Elise Gravel’s You Can Be

You Can BeElise Gravel’s board book, You Can Be, subtly rejects gender stereotypes while introducing very young readers to a range of characteristics through images of diverse children embodying them.

Steely-blue and bright-red images leap off the glossy-white background of each page. The cover features the back of a young child with light-brown skin and long black hair running in a garden. It sets the tone for the text, welcoming young readers into the book to explore all the things they can be.

Upon opening the book, the first image to greet readers is a brown-skinned baby with curly tufts of hair and a sweet smile. The reader is invited to explore the “many ways to be a kid.” Each of the images that follow depict a child embodying a different mode of being ranging from funny to artsy and even dirty.

In one image a little blond boy with pale-white skin hugs a stuffed toy and cries while reading a book. The word “sensitive” is written at the top of the page. In another image a tan-skinned little girl in a super hero costume lurches forward in pursuit of excitement. The word “adventurous” at the top of the page permits little girls to engage in acts of heroism.

The last two images depart from these, but only to reinforce the text’s overall message. A gender-neutral outline of a child invites readers to imagine other possibilities for being. The text above the image assures children they can be “almost any way you feel like being.” But, the text below the image inserts some exceptions: “Except mean or rude.”

The final image obscures the gender of the character behind an astronaut ensemble. The corresponding text surrounds the child-astronaut: “You can just be yourself.”

I love this book. It’s perfect for little hands just learning how to turn pages. The bright images and simple text are sure to captivate even the very youngest audience. Toddlers will also appreciate the positive messages as they build a vocabulary to describe themselves.

I appreciated the diversity of Gravel’s characters as well as her disregard for gender norms. You Can Be offers very young children the freedom to explore a variety of characteristics. This a is a wonderfully affirming book.

* The publisher, The Innovation Press, provided a review copy.

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