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Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You

Book review by
Mandie Caroll, Common Sense Media
Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You Book Poster Image
Gorgeous, upbeat book about strength in our differences.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Children can learn a powerful lesson about differences while also being introduced to various medical, learning, developmental, and genetic conditions people live with.

Positive Messages

It’s OK to ask questions about things you don’t understand. You have something positive to share with others/the world. Differences make us stronger and make life fun and interesting.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Many role models here -- characters are unique and likable, know their strengths and limitations, and accept differences. Diverse characters in terms of particular conditions, gender, ethnicity, and ability, while all contribute to their shared project in unique ways. Relatable characters, interests, and struggles.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, and Be You -- written by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and illustrated by award-winning illustrator Rafael Lopez -- is a picture book about the power of honoring people's differences. Twelve diverse kids introduce themselves and the condition they live with (diabetes, autism, Down syndrome, etc.). Young readers will learn about the conditions and, hopefully, be able to see themselves or someone they know in the bright illustrations and upbeat text. The featured kids are all role models in their own way: They're self-aware, accept differences, and ask questions to better understand things. Each two-page spread has a question that will help readers relate to the experience of the kid in the spotlight. The book opens and closes with the main lesson clearly stated to reinforce young readers’ learning.

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What's the story?

JUST ASK! BE DIFFERENT, BE BRAVE, AND BE YOU begins with a direct address from kid Sonia, telling readers that she and her friends are planting a garden. She talks about all the different plants that make a garden special, relates the garden to differences between kids, and tells readers that when they're curious about someone else, it’s OK to ask them questions. Sonia then introduces her difference/condition (diabetes), and then 11 other kids introduce their own unique "powers" -- from courage to self-calming practices to knowing almost everything about one topic. Each character contributes to the garden project in a unique way that plays to their strengths. The ending concludes on an empowering note. 

Is it any good?

This charming, beautifully illustrated picture book is a pleasure to read and share with children. Young readers who have any of the varied differences that the 12 featured characters live with rarely see themselves portrayed with the respect and honor that Sonia Sotomayor and Rafael Lopez reserve for them in Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, and Be You, which will make this an especially meaningful read for such kids. Even kids who aren't living with any of the challenges that are covered will be able to connect to the characters’ feelings and experiences.

And the artwork is gorgeous -- vibrant, saturated colors portray detailed scenes in a vast garden and impart a sense of joy, while the kids of various ethnicities, genders, and abilities happily contribute to their joint project. Though the garden as a symbol for the beauty in human differences might go over younger kids’ heads, older readers will have no problem identifying this main theme. The question at the end of each two-spread page helps kids stay engaged with both the book (and any adults reading with them). The lovely art, positive messages about asking questions/knowing yourself, and the diversity of the characters make this a great pick for kids of all ages.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the differences profiled in Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, and Be You. Did anything surprise you? How are you different from other kids yourself, and what character strengths have your differences allowed you to develop?

  • How do you feel about asking people about their differences? Who can help you understand things that you have questions about?

  • How does the artwork in this book help you understand how the garden is like a school or a neighborhood?  

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