A bullied little ant surfs his way to confidence, proving that small creatures can accomplish great things in this picture book.
Cecil is a young ant who comes every day to play in Aardvark Park, but the other kids bully him for being small. One day, upset, he runs down to Anthill Beach, where he encounters his Uncle Juba, who sports dreadlocks and speaks in patois. He tells Cecil: “Feeling good about yourself is more important than what others t’ink.” Observing Surfer Ant riding the waves, Cecil is inspired, begging Uncle Juba to teach him how to surf. After some lessons and at least one wipeout, Cecil is ready. The next day on the beach, he walks right past the mean ants and runs boldly toward the rough water they’re afraid to try. He rides a huge wave, and everyone is impressed. They praise him, apologizing for the teasing, and Cecil forgives them, having realized that “being little doesn’t mean you can’t do whatever you want.” Jones (Fate Ball, 2016) aims to encourage kids to set targets, practice, and gain confidence. These are commendable goals, and mastering skills is a superb self-esteem booster, but why must Cecil prove himself a star to win the same friendliness all of the others get to enjoy just for being themselves? (In this, he’s much like Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer.) Debut illustrator Pastori’s images are clever—Cecil’s hair looks like ant larvae—well-composed and appropriately dynamic.
This beach tale sends the mixed message that kids should feel good about themselves—if they’re amazing.