In October, a fresh social-emotional learning book landed on bookshelves, joining the ranks of modern classics such as Danielle Daniel’s Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox and The Boy with Big, Big Feelings by Britney Winn Lee and Jacob Souva.
All the Faces of Me, written by Laura Alary and illustrated by Salini Perera, centres on a girl, her Nana, and a favourite toy. The unnamed main character loves her grandmother’s nesting dolls, and delights in how they fit together: “all those tiny people wrapped up in one.” But when she notices that the smallest one lacks a face, she rectifies the situation with a marker. One thing leads to another as she realizes that the other nesting dolls share the same smile – a feature that doesn’t reflect her own complex experience of emotions. So the girl “fixes” all the faces, giving each one a different expression.
Of course, Nana isn’t happy, but the girl makes her case, explaining how the nesting dolls now reflect the different versions of herself, from “the outside one” with the “sunny smile” to “the quiet one, who likes to be alone,” all the way down to a shadow self that is “still becoming,” just like the little unpainted nesting doll that started it all.
It can be challenging to write children’s books about complex ideas such as emotions – particularly with the added nuance of exploring how multiple versions of ourselves can exist in one body. But Alary and Perera do a masterful job using a cleverly planned three-act structure. In the first act, readers will enjoy examining the nesting dolls along with the main character. Guided by Alary’s careful storytelling, children spend the second act identifying with the girl’s many selves, eventually making the connection between the girl and the doll. In the final act, as Nana’s reaction shifts from anger to understanding, and finally, to acceptance, readers will learn that the main character isn’t the only one who contains multitudes – Nana does too.
Sure to generate interesting conversations between children and the adults who read to them, this cozy, relatable book will find a place in homes, preschools, and elementary schools.