Lily’s Cat Mask by Julie Fortenberry (9780425287996, Amazon)
When Lily and her father go school shopping, Lily isn’t sure she wants to go to school at all. When she asks her father to buy her a cat mask, he agrees and Lily wears it right out of the store. Lily wore the mask all the time, whether she wanted to be noticed or invisible, with friends or with strangers. She wore it to the first day of school, but her teacher only let her wear it at recess. Then one day at school, they had a costume party and Lily discovered another cat in her class!
This picture book tells the story of a little girl who uses the cat mask in order to cope with new situations. While she struggles with starting school, her mask gives her courage. It’s lovely that the book also depicts her wearing it at home whether she is happy or grumpy and in a wide variety of situations. The book also depicts a very understanding and loving single father who doesn’t push Lily to change.
The illustrations are filled with diversity in a very natural way. When Lily and her father are shopping, Lily is almost boneless in the illustrations, clearly being dragged along until she discovers her cat mask. Lily may be shy but she is also clearly imaginative, curious and silly. She is far from a one-dimensional quiet child.
A great look at a quiet child who faces school in a clever way. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia (9780062290137, Amazon)
No one knows that Eliza, a senior in high school, is the creator of the immensely popular webcomic, Monstrous Sea. She spends her days at school working on art for the comic and trying to be invisible. Then a new boy, Wallace, comes to her school. He has the looks of a football player, but doesn’t seem to say much at all, instead spending his time writing. Eliza soon learns that he is a major fan of her webcomic. As their friendship grows and starts to turn into a romance, the two of them do most of their communicating through texts, online chat and written notes. Eliza has to decide whether to share her secret of being the creator of Monstrous Sea with Wallace or whether she can stay anonymous much longer.
Zappia’s writing is completely captivating. She writes with a lovely confidence, telling the story of an introverted young creator with grace and understanding. Her characters are deeply human, struggling with real trauma and finding their safe place in communities online where they can be authentic and original. She speaks to the power of art and creativity in your life, making something that you can’t stop creating and having others find value in it too. Still, there is a tipping point where fans’ expectations can become too much and overwhelm the creative process. Zappia shows how mental distress can be dealt with and progress forward can be made, slowly.
Perhaps one of the greatest things about this book, though there are many great elements is Zappia’s portrayal of introverts. There is a coziness here, a feeling of safety in the pages, as if they are forming a critical spot for introverts to bloom, just like an online community. The book shows how introverts may be awkward but are also incredibly creative, thoughtful and deep people who just need their home and dog to recharge sometimes, alright often. The book allows Eliza and Wallace to steadily use online tools to communicate and learn about one another, building their relationship with honesty and humor.
Get this in the hands of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
Bertolt by Jacques Goldstyn (9781592702299, Amazon)
Told in the voice of a young boy who is different from the others around him. He doesn’t mind wearing different colored gloves after he can’t find his lost one. He enjoys being alone most of the time, unlike the others in his town. His favorite place to be alone is in a huge oak tree that is named Bertolt. The boy spends his days up in Bertolt’s branches, weathering storms together, making friends with the animals and birds that live in the tree. The boy looks forward to spring when Bertolt’s leaves will return and become a splendid green shelter again. But when the other trees burst into flower and leaf, Bertolt doesn’t. Eventually, the boy must admit that Bertolt is dead, but what does one do when a tree dies? The boy figures out exactly the right thing.
This is a story of an introverted child who doesn’t mind being on his own one bit. As a fellow introvert, I love seeing the depiction of a child who isn’t longing to be included but instead finds real pleasure in his time spent alone. It’s a story of independence and imagination, showing that quiet time alone can lead to creative solutions even when you have lost something you love. The book is touching, warm and celebratory.
The illustrations are lovely with the huge sweeping oak tree filling the page, the branches thick and strong, the leaves aglow with green and light. The fine-lined images capture the boy almost dwarfed by the space around him and yet eagerly also a vital part of the scene. His acorn cap speaks to his connection to nature and set him apart from the people around him as well.
A lovely look at introversion, imagination and the power of being different and embracing it. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Octopus Alone by Divya Srinivasan
Octopus lives in a bustling reef filled with all sorts of sea life. She watches the activity from her cave and three little seahorses come and visit her. But Octopus just wants to be left alone, so she changes colors to hide and heads away from the reef. As she travels away, the seahorses continue to follow her, watching her change colors and hide until Octopus finally leaves in a cloud of ink. Eventually, Octopus comes to a very quiet part of the ocean where she can be left in peace with only silent jellyfish floating by and the drama of a whale zooming to the surface. Nothing bothers her or watches her, so she falls fast asleep. When she awakens, she starts to think about life in the bustling reef and she returns, ready to play once again.
This is a shining example of a book where the writing and illustrations work seamlessly with one another. The story of an introverted octopus who just needs a little time alone will speak to children who also feel that way at times. Best of all, there is no lesson learned where being alone is dangerous or wrong, instead it is embraced as a time to see other beautiful things and recharge. This is one undersea world where quietness and alone time is just fine, perhaps even spectacular.
The art in this picture book shines and glows. Octopus and the other sea life pop against the dark blues and blacks of the watery background. The art has a wonderful internal light that gives it a real sense of being underwater. When Octopus heads out to be alone, the moment when she sees the whale is one of the most powerful and beautiful in the book. It is handled with a lovely pause in the text and bubbles galore in the illustrations.
This is one glorious look at an underwater world that will speak to introverts and children who may feel shy at times. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
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.