I went to pick up I Got Next and noticed Daria Peoples-Riley’s earlier publication This Is It. I borrowed them both.
Greenwillow Books, 2018. Hardcover Picture book, 40 pp.
We first meet the dancer beside a building with the sign: Public Housing Authority. Slippers instead of sneakers thrown over the wires. We do not realize her shadow is also a character until our dancer stands outside another building with another sign: Auditions Today. On the sidewalk in front of the Dance Theater Studio, there is not a dance mom in sight, it’s just the girl and her shadow.
“Look at me.” her shadow says, hands on hips while the dancer holds herself, hunched, cutting side eyes. Their postures throughout are great, increasingly more alike.
The shadow has things to say: things most of us would love to hear on a day like that dancer’s.
“The future is in your footsteps.
Freedom is in your feet.
Put one if front of the other,
and greet your destiny.”
They’ll tour the city (New York City), the backdrops primarily gray cement, buildings seemingly bent toward her, sidewalks and streets emptied of any strolling or bustle. They’ll dance as the shadow dispenses advice and encouragement.
from your soul
to your fingertips.
And HAPPY shakes your hips.
Shake it, baby.
Daria Peoples-Riley has found a clever way to manifest that positive inner voice. The shadow shows spunk, attitude, a confidence the girl grows in as the pages turn and they find themselves back at the auditions. The shadow is hers after all.
We see our dancer through the glass now, hair pulled into a bun, body in (second) position. We don’t learn the outcome, the ending suggests we don’t need to know the results of the audition. She’s taken the leap.
This Is It is not the typical ballet book, and it should be a part of every young dancer’s library. Our dancer’s hair and skin tone is bound to stand out. Her aloneness in the high urban setting; the nod to the projects and the weight it adds to the audition; that the book is not bathed in pink. This Is It is a good addition, hers is a struggle that will resonate, and she is dancer we need to see.
Notes: Nikki Grimes work comes to mind. That cover detail of the ribbons on “IT” are a nice fun touch.
The art was painted with black sumi ink, goache, and watercolor on paper, and then digitally composited in Adobe Photoshop.
I Got Next by Daria Peoples-Riley
Greenwillow Books, 2019. Hardcover Picture book, 40 pp.
We meet the young boy headed to the basketball court, outside the corner shop, sneakers thrown over the wires. The edge of the mural at the left edge of the page is familiar to the endpapers. We turn the page to see him approach the cinema with a poster that looks familiar to Peoples-Riley earlier work: the cover of This Is It. He’s headed to the barbershop next door, meanwhile his shadow, wearing a cap, holding a ball announces: It’s game day!
We’re transported to the neighborhood court nearby. The shadow urges the boy to get ready. He’s got to get his game face on. It takes some tries. But it isn’t just about posture, so the shadow wants to see his skills. He shows that he knows what he’s doing, keeping up with the shadow’s prompts (which reads like an imagined scenario whispered under a lone player’s voice). He makes the shot.
The shadows voice is taken up by its owner’s:
Shadow: They might be stronger, faster, quicker—
Boy: I’ll leave my heart on the court.
Their exchange continues. Continuing in the intensity the narrative has been building. A coach, an oath-taker. He’s ready. He’s been reminded that he has what it takes.
Unexpected is how ‘I got next!’ closes with a collective pronoun: it isn’t just the boy (no long accompanied by his shadow) who’s got next. It is all the boys on the court. The boy’s dream a shared one: to be able take their chance to play; to show what they’ve got; to maybe win.
The scope of the book’s world is a small part of a neighborhood, spaces where a community would convene. It’s an urban world awash in gray with moments of color, a small tree, bush, brush… The blue tint of a building. The backdrop leaves nothing to distract from the expression and movements of the boy and the ball. He is the life and color on the court, green number one jersey and brown skin. That face, and the tilt of his head. He brings an intensity, translating the words into action. He has a plan. He just needs a chance, he needs to announce himself: I Got Next!
Under the author’s bio on the jacket, Daria Peoples-Riley writes: “Though this is a basketball story it is also a visual story about thriving, living things, and people in neighborhoods threatened by gentrification.” A good point (and opportunity) to explore in conversation when sharing this read.
Notes: Love how the ball on the cover is the “o” in “Got”…such an overall striking cover.
The art was painted with black sumi ink, gouache, charcoal, and watercolor on paper, and then digitally composited in Adobe Photoshop.
Daria Peoples-Riley’s first job was at nine years old, in the children’s section of her hometown library. Much later, she became a teacher, and now she is a full-time author and illustrator. This Is It is her first picture book, inspired by her daughter, her rich cultural background, and their first visit to New York City. She lives with her family in Las Vegas, Nevada.