When his older brother, Nico, joins the Army, Luis picks up a paintbrush.
At first, Luis tries to join his brother. “Can I go too?” he asks. “To see the world?” He tries to hide inside Nico’s duffel, but Mami catches him in the act, voicing their shared grief in a simple turn of phrase: “Good-byes are sour like lemons.” Wearing his brother’s giant boots, Luis steps outside and paints on the alleyway wall. Soon morning comes, and Nico leaves home. Farish’s restrained story moves at a slow pace, giving readers ample space to grasp the depths of Luis’ sorrow. Seasons come and go, and Luis wonders whether Nico will ever return. Meanwhile, his alleyway art expands. A river curls from wall to wall, and a young boy rides his bicycle beside tall mountains in a distant land: a composite of images from Luis’ neighborhood and pictures he receives from his brother. Neighbors soon start painting, too. Dominguez’s illustrations border on realism, with just a hint of dreamy surrealism. Figures are juxtaposed against one another at evocative angles, as vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows mix with muted blues and purples. “Still, Luis can’t forget what Mami said, that some people don’t come back for the baseball or the flan.” Thankfully, the ending proves her wrong. Luis and his family are light-skinned Latinos, and their Lawrence, Massachusetts, neighborhood is realistically multiethnic.
A wistful snapshot of a young artist and his family. (author’s note, glossary) (Picture book. 5-10)