Mary Hoffman (illus.)
New York: Penguin/Dial, 1995. $14.99,
ISBN 0 8037 1715 6.
Note: In this sequel to Amazing Grace, young Grace goes to visit her father and his new family in Gambia, West Africa.
In the picture book Amazing Grace, children were introduced to a spunky little African American girl named Grace. In this sequel, she travels to Gambia, West Africa to visit her father and his new family. This is a simply told but multi-layered story of direct and subtle messages. The obvious message is that "families are what you make them." The more subtle message suggests that parents should maintain family bonds despite divorce. The pivotal issue for Grace is the absence of her father. Grace lives in a warm extended family with a mother, a grandmother and a cat called Paw-Paw. Yet, as she tells Nana, "Our family's not right. We need a father and a brother and a dog." At times, Grace even denies that she has a father. A trip to Banjul, Gambia helps Grace come to terms with her father and understand that there are many types of families. Grace does a lot of growing in this story. She overcomes jealousy, homesickness, and the fragmented feeling children in separated families often experience. Caroline Binch's expressive illustrations perfectly mirror Grace's emotions. Grace is the central character of the book and children will naturally focus on her actions and feelings. Teachers will have to help students see the heroic role the adults play in the story. After reading the story, the teacher might ask the children to study the adults and explain how each acted in Grace's best interest. The book can also spark a discussion about the various types of families. Grace is disturbed by books that show only one type, a mother, a father, a boy and a girl. At the conclusion of her trip to Gambia, she resolves to find books about families like hers and write her own story. Students can follow Grace's example by identifying books that showcase alternative families and they can write their own stories as well. Teachers will also have to help students see commonalties between Gambia and the U.S. Grace focuses on activities and objects that are different from home. Teachers should encourage students to study the illustrations for similarities (e.g. there are trucks, sodas, telephones, an airport). The Gambian setting is not essential to the events in the story. It is gratifying, however, to see a beautifully illustrated book that depicts an African country in a non-stereotypical and authentic manner. According to the book blurb, Binch traveled to Gambia twice to collect images for the illustrations. Her effort to achieve authenticity is evident to Gambians. Howard University professor Sulayman Nyang, a former resident of Banjul, found the illustrations accurate in almost every detail. This is a carefully crafted book. Succinct text, wonderful illustrations, and a much needed message make Boundless Grace a winner.
Copyright Africa Access,1995
Reviewed by: Brenda Randolph, Africa Access
Subject: Gambia / West Africa / Fiction / Diaspora / CABA Honor / Urban setting / City and town life