cover image What Is a Child?

What Is a Child?

Beatrice Alemagna, trans. from the Italian by Anna Bennett. Tate (Abrams, dist.), $19.95 (36p) ISBN 978-1-84976-412-4

Alemagna (The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy) reflects quietly but powerfully on the traits, habits, and preoccupations of children. “A child is a small person,” she begins, in answer to the question of the title. “They are only small for a little while, then they grow up. They grow without even thinking about it.” The text appears on left-hand pages opposite close-up mixed-media portraits of children being children. A boy with tufted red hair picks his nose with studious intent, waterfalls of tears erupt from a showering child with shampoo in his eyes, and a girl falls asleep at the dinner table with her fork held aloft. The images aren’t necessarily flattering, but they feel deeply true to life, showing unguarded moments of delight, frustration, and pain captured before the world has taught these children to be careful with such emotions. (“Grown-ups,” Alemagna notes, “hardly ever cry, not even when shampoo gets up their nose.”) Nearly every sentence feels weighted with meaning, tacitly inviting young readers to consider the degree to which these ideas represent the childhoods they themselves are in the middle of living. Ages 4–up. (Sept.)