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)Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
It's tough being the only African-American kid on the block. The young narrator's white acquaintances tease him ruthlessly about his name, his dark skin ("It's brown like dirt. Does it hurt to wash off?"), his wide nose, and his 'fro. It's enough to make any kid wish he were just like everyone else--until Moms offers just the right kind of comfort: "You have skin like velvet fudge frosting mixed in a bowl.... Cotton candy hair soft to the touch of my fingertips." The titular phrase is used like a refrain, initially a burden and later a celebration of self. Actor Diggs, making his children's book debut, gives an unvarnished take on the emotional impact of taunting that cuts to the core of one's identity, though not every reader will find satisfaction in the ending, in which the narrator is reconciled with his insensitive peers over chocolate cupcakes. But Evans makes the hero's journey to confidence irresistible, with bighearted, stylized pictures that draw on the emotionally exuberant vocabulary of street art and anime. Evans doesn't minimize the cruelty the boy suffers, but he makes it feel surmountable. Ages 4-8. (Nov.)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC
PreS-Gr 2--A young African-American boy feels unhappy and self-conscious because of comments other boys make about his skin color, his hair, his nose, and even his white teeth. At home he asks his Moms, "Why can't I be more like Timmy or Johnny or Mark/with straight hair and a different nose?/I suppose my teeth wouldn't seem so bright/if my skin were a bit more light…right?" His mother reassures him by comparing his attributes to things he can relate to: "You have skin like velvet fudge frosting/….Cotton candy hair soft to touch…./And your smile….It's perfect." When the boy looks at himself in the mirror, he sees what his mother sees and loves "Chocolate me!" He shares his mother's chocolate cupcakes with the boys who have been teasing him. The protagonist is now happy with who he is, but youngsters may be left wondering, other than enjoying the treat, have the other boys changed? The cartoonlike illustrations are done in bold colors. Several spreads have only two words, "Chocolate me," in brown letters and show the boy wearing one of a variety of T-shirts with a message on it: "Be Super!" "You are my" (page turn) "#1" (page turn) "#1 Son!" With its universal themes of wanting to fit in, self-acceptance, and self-esteem, this read-aloud offering is sure to strike a chord with many young readers/listeners, and on a variety subjects, not just race.--Mary N. Oluonye, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH[Page 82]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.