Off-The-Radar Reviews

Two Extraordinary New Picture Books! [Off-the-Radar Review]

Two Extraordinary New Picture Books!

A is for Affrilachia
Frank X. Walker
Illustrated by upfromsumdirt

Hardback: UP of Kentucky, 2023
Buy Now: [IndieBound] [Amazon] [Kindle]

Stories too long unheard

I have long appreciated the work of Black, Kentucky poet Frank X. Walker. His latest work is the picture book A is for Affrilachia. In Walker’s words, “Affrilachia is not a geographically specific space that could be identified on a map, but it’s the spiritual and emotional home for everyone left out of the definition of Appalachia that requires whiteness as a prerequisite for membership.” Formatted as a children’s alphabet book, and illustrated with vibrant paintings from artist upfromsumdirt, A is for Affrilachia is a captivating introduction to the region and its many stories of people of color that have gone untold.

Each letter of the alphabet features a brief list of names connected with that letter. For instance, “B is for Booker T. Washington, Blackberries, Blackberries by Crystal Wilkinson, and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Bluefield, Berea College, Birmingham, the Banjo – born from Africa’s akonting – and Bessie Smith, Empress of the Blues.”  The narrative key to the book is the glossary, in the book’s final pages, in which Walker offers brief accounts of every person, place, and work mentioned throughout the book. Although the book should be admired for the luscious artwork, and for Walker’s poetic renderings for each letter, the glossary invites readers to dig deeper, giving them just enough of each subject’s story to spur curiosity and make them want to learn more. The stories of Affrilachia have too long gone unheard, and this book is a glorious introduction that invites us to dig deeper and to immerse ourselves in this wonderful world.

I Am Not Afraid: Psalm 23 for Bedtime
Sandy Eisenberg Sasso

Hardback: Beaming Books, 2023
Buy Now: [IndieBound] [Amazon] [Kindle]

Facing the Darkness

Bedtime can be scary for young children. In her latest picture book, I Am Not Afraid, Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso has adapted Psalm 23 to help comfort children at bedtime. The message of what is likely the most familiar of all the biblical psalms remains the same: God is with us and comforts us, and although the world can be a scary place, we can assert that we are not afraid.

Sasso acknowledges the many shadows and fears that can take hold of a child’s mind at bedtime, but she emphasizes that God is with us, even in the midst of these dark times, and that we are given signs of God’s presence and comfort. The nightlight helps to push away shadows; the moon and the stars “sit outside like old friends keeping watch over me.”  “Saying what makes you scared and what gives you courage,” Sasso writes in a concluding note, “is a form of prayer.”

I Am Not Afraid is a beautiful book, complete with lush illustrations by Marta Dorado. Its message is also beautiful, a message which children (and adults) often need reminding. The world can be a scary place, and we will be afraid at times, but we do not have to be consumed by these fears. God, the creator, is with us and enables us, in the end, to say: “I am not afraid.”


C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

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Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

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