Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Wednesday, May 20, 2020: Kids' Maximum Shelf: Evelyn del Rey Is Moving Away

Candlewick Press: Evelyn del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez

Candlewick Press: Evelyn del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez

Candlewick Press: Evelyn del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez

Candlewick Press: Evelyn del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez

Evelyn del Rey Is Moving Away

by Meg Medina, illus. by Sonia Sánchez

Daniela and her "número uno best friend" Evelyn del Rey share one last, bittersweet playdate as neighbors in this reflective and spirited tribute to lasting friendship, written by Newbery Award winner Meg Medina (Merci Suárez Changes Gears) and illustrated by Sonia Sánchez (Green Green), who received an Eisner Award nomination for her debut picture book, Here I Am. Grounded in a situation many children will face, the simple, elegant prose and richly textured art also expresses and validates the experiences of children in close-knit urban communities.

Daniela, a tawny child with scribbled twin buns and charmingly oversized round glasses, cuddles her guinea pig in her room. "Just like today is any other day," Evelyn, an umber-hued girl with spirals of black hair crowned by a chunky twist, calls from her window in the next building for Daniela to come play. Once outside, Daniela can see evidence of how today is different: a cavernous moving truck sits at the curb in a bank of orange and yellow autumn leaves, "ready to gobble up Evelyn's mirror with the stickers around the edge, her easel for painting on rainy days, and the sofa that we bounce on to get to the moon." Once inside Evelyn's building, though, the girls race up the steps and down the hall with its chambray-and-white patterned walls "just like we always do." Neighbors pop out to feed pigeons from the window, grouse or offer cookies in honor of "the big day." 

While the girls play and Evelyn's mother shifts boxes, Daniela reflects, "Our apartments are almost twins, just like us." She muses about their surface differences and core similarities on a spread that shows Daniela in her green and "pink like cotton candy" room and Evelyn in her blue and "sunny yellow" room, sending a doll back and forth via a string through their open windows. Even though they have different family structures, Daniela knows "we are mostly the same... But not after today." Even though they use an empty box and their imaginations to build a blue-toned city and sail its harbor, soon, "when we look around, everything has disappeared except us." Daniela must face the truth that tomorrow "Evelyn will be in a new home that doesn't match mine." This devastating acknowledgment is shown on a lush, double-page spread. On the left, there is an exterior view of Daniela looking out the window of her red brick building at orange and yellow beech foliage while, on the right, Evelyn sits on a porch amid palm fronds in a coral sundress. The book's gutter disappears almost completely as it lines up with the edge of Daniela's building and is covered by autumn leaves.

The girls press sparkly stickers to each other's cheeks and promise to visit, but after one last photo, secret handshake and hug, reality hits home: "Evelyn del Rey is moving away." Daniela's face scrunches in palpable grief as Evelyn climbs into a van with her mami and papi. While the day ends on a heartrending note, with Evelyn fighting tears in the backseat of the van and Daniela crying on Mami's shoulder, a touching surprise awaits readers on the last page. Although "Mami says not to be sad, that we will both make new friends," Daniela knows Evelyn del Rey "will always be my first mejor amiga." The final page turn validates her loyalty and confidence as it reveals Daniela several years in the future, still sporting oversized round spectacles, her puffy twin buns a smooth single unit. She sits on the floor of her pink-and-green bedroom, a chest on an ottoman in front of her spilling out a strand of beads, a photo of Evelyn and what appear to be years of letters from "the one I will always know by heart." The peaceful smile on her face as she reads one of Evelyn's letters provides a warm, uplifting coda that suggests love can conquer separation.

Evelyn del Rey Is Moving Away is an introspective yet powerful treatment of a common childhood occurrence. Medina says that when writing for children, "less is more"; she wanted to invite readers "into the experience and let it speak for itself." By offering little direct reference to emotion in the narrative, she allows readers room to practice empathy and take their own emotional journeys. Daniela's internal monologue strikes a compelling balance between believable childhood diction, with words like "gobble" and "grouchy" and mature hints of quiet sadness as she returns repeatedly to thoughts of grief's companion, change. Her contemplative nature and depth of feeling make the resolution's implication of lifelong friendship that much more credible. 

In her digitally created illustrations, Sánchez makes use of loose lines, texture and gorgeous, interesting patterns, her playful raspberry-pink botanicals and sophisticated trellises giving a vintage vibe to the building interiors. But it's her impeccable facial expressions that earn the spotlight. In fact, after Medina received Sánchez's sketches, she further streamlined her lean text to give space to the bounty of emotion. The girls' feelings shine in their every expression: Evelyn's serene smile, the tear-jerker moment when Daniela surrenders to sadness. Filled with relatable moments and the closeness that blooms in urban settings, this gentle yet realistic love song to best friends and resiliency will speak to many hearts. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Candlewick, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781536207040, September 8, 2020

Candlewick Press: Evelyn del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez

Meg Medina: True to a Child's Heart

Meg Medina is the author of the Newbery Medal-winning middle-grade novel Merci Suárez Changes Gears. She also wrote the Pura Belpré Award-winning YA novel Yacqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and the picture books Mango, Abuela, and Me, illustrated by Angela Dominguez, which was a Pura Belpré Author and Illustrator Award Honor Book, and Tía Isa Wants a Car, illustrated by Claudio Muñoz, which won the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award. The daughter of Cuban immigrants, she grew up in Queens, N.Y., and now lives in Richmond, Va. Her new book, Evelyn del Rey Is Moving Away, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez, will be published by Candlewick on September 8, 2020.

What brought you to write Evelyn del Rey Is Moving Away?

I was thinking of my first friend, Evelyn, who lived two blocks from my apartment. Evelyn's family was Cuban like mine, so our families could communicate. We had almost identical apartments, too, right down to the plastic-covered sofas. We loved playing together. There were also differences: Evelyn lived with both her parents and her brothers, while I lived with my mom and my sister. We went to different schools. We were different races. 

Inspiration came as I sat in on a workshop given by illustrator Shadra Strickland at the Highlights Foundation. It was about finding plots for picture books using the common problems of growing up. As we brainstormed, I started to see that losing a friend or having a friend move away could be the perfect fictional plot to add to my sweet memories of Evelyn.  

Have you ever gotten separated from a good friend? 

Oh, yes. As we grow up, we lose friends in all sorts of ways--sometimes to physical moves, of course, but sometimes the losses are more subtle. Our friends are assigned to different classrooms or find a new friend they prefer. Sometimes we outgrow shared interests. All of that happened in my life. There have also been the moments we could never have expected, like this latest--a pandemic--where we are forced away from our friends for extended periods of time. All of those separations unmoor us in some way, especially when we're young. 

You write for a range of ages. Are there any tenets you bear in mind no matter the audience?

Kids have different lenses on the world at different ages. As a writer, I try to stay true to the concerns of each age group. What I always do, regardless of their age, is tell them the truth. Readers look to books to be entertained but also to make sense of themselves and what they're experiencing. It's crucial not to lie to readers about difficult experiences.  

The way all of the items the girls use in their play slowly vanish into the moving truck was such a clever touch.

The world of someone who is between five and eight years old is the world of pretend. Boxes become boats. Measuring sticks are magic wands. Mud balls are delicious cakes. A day of pretending seemed true to a child's heart. I also saw that packing up a living space is packing up a life, in many ways. I wanted to have the girls continue in their world of pretend for as long as possible, until the packing up of this phase of their friendship was unavoidable.  

What effect do you hope this story will have on young readers? 

My greatest hope is that readers will have a chance to celebrate the friends who make them happy right now. I hope teachers and parents reading alongside their kids will help kids talk about how to be a good friend, how to love a friend and how to keep a friend even as we grow and change. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Sonia Sánchez: Layers and Transparencies

Sonia Sánchez is the illustrator of Here I Am, written by Patricia Hee Kim, which was nominated for a Will Eisner Comic Industry Award for interior art. She lives with her husband, son and a sleepyhead cat in Barcelona, Spain. Her new book, Evelyn del Rey Is Moving Away, written by Meg Medina, will be published by Candlewick on September 8, 2020.

How closely did you and Meg work on character design?

Before I began sketching, they explained how they would prefer to see the characters realized. I tried to stay true to the author's ideas. I went through many rounds of principle character sketches, eliminating some and polishing others to get it just right.

What made you decide to give Daniela her signature glasses? 

I want the characters to look realistic, and many people wear glasses. I wear glasses as well. I think that when children see these details, it helps them to identify with the characters.

Your patterns and the ways you combine them in your digital art are fantastic. 

I always work with patterns and textures, perhaps because as a child I was taught how to paint with oil pastels, and you have to work it with layers and transparencies. Working with the computer, I don't want to lose the human touch. I can create richer backgrounds with my own brushes and textures this way.

What was on your mind as you created such deeply emotional illustrations?

I think we all have had a best friend or a soulmate in whom we have confided and had the absolute best of times. As time goes by and we grow older, things happen, like with Evelyn and Daniela. We move to a different place, change schools. It can break your heart.

This story reminded me of my childhood friends with whom I had such a great time. I also wanted to add the idea of pen pals to the story. It is something that I love, a very personal and authentic way of connecting. I'm afraid that nowadays, with so many digital options, children might lose this habit.

Why did you choose to use an autumnal setting?

Summer is all about playful, joyful moments. With the autumn comes a change in their relationship. I wanted to express that although Evelyn is moving away, there is hope that the friendship will remain. --Jaclyn Fulwood

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