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!
Stunning art work. I love the idea of asking why are we here related to circumstances. As you say, this thought provoking text and illustrations invite children to think outside their own experiences. Great find.
Thanks! And I found it here! A definite plus.
Checking to see if my library has this book! I love everything about this story. Even adults sometimes ponder this question — especially when we travel to places of great poverty. Thanks for the recommendation!
I found this one at our library, so fingers crossed your library purchased a copy, too.
Wow, I’ve got to take a look at this one! Sounds like it would be an interesting and thought-provoking read for anyone. Thanks for highlighting!
It is extremely thought-provoking. I kept reading, and rereading it & couldn’t resist reviewing it.
Very interesting book. I too am looking to find a copy. Thanks. ❤
You won’t be disappointed. Funny how we both chose question books today!
This looks gorgeous to boot – thanks to you I have it on hold already!
That was speedy. Given your illustration perspective, you may want to review it, too.
Wonderful choice, Patricia. I read this one with my kids recently and it prompted a thoughtful discussion.
So happy to hear that, Gabi. My kids are grown, so I never know if I’m right when I say something will spur discussion. Thanks for sharing!
every now and then we all need a book that asks us deep questions. Thanks for sharing your perspective.
Just checked by cities libraries and they don’t seem to have it so going to request they get it in. The art is very sensual and appropriate. Thanks for sharing.
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