Friday, December 10, 2010

13. Happy to Be Me!

What Color is Caesar?, written by Maxine Kumin, illustrated by Alison Friend, Candlewick, $16.99, ages 4-8, 56 pages. A gangly Dalmatian with big, melty eyes tries to figure out if he's white with a great many black spots or all black with even more white ones in this darling book about learning to love who you are. None of the humans in Caesar's house seem to care what color he is. Petunia, the family cat, who is all black with four white feet, tells Caesar that it shouldn't matter, and his doctor, a black-and-white woodpecker, says Caesar's basically the color he thinks he is. But Caesar can't stop worrying about what he looks like and the next morning, leaves home to find the answer. As he patters along, he questions every animal he meets with similar patterns to see what color they think they are. Each is quite self-assured and tells him something different. A cow says that deep down, she's the color of milk, a pony says that he's basically green because everything he knows and eats is green, and a zebra says that he's yellow, like the sun of Africa that shines down on his native land. But Caesar doesn't understand how they can see themselves so differently and sets off to ask a circus guru if he can divine Caesar's true color.

Though a make-believe sage, the guru is wise about himself and asks Caesar to scrunch his eyes closed, clear his thoughts and tell him what color he sees. But what could all these bright little boxes floating around in Caesar's mind really tell him? Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet Kumin steps away from the poetic form, yet fills our heads with the very thing poetry strives for: to bring us closer to truth, in this case, the wonder of who we are. (Sneak a peek at your little ones after reading this gem and maybe they'll be squishing their eyes closed too.)

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