I didn’t really enjoy this book but I seem to be the only one. It was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1990 and my 3-year-old daughter got in to touching her own belly button during the part where “Little Guy’s” father is kissing his belly button. I may have found this book more engaging if I’d discovered it for my child when she was an infant or early toddler. This is one of Vera B. Williams’ books that exists for the illustrations and not the written narrative. There are three short stories in this book—stories that illustrate three different children receiving affection from their caretakers. The copyright page explains that the book is based on the gouache paintings and as I read it, the narrative was so thin, in my opinion, that I felt the words were just put on the page to justify putting a multicultural children’s book on the shelf but that was 23 years ago and one of the first, if not only Caldecott honor books with interracial families.
So what exists that is multiculturally relevant? There is a lone father caretaker of a child, there is a Caucasian grandmother caretaker of a child of multiracial African descent, and there is a brown-skinned mother of a light-skinned Asian child. The challenge with the Gouache paintings is a lack of defined detail. My daughter thought that “Little Guy” was a girl who didn’t like her father and, while we suspected that the grandmother was Caucasian, my grandmother upon reading it wasn’t sure—the way the features are drawn, she could just as easily have been a light-skinned woman of color. Similarly, I do not know whether the mother with daughter is supposed to be a brown-skinned Asian sharing her daughter’s ethnicity or a woman of a different ethnicity or race. In an interview I can’t find right now, Williams says that she wrote the book to fill the void of in the children’s books market with interracial families so having read that interview, I’m certain the grandmother is Caucasian. You may find the last painting uncomfortable as a child is splayed in a way that is a little exposing—my daughter asked if the girl had on shorts under her dress. What is clear is that readers can definitely see that families are composed of a rainbow of people. Since this is a book about relationships between familial adults and children, without couples or references to two parents, this is a book that can definitely reflect and validate single parent and alternative guardian families.
Recommendation: Valuable to have in your book collection; Ages 0-4
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda