My Brother Is Away

Random House Studio. Oct. 2022. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593127162.
K-Gr 3–A necessary picture book that will tug at heartstrings, inspire empathy, and fill an important gap in children’s literature. A child details the wonderful relationship she has with her brother, who plays with her, tells her stories, and flies kites with her. These lyrical passages alternate with spare statements revealing that her older brother is far away because he’s in prison. Greenwood’s narrative expertly shifts tones as the girl toggles between past and present, every line filled with nuance and heartache. The protagonist has to deal with awkward and accusatory conversations with classmates, the stark emptiness of his room, and her own anger at what he did. However, he continues to be her brother, and this picture book emphasizes the humanity of those who are incarcerated and their families. When the family visits the brother, the girl is initially nervous and unsure, but is soon reunited in a deeply felt reconciliation. Uribe’s art is the perfect complement—the joyous and fanciful scenes featuring the siblings in the past are filled with sweeping landscapes and small acts of tenderness. These are adeptly balanced with matter-of-fact spreads set in the present. The brother’s face is always angled so that readers never see him fully until their first embrace. The narrator appears to be white. The families visiting their relatives in prison are of different races.
VERDICT A strong companion to Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson’s Milo Imagines the World, this quiet, powerful book belongs in every collection serving children.

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