In a modern-day school within the Navajo Nation, the children are expected to conform, but young protagonist Holden’s imagination cannot be reined in.
As he and his classmates walk single file to recess through the school corridors, Holden stops to imagine that the pictures on the wall have come to life. Unattributed dialogue in large, bold letters—readers will assume it’s spoken by an unseen teacher—orders him to stay with the group by calling out the book’s refrain: “Fall in line, Holden!” Holden continues to lag as they walk: past the gymnasium, where students playing ball are dressed as Roman centurions; past the cafeteria, where the lunch ladies don witches’ hats and ride brooms; past the computer lab, where astronauts float in space; past the music room, where the notes morph into birds. However, when they reach their destination, Holden discovers a pleasant surprise. Debut author/illustrator Vandever grew up on Navajo land, listening to elders speak of the lasting trauma of boarding schools, as he discloses in concluding notes. His illustrations’ limited palette is effective in showing how the students toe the line. The figures are rendered as negative space with just black hair and eyes and minimal clothing details—a striking effect. Occasionally the text’s rhyme and meter seem forced, but the overall message that creativity and imagination will occur even within strict boundaries will resonate with many readers.
A subtle, provocative, and surprisingly joyous read. (Picture book. 4-8)