Jacqueline Woodson tells a lovely story that offers support and encouragement for all the children who walk into a room – for example, on the first day of school – and think with dread that they are different from everyone else. What if they laugh at you, or think you are strange, or what if you can’t play the same games they know how to play? So many kids will relate to these scenarios!
Woodson was inspired by a family story about her great-grandfather, who went to live with an aunt in a town where he was the only black child in his school. How do you cope when “no one there is like you?” as she asked in a poem in her book Brown Girl Dreaming.
Using poetic free verse in this book as well, Woodson writes about times a child may feel like an outsider and be insecure about it:
“There will be times when the words don’t come.
Your own voice, once huge, now smaller
When the teacher asks What did you do last summer?
Tell the class your story.”
The other children in the book boast of travels during the summer – to Maine, to India, to Spain even!
But what if all you did was stay at home and read to your little sister?
“And in that room, where no one else is quite like you, you’ll look down
At your own empty hands and wonder What good is this
When other students were flying
And sailing and
The illustrations provide examples of other situations in which someone might feel excluded, showing a Latinx immigrant new to the country; a Korean girl with different food for lunch than the others bring; and a lonely white boy who prefers books to sports.
But then the little girl bravely decides to share her own stories:
“My name is Angelina and
I spent my whole summer with my little sister . . .
Reading books and telling stories and
Even though we were right on our block it was like
We got to go EVERYWHERE.”
The other children respond positively, and soon the girl finds new friends, and sees that “every new friend has something a little like you – and something else so fabulously not quite like you at all.”
Rafael López uses simple pictures and yet manages, with his bright palette, to convey every nuance of every emotion expressed.
Evaluation: There is a good reason Jacqueline Woodson is so beloved as an author. I wish there had been a book like this when I started first grade and it seemed like everyone already knew each other from kindergarten, which I did not attend. The illustrations are so moving, and so well done. The recommended age range is from 4-8, but since I still feel this way in many social occasions, I would change it to ages 4 and up!
Published by Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2018