Author: Michael Ian Black
Illustrator: Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Publication Date: June 2018
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
I follow artist Debbie Ridpath Ohi on Twitter because a retweet of her whimsical doodles encompassing everyday objects made my news feed so much more fun to visit. Plus, I homeschool a budding graphic novel artist and her website is filled with fantastic resources. I was enchanted when posts about her newest release written by author Michael Ian Black, “I’m Sad”, started showing up in my feed. The cover art was exactly the playful vibrant sketches I have come to love from her and exactly the thing to catch the interest of any child and hold it until the last page of a book. I had to wait for my copy, so I kept myself busy by checking out the previous book in the series, “I’m Bored”.
I sometimes feel sorry for authors of children’s picture books. Almost always it is the art in these books that captures attention. The prose often falls flat or feels more like an accessory to colors and lines that are the real stars of the book. It isn’t often that I see the type of near-perfect symbiosis of word and art found in this series. Bonus points for wrapping the fun up in an important life lesson kids won’t even notice they are learning.
When Flamingo shares with his friends that he is feeling sad and is worried that he will always feel that way, they try to find ways to cheer him up. The essential message, in the end, is that it is okay to feel sad sometimes, everyone does sometimes and sometimes all a friend can do is just be there. I giggled my way through “I’m Bored”, finding its inescapable kid logic about how hard (or not actually hard at all) it is to find a fun activity to be delightfully fun. While both books offer children a comic boost in dealing with typical kid emotions, the message in “I’m Sad” is just a bit more profound and timely. For all that the dynamic among the three friends in the book sets the tone to be quite funny, the seriousness of the topic is never lost. As the mom of a special needs child, I would have enjoyed this series when my child was a bit younger and having trouble with typical social skills. For a lot of kids, the simple validation of their emotions can go a long way towards helping them to process those emotions. It is great to find a children’s book that can accomplish this without being too heavy-handed. I look forward to further collaboration between Black and Ohi and many more installments in this winning series.
Debbie’s first solo book, WHERE ARE MY BOOKS?, debuts from Simon & Schuster Children’s in May 2015.
Debbie is also the illustrator of three Judy Blume classics (FRECKLE JUICE, THE PAIN AND THE GREAT ONE, THE ONE IN THE MIDDLE IS THE GREEN KANGAROO) reissued as chapter books by Atheneum (2014) as well as on the covers of seven middle grade reissues including ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET. For more info about how she became a Judy Blume illustrator as well as bonus material, see her Illustrating Judy Blume page.