Book: I Want to Help!
Author: Diane Adams
Illustrator: Nancy Hayashi
Age Range: 4-8
I Want to Help!, written by Diane Adams and illustrated by Nancy Hayashi, is about the abilities of and challenges faced by preschoolers (or perhaps kindergartners). Emily Pearl is a highly energetic young girl, able to beat the boys in a race, count to 14, and take the monkey bars two at a time. Throughout the day, she constantly tries to help her long-suffering teacher (with mixed success). When her father is late to pick up her, Emily's teacher, Ms. Glenn, uses Emily's desire to help to distract her from worrying.
I personally found the story itself to be lacking in narrative punch. It's more like a series of vignettes throughout the day, capped off by the incident, over just a couple of pages, about the late father. Yes, Emily spends the day trying to help, and does end up being asked to help in the end, but it's not because the teacher actually needs her. And all of her offers to help throughout the day are intermixed with general statements about what Emily is like "strong", "brave", etc. It just doesn't hold together for me as a narrative.
And yet, I still find it an enjoyable read (and I've read it quite a few times, because my two-year-old loves it). The text is catchy. The refrain stays stuck in my head for days after a read. Mostly this part:
"And whenever Ms. Glenn
sighs, "Oh, my," to herself,
Emily Pearl says,
"I want to help!""
But the rest of the text reads aloud well, too. Like this (over several pages):
"Emily Pearl is a very brave girl.
She can give the tarantula water and bugs.
She can let out the rabbit and clean up the rug.
She can shoo away critters
that come to the door.
And capture the crickets that hop on the floor."
I think that what Baby Bookworm likes is the glimpse of life in a classroom. Most of the humor goes right over head, but the bits that she does get, she thinks are hilarious.
A lot of the humor in I Want to Help! comes from Hayashi's watercolor, pen, and colored pencil illustrations. She shows how things "really" are. For example, at one point the text says :
"Emily Pearl is a very big girl.
She can wash her own paint can
and put it away."
The picture shows Emily rinsing out her paint can in the water fountain, with colored water spilling all over the floor, and Ms. Glenn looking on. Emily's classmates are frequently shown either laughing at her antics (as in the paint can example), or getting knocked over by Emily's careless exuberance (like when she takes the monkey bars two at a time). I think that kids who mean well, but struggle to sit still, or put things away properly, will identify with the pictures of Emily Pearl.
The classroom setting is cheerful, full of crayons and books, pets and projects. There are huge windows, and an old-fashioned, minimalist playground. The combination of day-to-day activities shared in the text and the kid-friendly classroom make this a good book to read with kids who are about to start school. I Want to Help! is a book that will allay fears, and increase enthusiasm about going to school. And it just might make kids want to help out more, too.
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (@PeachtreePub)
Publication Date: September 1, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).