Based on a true refugee story, this deep and hopeful book sports colorful, simplified shapes depicting students and their teacher.
Stein does not attempt realistic depictions. The children look like jelly beans with limbs, facial features, and hair, and their all-blue teacher is only very slightly more detailed; all are digitally collaged over black-and-white photos of a Western classroom. This surprisingly effective choice allows readers to concentrate on the characters’ emotions. One day Ms. Truong asks her students to draw a memory from the places where they were born. A bike, a bowl of rice, children running through tall grass—and bricks and kids with crabby faces are some of what the students draw. The children each talk about their drawings and their cultures, things they like, dislike, or miss, and the teacher offers support and consolation when needed. When it is Shahad’s turn, she says that the bricks she drew are what inflicted the scar on her face and made her leg look the way it does. Shahad’s bubbly illustration does have scars next to her eye and on her knee. As Shahad leaves the classroom that day, Ms. Truong compliments her perfectly braided hair. With continued support, Shahad eventually asks, “Do you think I’m beautiful?” “I think you are spectacularly beautiful,” the teacher responds. Beautiful Shahad grows more confident and will pleasantly surprise with similar support to others the following year. Readers will likely infer that Shahad is from Syria or Iraq.
This heartening, well-crafted story refreshingly places its emphasis on its protagonist’s resilience. (Picture book. 4-8)