The Picture Book Buzz

The Talk - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

This gorgeous book will stay with you long after you finish. With a touchingly poignant, yet gentle touch, it captures the experiences of many Black and Brown children and offers those who may never walk in their shoes a moment for honest reflection and hopefully understanding which could help spur change.

The Talk


Author: Alicia D. Williams


Illustrator: Briana Mukodiri Uchendu


Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (2022)


Ages: 4-8

Fiction


Themes:

Childhood, race, coming-of-age, family, Black and Brown children, discrimination, and hope.


Synopsis:

As a little boy grows into a bigger boy, ready to take on the world, he first must have that very difficult conversation far too familiar to so many Black and Brown Americans in this gentle and ultimately hopeful picture book.


Jay’s most favorite things are hanging out with his pals, getting kisses from Grandma, riding in his dad’s cool car, and getting measured by his mom with pencil marks on the wall. But as those height marks inch upward, Grandpa warns Jay about being in too big a group with his friends, Grandma worries others won’t see him as quite so cute now that he’s older, and Dad has to tell Jay how to act if the police ever pull them over.


And Jay just wants to be a kid.


All Black and Brown kids get The Talk—the talk that could mean the difference between life and death in a racist world. Told in an age-appropriate fashion, with a perfect pause for parents to insert their own discussions with their children to accompany prompting illustrations, The Talk is a gently honest and sensitive starting point for this far-too-necessary conversation, for Black children, Brown children, and for ALL children. Because you can’t make change without knowing what needs changing.


Opening Lines:

Hi, I’m Jay.

These are my friends,

Jamal, Eboni, and Bryant.


What I LOVED about this book:

With a wonderfully effervescent, first-person voice, Alicia D. Williams immediately snags the reader's attention and Briana Mukodiri Uchendu's illustrations of these four snaggle-toothed, happy energetic kids really draw us in and heighten our interest. I love that the fading of the town lets it be suburbia anywhere and keeps the focus on the kids and Jay's family. It was interesting that they are running off the left side of the spread.

Text © Alicia D. Williams, 2022. Image © Briana Mukodiri Uchendu, 2022.


Most Saturdays, we race down our block and back like track stars.

See my high tops? They help me run super-duper fast.

We lose track of who wins the most.

But I think I’m the fastest.


This is my grandpa. He cheers us on.


But when you turn the page, the kids clustering about Grandpa's porch, reinforces their return run down the block. It really is an ingenious series of "frames." I join Alicia (see our interview Monday) in adoring Briana's depiction of the track greats behind them as the kids race off again. I also love how she did the same thing later when Grandpa assures them "I believe y’all could be the next Thurgood Marshall, Elijah McCoy, and Bessie Colemanth." The softly toned, muted, digital illustrations are glorious; a wonderful debut for this picture book illustrator.

Text © Alicia D. Williams, 2022. Image © Briana Mukodiri Uchendu, 2022.


Running throughout Jay's adventures and everyday activities is his desire to hurry and grow up. You can't help but be drawn in by his honesty and vibrant personality. And I adore all the little touches that Briana added in these illustrations - Jay's favorite superhero posing behind him and best of all the outline of wolves running through a swish of brown and purple wind as Jay remarks that his soft jacket (with a wolf on the back), "blocks the wind from howling in my ears." The slight "mirroring" of this image on the cover was so intriguing when I first saw the book.

© Briana Mukodiri Uchendu, 2022.


As Jay grows bigger, losing his snaggle-tooth grin and pinchable cheeks, he's overjoyed not to be called "shrimp" anymore. But his mother worries, looking over his shoulder at the news as she hugs him, "They won’t see you as a young boy anymore, either." Although Jay and his friends just want to continue playing ball, doing tricks on skateboards, and hanging out together, they've become the focus of side-long scowls and suspicion. Jay's grandfather warns them "not to crowd in groups of four or more." But he has three best friends. His parents warn about behavior when shopping or being stopped by police. But Jay still sees his parents' worries through the lens of a happy-go-lucky, responsible kid.


When Jay heads out, wearing headphones and a hoodie, his family call him to a meeting. I love that this talk includes Jay's parents and grandparents. The wordless spread representing "the talk" is powerful. Alicia's left so much room for readers to create their own discussion based on each individual family's needs. This stunning, emotional spread is immediately followed by one of my favorite illustrations - so loving and affirming.

Text © Alicia D. Williams, 2022. Image © Briana Mukodiri Uchendu, 2022.


These are the arms that hug me close.

The family that reassures me that I’ve done nothing wrong,

and no, I’m not to blame.


While it could have ended here, the last few spreads provide a perfect tie-in to the beginning, as well as reinforcing Jay and his friend's wondefully wacky personalities. Leaving us with a powerful "wish," a hope for the future.


For me, this book was eye-opening and heart wrenching; having never been subjected to this level of scrutiny or censure. It will be reflective for far too many Black and Brown children. And perhaps if it's angering readers, it is shining a light too bright or too closely personal on their own individual behaviors or ingrained beliefs. It is a wonderful book for all children (and adults). A book sure to spark discussions and hopefully spur thought and change in the world. An award-worthy book every library needs.


Resources:

- make a paper chain of kids. Maybe attach a couple chains together (with tape, brads, sting through the hands). Using paint, crayons, pens, and/or collage create as many different kids as you can. Without duplicating any figures, how long a chain can you make?


- pair this book with You Matter by Christian Robinson, I Am Enough by Grace Byers (links to readings by the authors).


- check out PBS "Talking to Young Children about Race and Racism" for articles, discussion helps, activities, and books.


If you missed the interview with Alicia D. Williams on Monday, find it (here).


This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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