Hello, friends! Our book today is What Are You?, written by Christian Trimmer and illustrated by Mike Curato, a gentle story about appearance, identity, and stereotypes.
Two colorful poodle siblings are at the park when they meet a new dog, a puggle, and ask, “What are you?”. The puggle responds that they are a dog, but the siblings push on, wanting to know what KIND of dog, presumably because their new pal looks distinctly different from them. Upon learning that the puggle’s parents are a beagle and a pug, they begin to apply stereotypes to the other dog, insisting that they are good at hula hoop because ALL pugs are, and good at pogo stick because ALL beagles are. The puggle points out the inaccuracy of their assumptions, and asks if they are good at the things they practice and enjoy because they are poodles. This gives the poodles a eureka moment, and after apologizing to their new friend, they offer to disrupt a similar conversation that some children are having nearby.
A valuable conversation starter. While this title isn’t necessarily perfect in its overview of identity, there are some elements here that work extremely well in a format geared toward very small bookworms who are only beginning to approach the concept of differing cultural identities amongst their peers. While the title may be snappy and the question works for dog breeds, “WHAT are you?” – without a later emphasis on “who” instead – is a cringey question that people of non-white cultures will be all too familiar with. However, the way that the book breaks down stereotyping for young audiences, especially as it pertains to talent or interests, is very well done, as are the backmatter questions for caregivers and children. Curato’s soft and colorful illustrations help the story pop and give the characters great charm. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ enjoyed it. Overall, definitely worth a look, especially when trying to begin conversations on this tricky topic, and Baby Bookworm approved!
(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)