I found today’s Perfect Picture Book at my local library. Regular readers know that all of the books I’ve reviewed this year have involved refugees, people and stories from areas affected by the US travel ban, and migrants, especially from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Today’s Perfect Picture Book doesn’t exactly fit within these parameters. It is, however, a book first published outside the US. I also think it promotes so much empathy for refugees and migrants that it almost is a book about them. I hope you agree!
Title: Why Am I Here?
Written By: Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen
Illustrated By: Akin Duzakin
Translated By: Becky Crook
Publisher/date: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers/2016 (first published by Magikon in Norwegian/2014)
Suitable for Ages: 5-9 (or older)
Themes/Topics: empathy, compassion, imagination, philosophy, social justice
I wonder why I am here, in this exact place.
Brief Synopsis: A young child journeys to many places, asking what it would be like to live as s/he sees others living.
Links to Resources:
- Become Globe Smart, and learn about life in other areas of the world;
- Draw a picture of a person or place that you have visited.
Why I Like this Book:
Why Am I Here? is a book that begs to be read, and reread. Many of us have a child who has asked questions non-stop, who has stumped us time and time again with one three-letter word: WHY. While I think of the “why” stage for younger children more than for the school-aged kids for whom this book is written, curious children, and adults, never stop wondering.
Rather than wondering just about the natural world, Why Am I Here? invites us to consider differences in time, place, and social circumstance. In one poignant spread, the narrator asks what it would be like to live in a large city, alone, “on the street or under a bridge.” Similarly, the narrator wonders what it would be like to leave home as a refugee, to survive a natural disaster and be without food or water, or to labor as children do in other places in the world.
This is an introspective book, sensitive and thought-provoking. But while many of the places and peoples visited are suffering, the overall tenor is positive and hopeful, in large part, most likely, due to the dreamy, peaceful watercolor illustrations that help soften the reality of the words.
A Note about Craft:
Why Am I Here? has an other-world feel to it, in part, I think, because the “I” in the story is alone and identified by neither name nor gender. I think this helps readers identify better with the narrator and imagine themselves in his or her situation.
In Reading Picture Books with Children, Megan Dowd Lambert invites readers to contemplate the Whole Book when sharing picture books with children. In Why Am I Here? the text appears solely on the left side and the illustrations, looking like landscape paintings, appear on the right side of the gutter. This invites the reader, I believe, to think about the words before seeing what the words imply. For an introspective book, when author, illustrator and editor want the reader to contemplate the text, I think this is a wonderful technique that adds to the reading experience.
Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen is a Norwegian freelance jouralist and children’s author.
Akin Duzakin is a Turkish illustrator living since 1987 in Norway.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!