FICTION

As Big as the Sky

Sterling. Jan. 2020. 40p. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781454923572.
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K-Gr 3–Prisca and her older brother Caleb love to play together. Living in a small, rural village in Malawi, their lives are not easy, yet every day the siblings help one another, for “their love was as big as the sky.” When Caleb is sent to live with his grandmother to attend a better school, the siblings tearfully promise to remember one another. From then on, Prisca attempts to make enough money to visit Caleb. In the end, it is not Prisca’s wealth, but her kindness, that makes the reunion possible. Most suitable for an elementary classroom read-aloud due to its lengthy narrative, this story about sibling love has a simple plot, filled with culturally specific details. However, readers may wonder why Prisca didn’t see the solution sooner or why her solution is only a short-term fix. Although kindness is an admirable trait, there’s an element of disempowerment in the way it is used as a plot device. Mixed-media illustrations combine collage elements and painterly brushstrokes to create compositions that depict the action of the narrative, but they lack emotional and dimensional depth. A glossary and pronunciation guide for Chichewa words used in the story are included, along with an author’s note about the Malawian family that inspired this story. Front endpapers feature two maps: the continent of Africa and a close-up of Malawi and surrounding countries, though neither map provides specific information about the locations mentioned in the text.
VERDICT Although this title highlights a lesser-known region and culture, it lacks an insider’s perspective and relies on inspirational tropes.

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