The Year We Learned to Fly

In the dynamically illustrated and poetically written The Year We Learned to Fly, the second picture book from author-illustrator team Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael López (The Day You Begin), a wise grandmother instills in her two Black grandchildren ways to overcome obstacles both large and small.

Woodson's text uses phrasing that repeats with every new challenge: "That was the spring when the rain seemed like it would never stop"; "That was the summer we learned to fly." Their perceptive Grandmother acknowledges that the rain makes them bored and says, "Somebody somewhere at some point was just as bored as you are now." The children use their imagination to escape the apartment and fly over the city. When they fight in the summer, Grandmother says, "Somebody somewhere at some point was just as mad as you are now." Again, the siblings take flight. By autumn, the children know that they don't "have to be stuck anywhere anymore." At this point, Grandmother explains that she learned to fly from the people who came before--the ancestors who were chained and brought here on huge ships: "Somebody somewhere at some point had to figure out they could fly."

Woodson states in her author's note that this story was inspired by Virginia Hamilton's short story "The People Could Fly," illustrated by the remarkable Leo and Diane Dillon. Woodson's expressive text makes each ordeal realistic and accessible, even as the stakes get higher. López's mixed-media art matches Woodson's tone, his figures realistic even as the landscapes become dreamy and fantastical. As with The Day You Begin, this picture book manages to entertain, educate and inspire with the lightest of touches. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

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