Written by Alexandra Strick
Illustrated by Steve Antony
(Candlewick Press; $18.99; Ages 4-8)
FROM THE PUBLISHER:
Young people share valuable advice—words they wish they had heard growing up—to inspire, reassure, encourage, and say You’re enough, just as you are.
You Can! Kids Empowering Kids uses simple phrases with powerful meanings on a journey with fourteen imaginary characters “as they grow from birth to eighteen.” Author Alexandra Strick’s prose opens each page with “You can …” placed alone in the left-hand corner, with inspirational messages spread throughout the book showcasing the power kids have while growing up.
Illustrator Steve Antony’s eye-catching colorful penciled art finished digitally, depicts children growing up before our eyes, and along the way they are being brave, exploring new worlds, and sharing feelings with a friend.
Below is a wonderful spread of kids lined up on the floor listening to a new friend playing the flute. One girl sticks her tongue out at a boy but the reader finds them hugging and “forgiving others and yourself” when seen again as teens. Watching the characters grow from babies to young adults was a fabulous way to experience them believing in themselves, dreaming big, and supporting each other.
Whoever young readers identify with, Antony’s diverse art provides the opportunity for children to be able to locate someone that resembles themselves or their actions. The closing pages show what becomes of our new friends. The girl in the wheelchair is an important figure sitting in front of a podium, while the boy with red hair grows up to become a pilot.
One page is filled with crowds of kids gathered together in costumes. There is a child dressed as a purple clown who prefers to follow along, while another walks with a cane choosing to lead the way. (Canes and wheelchairs are not going to prevent any of these kids from doing what they wish to do.) Turning the page, we read “do something big by doing something small, inspire and encourage others, stand up for what you believe in, and make a difference.” The words “Climate Action Now!” head up a spread of kids picking up trash and collecting water bottles. We see kids working together uplifting each other and remaining friends.
An angled font for “do things you couldn’t do yesterday” accompanies a girl dressed in a green suit and cap swimming the ocean with two friendly whales by her side. When she grows up, we see a drawing of her again dressed in green taking photos of fish in the sea. Each child is matched to a color throughout the story, in this way readers can flip back to the beginning of the pages to remind themselves of the character’s backstory. This was a creative way to follow along with the group of children.
Readers see that it’s not just about doing things for others but doing things for themselves as well. Kids are cheered on as they run a race but it’s not about winning or losing, “Just give it a try,” Strick shares. The blind runner strapped to the guided runner is just one example of this positive and inspiring picture book.
The blue sky covers the last spread above with the kids all grown up standing on a green hill with the words “You can believe in yourself, be the best you can, be kind, dream big, and be yourself,” above their heads. That pretty much says it all right there.
In back matter, Strick explains the research behind the picture book, while Antony draws faces of himself and Strick in a zoom room with real kids from all backgrounds. The kids are asked what they feel is important to say in the text. It was heartwarming to learn that these are the words of the young contributors. This book belongs in every classroom to be read to students as a lesson in social-emotional learning. In a world full of chaos, it was gratifying to read a book that gives kids hope. Strick, from the U.K., is the co-founder of Inclusive Minds, a collective for people who are passionate about inclusion, diversity, and accessibility in children’s literature.
- Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder