Score: 94/100 (9.4 out of 10)
Wow! This is a beautifully illustrated book with some great things to say to readers of all ages! These great messages include not judging others before you know them, not belittling people because of something that makes them different (like a name or the language they speak), and being sensitive to people of different racial, national, ethnic, and possibly even religious backgrounds.
The story follows who we presume to be an American child as he encounters a Black, foreign classmate with a name that sounds feminine and strange to an American ear (Michel) despite the child being a boy. Michel also speaks with an accent and uses words or phrases that the main character doesn't understand like “qui” and “merci.” This causes the main character to ponder and eventually ask his ultra-hot-mom why Michel looks, sounds, and acts so different from himself and the other kids at school. This puts a slight strain on his friendship to Michel who is upset by being viewed and treated differently. It turns out that Michel's parents were from France and Italy, and that “Michel” is actually Michael but spelled differently. The main character is forced to confront and put aside his ignorance, and learns that Michel is not so different from him after all!
It's a beautiful and powerful message for children and adults alike to learn—the fact that just because another person looks and speaks differently doesn't mean they can't still like and enjoy the same things or be our friends. We see throughout the story that Michel is a very interesting, fleshed-out, and three-dimensional character. He's not just in this story for the sake of being a victim, he is active, and his personality is as diverse as his heritage and ancestry. Michel loves to do things that other kids like to do: playing baseball, swimming, and going on little adventures to find bugs and wildlife. The main character's ignorance is looked at in a sympathetic or even humorous way, such as when he imagines that the Leaning Tower of Pisa is a literal tower made out of pizza!
This book is beautiful in terms of its illustrations and significant in its message. It can be a lot to take in for kids, and that just comes with the territory. One of us is a former preschool teacher of six years (14 years as an educator), and from their point of view this could be a very difficult story for kids of the target age-group to follow and remain interested in. An attempt at a rhyming scheme is made in some pages, but that rhyming scheme is dropped in other pages and becomes prose, something that can become less interesting to young kids. However, it is possible for a skilled or passionate storyteller to make this story invigorating and exciting during read-alouds. It's also a joy just to flip through and look at.
This is definitely a top-quality children's book on a very important subject!
Check it out!