Perpetually underrepresented in picture books, black children star in this tale about a neighborhood populated by kids with unlimited possibilities.
In this work by mother-son team Bynum (I’m a Lovely Little Latina!, 2015, etc.) and debut author Drummond, a young black boy named Joshua and his mother discuss the stars and what it means to be brilliant. “You are like a star / that lights everything / in every way,” his mother tells him. Her advice, “Be brilliant,” guides the boy through his academic, artistic, athletic, and social achievements. Illustrator McGee (Brotherman, 2016, etc.) peppers the background of Joshua’s room with details of his accomplishments: a poster reads “Student of the Month,” a superhero cape hangs on a coat stand, and objects like a basketball, a pickle jar containing some sort of collection, and a U.S. map on the wall suggest his varied interests. At school, Joshua shows his creativity and smarts by demonstrating pirate speech, leading a class experiment with a volcano, imagining colorful subjects to paint in art class, and freestyling poetry with his friends at lunch. He shows his bravery after school by rescuing a cat and turning a bully into a friend. Wanting to grow his allowance instead of just saving it, he starts a candy and lemonade stand before getting a haircut at the barbershop, playing basketball, building a fort on a community green with his friends, and finally convincing the group of the kindness in releasing caught fireflies. As the upbeat book closes, Joshua dreams of being an astrophysicist and embraces his bright future: “As I grow, and grow, / and grow…I’ll study hard / to make it so!” The rhythm in the poetry may not be intuitive to audiences used to formal ABAB stanzas, but by reading the text aloud, particularly the section on Joshua’s poetry, the complex beat becomes more obvious (“Hear my life, through spoken word, / my voice lifts like wings of a bird! / When I speak rhymes, then I am heard. / My rhymes fly free like flying birds, / instead, the sky’s painted with words!”). McGee’s vibrant images are full of detail, and he embraces a diversity of shapes and skin tones among the neighborhood’s black children.
The positive message of self-confidence and potential makes this work a valuable addition to collections in need of diversifying their shelves with illustrated volumes featuring modern black characters.