Title: When No One Is Watching
Author: Eileen Spinelli
Illustrator: David A. Johnson
Publisher: Eerdmans Books for young Readers
Audience: Age 3-7
Summary: The unnamed narrator of this picture book is exuberant and brave and full of passionate song and dance when no one is watching. On alternating pages, though, she is timid and reserved and full of self-doubt when everyone’s watching. Having a best friend who is shy, too, allows her to embrace her true personality.
Literary elements at work in the story: This rhyming character study is told in the first person, and the rhythm of Spinelli’s text accentuates the actions of a busy little girl. Johnson’s illustrations fill in the details of the narrator’s character. Each two-page pen and watercolor drawing emphasizes her energetic confidence when she is alone with a sort of time-lapse series of faded sketches, culminating in one vivid portrait. Young readers could easily fill in the details of the story by looking at these illustrations.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? The protagonist of this book is a young white girl, but there are few clues about which other characters are her family members and which may be friends. In any event, the artist portrays men and women, boys and girls who are a multi-cultural and multi-aged lot.
Theological Conversation Partners: When No One Is Watching focuses on the universal questions of identity: “Who am I?” and “Am I ok?” It might be a good companion in discussions about what it means to be a creation of God – that we are strong and creative and bold and good in our essence, because we were created by God. This story might also help elementary-aged children as they struggle with worries about what other people think of them. As such it may tie in with both Jesus’ and Paul’s reminders that we live in this world but are not of it (John 17:14-16 and Romans 12:2). Finally, the comfort of a kindred spirit that our narrator finds at the conclusion of the book might be brought into a discussion of what it means to be a faith community.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Are you ever shy when you are around other people?
- How do you think God wants us to feel about ourselves?
- Name some of your good friends. They can be children or grown-ups.
- How do you feel when you are around your good friends?
- Some people call their church friends ‘family.’ Why do you think they do this?
This review was written by Union Presbyterian Seminary graduate and regular contributor Beth Lyon-Suhring.