How much can one action, one work, or one person matter? The book, You Matter, tells the reader that they matter, however big or small they are. The cover of the book itself exemplifies that. The reader sees children that are all different, from a child in a wheelchair to the others in with different skin color. There is a child wearing glasses and another in a hijab. This is a theme and statement that people have significance. While the cover conveys this message, the content of the book. This book was chosen because it had high reviews, from periodicals such as the School Library Journal and the New York Times. In addition, Christian Robinson is a recipient of both the Caldecott and Corretta Scott King Honor Awards. However, this book falls short of strongly conveying its desired message. This is because, while the artist uses bold, eye catching and at times funny depictions, the images themselves do not make sense with the narration.
EVALUATION OF THE BOOK
For the illustration, Robinson chose a mix of painterly medium (acrylic) and collage. This art, throughout the work is eclectic. In one frame, the reader sees a dragonfly partially drawn in stick figure, and in another, the three dimensional bodies of two people feeding pigeons. The most breathtaking scene takes place where we see an African-American astronaut looking down on planet Earth from space. It is dark inside the ship, but Robinson gives the reader a view into our cloudy planet, and in the astronauts hand is a photograph of what appears to be her child. It is in these details that Robinson shines. He is inclusive in many ways. In this example, he makes the decision to display a woman of color, who is also a mother. This inclusion is an subtle way of normalizing, in this case, seeing populations that are underrepresented in a male-dominated field loud and clear.
You Matter has a few laugh out loud moments. There is a scene with a mosquito that is presumably biting the appendage of some larger organism (See Image 2). In a expertly crafted use of suspense or question of who this creature or what this appendage could be, the reader turns the page to find a dinosaur. The appendage was the tail. Robinson gives life and action to the pain by adding lines as we see the bump of the bite emerge. However, the entire image is laugh out loud hilarious. First of all, the dinosaur in question is a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a ferocious, carnivore who theoretically would have had thick skin. After considering the improbability of a mosquito actually piercing the skin of a dinosaur (is that possible?), Robinson crafts the dinosaur to have the most pained look on its face. This is sure to delight readers. It is just so surprising.
In other ways this book is disappointing with its execution of scope and seamlessness. The section of the book, for instance, that shows dinosaurs was confusing. While the words are, “When everyone is too busy to help. You matter” there is a scene where an asteroid is about to land on earth (Robinson, 2020, p. 14). This is confusing because the aforementioned dinosaur with the mosquito bite has been left behind the herd of fleeing dinosaurs. But what is this teaching children? Surely the dinosaurs leaving the T-Rex behind did not change his fate. In another frame, there is a girl playing with a plane and we the audience see ants going underground, working hard, and storing food in their colony. The text here reads, “The small stuff too small to see” (p. 33). But what lesson is this teaching readers? Is it suggesting that we should not ignore the hard working ants? The next page moves on to a boy looking at cars from a plane. But why do the ants matter? A more narrow scope would have honed the message to be clearer, at least to me. This overly broad scope only leaves the reader with a generic and superficial sense of big things and small things.
Robinson brings a very inclusive picture book to the hands of young readers. It is necessary for children of all kinds to see themselves. Young girls of color need to see that is normal to see people like them doing amazing things, such as being an astronaut. It is equally important for everyone to see non-stereotypical representations of people that are different from them. There are hilarious depictions of the most vicious seeming of dinosaurs which is a huge plus. The text, however, does not complement the images. Or rather, the text and images themselves give a watered down and overly broad version of the two very important words, “you matter.” At the same time, even though there is a lack of clear substance in this book, You Matter remains a book of the perspective of big versus small and while there is not one specific underrepresented protagonist, the reader sees underrepresented demographics throughout. For this reason, I recommend this book as an addition to public and school libraries that serve children, with the idea that I am on the lookout for the same message delivered in a better, more focused way.
Robinson, C. (2020). You matter. Atheneum Books for Young Readers.