Every once in awhile, a story comes along and fills a hole in the picture book universe. Maybe we knew about the void, like how few children’s books feature main characters of color, or perhaps we only realize what we’ve been missing in retrospect, like tales with a competent, emotionally attentive male caregiver. Through a carefully crafted plot and wonderfully expressive illustrations, Jabari Jumps does just that, claiming a spot in the story-time queue it won’t soon relinquish.

In her debut picture book, author-illustrator Gaia Cornwall gives us an African American child doing something sure to resonate with any young reader: getting nervous about tackling a new skill. “I’m jumping off the diving board today,” the goggle-wearing boy tells his dad, “I’m not scared at all.” Jabari watches the other kids climb the long ladder and says it looks easy. “But when his dad squeezed his hand, Jabari squeezed back.” As Jabari repeatedly tries to summon the courage to take the plunge, his father checks in. “Maybe you should climb down and take a tiny rest,” he offers, “it’s okay to feel a little scared.”

As all this unfolds, young readers will delight in fun sound effects (“Splash!”), just the right amount of repetition (“Down, down, down he went”), and illustrations somehow brimming with both realism and whimsy. The dedication and cover pages, for example, show Jabari changing into his swimsuit in precisely the way anyone his age would: he gets his head stuck in his shirt, sits down to remove his socks, and must mix a little pretending to be a penguin into the process. Side stories sprinkled throughout, like the kid chasing a bug or the one grimacing as sunblock is applied, are also sure to capture little imaginations.

For adults, there’s more. Near the end, for example, Jabari’s dad shouts, “You did it!” rather than “Good job!”—reflecting the very latest in social science research on parenting (we are to encourage, the experts say, not praise). The pictures have a high-art feel with soothing yet vibrant colors and inventive patterns, such as the buildings constructed in newsprint and the bathing suit worn by Jabari’s little sister that changes with each turn of the page. And Cornwall’s use of perspective? Oh my. We see Jabari looking out at the world from the tip of the diving board on one breathtaking spread, and on another page he gazes straight down at the tops of people’s heads and his own toes “curled around the rough edge.”

To have a story set at a public swimming pool about a black boy, as well as a father and sister who sport slightly different skin tones, shows Cornwall’s awareness of her book’s place in the ongoing civil rights movement. At the same time, the story isn’t about race. Jabari is just a little boy contemplating a big leap, who happens to have brown skin.

Just in time for summer, Jabari, his dad, and Cornwall are ready to splash their way into readers’ hearts—and our notion of how a family looks and acts.

From https://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/weblog/2017/05/jabari-jumps-by-gaia-corwall-book-review.html

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