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by E. B. Lewis (Illustrator)

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Charles, an African American student, learns to appreciate his similarities to and differences from his new friend Hector, who is from Puerto Rico.


Charles, an African American student, learns to appreciate his similarities to and differences from his new friend Hector, who is from Puerto Rico.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
From the late Steptoe (1950-1989) comes a characteristically warm slice-of-life tale that also serves up a lesson or two about friendship and ethnic pride. When Charles's teacher explains that Hector, the new boy, is from Puerto Rico, Charles, an African American, is startled: "How could that guy be from Puerto Rico? He was the same color as me, and I'm not from Puerto Rico." The teacher supplies a few answers to that question, which becomes increasingly less important as Charles and Hector strike up a friendship. There's not a great deal to this plot: an excited Charles tells his parents his plans for "teachin' [Hector] how to speak good English," and when Charles's mother laughs, Charles's father declares that he is simply "bein' creative with his language"; "creative," after a few explanations, becomes the term Charles uses to cement his bond with Hector. The characters here emerge bigger than the story, lifelike and immensely likable. Lewis (Big Boy) does them justice by not romanticizing anyone: the kids in the class, for example, pay attention to the teacher but their faces show a recognizable reserve. Instead, the artist relays the characters' affection through well-chosen compositions, placing his figures in natural but intimate relation to one another. All told, a book with heart. Ages 6-10. (Jan.)
Children's Literature - Sue Preslar
Published after his death, John Steptoe created yet another wonderful picture book with positive messages. Told in first person, the African American protagonist named Charles wonders why Hector, the new guy in his class, looks like him but speaks Spanish. When the teacher explains that Hector is from Puerto Rico, Charles is even more confused. This leads to a heart-warming investigation of differences children notice, yet the similarities that can be found if they look. If the parents and the teacher in the book seem a little too perfect, the bonus is in the outcome. Definitely worthy of mention are the outstanding illustrations by illustrator E. B. Lewis. The fluidity with which he uses watercolors is comparable to Jerry Pinkney's best.
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5When a boy named Hector joins Charles's class, Charles finds the new boy's dark skin and straight hair confusing. How can Hector speak Spanish, be Puerto Rican, and have the same skin color as Charles, who is African American? This confusion sparks discussion about shared heritage and language. When Charles decides he will teach Hector English, his parents remind him that his English isn't exactly perfectin fact, it is most definitely original. This is where the title comes in. As their friendship grows, Charles protects Hector from being teased by giving him a pair of used but in-style sneakers, a true sign of friendship because, "In this neighborhood you got to have the right sneakers `less you want to get laughed at." In return, he receives a not-so-stylish palm-tree shirt, but it's a gift he deems "very creative" and is proud to wear. Unfortunately, the tone is pedantic and the writing is wordy and stiff. Still, much of the story is right on target. This posthumous work displays a genuine understanding of a gently blossoming friendship between two boys, and children will encounter real-life issues and situations that many will recognize from personal experience. Lewis's watercolor illustrations are well executed and capture the boys' emotions at just the right moments. Not great but certainly worth noting.Alicia Eames, Brooklyn Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
A posthumously published story by Steptoe (Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters, 1987, etc.) demonstrates his usual themes of positive self-image and acceptance of cultural heritage, this time presenting young African-American Charles's reaction when "this new dude walks in" to Mr. Cohen's classroom. "Hector's whole name was one of them long numbers," and he speaks to the teacher in Spanish. Hector is from Puerto Rico, but he is the same color as Charles and his hair is also black (though straight). Charles doesn't get it, but he's happy to help Hector and his sisters learn the ropes in their new school. Mr. Cohen fills Charles in—how Hector's ancestry was enriched by that of other groups in Puerto Rico. Charles has already decided that Hector is a "nice dude," and he tells his parents that he could teach Hector English. Daddy says that Charles's riffing on the English language is creativity. It pleases Charles to learn that doing things his own way has a good name, and he puts the concept to good use when Hector needs some help with his clothes. Lewis's full-spread watercolors under a readable text happily complement this warm story of friendship.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
9.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.16(d)
Age Range:
4 - 7 Years

Meet the Author

E.B. Lewis's watercolor paintings appear in BIG BOY and many other picture books. The recipient of a Coretta Scott King Honor for Illustration, he lives in Folsom, New Jersey.

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