I CAN BE ANYTHING! DON'T TELL ME I CAN'T

A young girl of color challenges the voice of fear and dissent in Dillon’s first solo picture book.

Readers are introduced to Zoe with her arms stretched wide as she declares, “I can be anything I want to be.” As she stands in the bordering white space, Zoe contemplates becoming a bird, and her exuberant vision of the possibility of flight fills the center of the spread. But down in the opposite corner, quiet but insistent, a little voice asks, “What if you fall?” When Zoe imagines becoming an archaeologist and unearthing dinosaurs, the voice insists that she is too little for such things. The entire book progresses thus, with Zoe imagining a possible feat or future for herself as a small, doubting voice questions her—but not once does Zoe give way. In response to “What if you fall?” Zoe confidently insists that she won’t fall and can always fly in a rocket ship; when the voice sneers that she is too little, Zoe counters immediately: “No, I’m not. I’m bigger than you.” Although skewed toward an adult perspective, Dillon’s prose leaves readers in no doubt of Zoe’s determination, and while the nagging voice is present throughout the book, the illustrations of Zoe’s dreams take up far more literal and figurative space than her self-doubt. Pair this with Molly Bang and Ann Stern’s When Sophie Thinks She Can’t… (2018) for the ultimate in can-do power.

Thoughtful and affirming. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-338-16690-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Blue Sky/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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As insubstantial as hot air.

THE WORLD NEEDS WHO YOU WERE MADE TO BE

A diverse cast of children first makes a fleet of hot air balloons and then takes to the sky in them.

Lifestyle maven Gaines uses this activity as a platform to celebrate diversity in learning and working styles. Some people like to work together; others prefer a solo process. Some take pains to plan extensively; others know exactly what they want and jump right in. Some apply science; others demonstrate artistic prowess. But “see how beautiful it can be when / our differences share the same sky?” Double-page spreads leading up to this moment of liftoff are laid out such that rhyming abcb quatrains typically contain one or two opposing concepts: “Some of us are teachers / and share what we know. / But all of us are learners. / Together is how we grow!” In the accompanying illustration, a bespectacled, Asian-presenting child at a blackboard lectures the other children on “balloon safety.” Gaines’ text has the ring of sincerity, but the sentiment is hardly an original one, and her verse frequently sacrifices scansion for rhyme. Sometimes it abandons both: “We may not look / or work or think the same, / but we all have an / important part to play.” Swaney’s delicate, pastel-hued illustrations do little to expand on the text, but they are pretty. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11.2-by-18.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 70.7% of actual size.)

As insubstantial as hot air. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4003-1423-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Tommy Nelson

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2021

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Inspiration, shrink wrapped.

WHAT THE ROAD SAID

From an artist, poet, and Instagram celebrity, a pep talk for all who question where a new road might lead.

Opening by asking readers, “Have you ever wanted to go in a different direction,” the unnamed narrator describes having such a feeling and then witnessing the appearance of a new road “almost as if it were magic.” “Where do you lead?” the narrator asks. The Road’s twice-iterated response—“Be a leader and find out”—bookends a dialogue in which a traveler’s anxieties are answered by platitudes. “What if I fall?” worries the narrator in a stylized, faux hand-lettered type Wade’s Instagram followers will recognize. The Road’s dialogue and the narration are set in a chunky, sans-serif type with no quotation marks, so the one flows into the other confusingly. “Everyone falls at some point, said the Road. / But I will always be there when you land.” Narrator: “What if the world around us is filled with hate?” Road: “Lead it to love.” Narrator: “What if I feel stuck?” Road: “Keep going.” De Moyencourt illustrates this colloquy with luminous scenes of a small, brown-skinned child, face turned away from viewers so all they see is a mop of blond curls. The child steps into an urban mural, walks along a winding country road through broad rural landscapes and scary woods, climbs a rugged metaphorical mountain, then comes to stand at last, Little Prince–like, on a tiny blue and green planet. Wade’s closing claim that her message isn’t meant just for children is likely superfluous…in fact, forget the just.

Inspiration, shrink wrapped. (Picture book. 6-8, adult)

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-26949-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2021

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