Dark-skinned children are more likely to be confused than comforted by this unvarnished esteem-builder.
Looking sheepish and unhappy in the pictures but sounding angry, a young boy cites teasing comments from lighter-skinned peers about his skin color, hair and other features. “I squirmed and wiggled / as they giggled at my teeth so white. / ‘You can be our flashlight at night. / Just smile and we’ll be alright.’ ” The emotional skies clear, though, after his mother supplies both a pep talk (“Look in the mirror and / love what you see!”) and a plate of chocolate cupcakes to share with his erstwhile tormentors. Evans, too, sends a mixed message in the ways he portrays the figures he poses against sketchy urban backdrops. Opposite the line about the narrator’s “flashlight,” the boy’s teeth are both hardly visible (in contrast to the whites of his big, bright eyes) and colored a lower-contrast ivory to boot, and in several scenes his mouth is so inconspicuous and oddly placed that his nose might be mistaken for smiling lips. More troubling, to judge from their postures and expressions, the other children’s mockery may come across to readers as just friendly banter—particularly in light of a final scene that is all frosting-smeared happy faces and mutual amity—instead of the hurtful words the narrator perceives.
Self-worth is always worth bolstering, but the positive message here is clouded by muddled subtexts and visual cues. (Picture book. 6-8)