Title: Come With Me
Author: Holly M. McGhee
Illustrator: Pascal Lamaitre
Published: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017
I’m going to subtitle this review “My Unpopular Opinion: Feel Free to Disagree.” But first, a disclaimer: I really, really WANTED to like this book. Honest. I had never heard of Come With Me before, but I found it on a “best of” list. The reviews on Goodreads were (mostly) positive. People on Amazon seemed to like it. I was stoked! This was going to be a great book.
But it wasn’t.
Not for me, anyway. Everyone has their own preferences in kid lit, as in everything. I was worried I was missing something (the ‘this is so great!’ that everyone else seemed to feel when reading the story), so I gave it to my husband to peruse (he’s pretty well-versed in kid lit himself…and he works in the children’s entertainment industry). He was as confused as I was. The book isn’t complicated, don’t get me wrong. The intent is good. But the delivery is somewhat lackluster. Let’s break it down:
We start with a little girl who happens to be watching what is probably the news on TV. Obviously, something bad has happened, as the text tells us: “All over the world, the news told and told and retold of anger and hatred — people against people.” The girl was, understandably, scared. She asks her dad what she can do to make the world a better place. So far, so good. I turned the page eagerly to see what her dad would say. (“Donate to the food bank!” “Sell lemonade to raise money for charity!” “Buy a homeless person a meal!”)
Her dad told her to come with him. They went to the subway and tipped their hats at people on the platform and then continued to ride the subway.
Confused? I was. I mean, I get the idea that they’re overcoming fear by going on the subway, good, fine. But that’s not what the girl asked. She specifically asked how to make the world a better place. Tipping your hat at your fellow subway-riders would likely lead to one of two things happening:
1. Bewildered smiles
2. Raised eyebrows (because, honestly? Who tips a hat anymore? Like, maybe an 80-year-old grandpa…)
But it does not make the world a better place.
Next, the girl asks her mom the same question (presumably because she didn’t get a straight answer from her dad).
Her mom tells her to “come with me.” Mother and daughter go to a grocery store. This is one of the most disjointed parts of this book (I’m quoting directly so you see the problem I’m having with writing here):
“They went to their grocery to buy some things for dinner–because one person doesn’t represent a family or a race or a people of a land.”
That just felt so…incomplete. I actually flipped the pages a couple of times to make sure I hadn’t skipped a page/someone hadn’t torn a page out (it’s a library book). But no, that was the way it was written. The grocery store is clearly multi-cultural, but in this case, I feel the writer was leaning far too hard on the artist to help fill in any story gaps. It’s just not clear from the text how grocery shopping relates to generalizing the behaviour of one person to a group of people.
Buying stuff at a grocery store does not make the world a better place (which, again, is what the girl asked about). It means you need food and are supporting a local business (good stuff). But that’s about it.
Then we get into a short lesson on table-setting. Literally, a detailed description of how one sets a table. And again, as an adult I get the concept: you’re carrying on with regular life despite whatever terrible things are happening in the world. But this book isn’t for me. It’s for kids, and my kids didn’t get it. They had lost interest at this point (more on my thoughts about that in a moment).
After the family eats, the little girl decides to do something on her own. So she asks to walk the family dog. Her parents decide to let her (even though the news is still blaring in the background during dinner – crazy idea, maybe turn off CNN if your child is experiencing anxiety). So out she goes. Another kid joins her. And they join another kid who’s drawing with chalk. Eventually, a whole lot of people are drawing in chalk. The end.
The best part of the book is after the kids go outside and meet up with each other. The text is sweet: “Brave, gentle, strong — and kind…to one another and all living things. And tiny as it was, their part mattered to the world. Your part matters too.” The message here is strong and definitely one I can get behind. The only trouble is, my kids were long gone when I got to the end. And here’s why:
- They’re both young. Although picture books are generally written for their age group (they’re 3 and 5), this one definitely was not. Unless your 3 or 5 year old had witnessed something terrible, this book would make absolutely no sense to them and would lead to questions like: “Why did they say people hate each other? People don’t hate each other.” I am not going to shatter that illusion just yet. From their perspective, everyone is a friend and life is pretty peaceful and sweet. Yes, I know how insanely lucky they are to believe that. No, my own childhood wasn’t like that. But they honestly believe everyone likes everyone. They’ll find out the truth soon enough.
- The story isn’t very interesting. It’s actually really mundane, and that’s the point. You just go on in your daily life after something bad happens. But, actually, that itself is a problem: the girl didn’t ask “how do you just go on after something bad happens?” She specifically asked for a way to make the world a better place. Her parents aren’t forthcoming in that regard. They could’ve given her fifteen different ideas as to what she could actively do to actively help. Tipping your hat and grocery shopping do not improve the world. One could argue that drawing with chalk does (at least it beautifies the world around you), but the girl figured that one out on her own.
- The art is good, but not great. When you compare this art with something (anything) drawn by Dan Santat or Oliver Jeffers or Jon Klassen or the late Anna Dewdney or the late Phoebe Gilman or…well, you get the idea, it’s just not at the same level. It does its job, but doesn’t stand out as super-exceptional.
So I WISH I could like this book. And maybe it would be of use if you were using it with a grade 2+ to help with coping after something terrible happens in the world. I could get behind that. Maybe as a gift to an adult after a tragedy. But this isn’t the type of book you can just pick up and read to any kid at any time. It isn’t a story book, and it isn’t really for little ones.
Just my opinion. Feel free to disagree and let me know your point of view!
Mama’s review: Not for me
* The kids didn’t hear the whole thing, so no review from them today.