A boy named Sydney plays outside, his hands and ankles wrapped around a tree branch. When his friend Sami calls for him, he responds, “Here,” then adds, “But I’m not Sydney. I am a sloth.” It is a day of imaginative play for Sydney, and it proves to be contagious.
As she scampers up a tree, Sami declares she’d rather be a spider monkey. Next, Edward appears and decides to transform into an elephant. “I’M THE KING OF THE SAVANNA!” he trumpets. Anamaria wants to join in the fun, becoming an anteater. And when everyone looks up after hearing a squeaked “Be quiet!” they realize Brigitte is a bat with “velvety, dusty wings wrapped around her tiny furry body” and is trying to take a nap while hanging upside down from a tree limb above them.
The soft-toned, full-bleed spreads in I’m Not Sydney! sparkle with color; some pages nearly glow with sunny, translucent yellows. Employing delicate, nimble linework, author-illustrator Marie-Louise Gay depicts each child as the creature they imagine themselves to be. They hang from trees, leap from branch to branch, run in the grass, roar with laughter and splash in the water. (When Edward transforms from an elephant to boy again, readers see him spraying his friends with a hose.)
The book’s dialogue flows seamlessly. Subtle descriptive moments flesh out the story (“Startled hummingbirds flew every which way.”) while the lively text engages readers’ senses (“The yellow grass smelled of burnt toast and red earth.”). Gay infuses I’m Not Sydney! with ebullient, fanciful humor. For instance, when Anamaria decides she’s an anteater, she gets down on all fours and sticks out her tongue. On the next spread, we see her (in anteater form) slurping up ants. “Yuck!” exclaims Sami the spider monkey. When their parents call the children in for supper, they return home “like a herd of small wet animals,” and their creative reveries carry them through to bedtime.
I’m Not Sydney! is a playful tribute to the deeply inventive inner world of children that will encourage young readers to amp up their own imaginations. Animal noises are sure to follow. Rrrrooooaaaarrrr!