Monday, January 11, 2021

Review: Jump at the Sun by Alicia D. Williams

Mondays need energy and inspiration, and the book I have today fulfills both of these requirements. 
Zora Neale Hurston was a woman packed with a joy for stories and life. Just looking at the cover made me smile...and the fox's hat definitely begs to have a story put behind it. 
Is it okay to admit that I had no idea who Zora Neale Hurston was before reading this? And that's why books like this are so important. The problem is...I'm going to have to add another book or two or three to my reading pile now because I'm horribly curious about her works.

Oh and this one releases tomorrow. So, you won't have to wait long!

The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston
by Alicia D. Williams
Illustrated by Jacqueline Alcaantra
Atheneum Books
Picture Book 
48 pages
ages 4 to 8

From the Newbery Honor–winning author of Genesis Begins Again comes a shimmering picture book that shines the light on Zora Neale Hurston, the extraordinary writer and storycatcher extraordinaire who changed the face of American literature.

Zora was a girl who hankered for tales like bees for honey. Now, her mama always told her that if she wanted something, “to jump at de sun”, because even though you might not land quite that high, at least you’d get off the ground. So Zora jumped from place to place, from the porch of the general store where she listened to folktales, to Howard University, to Harlem. And everywhere she jumped, she shined sunlight on the tales most people hadn’t been bothered to listen to until Zora. The tales no one had written down until Zora. Tales on a whole culture of literature overlooked…until Zora. Until Zora jumped.


                                                    * energy on every page
                                                    * shows Zora as a determined and joyful individual
                                                    * introduces facts but keeps the story form front and center 
                                                    * exposes listeners to 'authentic' slang and terminology                                              


I enjoy diving into picture books which introduce young listeners/readers to individuals, who made an impact on the world around them...but are often lost in the shadows. This books centers around Zora Neale Hurston, a woman who grew up in the early 1900's. She not only had a large impact on the literary world but pulled through at a time where her gender and race created huge barriers for her to overcome. 

A young girl full of spunk and life introduces this book...and makes listeners wish right away they could join her and become friends. Not only are the descriptions of her childhood antics fun, but the illustrations present her as a girl, who dreamed, allowed herself to dive into adventures, and yet, wasn't a trouble-maker. These first pages especially pull in.

The book switches modes as it follows Nora's life. I always find this a challenge for picture books, since becoming an adult with adult battles and adult successes are very hard to bring across in a way which will connect with the intended audience. In this case, the audience will probably slide more into the 5 to 10 years age group because the text is on the heavier side, and the wording isn't easy...but I'll get back to that in a second. While the author keeps the energy high and the illustrations do a terrific job at grabbing attention the entire way through, there were moments in the middle, which I wanted to skim instead of read...especially during her education years and beginning jobs and such. As said, it's an almost impossible task to get kids not only to relate to, but even to understand what an adult has gone through. But this book does do a pretty good job and keeps it lively, even when not every situation will resonate with the audience (but adults will learn quite a bit, too).

The roughest part in this one is probably the slang and mentioned people/stories. Brer Rabbit's antics are hinted at...and while I loved this tale as a child (although I didn't understand every word), I don't know of many children who would recognize it now. Slang terms, which no doubt were a part of Zora's life, are also used, and while being important for listeners to hear, it also makes understanding and reading aloud a bit difficult at times. And yet, it gives it an important authenticity.

Anyone wanting to learn more about Zora Neale Hurston and her life will enjoy this one.

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