2 out of 4 stars
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What It Means to Be Me by Dee Boykin is a collection of short stories for children who are 5-8 years old. Each story tackles a challenge a child might face. All of the stories end with a heartfelt, upbeat message.
There are eight short stories. Tim talks with Pastor John about how he is struggling with his belief in God in “Is God Real?” “Chrissy’s Pet Rock” explores childhood bullying and how it’s okay to be different from everyone else. “Where did she go?” (author’s capitalization) is a heart-wrenching tale of a young girl who has lost her mother. Another difficult subject is tackled in “I Love My Brown Skin!” when James witnesses an unsettling scene of police brutality. In “The Group,” a few children form a club that celebrates everyone’s unique beauty. One boy who hates studying finds a way to get excited about school in “Spelling Test Day.” Two siblings try to figure out whether or not they’re friends in “Are You My Friend?” “I’m Not Sleepy...” shows how a five-year-old girl learns that staying up late has some serious consequences.
The text is on top of full-page illustrations. Typically, the text was well-placed, and there was a high enough contrast between it and the image. There were a couple of pages where the contrast was too low, making the text a bit difficult to read. The illustrations themselves were vibrant and detailed.
The messages behind most of these stories are beautiful. However, I think there’s some work that needs to be done regarding the delivery. In this 54-page book, there are numerous errors; I stopped counting them after the first 14. There were misplaced quotation marks, capitalization errors, and typos (like “scrap” instead of “scrape”). I also had an issue with the rhythm of the book. There would be multiple sentences that rhymed, then the next couple of sentences wouldn’t rhyme, and then it would go right back to rhyming. The sentences were often of varying lengths and complexities, which disrupted the rhythm of the story. It didn’t help that sometimes the rhyming words took place in the middle of a sentence. Here’s an example from the first page:
“God isn’t real. I believe he’s an old man living on top of a hill, telling everyone how to feel. If he was real, why do people get ill? And why do some people kill? It’s Sunday morning and my family and I are off to church. Today I’m going to get my questions answered. On this stage I see pastor John standing there so bold, telling us stories from the bible he says Jesus told.”
Ironically, in a book that encourages inclusivity, there isn’t a whole lot of diversity among the storytellers. “I Love My Brown Skin” is told by an African-American boy, and “Beauty” is told by an African-American girl. Outside of these two stories, there is only one character with dialogue that isn’t white.
All that being said, I do think that this book has some wonderful lessons to teach children. I believe that the kids who would get the most out of this book are those who are dealing with one of the issues Boykin addresses, such as being bullied or losing a parent. Additionally, I think this book would be beneficial for a child who is struggling with empathy.
I give What It Means to Be Me 2 out of 4 stars. The irregular rhyming scheme alongside the numerous grammar and spelling errors keep me from giving this a higher rating. The powerful messages and the author’s upbeat tone are the reasons I didn’t give it a lower rating.
The first story deals with Christianity, and Heaven is mentioned in the story about the little girl who lost her mother. If that bothers you, I would skip this one.
What It Means To Be Me
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