|Padmanabhan, Manjula. 2011. I Am Different! Can You Find Me? Book Cover. From http://www.randomhouse.com/images/dyn/jcover/?source=9780375844959&height=152&maxwidth=103|
Padmanabhan, Manjula. 2011. I AM DIFFERENT! CAN YOU FIND ME? Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge. ISBN 9781570916397
2. PLOT SUMMARY
This informational picture book for children features illustrated “spot-the-difference” puzzles, one for each of the sixteen different languages featured. Readers will learn words from and facts about the langauges, as well as how to say “Can you find me?” in each language.
3. CRITICAL ANALYSIS
First published in India, this non-fiction book features text in sixteen different languages including English, Hebrew, Hawaiian, Cree, Arabic, Filipino, Gullah, Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish, Nahuatl, Italian, Navajo, Swahili, French, and American Sign Language. Each two page spread follows an established pattern, with the name of the language and the phrase, “Can you find me?” translated into the language prominently displayed. A phonetic pronunciation guide is printed below the phrase, making it easy for readers to learn the phrase quickly. The puzzle is illustrated in mixed media on one side of the page with the text on the opposite side. Information is presented in a short paragraph of no more than five sentences. Although numbers and facts are included, the emphasis is on developing an awareness of other languages, rather than presenting information to be used in a school assignment.
Information for each language includes the estimated number of people who speak the language, countries or regions in which the language is spoken, the language origin, as well as familiar words that readers might recognize. For instance, “cheetah,” “pajamas” and “shampoo” are recognizable words that come from the Hindi language. For other languages, Padmanabhan provides more words, such as the words for the numbers one to five in Cree and the colors of the rainbow in Swahili.
The illustrations have a textured feel to them due to the use of a thick paint, reminiscent of puff paint. The illustrations are flat and one-dimensional and in many puzzles Padmanabhan uses silhouettes. Brightly colored backgrounds made from fiber flecked papers create a celebratory atmosphere throughout the book.
People are only featured twice in the book. The first time is in an illustrated puzzle, which shows brown-skinned, dark haired children. Secondly, a small blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy is featured in photographs that illustrate how to sign “Can you find me?” in American Sign Language. However, the emphasis of the book is not the appearance, but rather the language of people, so I did not find the lack of multicultural characters an issue.
The back of the book includes an answer key with thumbnail images of the puzzles with the different item highlighted. Padmanabhan includes a note to remind people there are “many different ways of being different.” He encourages readers to write him if they discover a different correct answer. In most cases the answer is fairly obvious, a star with six points stands out among a field of five-pointed stars or sitting cat can be found among rows of walking felines, but there are a few puzzles with difficult to spot differences. In fact, even after looking at the answer key I was not always able to identify the differing factor. This could be frustrating to readers, children and adults alike. Having a one sentence description of the difference would be helpful.
The last page features an author’s note about the importance of learning about other languages. Padmanabhan, an Indian novelist, playwright, and cartoonist, writes that languages help connect people to one another and promotes understanding. Part of the proceeds from the sale of this book go to the Global Fund for Children, which provides small grants to community-based organizations that help children around the world.
4. REVIEW EXCERPTS
Review in BOOKLIST: “This colorful, original picture book provides an intriguing introduction to languages as well as differences.”
Review in PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY: “Many of the distinctions are quite subtle (one straight line among curvy ones; a box without a match, a ladder with different colored rungs), which points to the book's understated message about the subjective nature of difference, but may frustrate readers.”
Review in SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “Filled with teachable, fun-filled moments, it enables readers to solve puzzles and learn a bit about each language and words in English derived from them.”
*This is a great book to share during a El día de los niños/El día de los libros celebration. Read a page from this book and then follow up with a rhyme or song in that language.
*If you are sharing this book with elementary school aged children, have them make “spot-the-difference” puzzles to share with one another. This can be done simply with paper and pen or you can bring out art supplies to create collage puzzles like Padmanabhan does in the book.
*Other bi- or multi-lingual picture books for children:
Law, Diane. 2006. COME OUT AND PLAY: COUNT AROUND THE WORLD IN FIVE LANGUAGES. ISBN 978-0735820609
Mora, Pat. 2009. BOOK FIESTA!: CELEBRATE CHILDREN’S DAY/BOOK DAY; CELEBREMOS EL DIA DE LOS NIŃOS/EL DIA DE LOS LIBROS. Ill. Rafael Lopez. ISBN 978-0061288777
Pomerantz, Charlotte. 1982. IF I HAD A PAKA: POEMS IN ELEVENT LANGUAGES. Ill. Nancy Tafuri. ISBN 0688008364
*Other books that celebrate similarities/differences in cultures:
Baker, Jeannie. 2010. MIRROR. ISBN 978-0763648480
Fox, Mem. 2006. WHOEVER YOU ARE. Ill. Leslie Staub. ISBN 978-0152060305
Kindersley, Anabel & Kindersley, Barnabas. 2005. CHILDREN JUST LIKE ME: A UNIQUE CELEBRATION OF CHILDREN AROUND THE WORLD. ISBN 978-0789402011
Kostecki-Shaw, Jenny Sue. 2011. SAME, SAME BUT DIFFERENT. ISBN 978-0805089462
Simon, Norma. 1999. ALL KINDS OF CHILDREN. Ill. Diane Paterson. ISBN 978-0807502815
“Global Fund for Children. The Global Fund for Children. Accessed September 17, 2012. https://www.globalfundforchildren.org/