In previous books like Over and Under the Snow, Neal rendered the natural world in tranquil, silkscreen-like spreads. Here he uses loose black lines and a stripped-down palette of blue and peach to explore the power of human emotion. The book’s writing—it’s Neal’s first outing as an author—is simple, honest, and lyrical. A boy with a scribble of black hair wrestles with waves of feeling: “Sometimes, you just need to cry, and that’s OK,” writes Neal as the boy’s tears become birds that fly into gray skies. “When you cry, you are not alone,” he continues as raindrops join the boy’s tears. Then, as the boy’s mood lifts, flowers bloom around him. “When you laugh,” Neal writes, “happiness grows.” The good feelings spread as a final image shows creatures, plants, and even clouds hugging each other. No explanations are offered for the boy’s shifting feelings; instead, Neal concentrates on the way emotions draw humans into relationship with the world around them. The rough artwork seems like a step backward from the polish and repose of Neal’s earlier work, but the writing holds promise. Ages 4–6. Agent: Stephen Barr, Writers House. (May)
...the message of self-acceptance and community is heartfelt and reassuring.
—The New York Times Book Review
Neal (Over and Under the Snow, 2011) makes his solo debut here, channeling a boy who is learning to accept and appreciate his own emotions...Neal’s palette of blue, black, and peachy flesh tones adds a jaunty innocence to the boy’s childlike drawings, which include anthropomorphic flowers singing along to bee-buzzing accompaniment, a chorus of cuddly animals, and an oversize bear providing an enveloping hug.
In his authorial debut, Neal explores the universality of emotions with a reassuring tone...Suitable for school and public libraries, this title has a wide range of appeal and could be shared one-on-one or read aloud.
—School Library Journal
This sweet read about emotions teaches tots that it’s OK to laugh, sing and even cry.
—Pregnancy & Newborn
Spare text and expressive illustrations are perfectly combined to deliver a simple, profound first look at empathy.
—Books to Borrow...Books to Buy (Kendal A. Rautzhan column)
PreS-Gr 2—In his authorial debut, Neal explores the universality of emotions with a reassuring tone. The narrative opens with an alliterative list of bad feelings supported by vignettes in which a young boy interacts with a balloon to demonstrate each emotion—"frustrated," "frazzled," and "fed up," as well as "bonkers," "batty," and "bananas". The text is purposely simple so that every child could be immersed in the story. The author delivers his message by labeling some of the difficult to describe negative emotions that arise, then moves into exploring happier feelings before concluding the tale with the idea that emotions connect humans rather than isolate them. More important, the reassuring tone of the text helps readers understand it is OK to feel happy, sad, or anything else, even all at once. Mixed-media illustrations are rendered in a retro, childlike style with a limited color palette that makes heavy use of blue. Animals, plants, and even the clouds and the moon in the sky are depicted as having faces and displaying emotions, which further supports the message of universality that the author is trying to communicate. VERDICT Suitable for school and public libraries, this title has a wide range of appeal and could be shared one-on-one or read aloud.—Samantha Lumetta, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH
Neal explores the well-trodden notion that everyone has feelings. "Sometimes, you just need to cry, and that's OK," assures the text after a brief survey of feelings experienced by a white child with short, tousled black hair. This reassurance is paired with an illustration of the child's blue tears turning into blue birds and winging their way across the gray sky. With the turn of the page, it then declares, "When you cry, you are not alone." The child is now standing amid blue raindrops, smiling. Children will be forgiven for wondering, how is the child not alone? Are they to understand that the raindrops are the tears/birds? Neal is ambitious in his visual metaphors, but that doesn't make them easy to understand. The illustrations, in a limited, retro palette that includes shades of black, peach, and blue, range from faux childlike cartoons to the sophisticated and fantastic. The plotless text has a tone-deaf "we are the world" vibe that's a simplistic disconnect with the illustrations. Even as it acknowledges that "everyone has feelings, and that's OK," it mystifies with murky assertions such as, "when you sing… / everyone listens." Unfortunately, it looks as though "everyone" is watching blue shooting stars. There is no shortage of outstanding picture books that address children's feelings of anger, frustration, anxiety, and joy. This is not one of them. (Picture book. 5-8)