Mem Fox - Whoever You Are

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Whoever You Are by Mem Fox - A mother and child review-nion part 1

Mar 17, 2008
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Short, repetitive text; universal message; adorable illustrations

Cons:none

The Bottom Line: The bottom line frequently flies around the world admiring different cultures.


The hard truth is that the Upper Midwest is in many places not a haven of cultural diversity. Then again, the same can be said of a whole lot of places in a whole lot of countries. A lot of kids grow up in a pretty culturally homogeneous environment and so we do what we can to help them understand that the world is a big place, filled with all sorts of different cultures and peoples. Author Mem Fox (along with illustrator Leslie Straub) helps us in our quest to provide our children an introduction to our wonderfully diverse world in Whoever You Are, an adorable picture book with a universal message.

Whoever You Are begins with our storyteller, a smiling man wearing a blue suit covered with pictures of white, puffy clouds, telling us (we the audience as well as the children illustrated in the book) about the different types of people there are in the world. He talks about houses and skin color and words and lands, all while taking a small, multicultural group of children flying all over the world to see different people and places. I love books that have repeated elements in the illustrations and we get that here, with our small group showing up in many of the pictures as they fly through, high up in the sky.

Once he finishes talking about differences, he talks about how everyone is the same – laughing, crying, loving. He goes on to talk about how those things won’t change as the children become adults. There will still be differences, but those similarities will always be there, underneath it all.

The illustrations are interesting. Semi-realistic, but flat – no real attempt at the perception of depth. They’re very colorful and rich in detail, showing the lives of each different child with cute extras like pets and adorable prints on clothing. The flat look gives the whole experience a fanciful feel, making the idea that this man and these children can fly around the outside of the planet whimsical rather than weird. Each page is bordered by a metallic looking repeating pattern and each page contains only a few lines of text.

I like the focus of this story. It helps little ones realize that their own neighborhood doesn’t represent the whole world and that there are fascinating things to explore out there. It also doesn’t hold back on the human qualities that we all share. Fox has wisely chosen to include tears with laughter and hurt with joy, especially in the section that highlights how things change (and remain the same) as children grow into adults. In this world it’s important to empathize when others. Even people far, far away, are hurting; this is a good first step in realizing that people’s feelings don’t change because of where they live or what they look like.

My daughter has put in a request that I review a number of the picture books she liked best when she was younger. How can I resist such a plea? This is the first, and she has a few words to say about Whoever You Are:

(The book) talks about how everyone is different, but the same in some ways. How everyone can have the same feelings. A book for young kids (5-6 range). I like it because it is easy to read, it only has a few words on a page.

She is not a girl of many words, but she cuts right to the point. The sentences are short and the text is quite repetitive, making the Whoever You Are a great choice as either a read-aloud or for the beginning independent reader. When she was small, my daughter and I talked a lot about what other things were the same and different about people after we read this book. With its colorful and cute illustrations she could imagine all sorts of places she would like to fly so she could see how different people live. It was always a great conversation starter.

Whoever You Are is a terrific book to begin introducing any child to the wider world and helping them understand that different and the same can live together. We always enjoyed it and it’s one of the picture books that will stay on our shelves even now that we’re past the early reader stage. Everyone loves to be read to, after all, and the universal message of “different in some ways but the same in the most important ways” holds true for readers of any age.


Recommend this product? Yes

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