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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Orani, written and illustrated by Claire A. Nivola. Farrar Straus Giroux, Douglas & McIntyre. 2011. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"How long it took to get there! Hour after hour we drove under a scorching sun, until suddenly the curving road plunged down into the valley, and the houses, low and dark on either side,  held us close.
The car stopped abruptly and relatives appeared from all around."

And while we are speaking of memoirs, here is another lovely book that evolved from childhood memories. Often children know little about history. They live in the now, and have difficulty attaching meaning to what has happened in the past, especially past last week! We were often amazed to hear our parents' stories of their young lives, and the work that they were expected to do in order to help the family survive and thrive. In Manitoba, we have all heard the stories of walking to school (uphill for miles in blinding storms and barefoot)...yeah, right! But, we even passed those stories to our own kids and they swear that I was here BEFORE in, 'you're older than dirt, Mom!' HA!
In this wondrous memoir, Claire Nivola invites her readers to take a step back in time and visit the town in Sardinia where her extended family made their home. It is a very different world than the New York neighborhood she now calls home, and she writes about it with humor and admiration:
"Above, on the rugged cliffs, tiny goats picked their way among the rocks and thistles and wild scented thyme. The fruit on the island tasted like the fruit of paradise, but wild boars roamed the mountains. There were nettles that stung, scorpions with poisonous tails, and bandits who stole sheep and sometimes kidnapped people."
A near yearly visit offered repeated experiences...from New York across the vast ocean, an overnight boat trip to the island, a long car ride into the mountains and finally, arrival in the small valley town where relatives descended to welcome the wanderers home. The cousins always had questions about life in America; the author assured life was better on the island.
As the days passed, new groups of cousins would align themselves to partake of the flurry of activity that was a constant in Orani:
"Old women everywhere offered us holiday biscuits and chocolates. The roadside trees bent to hand us their fruit. All the village, it seemed, was ours."
 I love the lilt of the text and the feeling you get while reading of the adventures so enjoyed by this young girl and her many cousins. It is the art that will transport every reader to her island home and the joy she found in being there. You will want to take a gentle peaceful time looking at each and every page to ensure that you know all you can learn about it, and to feel the love that brought the family back year after year, and even today:
``I continue to go back to Orani. My cousins and I are older, and the village too has grown up. That moment has passed - when I was a child; when Orani was shaking free of abject poverty, yet no one had too much; when new ways had not yet torn it away from what was rich in the past.``
 The village and people come alive in the carefully drawn artwork, with red clay rooftops and pebbled streets, buildings placed so close to each other, and the daily activities of all who live there. The emdpapers place Sardinia and Orani clearly on a map of the Mediterranean area at the front, then with a close-up labelled map of Sardinia at the back. To add to the fun take the time to find young Claire in each of the illustrations. What lessons were learned, what life-altering experiences shared!
Look for this book when the Caldecott winner and honor books are named.

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