GRANDPARENTS SONG

Stunning illustrations inspired by folk art illuminate Hamanaka’s song celebrating the diversity of a young American girl’s heritage and her roots in the land. “My eyes are green like the sea, like the sea and my hair is dark and blows free, blows free.” Many of the pictures are framed with old wood, but one is framed with twigs, another is topped by a saw, and another by beadwork and horse hair on a rich red background. The grandparents’ pictures contain intricate cultural details, particularly in the decoration of the frames. The girl sings of her mother’s mother and father—one of Native American and one of northern European descent, and of her father’s father and mother, one with African and one with Mexican heritage. The grandparents came from the sun, from the earth, and from east and west, and they came in search of freedom. The father’s page is breathtaking in its congruence of words and pictures: “Father says he came from the South, from the South where the scent of magnolia lulls the cottonmouth.” Father, mother, and daughter stand beside an avenue of trees leading to a stately plantation reminiscent of Oak Alley, Louisiana. Cotton clouds emerge from a basket to float gently over their heads. Barely visible in the foreground are tiny images of slaves picking cotton. Encircling the picture is a sinuous shape marked by the black and brown patterns of a cottonmouth snake that at one point eerily morph into figures with peaked hoods, a noose, and a burning cross. A lush white magnolia blossom fills the snake’s open mouth. This is no romanticized vision of the past; it is rich and multi-layered. Like the beautiful child who gracefully combines the sometimes conflicted heritage of her ancestors, this lovely work combines diverse artistic traditions to create a whole that is, like the American family tree, beautiful and strong. (Picture book/poetry. 6-9)

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-688-17852-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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An effective early chapter book conveyed in a slightly overdone gag.

DEAR BEAST

Epistolary dispatches from the eternal canine/feline feud.

Simon the cat is angry. He had done a good job taking care of his boy, Andy, but now that Andy’s parents are divorced, a dog named Baxter has moved into Andy’s dad’s house. Simon believes that there isn’t enough room in Andy’s life for two furry friends, so he uses the power of the pen to get Baxter to move out. Inventively for the early-chapter-book format, the story is told in letters written back and forth; Simon’s are impeccably spelled on personalized stationery while Baxter’s spelling slowly improves through the letters he scrawls on scraps of paper. A few other animals make appearances—a puffy-lipped goldfish who for some reason punctuates her letter with “Blub…blub…” seems to be the only female character (cued through stereotypical use of eyelashes and red lipstick), and a mustachioed snail ferries the mail to and fro. White-appearing Andy is seen playing with both animals as a visual background to the text, as is his friend Noah (a dark-skinned child who perhaps should not be nicknamed “N Man”). Cat lovers will appreciate Simon’s prickliness while dog aficionados will likely enjoy Baxter’s obtuse enthusiasm, and all readers will learn about the time and patience it takes to overcome conflict and jealousy with someone you dislike.

An effective early chapter book conveyed in a slightly overdone gag. (Fiction. 6-8)

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4492-2

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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TEA WITH MILK

In describing how his parents met, Say continues to explore the ways that differing cultures can harmonize; raised near San Francisco and known as May everywhere except at home, where she is Masako, the child who will grow up to be Say’s mother becomes a misfit when her family moves back to Japan. Rebelling against attempts to force her into the mold of a traditional Japanese woman, she leaves for Osaka, finds work as a department store translator, and meets Joseph, a Chinese businessman who not only speaks English, but prefers tea with milk and sugar, and persuades her that “home isn’t a place or a building that’s ready-made or waiting for you, in America or anywhere else.” Painted with characteristic control and restraint, Say’s illustrations, largely portraits, begin with a sepia view of a sullen child in a kimono, gradually take on distinct, subdued color, and end with a formal shot of the smiling young couple in Western dress. A stately cousin to Ina R. Friedman’s How My Parents Learned To Eat (1984), also illustrated by Say. (Picture book. 7-9)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-395-90495-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1999

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