Review of What You Need to Be Warm

What You Need to Be WarmWhat You Need to Be Warm
by Neil Gaiman; illus. by various artists
Primary, Intermediate    Quill Tree/HarperCollins    32 pp.
10/23    9780063358089    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780063358102    $12.99

Gaiman, who serves as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Refugee Agency, used social media to ask people about their memories of being warm, to draw attention to—and raise money for—those unhoused or displaced due to violent conflict. He wove respondents’ words into the free-verse poem that is this compelling picture book’s text. The twelve loose stanzas are vivid and specific with relatable details. Each is interpreted by a different artist (with fascinating explanatory notes from the illustrators appended), including Yuliya Gwilym, Petr Horáček, Oliver Jeffers, and Nadine Kaadan. What makes us warm? Physical things like blankets, radiators, fireplaces, coats and gloves, and hot cocoa, as well as more abstract concepts such as a smile, memories, safety, or a kind word. The double-page spreads create entire scenes that expand both the context and the meaning of the lines—all in only three colors: shades of black, white, and orange. It’s an unusual palette; the orange is especially effective in conveying heat and warmth, and the grayscale provides a unifying thread across the various artistic styles. Midway, the illustrations feature several scenes of refugees and migrants, but the hopeful conclusion depicts children at play and at home with the words, “You have the right to be here.” One other intriguing element is the graphic look of the text, with spacing that varies and key words in a larger font size—creating another telegraphic poem-within-a-poem.

From the November/December 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sylvia Vardell

Sylvia Vardell is a professor in the School of Library & Information Studies at Texas Woman’s University and author of Children’s Literature in Action, Poetry Aloud Here, A World Full of Poems and the Poetry for Children blog.

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