Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko [in Shelf Awareness]
Somewhere in a city, people are homeward bound at day’s end. Among the commuters are a skateboarding boy and presumably his father; walking slightly ahead are a violin case-carrying girl accompanied by a flower-toting woman, most likely her mother. Waiting for the subway, boy and girl inevitably notice one another: he’s African American, she’s not; he’s movement-ready, she’s musically inclined. For all their differences, their thoughts echo in unison. “Why am I me,” the boy wonders as the train approaches, “and not you?” From inside the subway, the girl mirrors back, “Why are you, you… and not me?”
Surrounded by kids and adults of diverse backgrounds –distinguishable by skin color, hair, head coverings and more – the two children’s musings about who they are and who the other might be easily bounce back and forth while the subway whooshes by playing fields, neighborhoods, and an open amphitheater. The children eventually alight under the same starry sky, and greet each other with “hi…,” serendipitously turning “me” to the promise of we.
Author Paige Britt alchemizes the “big questions [she’s been asking] since she was a small child” to create her debut picture book, encouraging soul-searching dialogues with oneself and others. Husband-and-wife artists Sean Qualls and Selina Alko (The Case for Loving) enhance the profundity of Britt’s prose with amplifying small details. For example, newsprint is used as window shades or building facades, subtly and brilliantly reminding readers how stories can be found behind every window, every door, every wall; the sometimes-legible newspaper type points to a larger world beyond, including Great Britain, Italy, even Gaza. On every spread, the ingenious duo depicts America’s multicultural citizens, ensuring myopic xenophobia has no place on Britt’s welcoming, hopeful pages.
Discover: A boy and girl, both on their way home, silently wonder about their diverse, individual identities, until a single-word greeting turns “I” and “me” into an opportunity to share “we.”