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'When You Are Happy'

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[NOV. 8, 2006]  "When You Are Happy," by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Geraldo Valerio, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2006, 32 pages, preschool

Review by
Louella Moreland

We have come to expect good books from Eileen Spinelli, and with her release of "When You Are Happy" we are not disappointed. Ms. Spinelli teams up with illustrator Geraldo Valerio to give us an eye-pleasing, heart-warming volume that sounds delightful to the ears of young people while bringing the adult readers a sense of peace.

This book is more a journey than a story. It has no plot, only one central character, no beginning, middle and end. Instead readers experience with each turn of a page or two a snapshot of a child and the adults in her life "living emotions." Some of the adults may be parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or neighbors. Their relationship to her is not important. What they contribute to her emotional well-being is important. Each snapshot begins with the phrase "when you are...," then illustrates and explains how the adult may comfort, listen, help or celebrate.

The contribution of the illustrations is an integral part of the success of the book. The characters seem to float across the page, unencumbered by gravity, wispy and carefree. Perspective is somewhat childlike and lends charm to the page. Large smiles accent faces young and old alike. Animals and objects are drawn with human qualities, while space is used to show thoughts or distance. A smiling sickle moon looks on throughout the book, day or night, giving the reader a feeling of being watched over from above. Finally, color abounds from edge to edge of the page. The cool blues of night to the sunny, warm yellows of daytime leap before the reader's eyes, inviting a close look at all the page has to offer.

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Although the illustrations are a delightful complement, Ms. Spinelli's text does not disappoint the ear either. In sparse, almost poetic style, she expresses the feelings of support that young children most need in their life. Phrases are carefully woven to elicit emotions common to all of us. They soar off the page on our tongues and burrow into our memories until we need to pause a while just to experience again a moment in time that is a pleasure to contemplate.

Preschoolers will delight in the message of security this book brings to them. They will pore over the illustrations and delight in all the small details of the page. But maybe... just maybe... this isn't a book for children, but for the adults in a child's life. Maybe it is an affirmation that a child is ours to protect, guide, enjoy and celebrate. Maybe it is a message that all adults in a child's life provide important small pieces that eventually make a whole. Maybe it is about appreciating the snapshots of emotions we often overlook in our busy everyday lives.

"When You Are Happy" may speak differently to other readers than it did to me. Check it out and let it tell its story to you. It is a picture book meant to be shared over and over again with any child you hold dear to your heart, no matter what age that child may be.

You will find this volume and others by Eileen Spinelli at the Lincoln Public Library, 725 Pekin St. Come in and see what our shelves have that will speak to you.

[Louella Moreland, youth services librarian, Lincoln Public Library District]

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