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[Saturday Reads] Daring To Ask Questions Deemed As Taboo

"Just Ask" by Sonia Sotomayor and Rafael Lopez.


Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.

I read this picturebook as part of our research project on diverse books and inclusive practices. This is a Schneider award-winning title written by U. S. Judge Sonia Sotomayor and illustrated by one of my favourite artists, Rafael Lopez. It clearly cannot be missed.

Just Ask! [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Sonia Sotomayor Illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Published by Philomel Books (2019)
ISBN: 0525514120 (ISBN13: 9780525514121) Literary Award: Schneider Family Book Award for Young Children (2020). Borrowed from NLB Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

While technically not a picturebook biography, the seeds of this book which highlights portraits of various diverse children, is largely based on Sonia Sotomayor’s childhood as a diabetic. In her Letter to Readers found at the first page of the book, she noted:

When kids saw me giving myself a needle shot of insulin, my medicine, I knew they were curious about what I was doing. But they never asked me, my parents, or my teachers about it. I also often felt they thought I was doing something wrong.

Rafael Lopez, the illustrator, was one of the featured children in the story, where he wrote about having asthma, and how he uses an inhaler to breathe easier. Each page brings to life a child and a story of what makes them different from others – and the many questions that perhaps other children around them are afraid of asking about their condition – be it a medical condition, or a learning, emotional, or physical one.

I like how the story encourages children to ask questions that are often deemed taboo by society. It also seeks to normalize a condition that often becomes bigger than it is because it isn’t talked about openly, but only in whispers or secluded, clandestine corners.

There are children who have Down Syndrome in the story, children in wheelchairs, or children in the autism spectrum disorder, who have attention deficit, who suffer from dyslexia, or have hearing impairment. The brief portraits are neither flat nor uni-dimensional. Rather, it cuts to the essence of how children may perceive others as different, and each full-page spread ends with a wondering query similar to what you can see in the sample images here.

One reflection that I had written down as my response to this book for our research project, is that sometimes, asking questions takes an enormous amount of courage. Oftentimes, if it is delivered without sensitivity, it also backfires. However, it is also important to offer answers to unasked questions – which is basically what this book does – so that young people are not left wondering to imagine in their heads why there are people who are different from them. This is a story that can open up a lot of discussions and conversations in homes and classrooms. Find it and read it to your young ones.

#ReadIntl2020 Update: Both author and illustrator are POC. Rafael Lopez is from Mexico, Sonia Sotomayor is born from Puerto Rican parents.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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