Winter, Jeanette. Mama. Harcourt, 2006. ISBN 978-0152054953. 32 pp. $
Providing a marked contrast to the photo-realism detailed account of the tsunami aftermath presented in Owen & Mzee, Mama is a nearly wordless tale of a hippo rescued after a tsunami that avoids a discussion of grim facts or sobering details and instead uses only artwork to show how the life of a young hippo, Baby, is transformed the day the wave hit. Winter, author of The Librarian of Basra—another story punctuated by death and loss—delivers a message of compassion and hope by merely repeating two emotion laden words: “Mama” and “Baby,” throughout the ordeal. Mama represents the entirety of Baby’s world, and without her, his world is dark and scary.
Acrylic paintings featuring intense shades of green, orange and pink give way to darker blues and purples as Baby struggles to make sense of his new surroundings. Without benefit of text or narrative, the two characters embody love and demonstrate the capacity of all creatures to tender this most basic human behavior. As Baby finds a surrogate parent in an elderly tortoise, a heaven bound image of Mama watches him begin life again. This is a compressed experience that will require some adult storytelling with the 5- to 7-year-olds who will be attracted by its format.
This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog May 31, 2006.
Winter, Jeanette. Emily Dickinson’s Letters to the World. Frances Foster Books, 2002. ISBN 978-0374321475 40 pp. $
While it is a nice premise–Emily’s sister Lavinia discovers her sister’s poems–the book falls a bit flat. The tone feels a bit condescending and dramatic in its attempt to engage young readers, and the narrative stops abruptly, launching into the poems with no commentary. The letters to the world theme is hammered into the reader’s head, mentioned no less than five times if one includes the subtitle.
The poems are printed in a spidery script to distinguish them from the narrative. The font may be difficult for the beginning readers the book seems to be intended for. The selections are a diverse mix of her familiar and lessen known poems, including “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” and “There is no frigate like a book.”
The illustrations are lovely, with a smooth solid folk art look to them. Emily appears in each drawing, making it clear that we are seeing the world through her eyes. Although each poem (and therefore illustration) is quite different, a common motif of scattered flowers, leaves and stars and graceful undulating arcs repeat in the forms of branches, waves and earth, tying the volume together. A short note at the end divulges additional biographical information. Sources are cited.
The small size, simple language and bright pictures make this a nice choice for young readers, but it is not as well done as The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires (Francis Foster, 1999) or Emily Dickinson: Poetry for Young People by Emily Dickinson (Sterling, 1994).