Author: Juana Martinez-Neal
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Review copy: Digital ARC via Edelweiss
Availability: March 30, 2021
Summary: Zonia's home is the Amazon rain forest, where it is always green and full of life. Every morning, the rain forest calls to Zonia, and every morning, she answers. She visits the sloth family, greets the giant anteater, and runs with the speedy jaguar. But one morning, the rain forest calls to her in a troubled voice. How will Zonia answer? Acclaimed author-illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal explores the wonders of the rain forest with Zonia, an Asháninka girl, in her joyful outdoor adventures. The engaging text emphasizes Zonia's empowering bond with her home, while the illustrations--created on paper made from banana bark--burst with luxuriant greens and delicate details. Illuminating back matter includes a translation of the story in Asháninka, information on the Asháninka community, and resources on the Amazon rain forest and its wildlife.
My review: This is a gorgeous book and it is lovely that the paper the illustrations were made on was created by women of the Amazon with leaves from the rain forest. There is definitely a connection to the land and the people even through the physical creation of the book.
Martinez-Neal is from Peru, but is not part of the community represented in the book. I have no way of determining if the people are being shown in an accurate light, but it does seem that the author went to great lengths to be respectful and she didn't work in isolation. She explains that she wanted to show the resiliance of the Asháninka and their resistance to the outside pressures that would attempt to change their way of life and take or negatively impact the resources from their homeland.
The story begins gently with Zonia sitting near her mother who is nursing her brother. A blue morpho butterfly then leads Zonia through the pages of the book. The journey playful as Zonia greets her many animal friends. The illustrations have so much texture and are pretty adorable. One bird is red with white wing tips. The wing tips are overlapping just a bit and it gives the impression of a heart. There's just so much love and joy on each page as she interacts with the animals. This makes it quite jarring when Zonia comes across a part of the forest that is not filled with that same loveliness.
Zonia's story shares much of the beauty that can be found in the rain forest, but also briefly touches on some of the threats to the forest. Even though there is reason to be concerned, there is also a determination to do something about it. This is all dealt with in an age appropriate way and caregivers can choose to share more information via the back matter if there are questions or for the youngest readers, just stick with the text and illustrations of the story.
The back matter is fantastic and explains about the variety of threats, some of the things that are being done about them, includes the common and Latin names of all of the animals and an Asháninka translation of the main text. The entire books is also available in Spanish.
Recommendation: Zonia's Rain Forest is a delight and can be read as a very simple story or as a call to action. It will be a great addition to any home or library serving young people.
Zonia's Rain Forest author video with Juana Martinez-Neal from Candlewick Press on Vimeo.
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