Score: 95+/100 (9.5+/10)
If you're looking for a children's book with heart and soul, a positive and reassuring spiritual message for kids, appealing art, and a terrific audio version accompanying it, look no further than Do You Know the One? by Michelle Bentley.
This children's book hits on all cylinders. This book has it all. It hits all the right notes, does all the right things, and checks all the right boxes for how a book for young children should be constructed. It is, in that sense, a “clinic” on creating books for young children.
Now, what makes us say that? Well, let's start with the art. The art isn't Picasso, Leonardo Da Vinci, or Rembrandt, and it doesn't have to be. You could make the argument that a comparable children's book like God Made It All (which likewise scored a 9.5/10) featured far more elaborate art, but that's not always necessary. A book like We All Have Spots by MJ McDonald or Ancient Egypt for Kids by Samuel Cerro may not have the most outstanding illustrations, but the illustrations support and facilitate the message.
Do You Know the One? does what it needs to do in terms of art: be beautiful, colorful, and appealing to kids.
Second, let's talk about the writing and why it's so beautiful in its simplicity. Young kids need brevity. Their attention spans are short, even shorter than ours (as adults). That's why we are so happy to see information and ideas presented so concisely yet effectively.
There are two traps we so often see children's authors fall into: 1. Trying to draw and color the art themselves, usually with unprofessional results, 2. Making the writing too wordy and too complicated for kids to follow. This book avoids both problems with effective yet simple writing by Michelle Bentley and effective illustrations by Louise Hargreaves based on simple geometric shapes. Now, look, we recently met with Thomas Estrada, an illustrator and animator who helped to create many of the legendary characters from The Emperor's New Groove, Treasure Planet, and Prince of Egypt. What he showed us was the power of building upon simplicity—working from a simple geometric shape like a circle, oval, or rectangle, and adding complexity to it. You can see that the illustrator here is definitely competent and capable.
And let's also say that the artwork is very cute, lively, and happy. The characters—both human and animal—are almost always smiling. Even the lobster and crab are adorable. Imagine that!
You also get a lot of ethnic and cultural diversity in this book with human characters from all around the world being represented. The core characters appear to be a Black girl and an Asian boy who are frequently joined by their loyal pup. Kids will point, smile, and laugh at how involved the dog is, doing things that you'd expect a human to do. The two racially-diverse kids appear to be best friends, holding hands and playing together. If MLKJ could see this book and hold it in his hands, it would put a smile on his face and a tear in his eye. It shows that humanity isn't segregated by race, but that there is one race, the human race, made in the image of God.
Another thing we loved was the use of repetition and anaphora—the repetition of an opening phrase—and epimone—the repetition of a question in a text. When it comes to children especially, patterns are where it's at. Children love patterns. They catch onto these patterns—latch onto them—and follow them like a sailboat with the wind. It also gives the story a particular beat that, like a song, is pleasant and inviting.
The art and the writing work in synchronicity with each other to put across what is ultimately a very powerful message: that the child is a child of God who—above all the other creations—was made by God in his image. The book teaches children the basic fundamentals of Christian creationism and theocracy, that everything they see was made that way because of God and that they have a special place in the universe.
Now, with all that said, let's talk about the extra-something-special that came with this book: the audio portion. Now, obviously we have to judge that separately in fairness to other text-only books, but we did want to talk about it and consider it for the sake of our audiobooks category.
The audiobook is phenomenal! We're not just saying that because it's narrated and voiced by the one-and-only John Eric Bentley, the voice of Barret Wallace from Final Fantasy VII Remake and Lebron James from MultiVersus (yes, really). John Eric Bentley really demonstrates his incredible professionalism and range in the reading of this. His pitch is a bit higher than the roles he's known for, and his tone is much more light, uplifting, cheerful, joyful, and happy. There's an “airiness” to his delivery that almost makes you feel like you're light on your feet/seat/bed.
You can just tell he was smiling when he recorded this. That's really something when you can pick up something like that from just hearing someone. It's calm and relaxing. And the beautiful music, apparently made by one of Michelle & John Bentley's sons, beautifully accompanies the words and the narration. If we were to describe the music, it almost sounds like a playful choir of angels.
The only thing we can say that might be constructive is that, around the 3/4ths point in the audio, the narration and the music are both playing at their maximum volumes, seeming to compete with each other in the listener's ears. It almost feels that near that 3/4ths point, John Eric Bentley is trying his best to speak over the music. It becomes noticeably harder to hear him. This might be partly because the music “picks up” at that point but the volume was adjusted and set for the way it sounded in the beginning. But with that aside, this is pretty much the perfect little audiobook for children to listen to at the beginning of nap time.
This is one of those short, little books that believing parents can read to their children every day without fail. It's truly a great children's book!
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