A young girl attends a relative’s funeral and experiences familial customs of saying goodbye to a loved one.
Norma’s great-uncle Frank has passed away. While she practices sad faces in the mirror, the girl also feels happy, since she is missing school and will see her favorite cousin, Ray. These contradictory emotions, along with Norma’s innocent questions, perfectly capture a child’s point of view as the funeral procession winds its way to church and the sermon takes place. Beautiful moments mingle together—the smell of her mother’s purse, dust “dancing in beams of light,” the freedom of running outdoors. The illustrations, done in acrylic with ink, pencil, and some collage, skillfully represent the characters both physically and emotionally. As Norma considers what’s expected of her and how she really feels, the artist is also on an exploratory journey, attempting different compositions, uses of paint, and mixed media. Simpler paintings evolve to include: a 3-D sculpture with expressionist marks; a large, expansive field where the children play; and evocative, haikulike, panel illustrations of Norma and Ray outside. (Both children have straight, black hair and pale complexions.) The purpose of the day, to celebrate and remember Uncle Frank, is realized as Norma authentically makes this connection.
Enveloping and original, James’ authorial debut offers an honest exploration of a difficult and delicate subject. Exceptional. (Picture book. 4-8)