Tuesday, Nov. 7, will see the release of two heart-stirring new contenders for space on the nursery bookshelf.
"We Could Fly" by Rhiannon Giddens and illustrator Briana Mukodiri Uchendu (Candlewick Press, Tuesday), 6-9 years, 40 pages, $18.99 hardcover, $9.99 ebook.
Rhiannon Giddens' lovely picture book will intrigue children who have dreamed about flying.
"Lyrical" is an excellent word for the text, which includes bits from her song "I Knew I Could Fly." The fact that she's playing with Black folklore adds emotional and educational heft adults can appreciate, too.
This is a story about a mother passing along family wisdom to empower her daughter. As mother and daughter watch a sparrow take wing, the girl feels strange new trembling in her limbs. She yearns to fly. Then Mama tells her a secret about her Granny Liza. Every night, Liza flew.
"They tried to keep her down but there was nothing they could do," Mama says. Granny taught Mama about old times when people held hands and soared across the ocean, "searching, always searching for the promised land."
The little girl is inspired by this information. She takes her mother's hand and "they rose up in the air — They held each other tight and then they flew away from there."
In an afterword, Giddens describes how as a child she was deeply impressed by Virginia Hamilton's "The People Could Fly" (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1985 and 1993). Hamilton retold stories collected by the Federal Writers Project in the 1930s in oral histories of Black Americans such as the Gullah/Geechee people. The folklorists preserved Br'er Rabbit as well as cautionary, humorous, stirring and magical lore.
The title tale is about enslaved Africans who reclaim their ancestral gift for flight. Cultural historians have given this lore a capitalized title: the Flying Africans, and versions are also told in other countries of the African diaspora. Historian Greg Pasciuto explains research into the lore's origins here: arkansasonline.com/1106lore.
I probably don't need to add that Giddens is a Grammy-winning musician-singer-songwriter, and a MacArthur Fellow, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the artistic director of Silkroad.org. She lives in Ireland.
Her words are elevated by luminous purple, gold and pink illustrations by Houston artist Briana Mukodiri Uchendu.
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"Eleven Words for Love" by Randa Abdel-Fattah and illustrator Maxine Beneba Clarke (Candlewick Press, Tuesday), 4-8 years, 40 pages, $18.99 hardcover, $12.99 ebook.
Current events add sharp poignancy to this explanation of the nuanced meanings of 11 Arabic words that describe love. Besides introducing the foreign language and its calligraphy, the book will help children understand distinct relationships recognized by English speakers, too.
In all places, there are "sunshine-warm friendships," joyous parental love for a child, and the gentle, "marshmallow-heart-tender" sweet love that dissolves into tears. There's the romantic love of soulmates. There's love that aches for the dead. There's knee-buckling love at first sight, joy-in-your-heart love, and wistful longing for a faraway homeland. There's sisterhood. Love for longtime neighbors. Love from pets.
The child narrator who tells us the 11 Arabic words loves that her family knows them all.
Sharing this book does not require an adult to explain Gaza for a little kid, and Arabic is spoken in more than two dozen countries. Marketing says the story is about a Palestinian family in exile, and the first illustrations do show parents and children with luggage. The father is in a hurry in the first image, but one doesn't necessarily gather that they are refugees.
Award-winning Afro-Caribbean-Australian illustrator Clarke hand-illustrates the 11 words with calmly colorful family scenes in watercolor pencil and collage on canvas-textured paper.
Also a resident of Australia, Abdel-Fattah is a Palestinian Egyptian Muslim who has written 11 books published in 20 countries, including the young adult novel "Does My Head Look Big in This?"