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Orani: My Father's Village Hardcover – Jul 19 2011
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“While this would serve as a model for personal narrative writing, it mostly deserves to be read for the rhapsodic, evocative story that it tells of a place that to kids will seem long ago and far away.” ―BCCB
“This shimmering memoir opens a window on the past and invites young readers to climb through it…As families head off this summer to visit relatives or explore other parts of the world, the lyrical text and sun-drenched illustrations of this lovely book make a perfect bon voyage, a graceful reminder to a new generation to remember this time and cherish this place.” ―Washington Post
“Orani and its people are lovingly evoked in Nivola's watercolor and gouache paintings, from expansive views to more intimate scenes, from children thronging narrow streets and family gatherings to pensive vignettes.” ―Horn Book Magazine, Starred
“Nivola is a consummate artist. The work here is heartbreakingly beautiful, with its depictions of the village's red-tiled roofs and cobbled streets. Its people are alive, and you absolutely know who young Claire is in nearly every spread by her hair, her sandals and her dress. I think children will relish searching for her on each page.” ―The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Claire Nivola has written and illustrated many books for children, most recently, Planting the Trees of Kenya, an award-winning picture book about Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai. She lives with her husband in Newton Highlands, Massachusetts.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
When Claire was a kid she and her family would travel back to Sardinia, her father's birthplace, and visit with friends and relatives in the village of Orani. There, a small girl could see a whole host of wonders. From tiny lizards sunning themselves in the sun to tethered goats and donkeys. There were funerals and weddings, babies and corpses, figs and flies, new bread and dances. Eventually the family would have to return home to New York City and the child would look around and wonder. Does every immigrant have an Orani of their own somewhere?
Does nostalgia make for good children's literature? Only when there's a point to it above and beyond satiating the author's fancy. A clever personal story should contain some historical hook that's both informative and interesting to the child reader. William Stieg's When Everybody Wore a Hat may be one of the more perfect examples of this. Orani has an advantage of its own since the story is a kind of child fantasy. Kids today are often watched and guarded and kept close at hand by their anxious guardians. The charm of Orani then is that it offers a kind of modern day child fantasy. Imagine that there was an island where you could run around all day with other kids, exploring and visiting and you were always safe. With bandits. Nivola succeeds in making a story that is accurate to her memories but that also could really appeal to kids. No small feat.
In an odd way, the book this really reminded me the most of was Donald Hall's Caldecott winning Ox-Cart Man with illustrations by Barbara Cooney. Nivola's style is distinctly Cooney-esque (whatever that may mean). There's a seeming simplicity to her images. And I loved that Claire gives her main character a red dress, allowing the reader the chance to pick her out in one scene or another. The feel of Orani is captured in these pages, leaving the reader with no doubt that the author speaks the truth when she says at the end of the book "I continue to go back to Orani." Curiously, there is only one problematic picture in the title, and it isn't even of Orani itself. The story takes place in the 1950s, which is all well and good. However, the last image we see of our heroine shows her standing on a crowded New York City street with a host of different kinds of people. All well and good except that the people are clearly contemporary. There's a woman in pants and a man with cornrows and jeans. Because Nivola is mentioning how every immigrant may have an Orani of their own, the picture could be interpreted as symbolic and I'm fine with that. However, the facing page, and last image in the book, throws us right back into the 1950s. It's a small inconsistency in an otherwise outstanding title.
As for the writing, it's more evocative than you might expect. I loved some of the descriptions here. How bread dough makes sounds, "like a plump baby being playfully slapped." Or when she returns home to New York City and sees the people from all over the world, "I wondered, what Orani of their own might they have known before they traveled here?" There isn't a "plot" per say, to the book but rather a simple recounting of all that there is to do and see. The tone for this flows. It doesn't read like a rote series of remembrances, nor an overly sentimentalized recounting of one's youth. Instead it is a collection of straightforward memories that use language beautifully.
Another thing I like about the book is that it isn't all sunshine and roses in Orani. One of the first things Nivola does with the book is mention the good things about the island (wild scented thyme, tiny goats, fruit that "tasted like the fruit of paradise") alongside the dark (nettles, scorpions, "and bandits who stole sheep and sometimes kidnapped people"). Once we're in Orani itself most of what Claire describes is entirely pleasant. Yet there are moments that acknowledge the darker side of life. While in a tree eating figs one of Claire's cousins asks her if she's ever seen a dead body. Next thing you know they're climbing the steps to a room where a body lies "rigid and white and cold with the unspeakable strangeness of death." In her Author's Note, Nivola says that Orani for her contained both tragedy and joy, "but they happened in a contained place, among family and neighbors, where everyone knew and cared, so that as a child I could comprehend and feel that each part fit into life's whole." So too does this book take birth, marriage, death, and place such life altering moments in a context small enough for a child reader to understand. Nivola is replicating her childhood experience for children today.
Some of criticized the fact that the book sets no event in Orani above another. Viewing a corpse bears as much page space as finding a fledgling. Personally, I think that is one of the great strengths of the book. Everything in Nivola's memory contains similar weight. Children will be able to apply their own set of criteria and judge what is and isn't important to them accordingly. What's important to me, though, is that the writing in this picture book is superb and that goes for the pictures as well. More than just a simple recounting of a time long past, the book sparks something in the reader. Nivola's images and words will now serve to become part of the memories of her young readers. And on and on it goes.
which I say "it doesn't get any better than this." Illustrators Zwerger, Delessert, Innocenti, Ingpen, Helen Ward, some of Van Klampen, come to mind. I am going to add at least this particular book to the list. The book has everything - a good story, a foreign locale, a real sense of place & culture, loads of architecture, and almost enough landscape to suit my tastes. It also includes maps and author's notes which I always like in books.
Bravo to Ms. Nivola. I have three other of her books, and they are good but this is by far the best.
As a tribute to her father's birthplace and the Mediterranean island that few are familiar with, Claire uses her childhood memories of the 1950s and 1960s to create a memorable picture book that captures the geography, climate, and simple life of a small Italian village.
From an American child's perception, the reader is introduced to a culture that is rich with family togetherness and traditions. When the main character interacts with her relatives, Claire reveals her daily life. A wedding, a baby's birth, a man's death, and Corpus Christi Day are interspersed in the running narrative of ordinary activities. The book can be used to model memoir writing.
As both the author and illustrator, Claire is able to effectively meld together her descriptive words with her detailed and plentiful pictures. The watercolor and gouache paintings add immensely to her colorful prose. An author's note provides additional insight into her background.