August 06, 2019

Lili Macaroni

Written by Nicole Testa
Illustrated by Annie Boulanger
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
August 2019

It's too bad that school, a place of opportunity and learning, can be such a stressful experience for some young children. In fact, it can cause so much anxiety that they need to develop coping strategies to get through. That's a problem with the system, not the child, though it is difficult to see the troubles as anything but internal and very personal. Fortunately for Lili, she learns something about making things tolerable for herself and helps out others in the process.
From Lili Macaroni by Nicole Testa, illus. by Annie Boulanger
Lili can see her family in her hair, in her freckles, her eyes and her laughter. Her joie de vivre fills her days with love and imaginative play. When Lili is old enough to go to school, she looks forward to learning and meeting new friends. She does learn much, including about butterflies and moths. But when her new friends make fun of her last name, calling her Lili Macaroni-and-cheese, and her hair, eyes, freckles and laugh, Lili's joy begins to leak from her.
Why didn't Mom, Dad, Grandma, or Grandpa tell me that it wasn't good to be Lili Macaroni?
From Lili Macaroni by Nicole Testa, illus. by Annie Boulanger
Though she'd always said "I am the way I am," Lili is now envisioning herself as a dark-haired girl with no freckles. But Sophia is not her.
From Lili Macaroni by Nicole Testa, illus. by Annie Boulanger
Her dad suggests she draw one of her lovely polka-dotted butterflies to "help fly the heartache away." Clipping it to her shoulder, Lili feels the weight of the teasing leave her. It's a strategy she shares with her teacher who in turn shares Lili's butterfly solution with all her students.
From Lili Macaroni by Nicole Testa, illus. by Annie Boulanger
Teasing can be playful but it can also be bullying and very young children don't always know when one has become the other. In the mean while, there are little ones like Lili who must endure humiliating comments about their physical appearance and then wish they were anyone other than themselves. Fortunately, author Nicole Testa surrounds Lili with some very astute adults who recognize the little girl's need to feel good about being herself. Without hoovering up her bad feelings or demanding the school take action, they allow Lili to make her coping strategy work for her.  It's positive and it's empowering.

Quebec illustrator Annie Boulanger, who illustrated Nicole Testa's French-language Lili Macaroni: Je suis comme je suis! (Dominique et compagnie, 2017), gives Lili all the attributes the text imbues her with. She's a little wild, a lot of fun, and a whole lot of smart. She's colourful and inquisitive and enthusiastic. But when she' sad, the light is gone from her eyes and her clothing and the page.
From Lili Macaroni by Nicole Testa, illus. by Annie Boulanger
For young children going off to school for the first time, Lili Macaroni will help prepare them to recognize teasing that is insensitive and harmful and help them handle it for themselves as well as for others.

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