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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
I'm Special, I'm Me!
I'm Special, I'm Me!
by Ann Meek, illustrated by Sarah Massini
Little Tiger Press (UK press),(April 2006)
Milo looked in the mirror and sighed a big sigh.
"Come on, Milo, we're going to be late!" called Mum up the stairs.
Milo pressed his nose right up against the cool glass.
"What am I going to be today?" he whispered to himself.
At school Milo and his friends were playing a jungle game. "Please can I be the lion?" asked Milo.
"No," said Clare. "You're not strong enough to be king of the jungle."
So Milo was a rather sad monkey.
When he got home Milo peered into the mirror.
"Who can you see?" asked Mum.
"A monkey," replied Milo quietly.
"Lucky you," said Mum. "How fantastic to be able to swing through the trees with all your monkey friends."
"Oh yeah!" said Milo, grinning and making monkey faces at his mum.
--I'm Special, I'm Me! by Ann Meek, illustrated by Sarah Massini , p. 1-5.
Milo enjoys playing imaginative games with his school friends, but they decide what happens, and never let him be what he wants to be. Each day, he goes home feeling sad, and tells his mum about the character he played. And each day, his mum reframes his experience, telling him about all the positive things his character could do. This clearly bolsters Milo's self-esteem, as he gradually becomes more confident until finally he decides for himself what character he'll play. This is an encouraging, feel-good book about self-esteem, believing in yourself, and seeing the positives in an experience. This book uses positive reframing which helps Milo feel better about himself, and also shows readers how they can use the technique themselves.
Meek's text has a nice rhythm and pleasing repetition. Milo's experience of being told he couldn't play the character he wanted to, and having his mum reframe his experience is repeated many times in the book. The reader starts to expect this repetition of disappointment and then positive reframing. There are nice changes in the text that keep the repetition from becoming tiring.
Milo is easy to identify with. Empathy is created from the first page, where readers get a hint that he is not happy, as he sighs deeply and wonders what he'll be, and his unhappiness becomes even more clear as we how he never gets to choose what character he'll be. Milo's mum's reframing and positive feedback helps keep the book from being too painful, and brings good feeling. Milo gradually becomes happier and more confident, and this helps the reader keep rooting for Milo. When Milo finally succeeds, there is great reader reward.
There is good character change throughout the book; subtle changes in the text show Milo gradually becoming happier and more confident (At school, Milo starts off asking his friends "Please, can I be ___," then moves to excitedly saying what he'd like to be (but still being denied this by his peers), and then to telling the other kids what he's going to be. At home, Milo moves from being sad, to smiling at what his mum says, to bouncing excitedly around the room at her creative reframing, to finally having the "shiniest smile"). Milo grows from being a very shy, tentative kid to a strong, proud kid who has more belief in himself and is able to speak up for himself. This greatest moment of change is an encouraging and empowering one for the reader as well, as it shows the kids responding positively to Milo, and being excited about his idea.
The ending is positive, but it felt jarring to me; it was very direct and didn't seem to fit the rest of the text content or tone. Milo says his mum was right, he can be whatever he wants to be--but nowhere in the text did his mum say that; instead, his mum took each situation that he was not happy with and gave it a positive spin. I wasn't sure the title fit the book, either. But that does not take away from the power of the book; overall it is very encouraging and uplifting.
Massini's (I'd Rather Go to Grandad's, Oodles of Noodles) watercolor-and-ink illustrations are loose-lined and cartoon-like, with a lightness created through the use of a lot of white space in many of the backgrounds, cute smiling characters, and a frequent use of highlights and light. Characters and objects are outlined in thin ink, while some setting details, especially those from nature such as water, sky, and sand, have no outlines. Characters have overly large round heads and thin bodies, which gives them a cute quality, and Milo and his mum both refreshingly wear glasses.
The illustrations vary from small illustrations of Milo and his mum within a frame (the mirror) surrounded by a lot of white space, to illustrations that take up an entire page, bleeding right to the edges. Full spreads occur at key moments, such as the beginning of the story, the moment of change for Milo, Milo's moment of triumph, and the ending, which help underscore the importance of those scenes.
Massini's illustrations work perfectly with the text, visually showing us the power of Milo's imagination as Milo and his friends become what they imagine--jungle animals, pirates, princes and knights, and so on. Massini visually adds scenes to the story, sometimes only from a brief sentence, showing us both Milo playing with his friends, becoming the character he is told he must be, and then the positive reframing of him in character after his mother speaks to him. This adds balance, depth, and interest to the book.
There is a nice visual repetition of Milo's mum holding him or smiling at him in the mirror each day, where we see the mirrored reflection, almost as if the reader were Milo. This helps increase reader identification and brings a warmth.
The sting ray that marks Milo's moment of triumph where his friends end up copying his character appears not only in that scene but also in the illustrations near the end in a sparkling snow globe in Milo's room, reminding readers of his success. This adds to the good feeling of the book. Observant readers will enjoy seeing that all the characters that Milo ends up pretending to be appear in his room as toys, drawings, and even furniture in the first illustration.
I'm Special, I'm Me! is an enjoyable book about confidence, believing in yourself, and the power of positive reframing, encouragement, speaking up and taking risks, and imagination. This is an uplifting, feel-good book that has a lot to say. Highly recommended.
-Added June 01, 2007
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