Emergency Quarters

By Gracey Zhang
Review by
From Ernesto’s warm, happy house to the busy sidewalks, the neighborhood of Emergency Quarters is alive and full of energy, and its story will resonate with kids of all ages.
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Once upon a time, we didn’t have cell phones. Emergency Quarters, written by Carlos Matias and illustrated by Gracey Zhang, takes us back to those days, while coming with a perfectly worded note for those young enough to not remember technology-free days. Emergency Quarters follows Ernesto through his first week of going to and from school without his parents. Before he heads out to walk with his friends, his mother gives him a payphone quarter to tuck safely away. Full of independence and responsibility, but not completely immune to temptation, Ernesto may be a child of the ’90s, but the essence of his story is timeless.

Carlos Matias narrates skillfully, conveying the thoughts of a child with lines like “But I got emergencies.” Ernesto comes across as generally thoughtful, observant and sincere: a character you can’t help but like. He is even adorably funny, such as when he declares he’s “Feelin’ freshhhh!” Matias uses descriptions, alliteration and assonance to craft a story perfect for reading aloud: just the right length, with good variety between dialogue and narration, and natural flow and rhythm.

Gracey Zhang’s illustrations make Emergency Quarters feel retro in the best way. It’s a comfortable mix between Sesame Street, Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein that is instantly recognizable to those who grew up in that era. Wonderfully messy with imperfect lines and wonky angles, Zhang’s art is filled with more details than you could ever absorb. Every page is so alive and full of energy, I just wanted to visit Ernesto’s world. From Ernesto’s warm, happy house to the busy sidewalks, Zhang fills the neighborhood with kind and expressive faces that radiate safety and belonging.

While Emergency Quarters feels a bit like a tribute to the older generations who navigated their school route with a coin tucked into a pocket, its story will resonate with kids of all ages. Spending time with friends and sharing that little bit of independence. Hearing our parents’ reminders in our heads as we make decisions. And sometimes slipping up, knowing that even if the quarters aren’t plentiful, the love absolutely is.

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Emergency Quarters

Emergency Quarters

By Gracey Zhang
Katherine Tegan
ISBN 9780063271456

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