A Sled for Gabo

By Emma Otheguy, illustrated by Ana Ramírez González. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021. 40 pages. $17.99/hardcover; $10.99/eBook. Friends Journal recommends for ages 4–8.

It was a pleasure to review this book as, through a felicitous collaboration of visual artist and wordsmith, I was able to empathize deeply with a venturesome child navigating his new world. Gabo is between the world of his new school and the nurturing womb of his home and parents.  The day it snows, we see Gabo following “the whistling sound of an old steam radiator into the kitchen.” And what a kitchen! It is a good place to sit out a cold day with its warm colors; indoor plants; a pot on the stove bubbling with something intriguing; and a table set with cups and saucers, just begging to be occupied. But the window curtains are pushed aside, and Gabo walks over to see his breath bloom on the cold glass. Wiping his hand on the pane in a large circle reveals three children, who could be classmates, riding a long sled down a nearby hill. Gabo’s hand stays on the glass, his chin lifts, and his eyes pop as he takes in the open-mouthed merriment of children like himself at home in the outdoors.

We readers know, despite the charms of home, where Gabo is going next. But Gabo is not a stickler for details, which makes his transition from here to there a challenge. In fact this simple impulse to join his classmates in fun adventures becomes a series of challenges that almost derail Gabo’s initial impulse . . . almost. Gabo’s situation is not unlike an astronaut’s, one who sees the moon in the night sky and just knows he’s going there. But how exactly?

The home team, which is made up of Mami and Papi, is used to improvising. Soon Gabo has boots, of a sort, to keep his feet warm and dry. His excitement is palpable as he charges out into this wonderfully slippery and deep new world. Gabo hardly realizes he doesn’t have a sled . . . and then, suddenly he does! Gabo’s emotions, both up and down, are spacious and spaciously communicated in words and illustrations.

This is a book for adults to linger over as pictures swim into their own minds of their daily experiences maturing into young adults—experiences both rough and wonderful. As Gabo learns, there are teams and teamwork both in the home and in the wider world. We older readers recall the same: our drawing back and then our becoming, however tentatively, players! The book’s artful pages, many double-spreads, just as wide as a child’s emotions, immerse us in Gabo’s feelings as home remains a refuge but also becomes a home base from which to strike out anew—with some forethought, some help, and always an open mind to both successes and spills.

Also there’s a sprinkling of Spanish exclamations, greetings, and family nomenclature throughout this poignant, universal tale to induct us gently into a world of multiple cultures and languages. A new world, indeed, from cover to cover and beyond.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this review listed the publisher’s recommended ages (4–8) in the book’s details. It has been updated to more clearly show our own age recommendation, as determined by the reviewer and the young Friends book review editor.

James Foritano attends Cambridge (Mass.) Meeting.

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