Five-year-old Penny Brown is slightly different from the other boys and girls in her kindergarten class. She must sit in a wheelchair and cannot jump rope or slide down the big slide like all of her classmates, which make her very sad. However, Penny finds support from her friends and family. Her friend Amy helps Penny focus on the activities that she can do in her wheelchair, like kick a ball with her left foot, play with dolls, and draw beautiful pictures. When Josh, a new student, comes to school will Penny find comfort in something they have in common?
This is not so much a story as it is a dialogue to the reader. It starts out with this sentence: Hi boys and girls. My name is Penny Brown. Penny is a five-year-old girl confined to a wheelchair though she never tells the reader why. The reader is told Penny has no feeling in her right leg or the ability to grip items. Penny attends a regular elementary school where being in a wheelchair is unusual. For several pages, Penny tells the reader what she cannot do that the other kids do without a thought, ending with a soon to be familiar tagline, “but I am okay!” At home, she gets help from her parents who “help me feel good about who I am” and they explain why some of the kids at school “stare . . . laugh, whisper, and point at me.” When Josh enters the same school, Penny has someone who can relate to what she goes through each day. This gives her one more friend at school.
This is more of a short memoir told through the eyes of a fictionalized character. The author lives her life with a disabling condition, though not in a wheelchair. Still, just like Penny, she most likely went through these same incidents, inabilities and feelings. The author uses the pages of her book as a way to tell other kids what it is like to be different. Most kids do not think about walking, jumping, climbing, or throwing, they simply do it. Penny, like most other disabled kids, thinks about those simple things every day. They either cannot do these things, or wish they could, just as Penny cannot, or they can do these things with great focus and concentration on each segment of the activity. Walking talks lifting one foot, while bending the knee slightly and then extending the knee to place the foot on the ground a step ahead of where you stand, all the while repeating the action with the other foot before the first foot is completely finished. Wow! That is an awful lot to remember.
In the beginning, when Penny says, “I will be okay!” it seems she is trying to convince herself. Later the reader learns how Penny’s parents have instilled in her that being different is okay and she uses this phrase to remind herself when faced with a challenge. Only on the final page does Penny say, “I will be okay!” This says to me that she is not okay now, but after something happens, she will be. That message clashes with the books main theme of “But I am okay.” The same holds for the title of the book. It too would continue the theme of being okay if the title read,”I Sit in a Wheelchair . . . But I Am Okay!” This would be a consistent theme from cover to cover.
Ms. Crawford plans to make this book number one in a series called I Will Be Okay. If she takes her illustrator with her on this journey, they will make a mighty statement in the disabled world. Like the author, Ms. Oakley is also disabled. I too, am disabled and would love to read a series dealing with various disabilities called I Am Okay. “Will” implies something has yet to happen before I am okay, while “Am” states what I believe is the author’s intent. Yes, I am disabled, but I am okay . . . just the way I am.
Author: Brittany Crawford Illustrator: Michelle Oakley Publisher: Strategic Book Group Number of Pages: 26 ISBN: 978-1-6091-1200-4