Thursday, October 5, 2017

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt; illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls

Hi, Paige Britt! Thank you for visiting Watch. Connect. Read. to celebrate Why Am I Me? and to finish my sentences. I love this book with my whole heart.

Paige Britt: Thank you, Mr. Schu!


Why Am I Me? follows two children—one dark-skinned, one light—as they travel home on a busy subway. The boy notices the girl and wonders: Why am I me . . . and not you? The girl notices the boy and wonders: Why are you, you . . . and not me? The questions get bigger and bigger as they look at all the different passengers, then at the people out the window, and finally up at the stars. It’s not until they get off the train and look into each other’s eyes that the questions stop and something else emerges. I’m not going to tell you what that something is, but I will say this: Maybe “you” and “me” are just part of a vast, extraordinary “we.”


Selina Alko and Sean Qualls’ illustrations are captivating. They’re so expansive, yet intimate. They illustrate these big universal themes, yet they make them deeply personal. The images are multi-layered and textured—just like the layers of meaning in the story—and they invite you back over and over to discover new things. Which is what the book is really all about!


I hope Why Am I Me? inspires both children and adults to stay curious. Most children are naturally full of questions, but as they grow up, those questions are sometimes replaced with answers. And those answers can turn into labels—good, bad, us, them. But we’re so much more than those labels! We’re made of star stuff, after all. Doesn’t that blow your mind? Maybe with our minds just a tiny bit blown, a deeper wisdom can emerge. A wisdom grounded in curiosity and compassion. Certainty creates labels, but curiosity creates space—space for empathy and connection, for delight and (hopefully) dialogue.


School libraries are magic! They connect kids to far-flung places. Whether those places are in the distant corners of your imagination or the distant corners of the galaxy—libraries will take you there! And it ABSOLUTELY does not matter where you come from, how much money you have, or what your gender or religion is—you are welcome in a school library. End of story. Which is really the beginning of the story. See? Magic.


Picture books are for all ages. I have a bookshelf in my house that takes up an entire wall. It’s full of all kinds of books—philosophy books, classic literature, books about art and architecture, and, of course, picture books. They belong right there with everything else. The special genius of a picture book is that you don’t just read it, you experience it. And you’re never too old to experience the wonder and wisdom contained within their pages.

Explore Paige Britt's website.
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about my Aunt Lil. She’s eighty-six-years-old and has Alzheimer’s disease. She loved Why Am I Me? and was delighted by the images and all the big questions that went with them. She kept asking me what the “right” answers were. I asked her to tell me. When she got to the end of the book, she pointed to the image of the boy and girl with their faces overlapping and said, “Each has one eye of their own, and one eye shared.” She got it! Why Am I Me? is about unity and diversity. It’s about seeing your self in others. Everyone and everything is connected. And if my aunt with dementia knows this, then it gives me hope that, on some level, we all do.


Borrow Why Am I Me? from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

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