Bonjour, Lonnie, by Faith Ringgold, for Timeslip Tuesday

April is such a hard month--all I want to do is to be outside, getting everything weeded and planted and spruced up, but it's the busiest month at work, busy with the kids' homework, busy busy busy...and so no time to read the big long book that was supposed to be this week's Timeslip Tuesday offering.

So I turned to a quick picture book read -- Bonjour, Lonnie, by Faith Ringgold (Hyperion Books for Children, 1996), and, um, it's kind of strange.

Bonjour, Lonnie, is a picture book that uses rather vague magical bird-assisted time travel in order to show an orphaned boy, Lonnie, his family, and to give him loving guardians in his own time.   The magical bird in question is a singing French one, known as Love Bird, and when it visits Lonnie, it takes him back to early 20th-century Paris...and then vanishes, leaving him to wander past famous monuments to look for it (basically three pages of Paris is great, that don't advance the plot, but are not uninteresting....).

Then Love Bird shows up again, and leads the little boy to a small house wherein are his grandparents--a black man and a white woman, which surprises Lonnie.  His grandfather explains he came to France to fight in WW I.  He was a great singer  (and we have a rather nice introduction to the Harlem Renaissance, and black culture flourishing), but  when he went back home, he was oppressed by the prejudice that he found there, and went back to Paris, married a beautiful French girl, and became a famous opera singer.

The scene then changes; Lonnie sees his parents and himself as a baby...he finds out his father was killed as young soldier in WW II, and his Jewish mother sent him to the US to safety with a young friend.  She in turn fell ill, no-one could find the kin she had hoped to leave Lonnie with, and so he was there in the orphanage, waiting, all unknowing, for Love Bird to find him.

And because of the love bird, the missing kin are found (and Lonnie's mother reassures him that his new Aunt Connie "has dyed her own graying locks red like yours," which I find very odd) and all is well.

So it's rather strange (the love bird device in particular).  The reader knows it's timeslipish, because of being told so, but basically it reads like a dream of shifting scenes and flashbacks.  It's not a story, so much as an explanation of the family history with underlinings of African American and WW I and WW II history.  It's not un-compelling, and it is rather interesting (especially in it's multicultural emphasis) but I find it hard to imagine curling up and reading it with a child...especially since it might provoke a child to ask questions that they might not be ready to fully grasp--like why Lonnie's Jewish mother felt she had to send him to safety.   It's definitely one to read yourself before you read it to a child, so that you can expect what's going to happen next.

Ah gee.  I know Faith  Ringgold is a famous artist, but her people didn't appeal to me personally (speaking frankly, they looked like zombies, with stiff arms and staring eyes--vibrant, colorful zombies, but still).  This, I'm quite prepared to admit, is just my own reaction.

(if you look it up on Amazon, be warned that the blurb given is for another book, so it won't be useful)


  1. Hmm...certainly some oddities, but I'm very intrigued by the premise. And a picture book is an easy one to read on a whim. :)

    This reminds me a little in theme of The Orphan of Ellis Island, another orphan who goes back in time, meets his ancestors and learns his family history.

  2. Colorful zombies! I love this description! I think I would have the same reaction to the art. My two kids are adopted, and I'm not sure I would want them to read this. I feel like orphans are romanticized too much in books (my pet peeve).

    1. It would certainly be one to read yourself, first....I'm not sure the orphan-ness is romantized, but it's certainly presented as something beyond the ordinary....


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