What Do You Do with a Problem?

What Do You Do with a Problem? illus. by Mae Besom. 44p. Compendium. Jun. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781943200009.
PreS-Gr 1—In this follow-up to What Do You Do with an Idea??, a nameless boy has a nameless problem. He ignores it, worries about it, avoids it, and wishes it would go away. When he finally decides to tackle it, he finds that inside the problem is an opportunity to learn and grow, to be brave and to act in a positive manner. He ends by declaring that he is no longer afraid of problems, because "every problem has an opportunity for something good." This flawed and abstract story is full of adult buzzwords. The skillfully drawn but busy illustrations are dark and monochromatic (although they turn golden at the end). Adults with the experience to understand the metaphor may find the story inspiring, but children will be baffled by the didactic and confusing message. The notion that every problem contains a golden opportunity is simplistic and seems to come from a place of privilege. Viewing child abuse or life in a war zone as opportunities for personal growth is unrealistic at best and heartless at worst. Some problems are daunting, especially for the powerless, and to dispatch them so blithely is to belie their severity and their effects on young psyches.
VERDICT A well-meaning but misguided look at problem-solving. Stick with any of the many stories in which relatable characters face specific challenges, like Kevin Henkes's Wemberly Worried, Mo Willems's Can I Play Too??, or even Virginia Lee Burton's classic Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.

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