Just Ask: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You

Image of Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You
Release Date: 
September 3, 2019
Philomel Books
Reviewed by: 

“The message of celebrating our differences is upbeat, and the encouragement to 'just ask' is something kids will love to hear.”

In a lively picture book based on her feelings of being different as a child, Sonia Sotomayor uses the metaphor of a garden to shine a light on a wide variety of differences. Just Ask encourages the reader to ask other kids when they notice differences, opening up dialogue rather than clouding differences as something to be ashamed of. Kids, of course, are naturally curious and do ask these questions. It's adults who hush them, tell them not to point, not to be rude, not to say anything.

As a child dealing with diabetes, Sotomayor explains, “Not everyone is comfortable answering questions about themselves, but I don't mind. What am I doing? Several times a day, I prick my finger to measure the sugar in my blood, and I give myself shots of medicine called insulin. I do this because I have diabetes and my body doesn't make insulin naturally like other people's. Even though this can sometimes hurt, I gather all of my courage to do it to be healthy.”

The cheerful art by Rafael Lopez illustrates what could be a scary scene by showing a child curled up inside of a giant rose while sticking a needle in her arm, the most peaceful representation imaginable of getting a shot. The child is part of the garden that grows with each page. “Do you ever need to take medicine to be healthy?” leads to a description of a child with asthma. “My inhaler is like a tool to help my body. Do you use a tool to help your body?”

And on the book continues, each page featuring a child and what makes them different, from stuttering to deafness to dyslexia, each connected by a question until the garden is full of a wide range of abilities and characteristics, each making the world “more interesting and richer.”

While Sotomayor's text can be complicated at times, more geared to the adult reader than the child, the simple questions and bright illustrations are spot-on for younger readers. This is a book that can be read over and over again, with kids asking different questions each time. The message of celebrating our differences is upbeat, and the encouragement to “just ask” is something kids will love to hear.

Pair this book with Jess Hong's Lovely, another picture book about the many ways we're different, all of them lovely. Together, they'll spark a lot of conversations of how to “be different, be brave, be you.”