{Picture Book Review} MY THREE BEST FRIENDS AND ME, ZULAY by Cari Best with Pictures by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

O P E N I N G   L I N E:

In class 1-3, there are   22 chairs and 22 desks,  22 pencils and  22books, 22 hooks   and 22 smocks.  There are 22 people  and 22 names--and  one of them is mine.  Zulay.
(pg. 6-7, US ARC Edition)

Every once in a while, you find an important picture book that you wish every child would read. MY THREE BEST FRIENDS AND ME, ZULAY is one of those books. It's about never giving up, about making dreams come true, about supporting one another, about overcoming your obstacles.

Zulay is blind, but she doesn't let that stop her from having big dreams. Her momma just bought her brand-new pink shoes that she says are great for running. When her teacher announces that Field Day is coming up and everyone gets to decide what they want to participate in, Zulay decides she wants to run in her new pink shoes; she wants to fly and feel like a bird. She doesn't think about all the obstacles in her path, or how much harder it will be for her to achieve her dream than any other student. She's determined to do this...and maybe she can, with the help of her teachers and classmates!

MY THREE BEST FRIENDS AND ME, ZULAY introduces disabilities to young children in a way that isn't sad or prreachy or frowned down upon. Zulay is who she is, and the only time she gets frustrated is when she's learning to use her stupid cane. She wants to be like her other classmates, not to have something that makes her stand apart from them. She also doesn't like it when she gets singled out in class to have special activities while everyone else gets to go to gym. On the other hand, it's going to be really cool for kids to learn how a cane works alongside Zulay, and will be extremely helpful for blind children to have a friend going through these scary new life events alongside them. I love how Zulay "sees" the world through her other senses--she smells everyone's shampoo, her hall lady's new perfume. She listens to sounds both soft and loud. She feels a model pyramid before she can attempt to draw one herself. The back cover even has the Braille Alphabet, which is super cool and sure to enthrall kids who want to learn more!

Cari Best was inspired to create MY THREE BEST FRIENDS AND ME, ZULAY after a visit to a school in NYC, where she met a blind first-grader who was able to run in a race in a pair of pink shoes. I love that Zulay is based on a real child. I love that there are kids like Zulay out there defeating the odds and obstacles in their paths and achieving amazing dreams. That's another powerful aspect of this book for me, even though most kids--and adults--won't read the note or realize that "Zulay" is real.

I also love how the book highlights everything she's good at, such as math, and how she's as eager to help her classmates learn and get it right as they are to help her. Zulay has a great support system, and I hope it stays in place as she grows up. Her best friends don't treat her differently. They all sing and dance together for fun, and everyone in class always wants a turn with her Brailler machine! Everyone is really supportive when they hear that Zulay wants to participate in Field Day, too. Rather than telling her no or that she can't, they work with her. She needs help and can't do it completely alone, but by having an amazing support system in place, she's able to achieve her dream and have a day she'll never forget. I love that message, and think we need more spunky kids like Zulay in fiction!

MY THREE BEST FRIENDS AND ME, ZULAY is different from other picture books out there and stands out in a good way. If  you're  looking to add more diversity to your classroom or enrich a child's views of the world in powerful new ways, make sure you pick up a copy of this powerful picture book today!

O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Cari Best
Illustrator: Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Release Date: Jan. 13, 2015
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux // Macmillan
Received: For Review

Zulay and her three best friends are all in the same first grade class and study the same things, even though Zulay is blind. 

When their teacher asks her students what activity they want to do on Field Day, Zulay surprises everyone when she says she wants to run a race. 

With the help of a special aide and the support of her friends, Zulay does just that.