The Picture Book Buzz

Jump at the Sun - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

I remember the freedom of a glorious summer day, when the chores were done and you could run, tumble, and explore. The reflective sunbeams on this whimsical, joyous cover reminded me of those days. Poking about in creek beds, digging for treasure, looking for fairy homes in the woods, or pretending to be Peter Pan as we flew off the swings. A feeling Zora seemed to keep throughout her life.


I have to admit I only knew a little about Zora Neale Hurston, but this wonderful ode to the imagination and vivacity of Zora Neale Hurston and her dedication and persistence to collect and record folktales has made me want to learn more. It's a marvelously illustrated biography of a creative storyteller whose curiosity and bravery ensured the preservation of many folktales.


Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston


Author: Alicia D. Williams


Illustrator: Jacqueline Alcántara


Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (2021)


Ages: 4-8


Nonfiction


Themes:

Folktales, persistence, biography, and anthropology


Synopsis:

From the Newbery Honor–winning author of Genesis Begins Again comes a shimmering picture book that shines the light on Zora Neale Hurston, the extraordinary writer and storycatcher extraordinaire who changed the face of American literature.


Zora was a girl who hankered for tales like bees for honey. Now, her mama always told her that if she wanted something, “to jump at de sun”, because even though you might not land quite that high, at least you’d get off the ground. So Zora jumped from place to place, from the porch of the general store where she listened to folktales, to Howard University, to Harlem. And everywhere she jumped, she shined sunlight on the tales most people hadn’t been bothered to listen to until Zora. The tales no one had written down until Zora. Tales on a whole culture of literature overlooked…until Zora. Until Zora jumped.


Opening Lines:

IN A TOWN CALLED EATONVILLE—

a place where magnolias smelled even prettier

than they looked, oranges were as sweet as they

were plump, and the people just plain ol’

got along—lived a girl who was attracted

to tales like mosquitoes to skin.


Zora was her name.


What I Loved about this book:

First - look back at the cover above - notice the way Zora (and brer fox) jump through the sparkling rays of sunshine. This beautifully draws the reader into the book and sets the reader up for her mother's encouragement to tell stories. To “jump at de sun. You might not land on de sun, but at least you’d get off de ground."


Next - that 'to-die-for' opening. Alicia's southern voice is perfectly established ("... just plain 'ol get along") and the readers know they are in for a spectacular weaving of a tale. That the book is also nonfiction is icing on the cake. Add in Alcántara's colorful opening spread of Zora racing across the page with brer fox, brer rabbit, and other animals from the folktales - and you can't wait to turn the page.

Text © Alicia D. Williams, 2021. Image © Jacqueline Alcántara, 2021.


Growing up in Florida, Zora loved to linger in the general store and listen to the tales the townsfolk swapped, at least until her Mama yelled "“Zora-a-a! If you don’t come here, you better!” Who isn't smiling right now? I love being immersed in the dialect of both the characters and the folktales. It's so ingenious of Jacqueline to include the folktale characters throughout the illustrations and to have snippets of the tales as speech bubbles floating from the porch.

Text © Alicia D. Williams, 2021. Image © Jacqueline Alcántara, 2021.


Dat’s de

reason de dog

is mad wid de

rabbit now—

’cause he fooled de dog. . . .


The story follows Zora's childhood of creating stories about characters she fashioned from scraps - a doorknob, carved pear scented soap, and ears of corn - and telling folktales she'd overheard to anyone who would listen. Despite her "preaching papa" and grandmother's disapproval. Her mother's death, multiple moves and schools, and a bit more storytelling (including about her age) eventually led her to where she was happiest - "at school and hearing those stories." It was at Howard University that she decided to be an author.


Jumping (taking a risk), as her mama had instructed, Zora moved to New York (telling her stories to famous authors), earned accolades for stories sent to a magazine contest, and entered Barnard College, where, as her final project, she travelled throughout Florida, and "collected Negro folklore." After travelling the south and the Caribbean, collecting stories, Zora gathered them into books and then created her own stories.


Finally - Zora's love of listening and telling stories is so beautifully portrayed in both the text and lively illustrations throughout the book. Like mini treasure hunts, the illustrations play with Zora's many hats, the folktale characters, and even some of her own quotations. Zora's joy and exuberance, her leaps toward the sun, resonate throughout the book but are so beautifully shown in one of my favorite spreads.

Text © Alicia D. Williams, 2021. Image © Jacqueline Alcántara, 2021.


She trekked all the way from Alabama to New Orleans to Haiti

and the Bahamas, gathering as much folklore as a leopard has spots.


Craft note: This is a great mentor book for pulling out a thread - taking a leap of faith - in the subjects life and weaving it throughout the story. It could have been so easy to get distracted by the Jim Crow laws, discrimination, other societal issues, and fun anecdotes that were out of place in the text or the back matter. But Alicia focused on how Zora lived to honor her mother's advice. Hoe her joy in hearing and telling stories made her a beloved author.


The back matter further explains Zora's many hats (roles) in the gathering and retention of important histories. It touches on some of the risks, her teaching dramatic arts, and a sense of the amazing body of work she created. As well as providing additional reading and sources. Overall, this is absolutely delightful introductory biography to an American legend. A book that should be in every library collection.


Resources:

- many folktales come from asking WHY? Why is the sky blue? Why do leopards have spots? Why do skunks smell? (here are a couple - https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/teaching-pourquoi-tales/) Can you write or draw a folktale to explain why something happens, looks, or acts like it does?


- read your favorite folktale or fairytale (like The Three Little Pigs, Tortoise and the Hare, or Brer Rabbit), can you think of ways to change it? Write, or draw a picture of your own version. [examples: The 3 Little Dassies by Jan Brett and The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz ].

- like Zora, use found items and make characters for your story and act it out. (toilet paper rolls, old socks, egg cartons, old socks, recycled objects, paper bags, and rocks - https://www.thecrafttrain.com/fluffy-pet-rocks/ make fun characters.)


If you missed it, be sure to check out Monday's interview with Alicia D. Williams (here).


This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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