Britt (The Lost Track of Time) and husband-and-wife collaborators Qualls and Alko (The Case for Loving) are in a philosophical frame of mind. Their protagonists—a boy and a girl, one white, one brown—have boarded an elevated train with a parent (the boy has been to a bookstore, the girl to music lessons) and are headed home. As the train moves through the city—a benevolent, multicultural landscape depicted in lushly textured, jewel-toned collage and paint—the children fall into identical reveries. “Why am I me... and not you?” they wonder. Can you be “someone lighter, older, darker, bolder” and still be the same you? Britt doesn’t offer a resolution—hardly surprising, since these questions have vexed philosophers for millennia—but the children aren’t anxious. Both are happy and safe, and the park they pass is filled with people enjoying a fine evening together. Life is strange, when you think about it, but it can be good, too—which isn’t a bad mixed message to send. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Marietta Zacker, Gallt & Zacker Literary. Illustrator’s agent: (for Alko) Marietta Zacker, Gallt & Zacker Literary; (for Qualls) Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties. (Sept.)
PEOPLE ARE RAVING ABOUT WHY AM I ME?
Words by Paige Britt, Pictures by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
"The beautifully textured artwork… adroitly captures the mood and feel of a city in which diversity among people is such a natural occurrence, it doesn't need to be called out – it simply is." -- New York Times Book Review
"Why Am I Me? invites very young listeners to consider something both astonishing and elegantly simple." -- The Washington Post
* "A mindful, captivating ode to wonder and a must for any story- or bedtime repertoire." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review
* “Universal questions combine with richly layered, captivating compositions, presenting opportunities for careful examination and stimulating conversations.” -- School Library Journal, starred review
* "[A] benevolent, multicultural landscape depicted in lushly textured, jewel-toned collage and paint." -- Publishers Weekly, starred review
* "The interplay of art and text will invite the book's audience to grapple with themes of individuality, diversity, universality, and what it means to be human." -- The Horn Book, starred review
* "Author Paige Britt alchemizes…big questions, encouraging soul-searching dialogues with oneself and others…and artists Sean Qualls and Selina Alko… brilliantly [remind] readers how stories can be found behind every window, every door, every wall." -- Shelf Awareness, starred review
"The richly saturated full-bleed illustrations... are as aesthetically vibrant and colorful as they are mulitcultural, featuring diversity across race, religion, ability, and gender." -- The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, recommended
"An ordinary trip home becomes a journey in wonder and compassion."
Sophie Blackall, Caldecott Medalist
"[A] perfect blend of words and images… took my breath away."
Tomie DePaola, Caldecott Medalist
"I love the vibrancy of the illustrations."
Javaka Steptoe, Caldecott Medalist
"Selina and Sean's paintings bring this love story gloriously to the page… I felt like I had been dropped right into the center of everything. Loved it! "
Jacqueline Woodson, Newbery Honoree and National Book Award Winner
"Gentle illustrations that capture a timely theme: the value of empathy."
Emily Nussbaum, Pulitzer Prize-winning television critic for The New Yorker
Grace Lin, Newbery Honoree
PreS-Gr 2—Britt tackles the metaphysical for the picture book crowd. Two (presumably) parent/child pairs approach a subway from different directions: an African American father and son and a light-skinned mother and daughter. The boy reads a book while riding a skateboard; the girl has a musical instrument case strapped to her back. As the kids notice each other, he wonders: "Why am I me…and not you?" She thinks: "Why are you, you…and not me?" And so it goes, with thoughts such as, "If someone else were me,/who would they be?/Someone lighter,/older,/darker,/bolder?" Alko and Quall's acrylic, colored pencil, and collage scenes portray a diverse population within the train car and seen through its windows. People of varying skin colors, physical abilities, and styles play, watch sports, or perform or listen to music. The thought bubble questions arise naturally; they're the kinds of things that would go through a child's mind when observing differences. The climax is spread over four openings. It begins with a triptych in which the star on the boy's shirt becomes a twinkle in his eye and then a glowing shape in the sky. After the girl's eye sparkles, the boy reaches out, and their faces intersect in a Venn diagram of friendship. VERDICT Universal questions combine with richly layered, captivating compositions, presenting opportunities for careful examination and stimulating conversations. Perfect for classroom or one-on-one sharing.—Wendy Lukehart, District of Columbia Public Library
Two children think about some big questions in Britt, Qualls, and Alko's quiet picture book.As the sun sets, two children—one with light brown skin and carrying a skateboard, the other light-skinned (possibly Asian or mixed-race) toting a guitar—travel home on the train. At almost the same moment each child happens upon the same thought: "Why am I me… / …and not you?" Deceptively simple, the question is nearly fractal in its infinite scope, and the children silently connect with each other as they explore some of its depth. Ponderings such as "If I were someone else, / who would I be? // Someone taller, / faster, / smaller, / smarter?" are echoed and expanded by corresponding thoughts: "If someone else were me, / who would they be? // Someone lighter, / older, / darker, / bolder?" No answers disrupt the silent exchange between the children—the questions are thrilling, and the adventure is in the asking. The illustrations' mix of paint and collage style shows the fluid kinesis and multiculturalism of the world and people outside the train even as they fall subject to the children's musings. A stunning visual climax that expands from children to stars and back again elegantly captures the boundless immensity of self within an individual, between two, and among many that the protagonists have been exploring. A mindful, captivating ode to wonder and a must for any story- or bedtime repertoire. (Picture book. 4-9)