Walker Books for Young Readers (Bloomsbury imprint), 2014
In a spare, lyrical and moving debut, Christine Ieronimo tells a story inspired by her newly adopted Ethiopian daughter, whom she discovered one morning drinking from a puddle in the driveway. With deep empathy, the author portrays the complex issues of international adoption through the story of water, which “connects us to everyone and everywhere.”
Read this book because Eric Velasquez’s illustrations convey grief, love, privation, doubt, connection and transformation with uplifting composition and color. From beginning to end, this story honors the place Alemitu/Eva’s birth mother will always have in her life, beautifully symbolized by a long, floating yellow scarf her Emaye gave her when they parted. Alemitu’s bond with her adoptive mother grows from introduction to feeling “safe again” in just one spread, which feels a bit fast and unrealistic, especially for the the older girl depicted. However, Eva carries her homeland with her as she experiences her new world—whenever she gets water from a faucet, carries a backpack of books to school, takes off her shoes because she misses her feet, or remembers her mother. Without portraying either the birth family or adoptive family as “better” or “worse,” the story emphasizes both families’ fierce commitment to the bright future of this child.
Writers will enjoy the gentle cycling of lyrical language and ideas, such as when the sun whispering “my name with its hot, sticky breath” early in the book becomes the wind whispering “my name with its crisp, cool sigh.” The magnificent structure of the book centers around a key metaphor that occurs on the third spread, when Alemitu looks at her reflection in the watering hole and imagines that it contains a secret passage to “the other side.” The story balances on the moment when Alemitu leaves Ethiopia with her adoptive mom to become Eva, and the meaning of her name changes from “world” to “life.” The images that come up in the first seven spreads, all set in Ethiopia—names, water sources, shimmering surfaces of water, strong feet, “the fierce lion” of hunger, bundles of wood and sleeping with a parent—all recur in the next seven spreads in her new setting, on the other side of the journey—creating a subtle and satisfying resonance for readers.
Add this book to your collection because Ieronimo as a writer and a mother (see interview here) grapples with an adopted child’s loss and culture shock in a way that is both honest and hopeful, and Velasquez paints his characters with realism and heart.
Other books illustrated by Eric Velasquez include:
Written and illustrated by Eric Velasquez:
Watch a video of the author’s experience visiting her daughter’s home village here.
“The water has connected my two worlds, and I know who I am.”