Luis Paints the World: A Charlotte Huck Recommended book!

As glad as we always are to see Lerner books earn accolades, I particularly love seeing people start to notice the beautiful, important books that would otherwise exist quietly in the world, under the radar. 
Example A: a beautiful, important book of 2016 (IMHO)

The weekend before Thanksgiving, I was following along with Twitter updates from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention, which was taking place that weekend in Atlanta. This conference is always an inspiring gathering of educators and others who recognize the immense value books can bring to students of all stripes, at all levels, and who are committed to sharing and learning new ways to engage students in the power of language and literature. While it’s no substitute for being there in person, I highly recommend following the creative and profound ideas from the conference that come through in 140-character bits hashtagged #NCTE16.

The Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children is one of several honors announced each year at NCTE. This award was established in 2014 “to promote and recognize excellence in the writing of fiction for children. [It] recognizes fiction that has the potential to transform children’s lives by inviting compassion, imagination, and wonder.” (Source linked above.) I was thrilled to learn that the Carolrhoda picture book Luis Paints the World, by Terry Farish and illustrated by Oliver Dominguez, was named a Charlotte Huck Recommended Book for 2016.

Published in April, this tender, timely story offers a glimpse of the struggle of many modern families and the hopeful power of community. Young Luis wishes his older brother, Nico, wasn’t leaving for the Army. To show Nico he doesn’t need to go, Luis begins a mural on the alleyway wall. Their house, the river, the Parque de las Ardillas—it’s the world, their Dominican neighborhood in Lawrence, Massachusetts, all right there. Won’t Nico miss Mami’s sweet flan? What about their baseball games in the street?

The seasons pass, and texts from Nico overseas become sporadic. Luis presses Mami to know when Nico is coming home, with heartbreaking uncertainty in her response.
“Muy pronto,” Mami says. “Pero, Luis, sometimes people, they move on. They don’t come back for the baseball. Even the flan.”
“Yes, they do,” Luis whispers. 

But as Luis awaits his brother’s return from duty, his own world expands as well, through his swoops of paint and the bright world that takes shape as neighbors grab a brush.

From the moment this book started coming together, I’ve been struck by the tenderness of the family relationships painted both in words and in paint, the authentic innocence of young Luis and the fear that he faces, and the power he demonstrates through his act of creative expression, which brings the community together.

It’s a universally relatable story of siblings, of family, and of struggling with the unknown. It’s also a rare picture book that specifically relates a military family’s experience. I asked Terry about this duality, and if there was significance to this military family being Dominican-American. She replied:

“Yes, children in so many families have experienced Luis’s story. My daughter was a little girl when her father, in the Air Force, left very often on assignments. She was sad and then she was angry and we all had to recover when he came home. Luis’s story arose directly from my experience of working with Dominican-American families. Kids talked about their brothers or sisters being in the army and away from home. In researching, it became clear that across the country, immigrants make up a disproportionate number of the country’s volunteer army. Today, having a family member in the military is often a part of Dominican-American and other immigrant families’ experience. That truth was the story’s impetus.

“Overall, active duty military make up only one percent of the population, but I hope the story could be a bridge in that cultural divide between military and civilian life. In most ways, it’s a story about loving your brother (or sister or parent) so bad and figuring out how to hold on to them if they have to go away. That’s everybody’s story.”

I’m so glad to see Luis Paints the World recognized with this honor, with hopes that it will continue to find its way to a wider audience–for it is only in the hands of readers that the book will truly have the power to transform lives.

Congratulations to Terry Farish and Oliver Dominguez on this recognition!

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