A girl suffers from a lack of self-confidence in this second installment of Harmony’s (Kanga, My Dragon of Anger, 2015, etc.) series of rhyming books about children’s common problems.
Sal can’t speak to her peers because of her fear they’ll make fun of her. Whenever she feels this way, her imaginary pet cat, Matt, literally gets her tongue: she feels as if Matt’s paws are holding it still, and her knees feel “wobbly and weak.” She knows that Matt makes her feel bad about herself, but she can’t seem to make him go away. Matt appears in each illustration for readers to find; sometimes he’s interacting with Sal, but other times, he’s lurking elsewhere. It’s a good analogy for people with anxiety who, even when they are feeling good, wonder when uncertainty is going to strike. Sal’s mother tries to encourage her and eventually arranges a play date with another girl with a similar temperament. Sal is surprised to find out that May also has an imaginary pet cat. After the girls realize that they both have animals that undermine their self-esteem, they begin to come out of their shells: “May says she is glad she had come to play / Even though she was nervous about this day, / She thought I wouldn’t like her. / I laugh and say ‘It looks like we both were.’ ” As with the previous series installment, this book has moments of true understanding and empathy (“My heart is racing, my palms are sweating. / It is what Matt tells me that causes the fretting”). But also like Kanga, the rhyme scheme throughout this book forces phrases into awkward structures to make end words rhyme. The illustrations, which are sometimes disproportionate, have plenty of color and child-friendly appeal, particularly when Sal and May play dress-up and have a dance party. Notes at the end of the book offer parents some ideas on how to encourage children toward better self-esteem, but they don’t fully explain the causes of performance anxiety or when one should seek professional intervention. However, the book’s fun activities, such as a maze and a word search, should engage young independent readers.
A somewhat weaker series entry, but one that may still be useful for school libraries.