Any regular readers of Kinderlit.ca will know that we’re not ones for what we call “message books.” These are, as the term implies, books that sacrifice narrative for lesson, often resulting in something heavy-handed and insufferable. Many times these books make me want to go out and do the thing they preach against just for spite.
What James Said is a message book in many ways: It’s about the importance of trust in friendship, and how your friends are your friends for a reason, and so you should always give them the benefit of the doubt; it’s about the dangers of getting caught up in gossip; it’s about communication.
(In a nutshell, an event of broken telephone leaves the narrator feeling betrayed by her best friend, the titular James… But perhaps things aren’t so cut and dry after all.)
What James Said is different from the glut of picture books about making friends and being nice to your sister in that author Liz Rosenberg is incredibly skilled and clever. She sets up the situation and we watch it play out, knowing as we do that a mistake has been made; we can’t stop it, obviously, so we wait for the narrator to catch up, and when she does, Rosenberg handles it with great subtlety and sensitivity. Even if the reader doesn’t catch on, they’re still carried along on a wave of childish indignation towards the inevitable realization that James has been wrongly accused.
This sense of indignation is perhaps Rosenberg’s greatest accomplishment, as it feels fully authentic. In my observation, children do view best friends with a sort of all-or-nothing mindset, and that is rendered beautifully here.
Also beautifully rendered are Matt Myers’ watercolours. The children are captured with a wonderful sense of motion, and the mix of realistic characters and props and stick figures is very effective.
What James Said has by no means changed my mind on “message books,” but it does demonstrate that a lesson can be delivered powerfully when wrapped in the shell of a wonderful narrative.
A vital new addition to your child’s library.
Kinderlit.ca received a copy of What James Said in exchange for an honest review. Read about or review policy HERE.