A young woman in a skirt of bright flaming feathers, small baby in her arms, crosses a bridge of place and language to become something new in a new home. Everything is strange and bewildering at first in Yuyi Morales’s “Dreamers” (Holiday House, Ages 3 to 7), a book that tells the story of the author’s first days, months and years in the United States with her son. This is a beautiful book, full of splendid poetry in words and images. Words in Spanish are gracefully woven into the narrative (the Spanish edition, Soñadores, is publishing at the same time). Morales’s art swoops and soars, offering perspectives of the mother and child as well as of the artist, whose hand and pencil appear on the opening pages, creating the scene from the clouds and sky. Reminders of Morales’s native Mexico can be found on every page: a jaunty Day of the Dead skeleton, a Monarch butterfly, a milagro heart, bright blossoms. Morales reveals that the gifts she and her son brought in a backpack across that bridge between countries were the sense of adventure, open hearts and the extraordinary artistry that has now transformed their experience into this glorious book for young readers.
The author and illustrator of picture-book biographies of Jesus Christ, John Brown and other nonconformists, John Hendrix demonstrates his storytelling powers once again with this graphic-novel treatment of a turbulent time. Impressive in its scope and imagery, “The Faithful Spy” (Amulet, Ages 10 to 14) manages to convey not only the rise and fall of Hitler; it also peers into the soul of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the many Germans who defied Hitler’s tyrannical rule. Bonhoeffer’s religious faith spurred him to become a pastor, to study in the United States, to help the persecuted and to become a spy who helped plan several assassination attempts against Hitler. Hendrix’s substantial text is scrupulously accurate while his red and green-tinted illustrations (reminiscent of 3-D prints) capture both Hitler’s relentless assaults (in the form of enormous wolves and warriors) and Bonhoeffer’s efforts to comprehend a society upended. Another study in turbulence, “1968: Today’s Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution and Change” (Candlewick, Ages 12 and up), edited by Marc Aronson and Susan Campbell Bartoletti, offers short essays on a range of topics — from the various social movements to the dawn of the personal computer — that present provocative parallels and contrasts between now and then.
The Nigerian author Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani opens her first novel for young people, “Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree” (Katherine Tegen Books, Ages 13 and up), in a village in northeast Nigeria. Through brief, image-rich chapters, the unnamed teenage narrator shares details of her life and dreams. The strong scent of boiled goat meat and the sharp tone of her teacher’s voice mingle with dreams of a university scholarship and shy musings over a certain young man. Beneath the busy quotidian hum, though, she hears the whispered rumors and radio news flashes about a militant group called Boko Haram. The narrator’s eager dreams are shattered the day the terrorists sweep into the village, murdering the men and boys and seizing the young women. The militants then transport the girls at gunpoint to a hidden camp in a dense forest, a brutal act reminiscent of the kidnapping of 276 Chibok schoolgirls in 2014. From there, the frightened narrator and her companions are enslaved, frequently beaten and married off as virginal rewards to the soldiers chosen for them. Nwaubani weaves moments of hope and connection between the girls through this heart-wrenching tale, which ends with the narrator’s rescue and desire to resume her studies. As the book’s afterword makes clear, this painful, powerful story draws from interviews with female survivors of Boko Haram’s abuse and their families. It reminds readers — and the world — of the girls and women as yet unfound and the continued danger to others.