Monday, November 26, 2012

KALI'S SONG by Jeanette Winter

Winter, Jeanette. Kali's Song. New York: Schwartz & Wade, 2012.ISBN: 978-0-375-87022-4. $16.99. Ages 4-8

Whenever I finish a Jeanette Winter book, I find that I have just a bit more faith in the human being and society, so I was very excited to see Kali's Song. I am glad to say that I was not disappointed. In fact, I found myself smiling when I finished Kali's Song because of the warmth expressed in the central characters' relationships with each other and the community's respect for the importance of art and the artist. This book is a reminder of the power of art, in this case music, and how it can change people's actions and possibly even history.

Set thousands and thousands and thousands of years ago, this is a story about a little boy, Kali, who finds that he has a very special gift and doesn't have to be like everyone else. Like all the young boys that Kali knows, he is groomed to become a great hunter. His father gives him a bow and arrows, and his mother encourages him that it won't be that much longer before he can join the men to kill the animals—if he practices every day.

Kali finds that it's not practicing to hunt that brings him joy, but it's something else entirely. It's the sounds his bow makes when he plucks the strings and puts the bow to his mouth. Kali is not the only one mesmerized by the sounds he makes. Every day, animals "listen and are still" and "birds listen and are still" and "the stars come close to listen" as Kali plays. And every day when his father asks, Kali says that his practice went well.

The day of the big hunt arrives and Kali takes his bow and arrows and joins the other men and boys. When they reach the animals they are hunting, however, Kali sees the magnificent herd of mammoths below them and forgets all about the hunt. He is so filled by the music he hears within himself in response to their beauty that he puts down his arrows, lifts up his bow, closes his eyes, and begins to play. When he opens his eyes again, all the mammoths are surrounding him. The other hunters are so amazed at the sight of mammoths gathering around one little boy and moved by the beauty of Kali's music that they put down their bows and arrows. They declare Kali to be a shaman, because "only a shaman can do this." From then on, Kali plays a very important role in the community and they look to him for guidance. To the very end, "every evening, even when he was a very old man, Kali went to the hills with his bow, closed his eyes, and played his bow-harp until the stars came close to listen."

Like all of Jeanette Winter's books thus far (see Biblio-Burro and Wangari's Trees of Peace), I enjoyed Kali's Song. There is not an unnecessary word on each page, and yet it is full and lyrical. Similarly, there is not an unneeded line in any picture. Winter is a consummate artist—both author and illustrator. The colors used are predominantly browns, grays, greens, blacks, and deep reds—certainly appropriate choices for a community and culture closely associated to nature. Despite the careful thought that must have gone into her illustrations, I must admit I missed her bright, embroidery-like designs that were replaced with almost all textured paper and ink.

One thing that was absent from Kali's Song was the brief background at the end of the text. Kali is certainly no actual individual; nonetheless, a few notes about the possible setting and other emerging forms of music would have been nice. That, though, is from an adult's perspective, and I don't think there's a four year-old or eight year-old out there who is going to throw a temper-tantrum at the lack of a lecture on pre-historic, ancient human history! This book is definitely staying in my library and I can't wait to continue adding to my Jeanette Winter collection.

Stephanie Ashley

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