We receive a number of books for review as we have been at this for more than 20 years. The Sundown Kid: A Southwestern Shabbat by Barbara Bietz and illustrated by John Kanzler, is probably the first book that made one of our resident illustrators, who upon just flipping open the review copy, nearly-instantly proclaimed, "Oh….the art is in is realllly good."
And good it is. These watercolor illustrations on some type of textured paper make the images look as if they are painted on burlap or rough canvas all while still maintaining clarity, color and compelling the reader to look closer. Warm images with just enough detail will compel the young readers to linger on these pages.
The story itself is a reframing of a common narrative theme of homesickness, the child wanting to make things better and a joy-filled resolution. Barbara has created essentially a first-person fiction regarding a historical reality of Jewish families bringing their culture and religion to the Old West. Not only did these pioneer families tackle the West, they often did so in isolation. The author tells of one young man’s solution to the problem resulting in a multi-cultural gathering of food and community. Her tale has a nice balance of wide-eyed wonder, melancholy and playful joy.
On a critical note, we think the font choice is odd. On a few pages, parts of the words vanish into the background illustrations. This is not a problem for experienced readers but might prove a small problem for young eyes. A bolder typeface might have been good for this book.
The book, published under August House’s Little Folks imprint, is good for young children of any culture or background. It will open up an opportunity to engage a young reader (we suggest from about kindergarten to maybe third grade) in a conversation about culture, identity and community. One does not necessarily need to be Jewish to appreciate the book or use it with your child. Read it with your kids. Maybe you’ll all learn something new.
We received a complimentary advance copy from the publisher in order to facilitate this review. –Storyteller.net Reviews