|Candlewick Press, 2020|
The first person narrator (Ernestine) is excited to learn that her Aunt Jackie and cousin Samantha, both experienced campers, have invited her to join them for a CAMPING TRIP! She's relieved that Dad agrees, but worries that he will miss her while she's gone.
This subtle emotional projection of her own nagging misgivings are overcome by the joy of PREPARATIONS! With a few important purchases and Aunt Jackie's thorough list, she manages to be ready and waiting... and waiting... and finally loading and saying 'bye to Dad. With comic-style art, Mann has masters the angle of an eye and shifts in body postures to convey entire stories in each panel. These enhance and expand the story at each rereading.
There will be many of those.
The pages that follow evoke recognition, humor, and awe. From the mundane (it takes a lot of stuff to go camping), to the practical (when you get sweaty putting up a tent, why not go swimming?), to stressful (Ernestine swims well, but there are FISH in this lake!). Each of the challenges Ernestine faces during that weekend take her on a journey from excitement, to struggles, to unexpected wonders. Her discoveries throughout hiking, eating unfamiliar foods, and sleeping in a tent (or trying to sleep but feeling homesick) lead to several pages of beautifully effective art using stark darkness and light.
In that short weekend camping trip, Ernestine travels a longer and more significant journey than the road trip that felt like forever. On the surface, this story encompasses four characters, two days, and one night. On the surface, it's a comic book style with familiar people and circumstances. On the surface, it is Ernestine's story.
It is, but it is so much more.
With only a few moments of reflection, it is a celebration of Dad-Daughter love, of the power and joy of trusted people in our lives (especially extended family), and the expansive wonder of nature, (from massive redwoods to the tiniest banana slugs). It affirms every stage of recognizing and preparing to face challenges, including the bumps and bravos, and satisfactions of persisting.
There are many (including me) who welcome books with #BlackJoy, stories in which Black readers, especially young ones, can recognize themselves with an open embrace of positivity, potential, and empowerment. Click the tag above for an excellent list of suggested titles that offer more of these experiences. This is such a book, but speaks to readers of every identity and skin color. There is so much to enjoy about this book, and kids return to it for many purposes-- to examine the items pictured on the end papers, to join the cousins under the night sky, to savor that final page turn, which I will not spoil by describing it.
Don't miss this one, in midwinter, on Father's Day, in the middle of summer, and every day between. Share it with dads, favorite cousins, and everyone else.