Books create safe place for youths

Three Coretta Scott King illustrator honorees bring their talents to books that speak directly to the human spirit.

Although the issue of color is hardly absent from these books, the emphasis is more general, focused on what makes children comfortable with themselves. That they feature black characters adds significance, giving the much-needed message that all children need to feel safe and appreciated.

"A Season for Mangoes," by Regina Hanson with illustrations by Eric Velasquez (Clarion Books, $15), is set in Jamaica, where a girl marks the death of her grandmother by telling treasured stories of "Nana." The storyline, which includes some of the child's most vivid memories, is told radiantly with words and pictures.

Light predominates in each scene, with each figure bathed in a subtle glow. The text, too, has a sheen, as the story reveals how much happiness Nana got out of every morsel of life. Mangoes were only one of many things that made the grandmother's existence sweet.

Pictures emphasize the importance of a family coming together and the intimacy of their connection.

In "This Little Light of Mine," the time-honored African American spiritual is given exuberant treatment by artist E. B. Lewis. Its message is universal.

Children in the book (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, $16.95) go through simple events in a day - playing basketball, high-fiving the adults sitting on a lawn and spending quiet time gazing out a window. For all children, this is an affirmation of what it means to be an individual, what it means to be loved, and what it means to love yourself in a healthy way.

The scenes here are satisfying. Smiling is important and so is courtesy. Camaraderie is what lights up these pictures and what makes Lewis' efforts shine so bright.

At the end of the book is an arrangement of the song, allowing children to express their own feelings of joy. It's a song kids should be encouraged to learn and live by.

Peace comes stealthily to a child on the verge of sleep in "It Is the Wind," written by Ferida Wolff with illustrations by James Ransome. In this evocative book (HarperCollins, $14.99), a boy hears all the sounds of the night and is eventually put to sleep by them. The sheet "that rustles twish" on the clothesline is one of many homey effects that listeners will recognize as the story is read.

The combinations of light and dark in the pictures show that even between dusk and dawn, there is illumination of some sort. Children will see that the world, at least on an everyday night, is not in total darkness.

The characters in these books represent not one race, but many, in their desire for hope and serenity. They serve as in introduction to a world where it is not only safe, but rewarding, to be young.

Lois Henderlong is a freelance writer who has reviewed children's books for publications across the Midwest. She lives in La Porte, Ind., and can be reached at loisirene@csinet.net.

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