You Matter

I have a confession to make. I am generally not a fan of the all-too-earnest, self-esteem-building “concept” picture book. I could explain why, but then we’d have to consult my therapist and we’d be taking precious time away from discussing this book. Which I love. Truly.

Christian Robinson’s You Matter is an affirmation. It reads as a thoughtful yet brief poem, every line crafted to remind the reader of their importance. “The stuff too small to see. / Those who swim with the tide / and those who don’t. / The first to go and the last. / You matter.” The words are straightforward and recognizable to even the youngest listeners, especially with the repeated title refrain. The text continues to comfort readers this way throughout the book, reminding you that, no matter who you are or what state you’re in (“even if you’re really gassy,” reads one of the book’s sillier pages), you have so much to offer the world. It’s a simple sentiment, no embellishment needed.

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of You Matter here]

The thoughtful simplicity extends past the text and into Robinson’s illustrations. His use of collage (striped, spotted, and filled with colorful acrylic paint) creates a playful patchwork visual on each page. You Matter will be familiar to anyone who has seen Robinson’s work before. His smiley-faced children and curious animals are cute enough to give you the warm-and-fuzzies every time you open one of his books. Throw in some dinosaurs and an astronaut and you have a prize-worthy picture book, in my opinion.

But let me really tell you what I love about this book.

Stretched across the front and back cover of You Matter, we see children playing with a giant multi-colored parachute. Inside, the endpapers show a zoomed-out, bird’s-eye view of the same scene and the surrounding city; the buildings are collaged together with different colors and styles of paper. This visual transition from close-up to farther-away is a recurring theme in You Matter and one of its most enjoyable features. My favorite back-to-back spread begins with a closeup of a mosquito that has landed atop a mysterious long, scaly surface. The accompanying text reads “when everyone thinks you’re a pest.” A turn of the page shows the mosquito’s landing pad to be the now-bitten tale of a large, surprised dinosaur. A protruding red bump, courtesy of the now-escaping mosquito, radiates from the dino’s tail, as it looks back in anguish. Robinson isn’t afraid to leave empty space on a page and includes only what is needed, making the dinosaur’s reaction that much more noticeably funny. With another page turn we see that this distraction couldn’t have come at a worse time for our jurassic pal, as we watch dinosaurs big and small running for cover as a meteor careens toward earth. The situation as presented is surprisingly comical (though perhaps not to our soon-to-be-extinct friends).

Eventually, the humorous transitions turn into more tender moments. Robinson shows us an astronaut gazing down at Earth from her spacecraft, holding a photo of a child we presume to be hers. “Sometimes home is far away,” the text reads. The following spread shows us the side of a gray apartment building. Six evenly spaced windows offer a glimpse into different worlds. Two cats perch on their respective windowsills, staring diagonally at one another, while a young girl talks on the phone below. In one window we see the boy from the astronaut’s photo; his head glumly rested in one hand, while the other flies a toy rocketship through the air. “Sometimes someone you love says good-bye.” Even without the text, we’d be able to sense the homesickness each feels for the other. It’s a longing every reader has experienced at one point or another. Still, the balance of emotions in the illustration—from the cats’ joy to the boy’s sadness—is meaningful.

With each page of You Matter, the reader is offered moments of levity and laughter, as well as moments of recognition. These thoughtful aspects alone are not what make the book so special: perhaps the greatest gift is the book’s ability to make readers feel connected to the rest of the outside world. Robinson’s illustrations give us the comforting sense that we’re all a part of something bigger—a feeling that’s been hard to capture in 2020. It’s a feeling I, for one, am grateful for.






Hill Saxton

Hill Saxton is a youth services librarian at the Cambridge Public Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Joy Strawbridge

This book is the one I now give to my newly-born friends (mostly children of long-time friends). I read it to my niece every time I see her-- she loves roaring at the bug-bit dinosaur and looking at it for a long time. Thank you, Hill, for capturing the beauty, poetry, and magic of my new favorite Robinson book in this word-perfect review.

Posted : Nov 14, 2020 06:03



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