Maggie Hutchings (author) and Evie Barrow (illustrator)
Affirm Press: 2020
Reviewed by Viv Young
A young child notices a homeless man named Pete and they connect through chalk drawings.
I saw Pete and Pete saw Me explores the wonderful gift children have for seeing people without prejudice. It portrays moments of connection between Pete and the young child narrator, before Pete’s situation results in sickness as the weather turns cold. The ending is ultimately optimistic, but the difficulty and injustice of Pete’s circumstances are made clear, often through the stark if simple speech of the child character.
The artwork for I saw Pete and Pete saw Me uses pencil markings to great effect, capturing for example the scruffiness of Pete and his dog as well as the young child’s scribbled drawing of a house. Several pages contain vignettes that allow readers to perceive the different (and kind) interactions that Pete has with others in the community and the use of dark tones helps convey the child’s deep sense of concern for Pete. The overall palette is, however, light and bright, moreover, the symbolic use of yellow underscores the hopeful message which stays with the reader long after you’ve turned the last page.
This is a poignant read and one worth exploring with any child ready to ask questions about the homelessness they see around them.
This book follows the story of an unnamed young boy whose Father’s emotional state and availability changes due to an unspecified mental illness. Although it is not a light-hearted story, or topic, the book ends on a positive note. The boy’s emotional journey is the focus of the story. The boy moves from a positive and connected relationship with his Father, (who initially makes “wonderful things” for him and smiles warmly), into a disconnected and confusing one as his Father’s withdrawal into illness begins to affect their lives. The boy eventually moves back to a state connectedness with his Father, after his Father is helped by a stay in hospital. Finally the boy accepts that although his Father is “different”, he is still a loving and caring parent. A brief meeting in the hospital with another child allows the boy to see that he is not the only child who has a parent with a mental illness.
The simplicity of the prose allows the focus to be on the inner experiences of the child. This is further highlighted by the change in font on key words and phrases such as “Remember, I still love you. That will never change.” The background colours of each page reflect the boy’s journey, changing from yellow to blue/grey to pink as the story develops.
The illustrations are simple colourful sketches with a soft pastel effect. The character’s emotions are represented by simple smiles and frowns and provide a good talking point for parents and children as they reflect upon what the boy is feeling. This book does not shy away from the fact that a child’s life is greatly affected by having a parent with a mental illness, however it outlines this in very general terms. This gives the adult reader plenty of scope to use this book as a platform for discussing the personal experience of any child to whom they may be reading.
Jabari is building a plane. When he experiences some setbacks, Dad encourages Jabari to take on a junior partner.
Jabari Tries is a heart-warming tale about managing frustration with help and through collaboration. Like many books that tackle frustration it describes what the emotion feels like, provides some tips for managing strong emotions (take a break and breathe away the ‘muddy feelings’), and portrays typical acts of frustration in the illustrations. Its great point of difference, however, is the beautiful sibling relationship it presents which encourages readers to consider how we can share both the difficulties and the triumphs when we work cooperatively with others.
The relationship between Jabari and his little sister is touching and feels authentic. Nika is a young child who for the most part says ‘me’ to any question—she is on her own journey and Jabari’s act of inclusion benefits both himself and his sibling. The sibling sub-plot makes Jabari Tries an excellent choice for young kids who also have a tricky relationship with their baby sister or brother, but the portrayal of working co-operatively may well resonate with kids who don’t have this particular difficulty or who don’t have siblings.
All the action of invention and collaboration is placed by Gaia Cornwall in a backyard setting. The natural green backdrop provides a calming undertone to the scenes of experimentation and frustration. The occasional use of engineering plans in the design and especially on the page in which Jabari recalls key inventors for inspiration provides a contrast to the natural world. These ‘scientific’ motifs also highlight the real-world inventors Jabari recalls. These inventors, who represent both gender and cultural diversity, are named but not described, providing a potential cue to extend the reading process for young readers by doing a little research on ‘real” inventors.
Jabari Tries is a special book sure to appeal to budding scientists who need some help learning how to deal with setbacks and how to collaborate.