Mama's Boyz

The Big Picture
Gr 5—9—Yusuf Porter, a headstrong black teen interested in little besides his image and having a good time, is visited by four future versions of himself: as an overweight, unhealthy underachiever; as an overaged hipster clinging to his outdated youthful style; as a distracted, uncaring family man; and as an illiterate ex-con. Each visitation is accompanied by a variety of strips that illustrate points about self-esteem and respect for others while gently poking fun at some of the conventions of black culture and the pressures a young man like Yusuf might feel, ranging from baggy pants to sibling rivalry to the potential iconography of President Obama. The book is permeated with a gentle, chiding tone, and the punch lines rarely inspire a raucous reaction. It's hard not to like something so good-natured, and younger readers may enjoy the insouciant charm of the wastrel main character who never seems like he's actually 16 years old, but older readers may find the consistent focus on a message of self-improvement to be patronizing, and the author's running commentary underneath the strips may strike some as condescending. The messages are sound, though, and those looking for a mild moral delivery system that's coupled with some brief inspirational bits about cartooning will find it here.—Benjamin Russell, Belmont High School, NH

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