Nikki Grimes; Illus. by Wendell Minor
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, May 5, 2020

ISBN 978-154760082From KIRKUS REVIEWS starred review
A young black child reluctantly moves from New York City to New Mexico. The young protagonist is not excited about leaving New York City and "the feeling of wow / craning my neck to study / the tops of skyscrapers" to move to New Mexico, where everything will be "browns and tans / …the only colors / deserts are good for" (a questionable choice of words). But on this first morning in New Mexico, the grumpy kid is gifted with a series of nature-based surprises. First, a mountain unnoticed the night before is waiting outside the "barless window." Here and throughout the book, Minor's lovely art captures the beauty of the Southwestern United States in gouache watercolors—in this case presenting a picturesque scene perfectly captured in a window frame surrounded by white space that makes the view all the more arresting. With the help of a field guide, the young protagonist sets off on a nature walk that reveals colorful flowers, birds, lizards, vistas, and more, all described with Grimes' signature poetic lyricism and vividly depicted in Minor's gorgeous illustrations. By the end of the walk, the intrepid budding naturalist is ready to give this beautiful new home a try. How glorious: a story about a black child experiencing the outdoors that is beautiful in every way.

From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL  starred review
K-Gr 3–Moving is never easy, but it’s particularly tough for Jayden, a child moving from New York City to a desert home in New Mexico. Jayden’s transition from sullen to surprised, irritated to intrigued, is evident in his observant, lyrical narration. Initially he’s convinced that “browns and tans are the only colors deserts are good for.” Once he steps outside, however, he spies colorful “fancy-named flowers” like the winecup and yellow bells that he identifies using the field guide given to him by his mother. As he walks, he continues to spot more interesting plants and animals—hanging red chili peppers, black tips on magpie wings, and a kingly raven, so similar to the city’s crows. Though Jayden will likely continue to miss his old home, readers can feel confident that he’ll find new pleasures and treasures in his new one. Soft lines and gentle colors of gouache illustrations allow readers to share in Jayden’s discoveries. VERDICT A useful purchase for libraries. This evocative and engaging title can be read on several levels.

The boy of color who stars in this story begins sitting in a plane seat with his arms crossed and a baseball cap over his eyes. Jayden is moving from New York to New Mexico, and he’s not happy about it. But on his first morning there, he sees “a mountain/ striped in rainbow” out of his bedroom window: “Hey! Who put that there?” As he starts to explore, exquisitely drafted spreads by Minor (Hi, I’m Norman) alternate between close-ups—desert wildflowers, birds, a tiny lizard—and sweeping, light-filled desert landscapes. The boy’s resentment begins to thaw: “Where was all this sky in New York City?” Lyrical lines by Grimes (Bedtime for Sweet Creatures) combine poetry (a flower called a wine-cup “spilling its burgundy beauty/ for me to drink up”) with exclamations: about red rock pillars, “Daddy should’ve told me/ this new place has/ its own skyscrapers!” The boy’s experience is touched with remarkable wonder and freedom; he walks alone with a guidebook to nature, musing about everything he finds. Grimes and Minor show what braving unexpected change looks like and introduce the idea of making friends with a distinctive landscape 

Protagonist Jayden is unhappy about his family’s move from New York City, with its skyscrapers and “feeling of wow,” to the New Mexico desert, land of shadows, lizards, and endless sky. During the flight west, Jayden pouts and tries not to cry. But despite his attitude, he can’t suppress his wonder upon arrival. Near his family’s new home, he notices an array of colorful flowers, a chatty magpie, rock formations with rainbow colors, and tall “red rock pillars / holding up the sky” that remind him of the New York skyline. Minor’s gouache watercolor illustrations, featuring an African American family, capture the expansive topography, the surprising desert palette, and Jayden’s growing appreciation for his surroundings. His gruff expression becomes inquisitive, respectful, and finally joyous as he discovers flowers, butterflies, bleached animal bones, and more. The lyrical quality of Grimes’s poetry gets richer as Jayden begins to embrace his new home. He even finds a small gift to bring to his mother, while he also presents her with his first smile since leaving the city. Moving is never easy, but Jayden’s experience of focusing on the beauty before him rather than on what he has left behind is an endearing example of making the best of a new situation.

In the revelatory prose poem Southwest Sunrise, Nikki Grimes (Between the Lines; Ordinary Hazards) relocates narrator Jayden, an African American boy, from his home in New York City to somewhere that couldn't be less New-Yorky. He has two questions for starters: "Why are we here?/ What's so great about/ New Mexico?"

At first, the answer seems to be "nothing." From his airplane seat, Jayden is "mad about moving to a place/ of shadows./ That's all I see when we land." But he finds himself admitting to some curiosity the next morning, when "I wake up to/ a knife of sunlight/ slicing through the room/ Dad says is mine." Jayden looks out the window and sees a mountain. He has another question: "Who put that there?"

Jayden proceeds to spend the morning exploring his environment, toting a field guide that his mother gave him; with it, he identifies piñon trees and "fancy-named flowers." He spies "another kind of color"--the adobe house across from his. Jayden has two more questions: "Where was all this sky/ in New York City?/ Was it hiding?"

Jayden's transition to his new life won't be seamless--"I still miss the feeling of wow/ craning my neck to study/ the tops of skyscrapers"--but he finds comfort in making connections between the two worlds he has known: a raven reminds him of a city crow, and "the river of sand/ washes up bleached bones/ like seashells/ at Jones Beach:/ rib, bird's skull, turtle shell." When he sees the "red rock pillars/ holding up the sky," he doesn't have a question but a full-voiced statement: "Daddy should've told me/ this new place has/ its own skyscrapers!"

The hallmark of Southwest Sunrise is the faith it puts in readers to answer Jayden's questions. Regarding his initial one, "Why are we here?," Grimes hints that the boy's old neighborhood was dicey: he refers to his "barless window" in New Mexico, and he shivers from "the silence/ unbroken by/ the familiar sound of sirens." As for Jayden's question "What's so great about/ New Mexico?," Wendell Minor (Galápagos George; Daylight Wildlife Starlight), whose awards combined with Grimes's could fill a trophy case, answers with gouache watercolors that call to mind the rippling expansiveness of Georgia O’Keeffe's famous homages to the book's landscape.

Shelf Talker: In this lively book-length prose poem, an African American boy explores the outdoors in an effort to understand his family's recent move from New York City to New Mexico.

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