For our “Staff Picks” series, we invite members of the Eerdmans staff (affectionately known around here as “Eerdfolks”) to choose their favorite EBYR titles — old and new — and tell you about them in their own words.
Our post this morning comes from publicist Ingrid Wolf.
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In today’s world, pessimism lurks around every corner and strikes from every side. From TV commercials to online news feeds, high standards and impossible expectations have become the norm. Students shy away from more competitive universities, fearing rejection or failure. Others give up on their dream careers, convinced that the risk will outweigh the reward. Many more succumb to peer pressure, feeling they must suppress their true selves to gain acceptance.
Steeling ourselves against all this negativity requires great confidence and considerable courage, but we can train ourselves to brush aside the naysayers and lead fuller, happier lives. Of course, the earlier in life we develop this “yes!” mentality, the better. Countless self-esteem building resources exist for this reason, and this year Eerdmans makes a special contribution to the genre with The Yes, a picture book written by Sarah Bee and illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura.
The Yes tells the story of a “great big orange thing called the Yes” who journeys through a vast land called the “Where.” All the while he is pursued by the Nos, a swarm of small but very pessimistic creatures who try their hardest to discourage him. “They were so many and so very that you could see nothing but Nos,” Bee writes. “They made all the Here and the Else a no-ness and a not-ness.”
During his journey the Yes encounters various obstacles, including a tall tree, a narrow bridge, a wide river, and a dark forest. Each time he attempts to overcome these obstacles the Nos swarm about him in a cloud of negativity.
“You will break it,” they tell the Yes as he approaches the bridge. “You won’t make it.”
“It’s much too deep!” they warn as he steps into the river. “It’s far too steep!”
Yet each time the Yes finds the courage to proceed despite the Nos and their “no-ness,” and each time he triumphs over unfavorable odds. When at last he finishes his journey, the Nos are reduced to “a no made of dust and nothing that wasn’t ever really there at all.”
This story speaks to all of us, since the Yes’s journey serves as a metaphor to our own walks through life. The book opens with the Yes “in a soft comfy nest in a safe warm place,” something we can equate to early childhood. But, like the Yes, we must all leave that safe place and venture out into the world to face our own hoards of Nos. Similar metaphors exist in many other picture books, but what makes The Yes so unique — and so very charming — is Bee’s inventive use of language and Kitamura’s stylish illustrations.
In choosing to blend playful words with more imaginative, nonexistent vocabulary, Bee achieves a whimsical reading experience reminiscent to that of the beloved Dr. Seuss. Even the printed text plays along, growing larger and smaller at appropriate points in the story. Children and adults alike can appreciate the playful use of onomatopoeia and rhyme:
The Yes rumbled on and on. He went scrumbling by the marshes and flundering through the fields. He went over the rocks and bumps and dips, into and out of the wide empty spaces, over and under the bad barren places.
Kitamura’s use of flat, vibrant color creates a unique yet comforting style that perfectly complements Bee’s writing. The Where is a vast land featuring rolling green hills, bright golden fields, and a dark, ominous forest. The Yes himself — depicted with a bulky body, a large round head, stubby legs with rounded feet, and a small pointed tail — is very much the “lumpen” protagonist Bee describes. The Nos appear as an obnoxious cloud of countless black specs, hounding the Yes and swirling about him at every turn.
Originally published in the United Kingdom by Andersen Press, The Yes has earned well deserved attention since it debuted in March 2014, including a nomination for the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal and the 2015 UKLA Book Award. The Guardian has praised it as “a brilliant, simple book of affirmation.”
Rich with encouragement and packed with no small amount of charm, I find no reason to say “no” to The Yes. It is my hope that this book will inspire readers of all ages to face the world with their own “goodness and bigness and yesness.”