Cover image for Elsina's clouds
Elsina's clouds
Winter, Jeanette.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004.
Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 22 cm
In South Africa, a Basotho girl paints designs on her house as a prayer to the ancestors for rain.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR LG 2.1 0.5 80728.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PIC. BK. Juvenile Fiction Childrens Area-Picture Books

On Order



A Basotho girl's prayer to the ancestors

"When can I paint a wall, Mama?"
"When the rains come and wash away my designs, Elsina. Then you can paint the walls," she says.

For hundreds of years Basotho women in southern Africa have decorated the walls of their houses as prayers for rain.

Bold, colorful art based on traditional African motifs and lyrical prose tell the story of a young girl who paints her first house and waits for the ancestors to hear her.

Author Notes

Jeanette Winter has written and/or illustrated over a dozen children's books, including "Calavera Abecedario" and "The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq," as well as biographies of Diego Rivera, Johann Sebastian Bach and Georgia O'Keeffe among others.

Winter is celebrated for her distinctive painting style, picture design, and usage of brilliant colors. She has received the American Illustrators Guild Award twice.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

PreS-Gr. 3. Art is the story in this small, lovely picture book about a rural family in southern Africa. Elsina is a Basotho child who follows her people's tradition of painting designs on the outside walls of their houses as a prayer to the ancestors for rain. With her mother's guidance, she paints the sun, the mountain, and the brightly colored shapes all around her as well as the circling black, rain-filled clouds of her dreams. For weeks there is only blue sky, but then the rains come, the crops thrive, and Elsina's baby brother is born. The rain washes away the designs on the walls, and every year Elsina can paint the walls anew. Framing each small, clear page are intricately patterned borders in brilliant color, each one different. Even older children will be interested to see how the traditional Basotho geometric designs reflect the world the artist sees and creates--the sun, mountains, the lightning, the rolling fields, and even spider webs. --Hazel Rochman Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Winter's small-format book about the Basotho women of southern Africa who paint their houses to bring rain has an intriguing premise, but generally lacks the warmth and passion of her My Name Is Georgia or her artwork for Day of the Dead. Elsina, the child narrator, begins somberly: "Blue. Only blue and the sun.... Mama's field has died. Papa's goats starve. Where are the rain clouds to cover the sun?" Often divided into multiple images on panels and squares, the illustrations depict Elsina dreaming of "big black clouds full of rain." Busy borders in high-contrast colors and complicated geometric patterns tend to distract from or overwhelm the interior paintings, which are also dotted with dialogue balloons and thought bubbles. Rendered in a na?ve style, the compositions are somewhat flat, and all the panels, patterns and text compete for readers' attention. Rain arrives only after Elsina paints the room addition her father makes for a new baby, and her mother announces that in the future Elsina must paint the whole house because "The ancestors hear you, Elsina." A closing image features a sorghum field above which floats a rainbow, clouds and four people with the words, "The ancestors listen." Young American readers may be mystified by why the mother's paintings don't work and Elsina's do. Ironically, it's the pictures of the welcome rainstorms that look scary, and the scenes of the oppressive heat that look most appealing. Ages 4-8. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

PreS-Gr 3-An author's note explains that the Basotho women of southern Africa decorate the outside of their homes with designs that serve as prayers to their ancestors for rain. As this story begins, the weather has been dry for so long that young Elsina cannot even remember clouds. "Mama's field has died" and "Papa's goats starve." The girl asks when she can try painting, and her mother tells her, "When the rains come and wash away my designs, Elsina. Then you can paint the walls." Then Papa builds an addition onto the house for the new baby Mama is expecting, and Elsina is allowed to decorate the new walls. Finally, the ancestors hear their prayers and it begins to rain, washing away all of the designs. When the rain stops, the girl once again adorns the addition with pictures. With its universal theme of waiting and its bright colors and geometric patterns, this heartwarming book is reminiscent of Winter's My Baby (Farrar, 2001). The artwork is simple and sweet. Each illustration is contained within a square and bordered by a typical African geometric design. The text is placed within colorful dialogue bubbles and rectangles. Pair this offering with similar titles that provide glimpses into different cultures and climates, including Uma Krishnaswami's Monsoon (Farrar, 2003), Katrina Germein's Big Rain Coming (Clarion, 2000), and Karen Hesse's Come on, Rain! (Scholastic, 1999).-Mary N. Oluonye, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.