What I Am by Divya Srinivasan. Viking, Penguin Random House, 2021. 9780593204016
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
Genre: Picture book
What did you like about the book? In this darling but deep picture book, a little girl is confronted with an insensitive question: What are you? She doesn’t know what to say but keeps thinking about it and eventually comes up with some answers. On each page, she explains her complexity: I am a daughter and a granddaughter, but also an Amma to my stuffed animals. She likes to look at animals, but they also make her nervous. She has so much (enjoying her doll) but then as she looks at a friend who has several, feels she doesn’t have enough. She is an American and she is Indian: “what I am is more than I can say.” Srinivasan uses pencils and watercolor to make large, simple, and recognizable images of the girl’s daily life, which include her Indian grandparents and a party in which she wears traditional clothing, but also show her eating pizza and dressing as a witch for Halloween. A heartfelt endnote tells of the author/illustrator’s own experience with the “What are you?” query and how it inspired this book. Many of the characters shown are Indian or Indian-American, but the narrator is also shown with friends who cue both White and Black.
Anything you didn’t like about it? No
To whom would you recommend this book? With its large colorful images and sly humor, this would make an excellent read aloud for children ages 3-8. I could definitely see using this as a get-to-know you activity for classes in September, modeling information to include in a “What am I” drawing or as a writing prompt. Although the dearth of picture books with Indian-American characters make this a natural for children looking to see themselves in stories, I think any reader will be able to identify with this narrator’s exploration of identity.
Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries
Where would you shelve it? Picture books
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: August 17, 2021