cover image America


W. Nikola-Lisa. Lee & Low Books, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-880000-37-3

This eclectic book hints at the country's immense range of landscape and, implicitly, of people; illustrations by 14 artists from different ethnic and racial backgrounds establish a corresponding diversity of styles. Nikola-Lisa's (Bein' with You This Way) minimal text presents opposites--""wood land/ farm land,"" for example, and ""wet land/ dry land""--although readers may need to puzzle over the various illustrations to decipher how they demonstrate the contrast between ""straight land/ round land"" or even ""low land/ high land."" Among especially evocative illustrations, Michelle Reiko Kumata's soulful painting for ""young land/ old land"" shows a young girl and an old man in a boat, with background images suggesting the man's history as an emigrant, and Huy Lee's inventive, brightly lit photocollage for ""hard land/ soft land"" brings out the contrasts between urban streets and the small park enclosed by them. However, the art is uneven and the text does not integrate the range of styles in any meaningful way. An appendix profiles the illustrators, who supply explanations of their works. Their varied interpretations of the book's project--some sought to capture personal memories, others to explore such pressing concerns as poverty and the environment, another simply to note contrasting climates--create a conceptual cacophony. The result of this melee of agendas, as well as of styles, is a bit of a multicultural free-for-all. Ages 5-up. (May)