Naomi lives on 11th Street and loves everything there—pizza by the slice, laundromat by the pound, a corner bodega (grocery store), and bustling cars. In the center of it all, there was even nature in the form of a tree. It held the neighborhood in balance. Naomi’s best friend, Ada, who is Black, would frequently join her in imaginary play. Everyday was a safari ride with tiny lions at their heels while they scootered through 11th Street. Then one day, the tree is gone, leaving everyone “stumped.” Shortly afterward, Mister Ray, closes his store which had been part of the community for 24 years but not without leaving Naomi with the gift of art. Faces change and so do the landscape until they are almost unrecognizable. One thing is certain, however—whether it be a rainbow view from a window, climbing a tree with her best friend or painting murals with Mister Ray—moments are captured by her new set of skills. What she loved will never be forgotten.
Widely-acclaimed author and muralist, Katie Yamasaki and graphic novelist, Ian Lendler, have teamed up to create a thoughtful book on a modern phenomenon we’re all too familiar with—gentrification. Their commentary is poignant for adults yet accessible for children. Neighbors move away, displacement happens to those who can’t afford new housing. Frequently, wealthier families and businesses move in, changing the make up of old neighborhoods from quaint, charming and familiar to distant, glassy and removed.
A highway of ribbons emerges from the rubble. Art imitates life (as an inset of children imitating life—with art). Chalk drawings, painted murals and what’s audible is what’s authentic. Children will be delighted by the rich, thick, paintings on each page. Those who loved Yamasaki’s “When the Cousin’s Came” will find “Everything Naomi Loved” endearing. Unlike Yamasaki’s previous book, however, is its emphasis on the theme of life issues—what would you do if you learned something you loved is “closed for good?” All things come to an end, eventually, and that’s what Naomi learns. Memories can manifest themselves physically, mentally or psychologically—can you carry them all with you?
Preschoolers may not be able to grasp all the abstract concepts presented in the text. It will be necessary for parents and teachers to step in and offer their own metaphors. Read the book in the context of what’s happening to old historic buildings in the nation’s International Districts and Chinatown. Examine, then, the reality of what survives—community and the bonds of the people are the only things which matter. This book is recommended for children ages 7 and up.