Jun 17, 2017

Jabari Jumps... With Dad's Help

Candlewick Press. June, 2017

With Fathers' Day barely a blink away, the June release of JABARI JUMPS arrives on bookstore shelves just in time. Author/illustrator Gaia Cornwall has produced a perfect picture book, with natural appeal on the surface, and plenty to discover when you dive below the surface. Mirroring Jabari's exuberant attitude after (spoiler alert) mastering the high dive, readers will want to return to this book again and again to revel in the story, the warmly supportive relationship, and to discover even greater thrills within its pages. 

The generous trim size allows for expansive, sunny, watery, double-page spreads, turn after turn featuring expressive characters with just enough detail to connect with urban readers (skylines) and swimmers, divers, and families everywhere.

I was delighted by Jabari's gusto, bravado, and attention to his cautionary inner voice. Even more so, I was touched by his dad's sensitive awareness and deft responses to affirm, reassure, and encourage independent choice. From the title spread onward, Jabari, his dad, and his toddler sister are portrayed tenderly, energetically, recognizably, and humorously. The images and color choices had me smelling chlorine and hearing the splashing laughter of a summer community pool. 

I'm not the only one to celebrate this new release. School Library Journal's starred review summarizes the storyline and concludes: "VERDICT Jabari’s story will help assuage the fears kids experience when faced with a new and daunting adventure. A terrific seasonal storytime read-aloud that’s perfect for one-on-one sharing."–Mindy Hiatt, Salt Lake County Library Services

A review in The Washington Post featured JABARI JUMPS for young readers in an article focused on books that inspire bravery in readers. I've also read  and recommend the two titles for older readers, GIRL RISING: CHANGING THE WORLD ONE GIRL AT A TIME, by Tanya Lee Stone, and THE HATE U GIVE, by Angie Thomas. But I'm writing here about picture book readers. For Fathers Day bonding and months beyond, read this excerpt from Kathie Meizner's review to see why this is a must-have title:
 "   full of the light blue of summer sky and water and attuned to the perspective of a small boy whose ambition is just a little bit bigger than he is."

Back to that perspective, and the quiet confidence Jabari finds through his dad's acceptance and reassurance. During the summer of 1945, thousands upon thousands of American and other soldiers were in Europe, winding down from their successful effort to defeat Hitler's forces. Most, like Dad, barely made it home for Christmas. 
My dad was among them, waiting  through the months-long process involved in returning home to his wife and baby girl, my sister. That's him in the picture. Those who don't know him might see in this picture a confidant, steady young man. I see my dad wearing a wool uniform on a steamy beach because he would never set foot in the water. I see my dad who was desperately seasick on his  voyage to and from Europe, a man who never lost his fear of water, but never transferred that to the four little waterbugs he raised. 
It didn't hurt that Mom loved the water and taught us each how to swim. Despite his lack of enthusiasm for the water, Dad willingly scraped together his limited funds, patched our old station wagon with duct tape if necessary, and hauled us to our annual vacation in a rented cottage on Lake Erie. There, day after day, he donned his swim trunks, waded out with us into water that he feared, for us as much as for him, while never once allowing that fear to pass from his hand to ours as we bounced, splashed, and reveled in what felt like an ocean. 

Dad  came to my mind as I read JABARI JUMPS, the first time and each time since. Jabari's dad isn't in the water until the later spreads, even then only up to his waist. He never takes his eyes off of his son and is ever-attentive to his water-winged baby girl. What mattered to me won't matter to everyone, and kids will certainly identify with Jabari, not his dad. Yet I'm thinking there will be plenty of kids who could read this and find in the dad's gentle messages the comfort, confidence, and support they may lack in their own relationships. 
And they will be brave.
As Dad was.

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