September 06, 2002

Hey Li'l Brother

[ From the New York Times Book Review section a few weeks ago ] :

Peace With Flashlights By Patrick Markee, NYT


Barbara Joosse and the illustrator R. Gregory Christie focus on the family turmoil wrought by gang life in Stars in the Darkness (Chronicle, $14.95; ages 4 to 8), telling a deceptively simple but unusually moving story of a young boy's older brother who is drawn into the orbit of street-corner gangbangers. We are never shown the gang life of Richard, the brother, just the telling details as described by the young narrator: the new basketball bought with unexplained funds, the red bandanna, the lies about nights spent away from home, a bloody, bandaged arm. Richard's increasingly cold demeanor is all the more disturbing because of his closeness to the narrator at the beginning.

Christie's most moving illustration, reproduced on the cover, shows Richard hugging his younger brother to shield him from late-night sounds of fighting on the streets. The narrator and his mother, who at first feel helpless in the face of Richard's growing gang ties, finally take action by organizing their neighbors to form ''Peace Walks.'' Theirs is the kind of real-life small victory that plays out in many poor neighborhoods, places abandoned and ignored by local government and the wider society. Most important, though, the narrator realizes something about the gangs through his brother's experience: ''Richard's a banger, but he's still good inside. He's good to us,'' he tells his mother. ''So maybe the other bangers are like that too.''

Greg is a friend and former co-worker whose work has exploded onto the book illustration scene (I'm confident that that community has a "scene," indulge me here). My favorites amongst his work is The Palm of My Heart which won a Coretta Scott King Honor Award and a title that focused on the life and work of Sojourner Truth, Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth. I believe I researched and forwarded to him images that inspired the artwork.

I am hoping to have a profile of Greg some time in the future.

BONUS LINKS: Lee & Low Books, publishers of multicultural children's books. For kids just learning to read, check out Bebop Books.

Posted by ronn at September 6, 2002 02:04 AM

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