When Will My Big Brother Come Home? A Picture-Book Portrait of a Family and Military Service

BookendsLynn: Little Luis cannot understand why his adored big brother Nico wants to leave for the army—his brother’s answer makes no sense. Why can’t he see the world from right there from home? In Luis Paints the World (2016) Terry Farish portrays a story that is seldom addressed in books for young children: brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers leaving for military service. It is a story that plays out again and again across our country, very frequently in minority families, and the reasons are often abstract ideas Luis Paints the World by Terry Farishthat are difficult for children to grasp.

In Farish’s sensitive and moving book, Luis picks up his paints and heads to the wall outside his home, where he draws the world that he and Nico have shared: baseball games, the warm kitchen, and their neighborhood. Luis’ sadness and bewildered longing find a voice in his painting. As time passes and Nico sends home stories and pictures, Luis adds those images to his mural. When will Nico come home?

“Muy pronto,” Mami says. “Pero, Luis, sometimes people, they move on. They don’t come back for the baseball. Even the flan.”

But Luis is sure Nico will come home. As his mural grows, Mami and then the entire neighborhood join in its creation. The colorful mural is a beautiful expression of home, love, and hope. Children whose family members are away in service will see themselves in Luis and share his sadness, his wistfulness, and his joy when Nico does finally come home.

Cindy: What a great story. The inclusion of Spanish vocabulary throughout helps illuminate the culture of Lawrence, Massachusetts, also known as “Immigrant City,” where the story is set. The author’s note provides background on this place where people of many countries have arrived to work in textile mills. The author worked as a children’s librarian at the Lawrence Public Library a decade ago and was inspired by the murals created by students in the neighborhood. Oliver Dominguez’s vibrant artwork is the perfect accompaniment to the story. Lynn and I raved about a previous book of his, Miracle Mud, and this one is just as impressive. The touching interior scenes of Luis’s close family moments contrast with the expansive mural he begins and then shares with family and friends as they share their emotions. Not every “family-member-off-to-war” story ends so happily, but I’m glad this one does. Add it to your #WeNeedDiverseBooks bibliographies.

About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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