Tuesday, May 02, 2023

Highly Recommended! A LETTER FOR BOB by Kim Rogers, illustrated by Jonathan Nelson

A Letter for Bob
Written by Kim Rogers (Enrolled member of the Wichita Affiliated Tribes)
Illustrated by Jonathan Nelson (Diné)
Published in 2023
Publisher: Heartdrum
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended


Several years ago, I was invited to a first grade classroom to talk with the children about Native Americans. One child met me at the school door and was intent on scanning the parking lot. Then he said "Where's your horse?" I told him I had a car and pointed it out, in the parking lot. I don't remember what, if anything, we said after that but his question reflects what young children know--or think they know--about Native peoples. 

If that happened to me today, I'd say with enthusiasm, "You gotta read A Letter for Bob..." 

You (teacher, librarian, caregiver, professor...)... you gotta get copies of A Letter for Bob. Yes. I said "copies" because you can use it in your classrooms and libraries--and you can gift it to families like the one you meet in this picture book. It'll be out in September from Heartdrum.

I got an advanced copy yesterday and started to read it. But then I stopped. The way Kim Rogers wrote the book beckoned me to read it out loud! So, I did! To myself! With such joy! That's what a book can do when its characters and/or the story are like you and your life.   

And Jonathan Nelson's illustrations! There's so many details in them. Native kids, in particular, will love spotting things like "Skoden" on a truck's rear bumper. That truck is parked next to Bob at the Wichita Annual Dance. Bob's trunk is full of the family's regalia and things they need. I especially like that coat hanger on the open trunk lid. That's real. And it resonates, mightily! 

Through Katie's letter to Bob, we join her in remembering key moments in this Wichita family's life. The first Tiny Tots dance. Vacations. Road trips. Tender moments with grandparents and newborns. Bob getting them to baseball games or lacrosse games, and to the library. Most of the time, everyone is wearing the things most people wear: tennis shoes, jeans, t-shirts, and ball caps. And when they're at that Wichita Annual Dance, you see them in traditional regalia. In a couple of places, Katie uses her Wichita language. (When you use the book, take a look at the Glossary! And I encourage you to spend time on the website of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, and on Kim Rogers' website and take a look at Jonathan Nelson's Instagram.) 

Katie's family is growing and they need a bigger car. It is a bittersweet ending, with Katie saying good-bye to Bob. But that, too, is real. The other bit that is plucking on my heart is Katie's dad. He reminds me of my dad (always in a ball cap), taking us places when I was a kid. In A Letter for Bob, there's a page where the family is at a place called Sliding Rock. Katie's dad goes into the water first and tells them "The water is just fine!" But it wasn't! It was cold! That could be my dad calling out "The water is just fine!" And us finding out it was icy! When the final copy is out, I'll be back to add some images. 

I adore this book with a completeness I didn't anticipate. I'll be sharing it at every workshop I do, with librarians, educators, teacher-educators... everyone.