I Am Human: A Book of Empathy
In the third picture book by this talented team, I Am Human teaches both compassion and mindfulness, popular trends in children's books these days. The backmatter even includes mindfulness exercises for those so inclined.
Verde's text starts by celebrating the uniqueness of the main character, depicted by Reynolds as a young African American boy. “I was born. A miracle! One of billions but unique!” So opens the book, setting the stage for what will follow, examples of how this particular child experiences common dreams, hopes, fears. The character then models how one person can connect with others through empathy. The book does double duty, both showing self-worth and appreciation of others, two topics that are high on reading lists in both schools and homes.
The text is simple, though there are times when it strains to reach its target audience of young children. One awkward example is “I can treat others with equality and be fair.” Why not simply, “I can treat others fairly”? Why “I have endless curiosity” rather than “I am curious”? In places like these, the book reads more like an adult primer than a children's book. These are nits in an otherwise strong book, but it points to the problem with writers after they achieve a certain status—they're no longer edited. And everyone needs a sharp editor to finetune their texts, especially in a picture book where every word has weight.
Fortunately, the art has no such problem. Reynolds hits all the right notes with his loose line and bright washes, splashes of color with plenty of white space to give them mindful air. Whatever stumbles the text may have, the illustration soars. I Am Human ends with the main character growing wings and taking flight, full of hope for himself and others. It's a perfect image for what this simple book can inspire in young readers.