A young girl asks a lion to accompany her on the long walk home from school. On the way, we learn about the hardships facing her and her family and her unique way of dealing with them.
This is one of those wonderful picture books where words and illustrations combine to create a story of great depth. On their own, the words are simple and few – with a sentence or less on each double spread. Narrated in the first person, it is a straightforward tale of a young girl’s walk home from school. But taken together with Rafael Yockteng’s glorious double page spreads, the words gain in meaning. As we follow the young girl’s journey out of the city with the lion, we gradually grasp the magnitude of the hardships she is facing and the questions start coming. Where are the girl’s parents or caregivers? What is a young girl doing looking after a much younger sibling? Why don’t their family have any credit at the local grocery store? And who or what does the lion represent?
I both pity and admire the young girl in this picture book. She has responsibility far beyond her years. She has no-one to meet her after school; instead, she is the one who collects her younger brother from daycare, picks up groceries, then cooks dinner before their mother returns from work. In one illustration, she stands on steps on her tiptoes to stir a massive pan of boiling liquid on the stove top – it really tugged at my heartstrings.
Shouldering so much responsibility does not come easily to the young girl. ‘Keep me company on the way home’ she asks the lion. Not only does the lion accompany the girl out of the polluted urban sprawl, he carries her, protects and defends her and stays with the family until the mother’s return. He brings welcome support where it is most definitely needed, but for the reader there is the realisation that his presence is only temporary. At other times, the young girl must rely on her own inner strength and resilience.
The father is absent from the story, except in a couple of illustrations featuring a family holiday snap. In the bottom left corner of one of these spreads is a stack of newspapers, with the headline in Spanish ‘Familias de desaparecidos en 1985’ (Families of missing persons in 1985). It’s a powerful image and I couldn’t help but notice the yellow flower under the photo frame, the father’s yellow shirt and mane of shaggy hair . . .
Walk with Me is a subtle and powerful book about the hardships facing a young girl and her family, but it is also a celebration of a child’s courage, resilience and imagination. I highly recommend it.
Walk with Me by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng and translated from the Spanish by Elisa Amado (Groundwood Books, 2017)
Jairo Buitrago is a children’s book author. He has collaborated with Rafael Yockteng on a number of award-winning books, including Walk with Me, Jimmy the Greatest! and Two White Rabbits. Born in Colombia, he now lives in Mexico City.
Rafael Yockteng is a children’s book illustrator who trained as a graphic designer. His work has garnered him many awards, including a prize in the A la Orilla del Viento competition alongside author Jairo Buitrago for Walk with Me. He was born in Lima, Peru and moved with his family to Colombia in 1980.
Elisa Amado is a Guatemalan-born author and translator. She has written a number of picture books, including Barrilete: A Kite for the Day of the Dead (Un barrilete para el Día de los Muertos), Cousins (Primas) and Tricycle (El triciclo), which is on the Américas Award Commended List and is an USBBY Outstanding International Book. She lives in Toronto.
This is an edited version of a post originally published on Planet Picture Book in May 2018.
Laura Taylor is the founder of world children’s literature blog Planet Picture Book. She is a small business copywriter, NAATI-certified translator of French into English and member of AUSIT. When she is not writing, she is reading and chasing after her two young children. She tweets regularly @plapibo and posts at www.planetpicturebook.com