Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Sarabella's thinking cap by Judy Schachner

Sarabella is quiet in class and often loses track of her work - she's simply too busy with the dreams and thoughts that flood into her mind. Her parents and older sister tell her not to worry, as they pursue their own creative endeavors, but Sarabella's teacher keeps sending notes home reminding her to focus. Finally, Sarabella figures out a way to express what she's thinking to everyone with a marvelous thinking cap showing the flood of ideas and pictures that occupy her mind.

The mixed media illustrations glow with the flood of images from Sarabella's mind; some softly colored, others sparkling with light, and more that are what I think of as "Victorian clip art". In the end, her thoughts explode out of her mind and onto paper, impressing her teacher and classmates and earning her the shy friendship of another thoughtful child.

Reviews on this title are mixed, some thinking the story is a good celebration of creativity and differences in learning style and others calling it flawed. I have a different perspective - is this book really needed? There are plenty of books featuring white kids and their quest for creativity and self-expression. The mild reproaches of Sarabella's teacher for not focusing in class and her small, private worries are easily resolved by the end of the story. Her parents have occupations that allow them plenty of leisure time for painting and playing music and Sarabella has her own (spacious) room with plenty of art materials at hand. Her classroom is carefully diverse and has a more normal classroom size - about 20 kids - than most picture books depict. There's a variety of skin colors and races, a girl in a hijab, a boy in a wheelchair, and the child who attracts Sarabella's attention at the end is black. So, what I want to know is, why are we not hearing the story of another child in her class? Why is the little black boy, who appears to have the same fertile imagination, not the featured protagonist instead of the little white girl? It's not necessary to make every picture book an "issue" book, but why not feature a family where the parents are busy at work and the child uses their imagination to amuse themselves? Or a family with more limited resources where the child uses their imagination to create without all the art supplies easy to hand? Basically, why retell the same story over and over when there are other stories waiting to be told?

Verdict: It's a perfectly acceptable story of creativity and imagination with pleasant and sometimes unique illustrations, but it's a story that's been told to exhaustion. I'd pass on this and look for something new to add to my picture book collection.

ISBN: 9780525429180; Published 2017 by Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher

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