Using just six words, Wohnoutka manages to spin a complete school story.
The sunshiny gouache illustrations do the heavy lifting, supporting the words “so,” “big,” “not,” “too,” “just,” and “right” that are repeated throughout. The first spread shows Bear waking up in a sunny bedroom. A red star marks Sept. 4 on the wall calendar, and there’s a backpack on the floor: “So big.” Bear continues to feel capable and confident while dressing, eating breakfast, packing a bag, tying shoes, and standing at the bus stop (there is nary an adult in sight) next to a nervous elephant and squirrel. Then the bus arrives, dwarfing Bear, and this contrast and the font indicate a change: “SO big.” The other students on the bus (rhino, hippo, giraffe…) are “So BIG,” and the school is “SO BIG!” Bear is suddenly “Not so big.” But then Bear spies Squirrel, who is crying and feeling even smaller and less ready than Bear. Wordlessly, Bear, a model of empathy, holds out a hand, and together, the two brave the hallways, which are “Not so big…,” meet their teacher, and find that their classroom is “Just right!” Wohnoutka’s animal cast is beautifully expressive, and his use of relative size within compositions is masterful, easily getting across to readers how the world feels to Bear and Squirrel.
Even the most school-ready kid can have doubts, but with a friend, nothing will seem too big to handle. (Picture book. 3-6)