Hope is an Arrow: The Story of Lebanese American Poet Kahlil Gibran by Cory McCarthy,  illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Hope is an Arrow: The Story of Lebanese American Poet Kahlil Gibran by Cory McCarthy,  illustrated by Ekua Holmes. Candlewick Press, 2022. 9781536200324

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover picture book

Genre: Biography

What did you like about the book?  With its oversized pages and rich, jewel-toned collages, this eye-catching biography of Kahlil Gibran can serve as an invitation to his popular poetry. Gibran was born in Lebanon in 1883, although he lived in Boston’s South End from age 8-15 before returning to his ancestral home to finish his education. He eventually settled in New York City, where he pursued his passion for philosophy and art, publishing The Prophet in 1923. Gibran had a tragic and complicated life, but McCarthy uses simple language and a streamlined approach to telling his story, embedding quotations from his famous work into the text to illuminate meaning and expose readers to his actual language. Ms. Holmes’s images, however, are far more important than the text in conveying the sensorial, artistic inspiration for Gibran’s creations. Highlights include handmade, marbelized paper in deep blue swirls under the ship carrying young Kalil to Boston, twinned images of the poet as a boy (when he arrives) and as a teen (when he leaves), a variety of textured papers showing the diversity of early 20th century Boston, and numerous landscapes and gardens illustrating the inspiration the poet drew from nature. The final pages show a pair of hands holding The Prophet as white birds leave its pages, fly through an Arabic arch, and on to the wide world. Useful backmatter provides more facts than the lyrical story can supply and also includes photos of Gibran and a select bibliography. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? I don’t think Gibran ia a natural choice for a children’s biography. Although his story is interesting, it’s far darker and more complex than can be covered here and his philosophical poetry lacks kid appeal. Sometimes McCarthy’s word choice came across as awkward, for example, when Gibran decides that “Boston was as divided as Lebanon, only here, the wealthy crashed with the poor”; does the author mean “clashed”? Later, McCarthy describes  Gibran’s sadness at losing three family members as “a wall between two gardens”. It’s a poetic turn of phrase, but what does it mean? 

To whom would you recommend this book?  For a class studying famous people from Boston, or for a student looking for picture book biographies of Arab-Americans, this would be a good offering. I can also see it being popular with adults who love Gibran’s work and want to introduce it to their families or classrooms. Ekua Holmes’s sensitive and fanciful illustrations give the book an extra level of appeal.

Who should buy this book? Elementary schools and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Biographies

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? The Boston angle makes this a recommended read for teachers and librarians looking to add to their picture book biography collections.

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: June 25, 2022

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