when no one is watching

When No One Is Watching by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by David A. Johnson

With all of the discussion about quiet and introverted children in classrooms right now, this book could not be more timely.  For those of us who were shy as children, you will recognize yourself in these pages.  Told in first person, the young female narrator finds it easy to be herself when no one is watching.  She is able to dance and spin when alone, but finds herself off to one side when her extended family gets together.  Alone she can be brave and imaginative, when on the playground with other kids she leans alone against a wall.  As the book progresses, another child suddenly pops out in the illustrations.  It’s a new best friend, who is quiet and shy too.  Together the two start to not care about who is watching them at all.

Spinelli does a great job of explaining the freedom of being alone, the imaginative play and the activity that happens when a child is comfortable and free.  She contrasts that clearly in her poem, where the girl who had been brave and active is now quiet and unsure.  Happily, Spinelli does not make this way of feeling seem wrong or strange.  Rather, she has created a character who is shy but willing to make friends and starts to naturally progress to being more sure of herself.

Johnson’s illustrations have a marvelous texture to them.  The main character pops on the pages, dressed in bright colors with wild curls and tumbling shoelaces, she is engaging and shining.  The other characters fade into the background, until Loretta, the new best friend appears and is just as bright as the protagonist.  It’s a subtle and successful look at connections between people.

A strong book that looks at shyness in positive and understanding way, this book will be embraced by children looking for someone just like them in the pages of a picture book.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.