Review of John’s Turn

John’s Turn John’s Turn
by Mac Barnett; illus. by Kate Berube
Primary    Candlewick    32 pp.    g
3/22    978-1-5362-0395-0    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5362-2676-8    $17.99

Barnett and Berube offer a sensitive story about a boy grappling with stage fright and insecurity. The main character, John, walks into the narrative on the front endpaper carrying a duffle bag, his shoulders slumped and his eyes downcast. A page-turn welcomes readers into a busy school auditorium where breakfast is ending and children are beginning to sit in front of a stage. An unnamed narrator explains the school’s weekly Sharing Gifts assembly and notes John’s anxiety: “He was quiet at breakfast. We knew why.” Barnett’s use of “we” builds a sense of intimacy, reinforced by Berube’s warm ink and paint illustrations depicting students with many different skin tones, hair types and textures, and affects. The pace slows and suspense builds over a number of pages that show John suiting up in his ballet leotard and contemplating what he is about to face. A double-page spread puts readers onstage with the boy looking out at students who are distracted and whispering. Then Berube’s illustrations burst into motion in a series of wordless spreads as John begins dancing. He’s absorbed in his joy, and his classmates—and readers—become as enraptured as he is. Barnett and Berube bring mastery of craft as well as an understanding of human nature to offer a fresh take on a familiar theme.

From the March/April 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Adrienne L. Pettinelli

Adrienne L. Pettinelli is the director of the Henrietta (NY) Public Library. She has served on several book award committees, including the 2015 Caldecott Committee, and is the author of Helping Homeschoolers in the Library (2008).

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