I Am Every Good Thing

One of the criteria for the Caldecott Medal is excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept. One look at Derrick Barnes's and Gordon C. James's I Am Every Good Thing and it is clear that the theme of the book is love for Black boys.

The cover of the book has a young Black boy with his arms across his chest, legs spread, and a backpack on his back. He confidently stares at the reader. There are reddish-orange rays behind him that feel like a spotlight. The end pages are monochromatic oil paintings that depict Black boys of all shades, sizes, and hair textures. Some are laughing. Some are serious.

The first page depicts a young boy flying through the sky. The brown, red, and tan of his blanket cape look like the feathers of a bird. The smile on his face expresses his joy at his flight. Another image in the book shows a Black boy in a helmet. He is holding his knee with a grimace on his face. One the next page, he is on skateboard trying to do a trick. The following page has a another Black boy looking into a microscope. Behind him is a pink, green, blue, and orange sky that could easily be seen as the organism that he is examining in his microscope. The sky darkens into purples and dark blues onto the following page and becomes outer space. This time the young boy is in a space suit floating above Earth.

Several pages in, there are six Black boys. Two of them are blowing big pink bubbles. Brightly colored swirls on a green background represent the movements of the paper airplanes they are throwing. They are different shades of brown and have varying hairstyles and textures. One of my favorite images is one of a little boy in a red sweatshirt with a fireball in the middle, jeans, and brightly colored sneakers. His arms are spread wide and he has big smile on his face. The bright yellow behind him makes it feel like he was jumping high or maybe he was thrown up into the air by big brother or a dad. Later pages show Black boys swimming, performing at a concert, playing basketball with dad. Other images show Black boys hugging little sisters and being hugged by an adult.

In one of the final spreads, a group of Black boys is foregrounded. Again, they are varying shades of brown. Behind them are African men in tribal clothes. One man carries a basket on his head with what looks like cotton. There also looks to be a Black cowboy. There is a Pullman porter. Another image looks like Huey Newton with his fist in the air in a Black Power salute. Next to him is Thurgood Marshall and Barack Obama. These young men are surrounded by the ancestors that have paved the way for them and will guide them as they grow.

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of I Am Every Good Thing here]

The Black boy joy depicted in this book is so necessary, given the constant assault on the minds, bodies, and spirits of Black people. The images of Black boys participating in activities like swimming, skateboarding, and spending time in the woods are necessary to dispel the myth that Black boys don’t do these things. Seeing Black boys for the children that they are — and not the menaces that they are often depicted as — is refreshing and welcome. Looking at these boys, I see my cousins, my brothers, my nephews. I see the young men I worked with when I was teaching. I am reminded of their brilliance and beauty. Gordon C. James’s art clearly says: I love you. I see you. You matter to all Black boys.

James won a Caldecott Honor for Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. Can he do it again?


Nicholl Denice Montgomery

Nicholl Denice Montgomery is currently working on a PhD at Boston College in the curriculum and instruction department. Previously, she worked as an English teacher with Boston Public Schools.

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