Zetta Elliott, , illus. by Shadra Strickland. . Lee & Low, $19.95 (48pp) ISBN 978-1-60060-241-2
In a promising debut for both Elliott and Strickland, this picture book tells a poignant story about a boy whose loving family, friends and a gift for drawing help him navigate difficult emotions surrounding the deaths of his grandfather and drug-addicted brother. A complicated weaving of impressive watercolor, gouache, charcoal and ink drawings amplifies the metaphors and action of the poetic text as it combines black-and-white with color. Never straying from believable language in casting Mehkai, the child, as narrator, Elliott skillfully unfolds the sequence of events. Both art and text nimbly play with Mehkai's nickname, Bird, beginning with the image of a shivering bird that, like his brother, seems to be blown away by a gust of wind, and continuing with Uncle Son's attempt to explain the brother's death: “ 'You can fix a broken wing with a splint,/ and a bird can fly again,' he said./ 'But you can't fix a broken soul.' ” The simplicity of the narrative belies the complexity of the themes; it would be a shame if the picture book format discouraged the proper audience from examining the book. Ages 8–12.
Reviewed on: 10/20/2008