Book: Here You Are, By Mayke Beckmann Briggs
Reviewed by Brian Schell
Boathouse Books, 42 Pages, ISBN 9780977646913
Buy from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0977646912?tag=askdrarca-20
There are umpteen-gazillion books out there, both good and bad, concerning Buddhism for adult readers. There are very few good books for Children that involve Buddhist ideas. Books based upon the Jataka Tales are classics, but those stories are ancient and somewhat generic in nature. Modern-day Buddhist children books are starting to enter the market, albeit slowly. This is one of them.
It’s a durable hardcover children’s book with heavy pages and bright colors throughout. The text is short and extremely simple, and even beginning readers will be able to move through the book quickly. The drawings are simple but bright, and mostly involve “You,” the central character in the story. Unlike stories about 3rd-person characters, “You” are the center of attention here. Fortunately, since the pronoun “You” works whether reading the book yourself or having the book read to you, it’s a neat idea.
The subject here is about the main character, who asks the questions, “Who made everything?”, “Why am I here?” and several other ”big” questions. The book does not supply answers to any of the big questions, that’s up to the adult in the child’s life to explain. There are no references to God or any other specific religion. The book could literally be used to introduce any child to the big questions, and the adult must supply whatever answers they feel are appropriate.
I’m assuming that Daily Buddhism readers are going to want to use the book to explain the Buddhist perspective on the questions posed here. The book is fine for that, and there is one section of the book:
Here you are, wondering,
how everything appears out of nowhere like the waves rise up from the sea,
and how everything vanishes into nothing,
like the waves, on a calm summer’s day.
This could lead into a decidedly Buddhist-tinted discussion.
The one and only problem I see with the book are the pictures of “You” (see the cover image). The pictures are all of a little boy, or perhaps a girl with very short hair. I’m not sure whether this was an artistic decision or an oversight. I imagine it would be confusing to try to make the pictures of “You” to apply to everyone. Still, unless you are buying the book is for a little caucasian boy, be prepared.
Thank you, Brian!
That is a very nice and well balanced review. The illustrations do create the boy/girl confusion and it does come up when people review the book. It is on purpose, though, as you suspected.
We experimented with the little boy/girl for a long time. At some point we had both genders and every ethnicity represented in all the various illustrations, but it took the feeling of oneness/wholeness away and turned it into a feeling of many. So reluctantly we let go of all our little Asian, African American and Arab boys and girls, and went with the little Caucasian boy/girl "You" instead. We found that the vagueness of whether it was a boy or girl served children well and intentionally "grew" the hair in some of the illustrations, made the little face as dark as possible, and put a purple shirt on the little "You". We had a whole elementary school for a focus group, a designer from UCLA as a book design consultant, and a PhD Psychologist to help us with all the final decisions.
We watched children of various ages read the book for hours on end and found that they particularly love comparing the facial expressions in the many portraits. Especially girls, and very young kids go back and forth between the portrait pages many times over to do this. The original idea to include so many portraits stems from the surprising success of two mothers who made millions of dollars with two videos of toddler faces that had little kids glued to their TVs and mothers buying these videos for "TV babysitting". At first we thought the many portraits where a perfect opportunity to represent many different groups and were disappointed ourselves when that didn't work out.
The first long, silent hug I received after reading Here You Are to a group of Kindergartners -
( in front of the whole class, no less) was from a little African American boy who had completely identified with the little Caucasian "You". Children have less dualistic minds than most adults and have fewer problems with these issues than adults do. To preserve a feeling of Oneness therefore ended up overriding our attempts to represent various racial groups in the illustrations. It was a koan for us for a while, until children showed us the way.
Thought you might enjoy hearing about some of the background. Hope it doesn't make you feel you should have written the review any differently, though. The review gives a valid warning about the little white boy "You" for people who might be concerned with that for whatever reason.
Thank you again -
All the best