Desert Girl, Monsoon Boy

h1 July 2nd, 2020 by jules


“White sand. Green field.” The first spread of Tara Dairman’s Desert Girl, Monsoon Boy (Putnam, May 2020), illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan, is divided into horizontal strips — one image, dominated by copper colors, of a dry, hot desert and the second, dominated by lush greens, blues, and purples, of fields that have seen plenty of rain. Turn the page to meet the families who live in each locale.

With short, sparse rhymes, we follow these families, and as the book progresses the extreme weather in each location becomes … well, more extreme. In the book’s backmatter, we read that the book was inspired by “people who live and care for their animals in places with extreme dry and wet weather.” In this case, the book is set in northwest India with the Rabari people; they live in a dry desert locale and travel to find food and water. We simultaneously follow villagers who live with the threat of flooding from monsoons. This family flees to higher ground. In essence, it’s “a nomadic family in search of water and a village-dwelling family seeking to escape it.” (Again, all of these details are in the closing Author’s Note.) In the end, the two families meet on higher ground, the author imagining that perhaps it could be the Aravalli hills. There is also a closing Illustrator’s Note, in which Sreenivasan explains that her artwork is based upon two different groups of the Rabari people, the girl being from Gujarat and the boy from Rajasthan. The illustrations are based on a visit the artist made years ago to a Rabari settlement in Rajasthan.

These are striking compositions with visually dynamic panels and shifting page designs that accentuate the book’s drama. But all composition choices make it easy for readers to follow the families. The colors (which get deeper as the story progresses and the families move) are rich, and the palette for each family is distinctive. The author’s rhymes flow easily; they bounce without being too singsong.

Here are some spreads from this poignant book on climate change so that you can see for yourselves. …


“Patterned veil. Covered hair.
Desert here. Monsoon there.”

(Click to enlarge spread)


“Flatten dough. Fingers dip.
Open sky. Ceiling drip.”

(Click to enlarge spread)


“Tie the flap!
Seal the door!”

(Click to enlarge spread)


“Desert girl
and monsoon boy.”

(Click to enlarge spread)


(Click cover to enlarge)


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DESERT GIRL, MONSOON BOY. Text copyright © 2020 by Tara Dairman. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Archana Sreenivasan and reproduced by permission of the publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York.

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