Circles of Hope by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Linda Saport.
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2005.
Realistic fiction, 32 pages.
Lexile: AD590L ( What does AD mean in Lexile? )
AR Level: 3.9 (worth 0.5 points) .
Facile’s is excited about his new baby sister, Lucia, but he doesn’t have a gift for her. When he was born, Papa planted a mango tree for him, but now Papa is working in the city. Can Facile plant a tree for Lucia?
First I want to note that this book was published in 2005, so it’s that rare children’s book about Haiti that has nothing to do with the earthquake.
The illustrations are in a blurred but still expressive style that reminded me of Maite Roche. Some pages have a great deal of orange, which I know was intended to represent the hot climate but at times felt overpowering – it would have been better if there was a bit more contrast between the ground and the sky.
Everything is very stylized and there are bright colors on most pages, so this book is very alluring to little ones, even if they don’t always have the stamina to sit through a reading of it. The visual narrative is kept very simple, with only the first spread including anyone beyond the five main characters. Most illustrations focus on Facile and his tree. However, the charcoal and pastel drawings give the artwork a lot of depth and subtle detail. We were never confused about who was who or what was happening.
Most page spreads have only a paragraph of text, but a few do have more. The sentences have a nice rhythm and poetry which makes this a good read aloud for slightly older kids or those who can listen attentively. It also could be read independently – there are some difficult words (cactus, protected, sprout) as well as words in Creole, but it seemed decipherable.
The repetition to the narrative will be familiar to many picture book aficionados. Facile tries again and again to plant a pit from his own mango tree, only to face disaster. Finally he asks others, but even that advice doesn’t work! He asks his mother, but she is busy with Lucia, who has become very ill.
Mama and Lucia go to the city to see a doctor, so Facile stays with his Tonton (can mean Uncle or Granfather, I’d guess the latter because he has gray hair) for months. Tonton tells him that the most important ingredient to plant a tree is hope, but Facile’s hope has run out after so many unsuccessful plantings.
The one caution I would give about this book is sensitive young children may be distressed at Lucia’s illness or Facile’s long separation from his immediate family.
The final pages have a glossary of Haitian Creole and an author’s note telling a little bit about Haiti and the real circumstances that inspired this book. The author and illustrator are both from the US, but Williams did live and work in Haiti. She is quite well known for her first children’s book, Galimoto.
It was refreshing to read a book about Haiti that didn’t deal with the earthquake. This simple book will appeal to families with young children. Recommended.
This could also be used to spark a discussion with older children about privilege and choices. Why does Lucia have to go to the city for a doctor? What hard decisions have Facile’s parents had to make? What difference could a second mango tree mean to a family? Powerful questions if you live in a family where mangoes are only a grocery store trip away. [Note: After writing this, I learned that the publisher has a pamphlet with a discussion guide (PDF).]