Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Review - Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President
by Sophie Siers
illustrated by Anne Villeneuve
Date: 2019
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 35
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Sam has to share a room with his disruptive and all-around undesirable big brother, and he is NOT happy about it. One night, when Sam hears about the president’s plans to build a border wall, it inspires what Sam thinks is a perfectly reasonable solution to his own problem: he needs to build a wall, too.

Told as a series of letters addressed to the president, the story shows Sam working through his thoughts and feelings about his plan to build a dividing wall in his bedroom. He debates pros and cons, learns about other walls built through the ages, and slowly comes around to a new perspective as he begins to see that the best solutions involve communication, compromise, and negotiating ways to make things work.

With an undertone of subtle humor, this story is at once a simple tale about a common gripe of siblinghood and a modern fable sure to spark conversations about tolerance, learning to live with others, and the importance of recognizing other points of view.

(synopsis from NetGalley; see it on Goodreads)

This book takes a gentle swipe at Donald Trump and his policies--the border wall, in particular. Kids must be very confused at times when a person who's supposed to be a role model is advocating doing things that their own parents have spent years trying to dissuade them from.

In this story, Sam is fed up with his older brother. They have to share a room, so when Sam hears Trump (who isn't named, by the way; it's clearly him, though, and his hair does make a cameo) talking about building a border wall to keep out "undesirable" people, he thinks it might be the perfect solution to his sibling problem, too. But as Sam talks about it with his family, friends, and teachers, and learns more about walls and what they do (and have done, especially in the past) he comes to realize that maybe a wall isn't such a great idea after all. Sam's final letter wishes the president well with his own wall and suggests that maybe a small one would do. (Ah, the naivete of youth...)

Because Trump isn't actually named in the book, that aspect of the story might go over some kids' heads (especially if they're not familiar with Trump and his policies). It's interesting that this appears to be a New Zealand title originally; the version I read is from a Canadian publisher. I wonder how many American children will get a chance to read this subtly subversive book and maybe question their president's stubborn, xenophobic policies. Dear Mr. President frames the matter as sibling rivalry, but it's easy to see the parallels. Cooperation, communication, and negotiation should never be partisan issues. Maybe Trump needs someone to send him a copy of this book!

Overall, this is a clever little book with a timely message. Even after Trump's presidency is but a memory, this book will still have value... both historically and in a smaller--but still important--family-dynamics sort of way.

Thank you to NetGalley and Owlkids Books for providing a digital ARC.

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 4/5
Illustrations: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

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