cover image I SAW YOUR FACE


Kwame Senu Neville Dawes, , illus. by Tom Feelings. . Dial, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-1894-4

Designed to convey the beauty and shared heritage of people of African descent all over the world, this handsome picture book was inspired by the sketches of artist Feelings (Jambo Means Hello ), who died in 2003. The finely crafted, remarkable pen-and-ink and charcoal illustrations, like drawings from an artist's portfolio, parade across the pages in shades of blue, brown or black. Printed on beige and blue backgrounds with occasional sketches of buildings and landscapes, the illustrations tie the underlying abstract idea to particular people and places. The book's beautiful, at times haunting faces serve as a fitting homage to Feelings, and the design of the book makes for a graceful presentation. However, without the introduction about the game that poet Dawes's mother played ("When she meets people of West African descent, she tries to place them in a West African ethnic group") the narrative may confuse young readers: "I saw your face in Benin/ And in Ghana near Takoradi./ Then there on the plains of Bahia/ Your gentle eyes said hi." Eventually, Dawes's attempt to tell "the story of Africa and her diaspora" boils down to a listing of places, which may escape youngsters but which older readers can appreciate as a poetry of its own ("Mombasa, Kinshasa, Timbuktu/ Havana, Savannah, Port-au-Prince"). In the uplifting conclusion, the narrator says, "we have traveled far/ And survived the journeys well." The elegant gallery of portraits encourages close examination of the human face, and readers of all ages will likely marvel at the images in these pages. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)