Following Her Right Foot (2017), Eggers and Harris team up for a second time to try to answer their timely titular question.
“What in the world can a citizen do? / Who can a citizen be?” The book’s answers are simple and idealistic. A citizen can “help a neighbor,” “join a cause,” “plant a tree,” “write a letter.” A citizen should “be engaged,” “care and care,” “build things, save things.” For those new to the concept of citizenship, some aspects of the text are misleading: How are they to understand “A citizen can be a bear. / Yes! A citizen can be a bear”? The statement that “A citizen’s not what you are—a citizen is what you do” is both opaque and painfully insensitive to America’s practiced definition of citizenship both historically and contemporarily, which denies the humanity of those not legally deemed citizens. Harris’ mixed-media collage illustrations feature a palette of muddy pinks, deep blues, and earthy browns and tans. The illustrations are generally overcrowded and frequently muddle, rather than illuminate, the potential message of Eggers’ text. A diverse group of children is featured in the illustrations, including a beige child with a shaved head, baseball cap, and tulle skirt; a brown child wearing a hijab; and twins with brown skin and Afros.
A disappointing effort that aims high but misses the mark. (Picture book. 5-8)