10 Nov / Light for All by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Raúl Colón [in Shelf Awareness]
Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle (Your Heart, My Sky) masterfully blends inspiring symbolism with sobering reality in Light for All, a picture book that both celebrates and exposes the hardships of the immigrant experience. Pura Belpré Award-winning illustrator Raúl Colón (Imagine!) splendidly fills the pages with his signature colored-pencil art, inviting readers into landscapes and locations near and far.
“From land to land/ brave travelers arrive/ with hopes, dreams, skills/ and determination,” Engle’s text begins. Colón populates the opposite page with an international cast presented in sepia tones, with the funnels of a large ship in the background. Colón’s point of view pulls outward with the page turn to show the ship heading into New York Harbor. Full color brightens the spread, as if lit by the iconic Statue of Liberty’s torch: “The powerful light/ of a mighty lamp/ shines/ for all!” U.S. shores enable “wondrous” reunions, but reminders of destruction and devastation loom: “From land to land/ survivors arrive/ escaping from war,/ storms, earthquakes,/ hunger.” Colón embellishes each scene with deft details – hard-hatted aid workers surveying collapsed housing, a lone dog sniffing for hope. Engle projects “the promise of jobs” that beckon the next talented generations of “doctors, scientists,/ artists, singers, students, cooks,/ and farmers,” but also realistically reveals “we have to struggle to be accepted,/ because some people don’t understand/ the need/ for equality.” Colón places the young immigrants on the left, scrutinized by a diverse crowd of young Americans.
Immigrants who speak more than English who “still love the lands/ where we were born” are also the same citizens who will “love this new homeland.” Colón’s illustrations emphasize a United States that is comprised of global backgrounds – featuring Chichén Itzá, Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Mount Kilimanjaro – while Engle acknowledges the “long, bitter story of the U.S., a history/ that began with cruel invasions,/ stealing from Native people,/ and bringing enslaved captives.” And yet “gentler waves of arrival followed,/ with newcomers welcomed, so that now/ we’re part of the Statue of Liberty’s/ promise.”
Although both were born in the U.S., Cuban Ukrainian Engle and Puerto Rican American Colón’s prolific artistic outputs have repeatedly emphasized their Latinx backgrounds and experiences. That heartfelt empathy is clearly reflected here, in lingering words and vibrant art as they embody Liberty’s light, “creating/ shared hope/ for all.”
Shelf Talker: This vibrant picture book both celebrates and elucidates the challenges of the immigrant experience for youngest readers.