cover image ELSINA'S CLOUDS


Jeanette Winter, . . FSG/Foster, $16 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-374-32118-5

Winter's small-format book about the Basotho women of southern Africa who paint their houses to bring rain has an intriguing premise, but generally lacks the warmth and passion of her My Name Is Georgia or her artwork for Day of the Dead . Elsina, the child narrator, begins somberly: "Blue . Only blue and the sun.... Mama's field has died. Papa's goats starve. Where are the rain clouds to cover the sun?" Often divided into multiple images on panels and squares, the illustrations depict Elsina dreaming of "big black clouds full of rain." Busy borders in high-contrast colors and complicated geometric patterns tend to distract from or overwhelm the interior paintings, which are also dotted with dialogue balloons and thought bubbles. Rendered in a naïve style, the compositions are somewhat flat, and all the panels, patterns and text compete for readers' attention. Rain arrives only after Elsina paints the room addition her father makes for a new baby, and her mother announces that in the future Elsina must paint the whole house because "The ancestors hear you, Elsina." A closing image features a sorghum field above which floats a rainbow, clouds and four people with the words, "The ancestors listen." Young American readers may be mystified by why the mother's paintings don't work and Elsina's do. Ironically, it's the pictures of the welcome rainstorms that look scary, and the scenes of the oppressive heat that look most appealing. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)