Today I’m Strong

Viking. Jun. 2022. 32p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593525944.
PreS-Gr 2–Intending to empower children to defend themselves by raising their voices and pushing through in the face of adversity, this book inadvertently racializes power dynamics. The protagonist, with red round spectacles vivid against her brown skin and black hair, loves school, except on the days when Molly bullies her. On those days, the protagonist loses her voice and wants to hide, until she summons her inner strength, symbolized as a tiger, and stands up to Molly. Illustrating the protagonist’s inner strength as a tiger companion makes this an effective picture book. On nearly every page, readers can search for the tiger and make sense of its consistent presence representing that strength is inside, waiting to be needed. While this is a valuable message, the racialized dynamic of bullying undermines the takeaway. Despite the protagonist’s class being illustrated as diverse, Molly, a blond child, is singled out as a bully when most characters do not have names. Readers will not understand why she has the power, and why the heroine is nameless. While the message is to show all children that they can stand up to a bully like Molly, it may also show children of color specifically that they’re the ones who always have to rise above.
VERDICT Instead of a story with characters readers can cheer for and believe in, this book relies on simplistic tropes and stereotypes.

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