Joel Naka­mura’s book for chil­dren Go West!

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Way, way out West

Joel Naka­mura turns his post-Pop, swirling mix of psychedelia to the myths, le­gends, and cul­tural main­stays of the South­west in Go West!, a new book for chil­dren pub­lished by Leaf Storm Press next month. There’s no nar­ra­tive — just the sim­ple com­mand that, once upon a time, was used to en­cour­age East­ern­ers bent on fol­low­ing their dreams to a land far away and full of prom­ise. “Go West!,” Naka­mura writes, “where the birds run fast and time runs slow.” Naka­mura in­fuses ev­ery page with rain­bow hues and a host of an­i­mal fig­ures — some real, such as New Mexico’s om­nipresent prairie dogs, and some imag­i­nary, like the iconic jack­a­lope — as well as an­i­mated ob­jects in­clud­ing cof­fee pots with legs and mugs with smil­ing faces be­cause, as you’ll dis­cover, the West is “where the co­coa steams all year round.”

Wolves, coy­otes, road­run­ners, cow­girls, cacti, me­sas, smoke sig­nals, and chile pep­pers all make an ap­pear­ance, lend­ing the book the fla­vor that is at once con­tem­po­rary, his­toric, and mythic. It’s a de­light for adults as well as chil­dren. The au­thor’s full-page il­lus­tra­tions, hand­painted us­ing cac­tus spines, cap­ture the spirit of the land, and he fills each com­po­si­tion with small de­tails that make a sec­ond read more en­rich­ing than the first. What Naka­mura presents is, per­haps, not the re­al­ity of life in the West as it is, but a dream that lives in the Amer­i­can con­scious­ness. It’s a fan­ci­ful re­vi­sion­ing of old tropes and breathes new life into tired sub­jects. Cow­girls, af­ter all, don’t re­ally have rocket boots that blast them into the strato­sphere, but wouldn’t it be cool if they did? — Michael Abatemarco

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