BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Oil by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Jeanette Winter [in Shelf Awareness]

Three decades after the Exxon Valdez ran aground on March 24, 1989, in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, author Jonah Winter (Thurgood) and his author/illustrator mother, Jeanette Winter (Malala/Iqbal), present the environmental catastrophe in a straightforward manner ideal for younger audiences. With a similar display of transparency that earned stars and plaudits for their collaborative The Secret Project, about the atomic bomb, Oil is another affecting early primer.

Jonah Winter introduces the oil extraction that gets “pumped by machines … all day long, all night long,” and follows the 800-mile pipeline connecting the oil with waiting ships. Jeanette illustrates the pipeline’s path, her palette initially dark and shadowed as bears and seals witness the invasive work, switching to full color “across what had been unspoiled land, home to Native people,” then returning to muted darkness as the pipeline reaches the port’s waiting ships. Embarking into the “clean, cold ocean water,” the loaded Valdez goes “CLANG! CRACK! … And just like that, oil GUSHES out of holes,” spreading across 11,000 square miles, proliferating carnage over “days, weeks, months.” Jeanette Winter shrouds Jonah’s words – already graphically accentuated with enlarged, bolded text – with ominous darkness. Thirty years pass, and sea otters and seabirds have returned, but “for Native people … their way of life still has not recovered.”

In simple, stark prose, Jonah’s candid words need no embellishments to underscore the magnitude of this manmade disaster. The minimal type on the page provides maximal space for Jeannette’s sweeping, impassioned art. Despite Jonah’s sober ending, younger readers just might be the antidote to the seeming bleakness: galvanized by the Winters, awareness is always the necessary first step toward action.

Discover: With affecting urgency, the award-winning son-mother team Jonah and Jeanette Winter exposes the ongoing environmental consequences of the Exxon Valdez disaster for young audiences.

Review: “Children’s & Young Adult,” Shelf Awareness, April 14, 2020

Readers: Children

Published: 2020


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