cover image On Mardi Gras Day

On Mardi Gras Day

Fatima Shaik. Dial Books, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-1442-7

In this disjointed picture book, two young narrators describe their activities on New Orleans' ""day of street parties,"" a time when ""Mardi Gras Indians"" don ""feathers, beads, and gemstones"" to dance through the neighborhoods. The children also observe two festive parades called Zulu and Rex, which represent other segments of New Orleans history, then feast on favorite treats (gumbo, ham and peas) at a joyous family luncheon. Unless readers are already familiar with Mardi Gras, they will be at sea here. Though Shaik's (The Jazz of Our Street) text hints at Mardi Gras rituals, readers never learn the meaning behind the colorful traditions. Several passages and phrases are misleading or confusing, suggesting, for example, that the Mardi Gras ""Indians"" are a people who live in small homes with door blinds. Adults also call out the baffling greeting ""I know you, Mardi Gras"" to the young participants. The key information about Mardi Gras' religious significance and explanations of who the ""Indians"" and other cultural/ethnic groups are is relegated to an author's note, and some definitions are still sketchy. Cooper's oil wash paintings here are characteristically warm in tone and suffused with subtle light and shadow. In several vibrant scenes of revelers, he captures the wonder, pageantry and air of celebration that Mardi Gras inspires, even though readers may be at a loss to understand the context for the festivities. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)