Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Review - Big Boys Cry

Big Boys Cry
by Jonty Howley
Date: 2019
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

Let boys cry! This picture book imagines a world in which boys are encouraged to express their full range of emotions.

It's Levi's first day at a new school, and he's scared. When his father tries to comfort Levi, he falls back on the line his own father used to use with him: "Big boys don't cry." Though he immediately understands his misstep, he can't find the words to right the ship, and Levi leaves for school, still in need of reassurance.

Fortunately, along his walk to school, Levi sees instance after instance of grown men openly expressing their sadness and fear. His learned mantra, "big boys don't cry," slowly weakens, and by the time he's at school he releases a tear. Once there, things aren't so bad after all, and on his walk home he sees the characters he's encountered on his journey in the aftermath of their expression.

Upon his arrival home, he finds his father waiting for him on their porch, tears in his eyes. He's able to admit that he was scared for Levi, and the two embrace, closer than before.

Jonty Howley's gorgeous debut paints the world we wish existed for our boys, and offers a path there! This story is the truest interpretation of the notion that we should "let boys be boys"; that is: let them express the full range of their emotions, vulnerable pieces and all!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This little story has a few problems. I get that they're there to move the plot along, but one of them could be kind of scary to young children.

Despite what the synopsis says, Levi's father doesn't immediately understand his misstep (unless that's something that's only in the mind of the author, because it didn't make it onto the page), and poor Levi--as well as the reader--has to continue with a pretty heavy bit of social conditioning to overcome. As he sees men of all kinds shedding tears as he makes his way to school, however, he comes to realize that big boys do cry. When he returns home at the end of the day, he tells his father as much... which is probably a relief because poor Dad's been home crying all day.

A couple of points: Why didn't Levi's father accompany him to school on his first day, especially since they were both scared to the point of tears? That would be unnerving for a child to read and possibly think that their parents are just going to throw them in the deep end if they change schools. Second, there's a point in the story that refers to "passionate poets, practicing their prose". It may be time to break out the dictionary...

The illustrations are somewhat interesting, with a limited colour palette that's heavy on the blue. Men are shown unabashedly crying throughout, which is a refreshing sight. (If men aren't allowed to cry when they're proposing to the love of their life, when they've lost their dog, or when they're saying goodbye to loved ones before a trip, then our society is truly messed up.)

This is a decent book with an important message. I was bothered by the father's declaration at first, but was glad to see that Levi had plenty of examples during his day that showed him otherwise. Big boys do cry. And that's perfectly okay.

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

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