cover image We Are One

We Are One

Ysaye Barnwell, , illus. by Brian Pinkney. . Harcourt, $17.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-15-205735-0

Barnwell, a member of the Grammy-winning a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock, writes a unity anthem that readers can experience as a dramatic reading, as a song and as a picture book. The first and second formats are stirring and melodious (there's also a short track on the CD where Barnwell explains why she's written the book). Barnwell's sonorous speaking voice savors phrases like “We are the breath of our ancestors” and turns individual words into clarion calls (her pronunciation of “nations” sends shivers up the spine). Sweet Honey in the Rock turns the text into a wonderful musical tapestry of harmonies and rhythms—the group's rich, passionate vocalizing should gratify old fans and win new ones. It's unfortunate, then, that the visual interpretation is the least satisfying of the three—a letdown that's not really mitigated when reading and listening are combined. Pinkney (Ella Fitzgerald ) sets the action in a park, where a multigenerational, multicultural community gathers to enjoy a sunny day. The illustrator perhaps wants to show that ordinary acts (frolicking in a fountain, enjoying a picnic) are expressions of vitality, potential and commonality. But his soft-focus style, coyly proportioned big-eyed characters and his staging feel disconnected from Barnwell's rousing words. Watching girls roll down a hill and boys scootering along a path to the words “We are sisters of mercy, brothers of love” takes out a lot of the steam. Ages 3-7. (Mar.)