I Am a Promise

Image of I Am a Promise
Release Date: 
February 4, 2020
Black Sheep
Reviewed by: 

“Doesn’t convey the real challenges or inspiring successes of a driven athlete, though it hopes to do both.”

I Am a Promise tells the story of Olympic medal winner, Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce. The rhythmic repetition of “promise” works well to unite the story, from her grandmother recognizing her early running talent: “Child, do you know that you are a promise?” to coaches and teachers telling her “Young lady, you have great promise.” However, it isn’t until the Olympic games themselves that Pryce feels the promise herself: “But most important of all I ran my best because that was my promise to me.” Rather than being a story about the drive to succeed, the text reads as a straightforward description of running for fun being replaced by running to compete.

Without that competitive urge, the story lacks narrative drive or tension. Pryce herself doesn’t seem particularly ambitious. If she is hungry to run, to win, to excel, the story leaves all sense of that out. The reader instead is presented with the picture of a talented athlete who was urged forward by others, recognized and helped by others, every step of the way.

Although Pryce grows up in a poor family, any hard times are lightly skimmed over “My mother often wondered how she would manage to take care of us all.” To be fair, an illustrator could have presented that part of the story by vividly showing the world Pryce grew up in. Instead, we barely get any sense of place at all, though Pryce grew up in Jamaica.

The illustrator, Rachel Moss, contents herself with repeating visually what the words say rather than expanding on or deepening the story. The book could easily be an audio book without any loss of meaning, something that shouldn’t happen in a true picture book, where the art brings something distinctive to the text.

I Am a Promise doesn’t convey the real challenges or inspiring successes of a driven athlete, though it hopes to do both. While the language is simple and accessible to young readers, the art clear and representational, the sense of story with a satisfying ending is thin. For a story about persistence, hard work, and ambitious dreams, a better pick would be Mamie on the Mound by Leah Henderson.