begins. The green and pink of the flowering cacti pop on every page, even amongst a starry night. The book’s last several pages may be the most magical and dreamlike of all. After a long night behind the wall, the fawn lies among the flowers, looking back at us with that familiar shining eye. The page-turn that follows is the point in the book in which the fawn becomes the child, peering at the reader with a similar expression of wonder and uncertainty. It’s clear with this transformation that the story could just as easily be about this child as it is about the fawn and its family — and likely is. (Morales references both possibilities in the book’s afterword.) On the final page, several young children stand alongside one another, gazing at the reader and beyond. This is not the story of one child, but many.

The book’s endpapers appear as a scarf made of wool yarn with stars of different colors embroidered into the piece. Morales notes in the afterword that these are photographs of yarn that has been hand-dyed and threaded by weavers in Oaxaca. Fittingly, within these pages is a song woven together with love and hope for migrant children and families. Though the lyrics are few, Morales’ stunning artwork sings.

This is a story meant to be pored over slowly. I urge you to take your time.

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Bright Star here.]


Hill Saxton

Hill Saxton is a youth services librarian at the Cambridge Public Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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