‘When I leave the house, everything is so difficult for me.’
White text on a stark, black background opens this twenty-page picture book that follows one little boy during his day at school. He’d like to say hello to the baker, or his neighbour Ana, or the bus driver. But it’s all so difficult. This little narrator is at a loss when it comes to answering questions. He finds it hard to concentrate and is unsure how to navigate the complicated arrival at school each day – there are too many people talking at the same time! Will there ever be a day when his words will come out, he wonders.
The plain black pages of text expressing the narrator’s innermost thoughts alternate with bright illustration spreads depicting his day: the moment he steps out the door, his journey to school, the busy city, his classroom, his mother, and the baker to whom he is finally determined to speak. The colours of the other characters contrast with the black pencil drawings of the comparatively smaller narrator who is always highlighted – or perhaps isolated – by a scratchy pencil circle scribble around him.
Drawing on his experience as a secondary-school teacher, Guridi has captured the inner emotions and thoughts of a character who struggles to interact with others around him and seeks comfort in calming actions like counting and trying to concentrate on shapes and colours. The juxtaposition of the ‘quieter’ black spreads, skilfully translated by Schimel, with the ‘louder’, ‘busier’, yet largely text-free illustrated pages sensitively recreates the sense of tension and stress the narrator feels.
This story will echo with readers who also find it hard to use their voice – including older ones like the people who, the narrator notices, also prefer not to talk or smile. They will be reminded they are not alone if sometimes they have the feeling that … it’s just so difficult.
Reviewed by Johanna McCalmont
IT’S SO DIFFICULT
By Raúl Nieto Guridi
Translated by Lawrence Schimel
Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (2022)
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Johanna McCalmont is a Northern Irish translator and interpreter based in Brussels, where she works from French, German, Dutch, and Italian. She has published several translations for children with Blue Dot Kids Press and is co-editor of the blog at Project World Kid Lit.
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