Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Rave Review!

A lovely review from a bookseller that I wish was in my neighborhood...

There are books that you need to read a couple of times before their meaning becomes clear. These artful treasures take more time to explain the story as it travels upon the road less traveled, a gentle breeze of description and not a gale-force wind.

Today we visit with just such a book. The title is "The Butter Man" and it has been created by Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalou.
Completing this collaboration on illustrations is Julie Klear Essakalli. Half the size of many other picture books, this well-told story is twice the size in its meaning to the reader.

The first page gives away one of this book's secrets with the italicized words that do not look familiar to me. That is because the words are taken from the High Atlas Mountain region in Morocco. The word definitions and pronunciations glossary are at the end of the book. Our story begins with a father telling about a time in his life in Morocco when he was a young boy. This faraway part of the country is the setting for the story that is about to be shared.

This life lesson on how fortunate we are as a nation is important to hand down to our children. To them, life has almost always been easy and food, along with shelter, has always been provided. Unlike the stories I had been told as a young boy, there is no mention of a blinding snow 5 feet deep and a trek of 20 miles to the nearest school.

This story hits home with a stronger punch as it deals with the lack of
plentiful food for a period of time. The rains had been distant and the crops had suffered, as well as the people who tended them. The bread became smaller and harder in texture and with less flavor. The butter that once smothered the bread was long gone, yet not forgotten.

It is a story of trust in hard work and doing the right thing that accompanies so many lives. It also shares with the reader the return to plentiful times. The text comes back full circle at the end of the book, giving the reader a quiet resolve of circumstances dealt.

Illustrations are of a folk art feel and colorful yet reserved to the tones that would be associated with a dry climate. The pictures tell the story without the emotion that well could have been played upon in this read. The feeling you walk away with is one of travel. This book has captured the sense of traveling to another part of the world and returning home again.

This look into someone's past is presented in a positive matter-of-fact way. The optimism of the mother and the focus on the butter man gave a resolve that will stay with the reader like a full dinner. It is OK to visit some uncomfortable subjects in life with our young readers if it is done with respect and clarity.

This book has accomplished both objectives in my mind. The basics of life are not to be taken for granted. This book will add a visit to a faraway land as well as a sense of well being for others. Best for ages 4 to 6 with guidance from an adult reader.
--Brad L. Hundman --Redlands Daily Facts

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