I rarely do a book review of a single book. Usually, I group children's books into categories, like "Best Books to Build Self-Esteem and Confidence." However, Craig Pomranz's brilliant book, Made by Raffi (afflink), gets its very own review---and for good reason. Several good reasons, actually.
To be clear, I plan to add it to my "Best Books..." list above (and hey, just like magic, it's already there)! It is, indeed, a marvelous way to help kids build self-esteem and confidence. In short, this book is about a child learning to feel comfortable in his own skin.
Here are the types of kids I think would benefit from reading this book:
The main character, Raffi, is so extremely relatable, feeling different from other kids and wondering if all kids feel that way. He wonders if he's "normal," just like many children have. And by "many" children, I mean every human who's ever been a child. (Yep, that's all of us.)
Judging by how traditionally mainstream many of the other characters in the book appear, I suspect if they were real, they'd head home to so-called normal life (whatever that is), watch normal TV shows, and engage in normal pastimes. Raffi's life is his own version of normal, with loving and supportive parents---but he's not into stereotypical activities.
If you believe girls can like toy cars and boys can like dolls (and I hope you do believe those things), then this book is right up your alley.
As I explained to a friend today, this book challenges toxic masculinity in every way, but without shaming anyone. It's simply about fostering acceptance of others. That's one of the beautiful things about it.
It's for the boys who aren't football players; and for those who are. It's for the girls who aren't ballerinas or pretend-princesses; and for those who are. It's wonderful for highly sensitive children (HSCs) and those who know them. Made by Raffi helps kids, no matter who they are, feel good enough for the world around them. And of equal importance, it helps them relate to those who are wired differently than they are.
Children absolutely need to know that not all lives look like theirs; not all kids feel the same way they do about things. Everyone experiences life in his or her own way. This book will drive understanding and compassion.
If you get one thing from this book review, it's knowledge that Made by Raffi is important children't literature for those reasons.
This book is about helping kids accept themselves fully; to be who they were born to be without fear of judgment, or worse.
Visually, I love that Raffi is surrounded by rainbows throughout the book. Although the book isn't about rainbows, the consistent visual theme underscores how we're all different, yet connected. I'd struggle to find a child who doesn't say his or her favorite color isn't "rainbow" at some point during childhood, so the imagery is perfect. What an appropriate metaphor for the story.
With Made by Raffi, what might've been considered uncool is now...okay. More than okay, in fact; our protagonist is every bit as worthy of acceptance and kindness as all the other children. Others can fully "see" him without judging his differences as anything inferior to their own.
It takes something really special for me to read it to my own child, much less to recommend it to others' families.
Made by Raffi is so much more than just a picture book (although the artwork is fantastic and tells a story of its own). It's a book every parent should read to his or her child, and then read to his or her own inner child, too. It's exactly the right combination of feel-good message along with important life lesson.
I'd suggest this book for young readers through the middle grades of elementary school and beyond. I add "beyond" because I'm well past elementary school (and---ahem---equally far past young adult), but it was exactly what I needed to read to feel good about the future of children's literature.
I'd dare say it made me feel better about the amount of kindness the world is capable of showing. Thank you, Craig Pomranz, for writing this important book.
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