cover image Yatandou


Gloria Whelan, , illus. by Peter Sylvada. . Sleeping Bear, $17.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-58536-211-0

Yatandou, the eight-year-old narrator of this lyrical first volume in the Tales of the World series, spends long days at work in her village in Mali. As she pounds millet kernels with a stick, she daydreams about going to school, where she might “learn book secrets like my brother did,” and about the day the village women save up enough money to buy a machine to grind the millet. National Book Award winner Whelan (Paradise of Shadows, p. 61) introduces some local vocabulary (“I cover myself with my hawli , my scarf, so the bird won’t see me”) and hews to a poetic tone (“A water jug has had its little journey on her head”). Although Yatandou seems more like a vehicle for presenting a remote culture than like a real girl, the narrative does give readers insight into her way of life. The text is set on a rich brick-colored background that evokes the ever-present red sand (“The desert lives with us,” says Yatandou) and that successfully counterpoints the luminosity of Sylvada’s (A Symphony of Whales ) impressionistic paintings. Fields of yellows—for the morning sky, the stretches of desert, onion fields—suggest the inescapable heat, and the very air seems to undulate. Sylvada also shows Yatandou mastering the unyielding setting: in his first view of Yatandou, she appears engulfed by the landscape, but as the story progresses to a hopeful conclusion, the pictures grow more intimate, culminating in the touching close-up portrait that concludes the book. Ages 8-12. (Sept.)