This picture book for young readers (age 4 and up) is addressed to “you, dear child”: a young African American boy confronting the world around him.
The boy learns:
“Long before you took
your place in this world,
you were dreamed of,
like a knapsack
full of wishes
carried on the backs
of your ancestors . . .
. . . to them, you always mattered.”
Similarly, he is told, no matter what happens, he always has, and always will, matter to his family.
Nevertheless, the author says to the little boy, “there will be times when you … will question your place in the universe.” She gives examples of those times, such as:
“. . . . when your Pop Pop turns on the news, and you see people everywhere take a breath, take a stand, take a knee. And you hear Pop Pop’s whispered prayers, as another name is called: Trayvon, Tamir, Philando, and you wonder, if they, or you, will ever matter.”
The author writes:
“But did you know that you do?
Did you know that you were born from queens, chiefs, legends?
Did you know that you are the earth?
That strength, power, and beauty lie within you?”
“Since the beginning of time,” she concludes, “you mattered. They mattered. We matter. . . . and always will.”
In an Author’s Note, Tami Charles explained that when her son began to ask questions, she knew she needed to have “The Big Talk” with her son:
“The one where I tell him that while there are many nice people in the world, not everyone is. And that sometimes people will treat others unfairly because of their skin color, race, or religion.”
She explains that she wrote this book to provide parents with a starting point for those conversations, and to remind all children that no matter where they come from, they matter.
Bryan Collier has won a number of Caldecott Honors, in addition to other awards, for his illustrations. Here he employs paint and collage images in a rich palette to show the young boy surrounded by all the influences in his life. He adeptly conveys the emotions of the boy as he reacts to his world with wonder, fear, love, and joy. In his Illustrator’s Note, Collier writes that his grandmother, who raised him, was a quilt maker, and explains how her influence is reflected in his artwork in this story. The use of collage to suggest quilts is evident throughout the story, and adds to the meaning of the words about ancestry, inheritance, and cultural influences.
Evaluation: The words and illustrations combine to create a caring, reassuring message, and perhaps more importantly, an empowering message. Children of all backgrounds will find something to take away from this story.
Published by Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic, 2020