FIRST COME THE ZEBRA, written and illustrated by Lynne Barasch (Lee & Low Books, 2009). For thousands of years, millions of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle have journeyed through the plains of the Serengeti and the Massai Mara, in search of fresh water and grasses. It’s known as the annual ‘Great Migration.’

One day during the migration, Abaani, a young Maasai boy takes his cattle out to graze. He discovers a small fruit and vegetable stand, tended by Kaki, a young Kikuyu boy. Abaani wastes no time hurling insults, repeating things he’d overheard his elders say about the Kikuyu people. An argument ensued. Remember back in the day, what happened when you told “Yo Mama” jokes?

A group of women approached the vegetable stand to trade baskets, and Kaki turned away to do business. One woman sat her baby on the ground, and he wandered off toward the tall grass, where three grouchy warthogs were grazing. That’s when Abaani sprang into action, distracting the warthogs with a stick, motioning to Kaki, who rescued the baby.

In the end, the boys become friends, though still reluctant. Old habits and stubborn grudges die hard. But they came together over a game of mancala, and soon worked on a plan to bring their families together, too.

So many good things with this book. Peaceful conflict resolution. The spirit of cooperation and working together for a common good. Forging friendships by overcoming differences and finding commonalities in one another. Important messages I want my own son to know about.

The illustrations are appealing, light and loose, and successfully bring the story to life.

MOST LOVED IN ALL THE WORLD: A STORY OF FREEDOM, by Tonya Cherie Hegamin (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008), illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera.

At it’s core, MOST LOVED IN ALL THE WORLD is the story of a mother, who loves her child so much, she’s willing to do the unthinkable: She sends her daughter off into the darkness of night, with strangers, in hopes the child will find a brighter future than her own.

With beautiful prose and a colloquial voice, Hegamin tells the story of a young girl, whose mother is an agent on the Underground Railroad. During the day, she witnesses her mother toil long hours in the fields. At night, she sees her mother return home with cut-up hands and whip marks across her back. But Mama isn’t thinking about her own lot, she’s thinking about her child’s future. She sews a quilt for the young girl to use on the Underground Railroad, inscribed with images: “A log cabin means a place is safe. This star is brightest in the sky; it’s for you to follow.”

In the middle of the night, Mama hands off her daughter to people she hopes will lead the child to freedom. Although the story is told within the framework of slavery, this same story plays out even today, as Hegamin states in her Author’s Note, when, for so many reasons, mothers give up their children for adoption, or put them in foster care, hoping for a life they aren’t able to provide.

Cozbi Cabrea — whose handcrafted cloth dolls have attracted the attention of collectors around the world — illustrates the story with a collage of thick-laid paint and textured cloth, befitting of the story. The illustrations are wonderful, and I can’t wait to see what else Ms. Cabrea has on the horizon.


Me personally

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted here at the Brown Bookshelf. I was busy finishing illustrations for my next book project, SHE LOVED BASEBALL: THE EFFA MANLEY STORY, written by Audrey Vernick. When I finished illustrating the book, I was too busy to blog, trying to catch up with all the things I couldn’t do while illustrating the book.

SHE LOVED BASEBALL is the story of Effa Manley, the first woman to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. She and her husband, Abe Manley, owned the Negro League’s Newark Eagles baseball team. Effa fought for the civil rights of African Americans in Harlem, and for the equal treatment of Black baseball players entering into the Major Leagues. The book publishes with HarperCollins (Blazer+Bray) next year.


Don is the illustrator of more than 30 trade and educational books for children, including Ron’s Big Mission (Dutton, 2009), I Am My Grandpa’s Enkelin (Paraclete, 2008), and  Sure As Sunrise (Houghton Mifflin, 2004). His forthcoming titles include She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story (HarperCollins, 2010), and It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Taught Himself to Draw (Lee & Low Books, 2010), in which he is the author.


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