Reviewed by Debbie Reese
In February, 2018, Penguin announced it was launching a new imprint, Kokila, that would center “stories from the margins with books that add nuance and depth to the way children and young adults see the world and their place in it.”
On September 17 of this year (2019), Kokila will release At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorell (she’s a citizen of the Cherokee Nation). Illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre (she’s Tongva/Scots-Gaelic), it is an all-to-rare book: it is written and illustrated by Native people, and published by one of the Big Five publishers. Being published by a major publisher means a lot of visibility. The book will be sent to bloggers, copies will be given away at conferences, and review copies will be sent to the major review journals.
On the opening pages, the words and art invite us to come closer and closer with each page turn. It starts with us looking at a mountain, and then a hickory tree, and then a cabin, and then, we look in the window of that cabin and see a person sitting by a wood stove.
That person is a grandmother, weaving. Her grandchild watches her fingers, weaving the strands of fiber that frame the illustrations up to this point in the story. But, this grandma is worrying as she weaves. The grandchild is not the only person with the grandmother. Other members of the family are there, too, singing.
On the wall behind them is a photograph of a woman in uniform that tells us what the worry is over. The song they sing is about the person in that photograph. Turning the page, we see–from above–the cockpit of an airplane. Inside the cockpit is the woman in the photograph. She’s a pilot, and as she flies her plane, she prays for peace because of the people inside that cabin at the base of that mountain.
If I were to count the words in this book, I think there would be less than 50, but they carry so much power, so much beauty, so much strength! The art is that way, too. The colors and arrangement convey a quiet strength. Together, they are breathtaking! Continue reading.
At the Mountain's Base by Traci Sorell
Published by Kokila on September 17, 2019
Genres: American Indians First Nations Metis Inuit
Reading Level: Grade K, Grades 1-2
Review Source: American Indians in Children's Literature
Also by this author: We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, Indian No More, Classified
Publisher's Synopsis: A family, separated by duty and distance, waits for a loved one to return home in this lyrical picture book celebrating the bonds of a Cherokee family and the bravery of history-making women pilots.
At the mountain's base sits a cabin under an old hickory tree. And in that cabin lives a family -- loving, weaving, cooking, and singing. The strength in their song sustains them through trials on the ground and in the sky, as they wait for their loved one, a pilot, to return from war.
With an author's note that pays homage to the true history of Native American U.S. service members like WWII pilot Ola Mildred "Millie" Rexroat, this is a story that reveals the roots that ground us, the dreams that help us soar, and the people and traditions that hold us up.