My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Cari Best, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Zulay is in first grade along with her three best friends. She starts the day by linking arms with them and singing in the hallways and then waiting in line to hug their teacher hello. When she finds her desk, she feels with her legs to make sure she is sitting right and then readers see her cane, which she pushes to the back of her desk. It is at this point that it becomes clear that Zulay is blind. She still studies what everyone else does, but she also has extra classes to learn to use her cane. When Field Day is announced, Zulay surprises everyone by declaring that she wants to run in a race. Will Zulay be able to make her dream come true?
Best introduces Zulay as a person first and then reveals her disability. It offers readers a chance to meet Zulay as a first grade girl and see how she is just like her friends first and then realize that she is still just like the others in her class but with the added component of blindness in her life. Best also incorporates all of the details that children will want to know. How does Zulay find her desk? How does she do class work? What is her red and white cane for? The result is a very friendly book that celebrates diversity in a number of ways.
Brantley-Newton’s illustrations add to that friendly feel. They feature children of many different races together in school. She clearly shows the emotions of her characters too from worry to pride to joy. The illustrations are bright and cheery.
This is a book about diversity and meeting challenges head on. It’s a great addition to public libraries of all sizes. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.