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"The roots that ground us help us soar." (from the back jacket copy of AT THE MOUNTAIN'S BASE)
The author is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation and the illustrator is a Tongva/Scots-Gaelic comic book artist making AT THE MOUNTAIN'S BASE one more picture book written and illustrated by Indian writers and artists from which we we can draw and share with our readers.
Weshoyot Alvitre's artwork seems to leap out of her comic book artistry (this reviewer spent some time at the artist's website to get a feel for the wraparound artistry and the art that we see in this book). Her artwork within SIXKILLER and TRIBAL FORCE and SOVEREIGN TRACES is brought forward with Sorell's verse to create a stunning picture book which features family and tradition and craft as a means of sustaining memory and presenting a narrative.
Alitre's work which was unfamiliar to the reviewer before this review is emulated/echoed (if this is possible in two dimensions) in the larger face of the figure we will come to know within the book as "a grandma." The presentation of "a grandma" sweeps up to the top of cover with hands stretching down a mountain side with what appears to be heavy thread or yarn. The mystical/mythical look of the cover might suggest that the reader will be woven now into this piece and be a part of its messages and themes by the end of the book. The case and the end papers further this suggestion of the weaving that is integral to the book.
Sorell's verse continues with this sort of large to small presentation. Knotted threads wrap/frame:
At the mountain's base/grows a hickory tree (left facing text). Beneath this sits a cabin (right facing text).
As a mentor text to be used in the writing classroom, we see that Sorell is drawing the reader into a scene. The figures of the book have not been introduced to the reader yet. It is as if Sorell and Alvityre are working/weaving together an opportunity to frame this story in familiarity before presenting a family.
We know mountains. We know hickory trees. We can see a cabin. We're weaving in.
Alvitre's threads actually "violate" the edges of the page suggesting a movement down the page and into the page turns.
The reader is led to a kitchen with a stove that "warms well-worn pans." Each of these micro-introductions are framed in Alvitre's thread until we get to the first page where we are introduced to grandmother whose threads extend verso to recto as if to suggest that the threads the reader have seen have been leading to these hands.
The next opening spread depicts grandmother with eleven multi-colored threads extending out in an arc stretching to a sky that must be imagined outside the boundaries and borders of a book.
With the limited consultation I was able to do of Alvitre before reviewing Sorell's words, I see that a spread depicting the family surrounding grandma, "tending and singing" is in the Alvitre style which presents figures face-forward and eyes open. I have noted of Alvitre's work that her figures seem to look directly at the viewer. Wrinkles are presented as wisdom lines and Alvitre is able to present generations with her due care to complexion and a kind of "brightness" among the ages.
In the "back" of this spread is a earth-tone picture of a woman in uniform.
Sorell's work here takes a turn from a presentation of multigenerational women to their song now which is a shift in our being the reader of a narrative to their sharing of the narrative now with the reader. Alvitre's thread frames return in the early presentation of the person of and about whom the women are singing.
An aviator is depicted over finished woven pieces suggesting that this is the woman in the photograph. When we get to the spread of the aviator in the cockpit, we can fully appreciate Alvitre's comic book art background. Sorell's words: "In that plane/flies a pilot,/protecting and defending." The expression of the aviator is one of awareness, concentration, and pride.
When the pilot closes her eyes, Sorell's words appear again over thread frames until the facing page wherein Alvitre sweeps the canvas with a color sky and a plane flying to the right guided by the spiritual hands of an older woman who seems to almost cradle the craft.
The reason for the prayer is the "loop" of the weave of the narrative. A song is being sung for a family member away while that person aloft sends a prayer. There is a connectivity suggested in both visual and verse here that celebrates family and care and connectivity.
Sorell's Author's Note is short but presents a truth regarding Native women who have served in wars in service to country from the early days of a nation's creation to the current service to the United States Armed Forces where Native women comprise a large part of the total military.
Sorell invites the reader to consider these women and their stories by presenting one in Ola Mildred "Millie" Rexroat.
Sorell and Alvitre weave verse and visual in a manner that makes AT THE MOUNTAIN'S BASE an important addition to the newer picture books featuring First Nations writers and illustrators. The verse is accessible and presents ideas for young writers to parallel in the presentation of a singular scene with a larger scope. Alvitre's illustrations honor the concern and complexity of woman of many generations (the "huddle" at the end of the book is particularly poignant). A quick consultation at Twitter with author Traci Sorell reveals that Kokila gave Alvitre permissions to create a separate case from the dust jacket and that what a reader sees in the unwrapping of the book is traditional Cherokee finger weaving. I wanted to share this with the Goodreads community so you could share with your readers in the room. Of course, this reference sent me on a quick search of traditional Cherokee finger weaving (as you might have suspected it would).
As a secondary classroom teacher, it is a pleasure to add AT THE MOUNTAIN'S BASE to our collection of books that feature with due care, responsibility, and representation the stories of First Nations people.
With it's focus on military service, the book has instant "ladders" to Joseph Bruchac's CODE TALKER, but I really want to put a focus upon the centering and celebration of Native women's contribution to the protection and preservation of country through their volunteer service to our military.
Highly recommended for inclusion within a consciously-curated classroom library. I purchased this book for my classroom library in Room 407 at Silver Creek High School.
This is a beautiful book, with stunning illustrations. I won't lie, it brought a tear or two to my eye. It's a wonderful story that maybe should be called a song, following a family of Indigenous women who have a loved one in the military. I really cannot stress enough how gorgeous the illustrations are, I wish I could enlarge them and frame them on my wall
Liked. Beautiful picture book the way the threads weave through it. Threads have multiple meanings. Women in World War II. WASPS are little known as it is, Native American, or American Indian women as WASPS even more interesting. Other books explore content on the accomplishments of women in war. Standing up Against Hate by Mary Cronk Farrell about women and their service and Fly Girls by P. O'Connell Pearson about the pilots are companion books.
"At the Mountain's Base" is a poetic story about military service and family faithfulness, with roots that run deep. The tale is set in a cabin that sits at the base of a mountain, beneath a hickory tree. Within the home, warmth and love abound as family members unite in song and prayer for a loved one who is serving her country. The art and prose are gorgeous and unforgettable.
Reviewed in the United States on November 22, 2019
Beautifully written and illustrated, this lyrical picture book tells the story of a Cherokee Air Force pilot and the family that is anxiously awaiting her return home. A must-have for classrooms and libraries.
Reviewed in the United States on February 15, 2020
I loved the lyrical prose of the story line as well as the graphic art of the book. Native veterans serving in the military is disproportionate to the population at large in that they serve in far greater numbers. The fact that this book honors our women veterans is a wonderful plus. I look forward to more works from this author.
This book is powerful and carries an emotional metaphor throughout which shows a fictional Cherokee family's anxiousness as they await the return of a loved one from armed service. I enjoyed the masterful story weaving as well as the backmatter which gives readers a real life Cherokee female hero who served in the Airforce.