Black Kids’ Books Reviewed: Riley Can Be Anything
Words: Anthonia Akitunde
Davina Hamilton's debut rhyming book is a treat—and teaches a valuable lesson.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is one of the first important questions children are asked, and one that can have a long-lasting effect on a young life. Sometimes it feels like that answer locks you into a Choose Your Own Adventure path you can’t walk back from. What happens if you don’t have an answer to that very big question?
In Riley Can Be Anything, a sweet rhyming book written by London-based journalist and mother of two Davina Hamilton, the answer is one kids of all ages should hear: You can be anything you want to be. You—and your options—are limitless.
The book revolves around a spirited conversation between young Riley (who I’m guessing is around 5 years old) and his cousin Joe (coming it at an older and wiser 8). When Joe asks Riley what he wants to be when he grows up, Riley isn’t sure yet, and asks for his cousin’s help in figuring out what he can be.
Over the next few pages, the two boys discuss Riley’s options, with Joe offering up suggestion after suggestion much to Riley’s delight. What I love most about this book is that those jobs—chef, jazz musician, doctor, and pilot—are all held by past and present Black men in their family. Riley and Joe have no shortage of Black excellence in their relatives:
After each of Joe’s suggestion, little Riley wonders aloud if he could really be that when he grows up. Riley’s doubts lead to Joe’s affirming refrain, “Riley, you can be anything!”
Towards the end of the book, the cousins land on an answer that Riley is excited about. The next day in school when Riley’s teacher (another Black man who could be a role model for our young main character) asks the class what they want to be when they grow up, Riley gives an answer that will put a smile on you and your young reader’s face.
Along with its positive message, Riley Can Be Anything is full of darling illustrations by Elena Reinoso. Though one dimensional, the characters seem to come off the page through Reinoso’s use of watercolor and simple, blocky shapes. Each character’s face is expressive and will hold your young reader's attention. (And the freckles on Riley and Joe's noses are so adorable!)
Riley Can Be Anything is a great addition in the rising movement to add diversity to children's books. "Having written many articles about the importance of diversity and representation," Hamilton writes in an article about the book, "I knew this was an opportunity to address these issues through my own book."
Riley Can Be Anything is available via www.davinahamilton.com
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