June 21, 2018
(+++) SWEETNESS AND LIGHT
All of Us. By Carin Berger. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $17.99.
Running on Sunshine: How Does Solar Energy Work? By Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano. Illustrated by Giovana Medeiros. Harper. $17.99.
Sweetness. Carin Berger’s All of Us is packed with it; in fact, that is its entire content. The book is simply an affirmation, accompanied by collage art intended to reinforce its message of love and togetherness – but including in the art, rather oddly, quite a few bits of typeset material with words much too big for young readers and wholly unrelated to the topic of the book: “customized recommendation,” “entrusted to manage,” “experienced advisors,” “America has great,” “half of invoice of a,” and many more…in several languages. Or are these non-child-focused, real-world words accidental? The book’s central message, shown through two large hands clasped across two pages, is, “We are stronger together,” the motto of the divisive and failed Hillary Clinton presidential campaign of 2016. Berger then goes on, “Hope and light will always prevail. For love wins. Love wins. Love will never fail.” And those words are spread among seven pages absolutely jam-packed with hearts and showing many, many intermingled people of all races and ethnicities – in fact, it is almost impossible to find two people of the same racial makeup and opposite genders (that is, heterosexual parents in the most-common pairings) hugging and touching among all those who are proclaiming “love wins.” So there is a very clear, very simple surface-level message in All of Us, and it is a beautiful and 100% politically correct one about complete inclusiveness for everybody at all times and under all circumstances, even “when the winds are wild and the path unclear” (words that appear near the start of the book with, interestingly, some of Berger’s most-attractive illustrations – which do not really reflect the mild negativity of the text). Perhaps very young children will not notice the typeset words within the collages – certainly pre-readers are unlikely to pay much attention to them – and perhaps All of Us has no sociopolitical subtext after all and is simply a very sweet paean to perfect love and inclusion of everybody within the whole “one world” family of humanity. Perhaps – but there have been numerous picture books with that same sweet and simple message, delivered in a straightforward and loving way without even the possibility of misinterpretation. All of Us is different, whether by design and intent or not. Parents will not want to read too much into it, but will also want to decide for themselves whether the book is really a straightforward assertion of universal oneness through love or whether there is something else, or something additional, going on here in the guise of sweetness.
Light. Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano here offers a Level 2 book in the “Let’s Read and Find Out” science series – this level is for primary-grade students and intended to go a bit beyond the basics of the series’ Level 1 books. The topic of Running on Sunshine is clear and is handled, in its own way, almost as simply as the topic of love and inclusiveness is managed in All of Us. The opening of DeCristofano’s book, abetted by well-constructed illustrations by Giovana Medeiros, sets the tone nicely by changing something very big and overwhelming (the gigantic size of the sun and how it produces energy) into something graspable and easy to relate to everyday life (the way sunbeams strike and influence green plants, fruits and more). Then DeCristofano shows a solar panel and explains what happens when a sunbeam hits it, and the book is well on its way. DeCristofano explains how solar energy has been used to power the around-the-world flight of a special airplane, how solar-panel-equipped cars have raced across Australia, how solar panels can help rescue workers stay in touch from remote places, and more. All this is interesting, even exciting – and then DeCristofano explains how solar energy works by contrasting it with energy produced by conventional means. Here, though, the book starts to go just a bit awry: it is not wrong but is incomplete, even for readers at this level. Because of traditional energy use, DeCristofano says, “rain does not fall where it’s expected,” while “cold snaps and heat waves sizzle like never before. Yikes! …We need to use energy without making the air dirty.” Well, all right: this is a straightforward assertion of human-caused climate change, simplistic but in line with most scientific thinking today. But where the book’s problematic issue comes up is a bit later, in the comment that “there are some tricky things about using solar energy.” DeCristofano mentions rainy and cloudy days, nighttime, and snow blocking solar panels as real-world issues, and talks about storage systems and cutting-edge technologies beyond those of the planes and cars mentioned earlier. But she never mentions, even in passing, the gigantic issue facing widespread adoption of solar energy, which is the need to move it from areas where it is collected and stored to areas where, because of weather and geography, it can be used but cannot be reliably produced. Moving energy, however it may be generated, requires gigantic investment in infrastructure and requires construction of vast power grids that frequently are met with vocal opposition from the same people who stridently advocate alternative energy. With wind energy, for example, many of the same people and groups strongly pushing for wind farms have rallied against – and blocked – wind-farm construction in areas where the farms might interfere with people’s pristine views and/or harm birds. There has been similar not-in-my-back-yard hypocrisy associated with solar energy – which can only be collected by using a lot of space (DeCristofano at one point acknowledges this, just in passing: “It would take a whole lot of space to hold the batteries for a whole town’s electricity”). A simple comment that a big problem with solar energy is the need to build very extensive transportation networks to move it from place to place would have made Running on Sunshine a more-useful instructional book. But it might have made it a less inspirational one, and its purpose does seem to be as much to generate enthusiasm among young readers as to give them real-world information on solar power. The book is a pleasant and upbeat introduction to its topic, but young readers – and adults reading the material with them – will have to go elsewhere to understand why the subject of solar energy tends to generate as much heat as light.