cover image John’s Turn

John’s Turn

Mac Barnett, illus. by Kate Berube. Candlewick, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5362-0395-0

Employing sweet humor and sensory detail, Barnett (What Is Love?) and Berube (Second Banana) convey the unexpected beauty of a school performance. Sometimes, “if we’re good,” Friday Assembly ends with a student presenting a talent—“It’s called ‘Sharing Gifts.’ A lot of us think that’s kind of a dumb name, but we also think Sharing Gifts is the best.” Recent examples include a tuba performance, magic tricks, and stand-up comedy, and today, it’s John’s turn. Berube draws the tan-skinned child sitting silently in front of an untouched breakfast tray (“We knew why. He was nervous”). Soon, children of varying skin tones sit on the floor of the cafeteria, which “still smells like breakfast.” In a series of vignettes, John dons a white leotard, black pants, and black slippers behind a curtain, and then stands tensely onstage as music begins. One snarky audience comment is quickly squelched before “he danced”: in a breathlessly kinetic, wordless sequence, spreads show John turning, leaping, and landing, light as a feather, until he comes to the end of his routine, “breathing hard”—and the audience knows just how to respond. The story’s collective, omniscient voice and graceful illustrations, wonderfully reminiscent of The Philharmonic Gets Dressed, portray a community that stays open and curious—and a child who shares their effort with brave vulnerability. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. Illustrator’s agent: Lori Kilkelly, LK Literary. (Mar.)