Amazing Grace (Reading Rainbow Book)
Written by: Mary Hoffman
Illustrated by: Caroline Binch
Recommended Ages: 4-8
When my daughter was around five years old, Amazing Grace was one of her favorite books. I think I must have read it out loud at least twenty times. It's been at least eight years since I last read it, and I wondered if it would hold up over time. I can honestly report that it did, and that this is a perfect picture book for the kindergarten/early elementary school-aged child.
Grace is a child who loves stories. But what she loves even more than listening to stories is acting them out afterwards. Whether it's Joan of Arc, Anansi the Spider or Hiawatha, Grace lets her imagination run free as she acts out all the parts.
One day, her teacher announces that the class is going to put on the play Peter Pan. Grace knows that she wants to play the part of Peter. So when asked who wants the role, she raises her hand. One of her classmates leans over and tells her that she can't be Peter because she's a girl. Then another classmate tells her that she can't possibly be Peter because she's black. This doesn't stop Grace from letting her teacher know that she wants to try out for the part.
When Grace gets home she tells her mom and nana that Raj told her she couldn't be Peter because she is a girl. Her mom tells her, "a girl can be Peter Pan if she wants to." A little later, Grace remembers that Natalie told her she couldn't be Peter because she's black. This time her nana tells her that she can be anything she wants, if she puts her mind to it.
The next weekend Nana takes Grace into the city to see Romeo and Juliet. There starring in the role of Juliet is Rosalie Wilkins, granddaughter of a friend of Nana's from Trinidad. Juliet is black, and Grace is inspired. Later she practices being Juliet by twirling around her room in an imaginary tutu.
The day of the audition comes up and Grace is amazing. She's memorized all the words and knows exactly how to act as Peter. All the kids agree that Grace is the best Peter Pan and unanimously vote for her. And when the day of the play comes, Grace is an outstanding Peter Pan. It's just as her nana told her, "If Grace put her mind to it, she can do anything she want."
Amazing Grace is a delightful story with some wonderful underlying messages. Kids will appreciate Grace's determination, and will root for her to succeed. She knows what she wants and goes after it, even though there appear to be obstacles in her way. Amazing Grace touches on sexism, racism and stereotypes in ways that are appropriate for young children, and not at all preachy. Grace's mom and nana are there for her, and they support her in wise and gentle ways. They tell her that she can do anything she puts her mind to, and Grace shows them that she can.
Caroline Binch's illustrations are colorful and bold. Grace is a one-of-a-kind character, with endless expressions that are quite endearing. Kids will love the way she lets her imagination run wild, as she dresses up as various characters from stories. I think the classroom scenes, in particular, are realistic, as they show a class filled with different ethnic and racial backgrounds.
BookNosher Tidbit: Grace is a spunky character that boys and girls will want to keep reading about. Since Amazing Grace, Hoffman has written other books about Grace. They include:
Starring Grace (chapter book)
Encore Grace (chapter book)
Bravo Grace (chapter book)