What Do You Do with An Idea? & What Do You Do with a Problem? & What Do You Do with a Chance? by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom
Writing a successful picture book about an abstract concept is incredibly challenging, particularly when taking on the subject of emotions. Having read thousands, I am very critical of all picture books, but this kind especially. I was working as a bookseller in 2014 when What Do You Do with An Idea? by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom, was published. Barnes & Noble was so confident that this book would be a big seller, they made it a featured title. And they were right. Not only does What Do You Do with An Idea? continue to sell well three years later, it truly is a wonderful picture book that is engaging, inspiring and comforting for kids and adults alike. And, even more remarkably, Yamada and Besom have maintained this wonderfulness with sequels, What Do You Do with a Problem? and What Do You Do with a Chance? This trio of books is a must have for your own kids and a gift that will be treasured.
I think that part of Yamada and Besom's success with these books is the physical presentation of an abstract concept. Oddly, yet perfectly, the "idea" is an egg with bird legs, a simple crown atop its "head." Yamada's first person narrative is simple and direct. The child - in another superb aspect to these books, the main character is genderless, allowing all readers to identify with her/him - speaks directly to the reader, sharing the immediacy and emotions of the experience of encountering an "idea." All three books in the What Do You Do With . . . ? trilogy also excel illustrating the process of an emotional experience - the ups and downs, the good and bad and all the feelings in between. The words and pictures are perfectly paired and balanced on every page, the mostly monochrome illustrations building to crescendoes of color as each book reaches resolution.
Besides just making them physical, the anthropomorphizing of the idea (the egg), problem (a black cloud) and chance (a golden folded bug/bird with a trailing tail) also helps young readers grasp these abstract concepts. What Do You Do with An Idea? captures the lovely feeling of having an idea along with the fear of putting the idea out into the world for others to judge. With What Do You Do with a Problem? Yamada and Besom capture the anxiety of a problem in an immediate way that young readers will grasp, "What if my problem sneaks up and gets me? What if it takes away all my things?" They also capture the feeling of what happens when you try to avoid a problem, "the more I avoided my problem, the more I saw it everywhere. I thought about it all the time. I didn't feel good at all." Beautifully, the narrator eventually realizes, "maybe I was making my problem bigger and scarier than it actually was. After all, my problem hadn't really swallowed me up or attacked me." These are words of wisdom that I didn't hear until I reached adulthood. I wish I had these books to use as a tool and conversation starter when my children were young, but I am so happy to think of all the families, caregivers and educators and the children who are benefitting from them.
What Do You Do with a Chance? will not be published until February, 2018, but I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy and could not pass up talking about all three books in one place. So, you will have to wait a few months for this gem, but it's worth it. What Do You Do with a Chance? is possibly most abstract of these abstract concepts Yamada and Besom take on. Yet, this could be the most important concept to talk about with children. The gift of a chance can be something as seemingly small as the opportunity to be kind to someone with words or actions. For a child, a chance can be the opportunity to do something over, like school work, or to join a group - whether it's kids playing four square or kids working on a puzzle or playing a game. The most important message What Do You Do with a Chance? conveys to readers young and old reminds me of, "Yes, and. . ." something I learned reading Tina Fey's autobiography, Bossypants. Fey started off in the world of improv where the rule, "Yes, and . . ." was vitally important. Taking a chance, saying, "Yes, and," requires courage and commitment and Yamada and Besom convey this in their book perfectly, using the narrator to show readers what it looks like to take a chance and fail as well as what it looks like to gather yourself up and try again, something we all need to hear again from time to time.
I know I have said it over and over hear, but it bears repeating: The What Do You Do With . . . ? trilogy are important books. They are marvelously, thoughtfully written and illustrated books about difficult topics to talk about with children, let alone write about. I hope you will seek them out and see for yourself. Then buy them and read them with the little people in your lives.
Source: Review Copies