Elbert in the Air

Dial. Feb. 2023. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593325209.
K-Gr 2–From the moment Elbert is born, he floats. In spite of plenty of strangers (and the nurse and the librarian and the teacher) offering Elbert’s mother advice for how to bring him down to earth, Elbert’s mother encourages him to remain true to himself. Still, as Elbert grows, he floats higher and farther away from everyone, until he becomes lonely. Will he find his place, or others like him? Wesolowska’s deftly created structure, which like her first book, Leo + Lea, makes use of allegory (although in that one it was the Fibonacci code), will speak to children and adults wherever they are in their personal journey to finding themselves without feeling didactic or preachy. Pumphrey’s literal interpretation of the text (Mom really is climbing a crane to bring Elbert a picnic) done in muted vintage colors with the look of carved stamps keeps the tone light and playful, so that children are likely to infer the deeper meaning of the story more than understand it; this trust in the compassion of young readers only reinforces it. Elbert and his mother both have black curly hair and light brown skin while the background characters show a wide range of skin tones and hair colors. A fun story with plenty of space left in it to apply it to nearly any discussion about celebrating who you are, especially if you feel different. And don’t we all?
VERDICT Featuring the unconditional, iridescent love of a caregiver and Elbert’s own stoic nature, this is a stellar purchase for every picture book collection.

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