Children are given practice in reading facial expressions in this purposive picture book.
Though there are several children in the park outside Tom’s house, he’s lonely: “They didn’t play with Tom because he didn’t understand them, and they didn’t understand him.” Luckily, he’s got Boo, who wags her tail when she’s happy and whines when she is sad. One day, a girl in the park laughs as she watches Boo, as the dog’s beard is upturned in a smile. But Tom doesn’t understand. Sculpting the dog’s facial fur, Lydia emphasizes Boo’s smile and makes a direct connection: “Look! This smile means she’s happy.” She then models sad, angry, confused, and surprised with Boo’s beard and invites Tom to play. “ 'Okay,' said Tom. He pointed to his smile and said, ‘This means I’m happy.’ ” While readers may take away that there are some children who have not learned to read facial expressions, they may be frustrated when Lydia’s simplistic solution fails to work for every situation. Autism is never mentioned by name in the book (indeed, there is no letter to readers or parents and no backmatter), but it’s clear that Tom is on the spectrum, and parents of similar children may roll their eyes at the idea that teaching this skill is really this simple and one-and-done. Ironically, Straker’s illustrations show children with rather wooden expressions, and Boo’s aren’t all that clear, either.
Oversimplifies a complex issue. (Picture book. 3-6)