I Can Help by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Mikela Prevost (9780802855046)
Zahra loves to volunteer to help a boy in her class. Kyle has problems with reading, writing, cutting and gluing. Kyle is great at drawing and other things though. As Zahra helps him, she discovers that he is generous, funny and kind too. Then one day, when Zahra is swinging high on the swings and seeing the new colors of the leaves, she overhears some girls saying mean things about Kyle. She stops swinging and one girl asks her why she volunteers to help Kyle anyway. The next day, the girls stare at Zahra as she is asked to help Kyle cut some paper. Zahra makes a poor choice and stops helping Kyle, telling him to do it himself. Zahra has become a mean girl that she doesn’t even recognize. The next year, at a new school, Zahra has a chance to make different decisions and do better, and that’s just what she does.
The author of Amira’s Picture Day returns with a book based on her own experience as a child. It’s a look at a child who longs to be helpful but allows peer pressure to lead her away from who she sees herself being. The bullying nature is written so accurately, not overblown into something but kept slick and insidious. Zahra’s own response is honest and real, the shame of acting that way and not seeing a way forward. This book could have turned didactic very quickly and nicely shows a child making her own decisions and coming out of it having learned something about herself and who she intends to be.
The illustrations offer a diverse classroom. They use plenty of white space while expanding to larger images at times too. The children’s faces are done very effectively, showing a wide range of emotions.
Sure to create opportunities for discussion, this picture book gives space for children to make mistakes and recover from them. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans.