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When No One Is Watching: Eileen Spinelli & David A. Johnson

Book: When No One Is Watching
Author: Eileen Spinelli
Illustrator: David A. Johnson
Pages: 26
Age Range: 4-8 

When No One Is Watching is pretty much exactly what the title promises. It's a picture book about a girl who can only be brave and boisterous (dancing, cheering, scoring baskets, etc.) when she's by herself. When other people are there, she tends to hide, or lean against the wall, or pass the ball instead of shooting.

I was a bit worried as I was reading this book that it would be one of those issue books with a facile or heavy-handed solution to the problem. But I should have trusted Eileen Spinelli. The unnamed girl doesn't change overnight, or have some elaborate intervention. Instead, she finds one friend. Her friend, Loretta, is also shy, and the two girls are able to do things (reading, going to the zoo, "splashing in the summer", together). So, there's a solution, yes. But it's a small, quiet, plausible solution, one that suits the tenor of the book. I was pleased with it.  

I still don't think that I would go out of my way to introduce this book to my daughter, unless I thought that she was having problems with shyness (right now she's not old enough to understand it anyway). No point in raising as an issue something that might not be an issue. I don't need her wondering "Should I be hiding when people come over?" or whatever. But I do think that this would be an excellent book for libraries to have on hand for those families struggling with this issue. 

When No One Is Watching does work as a bouncy read-aloud. Like this:

"When no one is watching,
I cheer.

I cheer for myself
as I race near the hoop.

I soar and I score
with a dunk and a whoop!

When no one is watching,
I cheer.


When everyone's watching,
I pass.

I pass the b-ball
to my classmate Tamar.
Tamar makes the basket --
she's always the star.

When everyone's watching,
I pass.  

There's a poetry to the repetition, and I like the double-meaning of "pass" in this example (a literal pass of the ball, and a pass on being actively engaged). A lot of thought has gone into this book.

David A. Johnson's digitally manipulated ink and watercolor illustrations suit the tone of the book. On the pages where the girl is not being watched, he includes a series of slightly grayed out images of her doing things, together with one brightly colored image. On the pages where she is being watched, she only appears once, still brightly colored, while the others in the picture are shown grayed out. So, even when she's trying not to be watched, to the reader, she's still at the heart of the image. It's a nice, relatively subtle technique. She wears the same outfit in all of the pictures, with bright red and white squares, which also makes it easier to always really see her. She also has delightfully out of control curly black hair. 

When No One Is Watching is a picture book that addresses the things that are easier to do "when no one is watching" (dancing, playing sport, etc.). For kids who are shy, or have experienced stage fright of one form or another, it's a nice, accepting sort of book. It's one that I plan to keep at hand, just in case... Recommended, particularly for elementary school libraries. 

Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (@EerdmansBooks)
Publication Date: February 7, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook