A River of Dust: The Life-Giving Link Between North Africa and the Amazon

By Jilanne Hoffmann, illustrated by Eugenia Mello. Chronicle Books, 2023. 48 pages. $18.99/hardcover; $11.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 5–8.

Now that high tech is connecting all of us in so many super-subtle ways, it may seem by comparison that Mother Nature goes at a plodding horse-and-buggy pace. And yet that is far from so. Indeed, as told by the pen of Jilanne Hoffmann and the brush of Eugenia Mello, “dust” from North Africa refutes the concept of Mother Nature being “left in the dust,” so to speak. And if you are not convinced by the eloquence of the pen and the darting brush, which together vividly summon up the simplicity of this complex interaction, then the voice of that very dust may change your mind:

I am dust, the dust of North Africa. Not just any dust, though. I am more than the grit in an eye, the smudge on a finger, the grime that swirls down a drain. For I connect continents.

I only wish I could summon even half the lyricism of “mere” dust as it wends its way west in a five-thousand-mile river that journeys across the Sahara and the Atlantic Ocean before raining down upon the lush vegetation of the Amazon, where it is absorbed by hungry trees and plants before reaching the ground. Never mind the rhetoric; my review could never afford the magnificently dusty backgrounds; the animals and plants summoned in colorful flocks; and the symphonic herds who play willing extras for the not-so-plain, triumphant march of dust.

My wife, Madeleine, and I—far older than the age range recommended for the book by the publisher—kept paging through dust’s far-from-dusty travels, marveling over details illuminated by the duo of Hoffmann and Mello. And then the voice of dust itself, rich in iron and phosphorus, not to mention gumption and go!

There’s a website and several pages of addenda for those wishing to plunge even deeper into the mysteries of dust. But you’ll keep going back to the sheer brio of its dramatic travels. And you’ll never sweep dust off your furniture and shelves again, without a second, or even a third, lingering look!

James Foritano attends Cambridge (Mass.) Meeting.

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