One Word from Sophia
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
June 16, 2015
Sophia tries varied techniques to get the giraffe she wants more than anything in this playfully illustrated story about the nuances of negotiation.
Sophia has one true desire for her birthday. But she has Four Big Problems in the way: Mom, Dad, Uncle Conrad...and Grand-mama.
Will her presentations, proposals, and pie charts convince them otherwise?
Turns out, all it takes is one word.
In my very first picture book review, I stated that children’s books can be considered shallow due to their “flamboyant illustrations and lack of SAT words,” and I think we have been able to prove that untrue. However, after coming across Averbeck and Ismail’s One Word from Sophia, I realized I was wrong about picture books all lacking SAT words.
This is the story of Sophia who has one desire and four problems. Her desire is a pet giraffe, and her problems are her lawyer mother, businessman father, politician uncle, and strict grandmother. We will dismiss the detail that this young girl is referring to her family members as “problems” and move on to her method of obtaining what she wants.
First, she approaches her lawyer mother, handmade charts in hand, and says:
I would like a giraffe… because they burn less gasoline, so they meet federal regulations better than the cars we use now. In the last fifty years, no giraffes have been recalled for defective parts, and newer models have a particularly strong safety record. Also, giraffes have not been shown to be the cause of any major diseases. Giraffes are legal in all fifty states.
It’s around this point that I drop the book on the ground and walk away to collect myself for a moment. Was this book incorrectly shelved at Barnes and Noble? Was that really just in a picture book?
She goes on to present similar cases to her father and uncle, after tailoring her argument to suit their respective areas of expertise. For her father, she makes giraffe ownership sound like the business move of the century, and she presents it to her uncle as a bold political statement. Basically, Sophia is going to rule the world one day.
However, all of her pitches are shot down. Her family members say that her propositions are too “effusive,” “loquacious” and “verbose,” which according to the glossary supplied in the back on this text all mean “using too many words.” This is apparently a problem in Sophia’s family, even though using pretentious words seems to be just fine.
It is then that Sophia, who is not going to give up that easily, gathers her whole family together for one last shot at her case. This time she uses only one word: please.
And guess what. They get her a giraffe. All because she says please.
This is a heartwarming story, sure. However, it seems that Sophia’s allegedly problematic family members are hindering their next generation’s future success. No lawyer, businessman, or politician outside of Sophia’s family is going to give her presentation a single glance if it consists of just one word, even if it is the MAGIC word.
Past this issue, we are left with a book that explores yet another SAT word: socialization. Socialization is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “the process by which a person learns to function within a particular society or group by internalizing its values and norms.” In other words, it is how we learn what is acceptable and normal for our culture. For instance, a kid who grew up with ten brothers and sisters would think big families were the standard, and a child who grew up in New York City might think traveling everywhere by subway was just a way of life.
When we look at the illustrations of this book, we see that Sophia comes from a mixed race background, and beyond this, we see that she has two very successful, working parents who still have time to invest and be active in their daughter’s life. This book presents these ideals casually, not even feeling the need to formally point them out, as to convey even further how “normal” it all is. Sophia finds it all normal, so young readers will find it normal; therefore, the next generation will find it normal.
That is a power picture books have that other forms of literature lack. These books have the ability to literally SHOW instead of TELL, and they catch readers at just the right impressionable and unbiased age, when they are able to fully soak in these crucial life lessons.
Sophia is an example of a child growing up in a unique environment that she finds normal. She thinks that creating charts, presenting arguments, spewing political mumbo-jumbo, and owning a giraffe, are all completely acceptable activities for a young girl, and maybe children who grow up reading books of this nature will grow up not only with the impression that these are social norms, but also that words like “quadruped” and “loquacious” are acceptable in everyday vernacular. I think we can agree that this sounds like a future we would all like to live in.
“socialization, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2015. Web. 28 August 2015.