An unusual customer interrupts a youngster’s lunch with her grandfather in a humorous debut children’s book that addresses the issue of empathy.
Aryela, a little white girl with blonde hair, is having fun with her “Gramps” when a sporty kangaroo named Kip, wearing an “Aussie” T-shirt, baseball cap, and sunglasses, bounces into the shopping mall food court where they’re eating lunch. Everyone stares as Kip “hippity hops” to the salad counter to place an order. Aryela, pictured wearing an eye patch (to correct a vision problem), is empathetic: “I know what it’s like to be stared at,” she says to herself. When the salad maker refuses to serve Kip (“We only serve people here…and you’re not people”), Aryela notes the kangaroo’s hurt feelings and thinks of how she’s felt like an outsider. She asks Gramps to invite Kip to their table, and the senior goes to the counter to make sure that the kangaroo gets a salad. Aryela and Kip soon find that they have much in common: They know what it’s like to be picked on, for example, and they both love jokes. De Francis offers expressive, zippy, cartoon-style debut illustrations as Bloomberg delivers several messages about diversity, bullying, prejudice, and kindness. He does so with gentle humor and a light but sure touch, reinforcing the book’s messages with the arrival of Kip’s mother. Confronted by a security guard, she humorously but firmly educates him about her right to remain there with her son. (Mom’s pouch-as-shopping-bag also comes into play, and De Francis’ depiction of the guard’s expression is a hoot.) Bloomberg’s slapstick method for discouraging bullies is the book’s only misstep; although it’s comical when Kip sticks up for Aryela by dumping salad over the heads of the three “Meanie Brothers,” it’s likely that retaliatory escalation would be a bully’s real-life response.
A lively picture book that offers a child-friendly perspective on difference and acceptance.