Whaleheart: The Heart of It Anthology #1
by Maya Christina Gonzalez and 23 Courageous ArtistAuthors
(Reflection Press, 2015)
Whaleheart is the first anthology of new writing to emerge from The Heart of It: Creating Children’s Books that Matter, a course run by award-winning author and artist Maya Christina Gonzalez (I Know the River Loves Me / Yo sé que el río me ama), who has topped and tailed the collection in such a way as to gather all the stories into the fold of one embracing narrative. Twenty-three new and emerging writers/artists are showcased, each presenting a double-page spread. They offer a glimpse at a diverse range of cultures and artistic styles.
In Maya’s beautifully illustrated embracing narrative, a woman begins a night-time journey in her ‘old friend the river’, where she waits for the ‘storyfish’ to rise. As she gathers ‘the poemas and myths, the tales and cuentos’, she hears a voice telling her to follow the flow of the river: and so she arrives at the sea, where she meets Whaleheart, who encourages her to use the stories she knows to weave a tale that will help her find the ‘story ship’, where she will encounter new storytellers and new stories. The woman climbs aboard and the storytellers’ stories continue… I love the illustration here: it can be no coincidence that exactly 23 discernibly different people are depicted looking over the side of the boat as the woman climbs aboard. How wonderful to have this group portrait of all the contributors to the book!
Part of the mission of the School of the Free Mind, set up by Maya and her husband Matthew Smith-Gonzalez, and through which they run the Heart of It course, is to empower everyone to tell stories. This comes through in the stories in the book; indeed, acting on one’s potential of being and doing anything and everything is explicit in the first three spreads. There are words and pictures that evoke the sounds and mouth-watering smells of specific cultures, like Indelisa Carrillo’s ‘I love listening to Papi’s mariachi music’ and Summer Edward’s ‘Grannie’s coal pot / gurgling like a baby’. Also noteworthy are Innosanto Nagara’s spread, which addresses gender stereotyping, and Jim Cartwright’s love poem ‘Peppy and Sparkle’ that draws together his own and his husband’s national symbols: ‘They are / A quetzal / And a robin’. I also love Janine Macbeth’s spread, with its expansive tree in watercolour and its single sentence, and Nicole Davis’s spread entitled ‘Quiet’. And Cynthia A Weber’s model of Abuelita, Emma Jean and Hector as they share a special moment; and Jorge Tevalan’s ‘Hombre Maya / Mayan Man’, in which he proudly takes ownership of his cultural heritage; and Melissa Reyes’ poem bursting with love. And Silvia Garcia’s amusing cartoon strip about birds on a wire ‘Looking for the Best Spot’, with serious undertones for all of us. And the list goes on…
Some of the spreads present a complete nugget in prose or verse; others seem to dip into a thought and out again. All together they offer an inspiring collection with scope for young readers to take hold of the words and images and to engage their own imaginations and tell their own stories.
End matter includes a ‘Meet the Storyteller’ section with photos, bios and contact details for all the contributors; and Maya, in her introduction to this wonderful array of voices, also encourages everyone to write the stories inside them – because ‘What I know now is that if we don’t find books that reflect us, we can make our own! […] YOU are an artist! YOU are a storyteller!’
Whaleheart points explicitly to the connectedness of stories thereby connecting us. In fact, the way this anthology is designed sends out a joyous mantra to the power of stories to evoke that connection, even though each individual story is unique and different. The collection is aptly named – it does indeed have a big heart.
Find out about all the contributors to Whaleheart by clicking on the Featured ArtistAuthor Bios tab here.
The second Heart of It anthology is now also available: By the Light of the Rabbit Moon, written & illustrated by Maya Gonzalez with 29 New & Emerging Diverse Children’s Book ArtistAuthors (Reflection Press, 2016)
‘For Kids of ALL Ages’: Write Now! Make Books with Maya Gonzales