cover image The Genie in the Jar

The Genie in the Jar

Nikki Giovanni. Henry Holt & Company, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-4118-7

Despite Raschka's (Charlie Parker Played Bebop) compelling art-a series of sprightly yet soulful sketches that dance, skip and twirl across the pages-Giovanni's brief, abstract poem fails to take flight. Reading the text aloud helps, as the cadence of the words emerges, but younger readers especially may puzzle over the meaning: ""Make the sky sing a Black song/ sing a blue song/ sing my song make the sky/ sing a Black song/ from the Black loom from the Black loom."" The abrupt ending, which acts like an unresolved chord, is unsettling at best as it reprises a refrain: ""Careful baby/ don't prick your finger."" Played out against warm, solid backdrops, Raschka's illustrations assist in deciphering the verses. With the most fluid of lines, he reduces his compositions to an essence of motion: he envisions a circle game played by children of color, with the activity revolving around a girl (the ""genie"" of the title) and her mother (who becomes the ""jar"" when her loving arms encircle the girl). Even with Raschka's bright interpretation, it's questionable whether this well-intentioned effort will connect with its targeted audience. Ages 4-up. (Mar.)