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Picture Book Review – Just Like Me

JUST LIKE ME

Written and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

(Knopf BFYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Just Like Me cover

 

 

Beautifully written and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Just like Me is a book of poems honoring, encouraging, and shining a light on little girls everywhere.

The poems celebrate diversity, not only in terms of race and ethnicity, but in experience. Brantley-Newton welcomes all kinds of girls with differing hobbies, interests, likes, and dislikes. Girls can be an “Explorer,” a “Negotiator,” “Shy,” or just plain “Weird.” Each type of girl is recognized and validated.

Biblical principles weave throughout the poems. They call for making change in the world through kindness, grace, and “fight[ing] the good fight of love.” As “The Day I Decided to Become Sunshine,” “Warrior,” and “Girl Fight” emphasize, participating in this change is a willful decision girls can make. “I decided to be a light/ by holding a door/ open for others to come through.” “Respectfully/ with humanity/ and lovingly,” girls can empower the world by “fighting for … what [they] believe.”

 

Just Like Me interior
Interior spread from Just Like Me written and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

Just as important, girls can empower themselves. Poems such as “I Love My Body,” “Gumbo Me,” and  “My Crown” send positive body messages and celebrate the uniqueness of each girl. Each one is enough just for being herself.  ”[T]o be the me/that I’m supposed to be” is one of the most life-giving statements a little girl can hear.

Framing Brantley-Newton’s reassuring words are her captivating illustrations. Layers of pattern, color, and texture overlap to energize and uplift, placing each girl in center stage so that every reader can see herself in these pages.

This book is like a blanket of love. It would make a wonderful gift for that upcoming (virtual?) baby shower, birthday party, first day of school, or any occasion caregivers want to send a clear message of appreciation to the little girl in their life.

  •Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

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Lend a Hand by John Frank with illustrations by London Ladd

LEND A HAND:
Poems about Giving
Written by John Frank
Illustrated by London Ladd
(Lee & Low Books; $17.95, Ages 4-10)

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During National Poetry Month I’ll be reviewing a bunch of my recent faves. Lend a Hand by John Frank with illustrations by London Ladd is one of them. With its 14 poems about kindness, caring and volunteering, this beautiful picture book is heartwarming and inspiring. I can’t think of a child, parent, teacher or caregiver who wouldn’t enjoy having Lend a Hand to return to again and again

The opening poem called Sandwich is touching and brings a smile to my face each time I read it. It’s about a a young girl who shares half her sandwich with “the new kid sitting alone with only the words of a book to feed her.” I hope that if my kids were in this situation they would be as thoughtful. I am also encouraged that other children reading or being read this poem will look at that new student sitting by themselves in their school cafeteria, perhaps without a lunch of their own, with a new paradigm in place.

There’s a short, but sweet poem called Puppy about the selfless act of raising a service dog who’ll be “someone’s eyes one day” that is moving in its simplicity. The one below, called Jammin’ really struck a chord with me because it highlights a coming together of generations that I feel is so important for youngsters to see. I can actually picture one of my son’s friends doing the exact thing this lad does, stopping by to jam with a much older, possibly lonely, fellow musician.

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Interior spread from Lend a Hand by John Frank with illustrations by London Ladd, Lew & Low Books, ©2014.

 

In Home Run, a klutzy kid in PE is given a few winning baseball pointers by a more experienced classmate who takes the time to help when another student might not necessarily care. Song, with its hopeful message about the music from a student choir reaching into the soul of a wheelchair bound nursing home resident, brings tears to my eyes. And No Charge, about passing a kindness forward after one’s been done to you should impress upon youngsters that some of the best rewards are not financial.

One of the most catchy poems is Bus Ride with a rhythm and beat matching the music the narrator is listening to through his earphones. This poem, a most ideal read-aloud, demonstrates how we can all be considerate by giving up a seat on a crowded bus to someone who needs it more than we do. But it’s really teaching empathy, helping children to realize that every situation is not always just about them. Rather than avert his eyes so he can continue to selfishly occupy a seat that a man with a cane could use, the narrator explains that he deliberately catches the older man’s eye and motions “toward the empty seat” once he’s gotten up. I wish I saw this type of behavior more often on public transportation which is why I felt this poem provided a great example for kids. Frank has put together a meaningful collection of poems populated by diverse individuals and covering timeless themes that will resonate with readers and be a jumping off point for countless conversations about giving. Our kids are never too young to begin learning the importance of empathy and how, in this big, busy world of ours, taking the time to stop and think about someone else can have a powerful, positive and lasting effect.

London Ladd’s acrylic and pastel illustrations are spirited and full of emotion. He explains in the end pages how he works “from photographs” and uses “ordinary people, not professional models, as references for the illustrations.” I loved finding that out because it makes the illustrations feel more real and every moment captured more tender.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a shareable infographic from Lend a Hand about how to make a difference.

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