I was kindly sent a free paperback copy of this book by the publisher Walker Books for a review. ‘Who We Are! – All About Being the Same and Being Different’ is an interesting non-fiction children’s book with mixed reviews. Here is mine:
This book aims to teach kids how we are all different, but also the same. Being a touch wider and shorter than an A4 book, this paperback has thick glossy pages filled with images and text. We follow the story of brother and sister Nellie and Gus as they enter Funland with their parents, baby brother and countless other families who all look different but are also the same.
This book is really aiming to teach kids about tolerance and accepting other people regardless of what they look like, or how different they are from you and it has some great illustrations throughout. The two main characters Nellie and Gus talk about how different they are from each other and how different others can be, from the colour or your eyes to the colour of skin, the colour and waviness of hair to other things. There are two parts to the text in this book, the main story text and then Nellie and Gus speech bubbles (meant to be read afterwards) where they reinforce the messages in the main text.
The whole feel of the book is very inclusive and really does a good job of showing kids how what you look like doesn’t matter and how deep inside everyone is the same, with the same feelings and basically the same. However the text is long for a kids book and there is a deeper focus in the centre around looks, specifically colour of hair, eyes and skin (with repetitive phrases about the amount of melanin being responsible for eye, hair and skin colour). Although other topics are mentioned and covered such as height and where you come from, what language you speak, etc, these feel like they take a back seat to the issue of colour and therefore race.
The book’s images are really nice, I love the fact that if you look for a while you’ll see a wealth of different people of different cultures, faiths, two men with a baby, single parents, disabled people, etc. The text is good reading but not easy and too long for a child to read alone. I feel this is more a book for a library or school to have to show to a group of children. At home I think this book is a good thing to sit down and read with a child but not to leave the child alone with this.
There is a brief section towards the back about the fact that sometimes people are mean about the way you look or how different you are. This section is good and shows how being mean, even unintentionally, is bad and it’s good to say sorry. I liked this part but it focused on the people being mean and how they should say sorry and didn’t tell kids what to do if they had been the ones who were being hurt.
The ending of the book is nothing fancy, just that the kids all leave Funland concluding that we’re all alike and different but also unique. Because of the way the book is structured I’d say this isn’t something to sit and read entirely through but rather to dip into a certain few pages with a child and to talk and explore with them the differences between people, perhaps pointing out the individuals in the images and asking questions. I think it’s a worthwhile book to get but it depends on the audience and if you already teach your kids to be tolerant there may be no need for such an obvious book. However given the intolerance I see myself these days, it may be a worthwhile book, especially in a settings where you have lots of children.
Join Nellie, Gus, baby Jake, and their parents at Funland as they go on rides, watch performers, and play games along with many other children and grown-ups. As they enjoy their excursion, they – and young readers – notice that people are the same as one another in lots of ways, and different in lots of ways too. Accessible, humorous, family-filled illustrations; conversations between Gus and Nellie; and straightforward text come together to help children realize why it’s important to treat others the way they want to be treated and the way you want to be treated – whether a person is a lot like you or different from you, a good friend or someone you have just met or seen for the first time.