Not Little by Maya Myers, illus. by Hyewon Yum (Neal Porter/Holiday House, $18.99 hardcover, 40p., ages 3-7, 9780823446193, July 6, 2021)
Small and little do not mean the same thing. Ask the spunky protagonist of debut author Maya Myers's Not Little. Sure, she'll admit, "I am the smallest person in my family." And add, "Even my name is small: Dot." But whether at rest or play, in the kitchen or outside, Dot is mighty capable. Author/illustrator Hyewon Yum (Saturday Is Swimming Day) makes delightfully, whimsically certain that Dot takes up plenty of energetic space with her vibrant personality and independent tenacity.
Dot is "the smallest person in [her] class." At the door of her classroom, as all the other kids look on, she must insist to their elementary teacher that she's actually not in preschool, demonstrating her knowledge of square roots, world capitals and space travel. Wherever she goes, however, she finds she must prove again and again, "I may be small, but I'm not little." At the library, her check-out pile is taller than she is. She orders from the grown-up menu at restaurants. She eschews grocery store stickers because, as she repeats yet again, she's not little.
And then a new boy appears at school. What Dot instantly notices is that Sam "might even be smaller" than she is. She attempts to sidle up to him to compare heights but doesn't want to frighten him. In the lunchroom, however, she proves plenty scary when a lunchroom bully tries his "mean boy" tactics on innocent Sam. Suddenly, she just might be "the biggest kid [Sam's] ever met," especially when it comes to standing tall against adversity.
Myers clearly channels her elementary school teaching experience in empathetically creating Dot and Sam's recognizable exchanges about unfamiliar classrooms and playgrounds, tiptoeing through social dynamics and navigating new relationships. Yum's enchanting color-pencil illustrations elevate Myers's text with ingenious visual enhancements. On every page, Yum includes diverse faces, starting with Dot's own family: the opening spread suggests parents and grandparents of ethnically different backgrounds, the four children presented in various hues. She also imbues all characters with energy and motion--their expressions include winking, smirking and knowing smiles; her ample use of white space allows for the colorful characters to take center stage. Dot is especially charmingly memorable, literally wearing her name with her white polka-dotted orange shirt, her purple-dotted pink leggings and even her green-dotted yellow lunchbox. Most significantly, Yum also adds to Dot's essential wardrobe a bright red neckerchief that just might resemble a superhero cape. By book's end, Dot proves her whole small body has a mighty big voice that will be heard. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Shelf Talker: Hyewon Yum's ingenious artistry amplifies Maya Myers's delightful Dot, who might be small, but certainly not little as she takes on doubters and even a bully to get her big voice heard.