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Justin Webb
I'll Go Rhythm
Justin Webb, author

Picture Book; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

Journey down the rabbit hole of the internet through the eyes of Charlie, a creative kid who loves to play drums and hang out with friends. Charlie meets AL, an algorithm who can promise Charlie everything and anything, but at what cost? Follow Charlie on a path of self-discovery and the realization that the online world isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be….
In this offbeat picture book warning against the dangers of artificial intelligence, imaginative Charlie follows his algorithm, AL, on a surreal journey to discover the inner workings of the internet. AL makes big promises in an effort to ensnare Charlie—he vows to make him a star, be his best friend, and teach him all he needs to know—but soon Charlie learns that AL’s gifts come with a hefty cost. To reach the fame and fortune of his dreams, Charlie will need to stop thinking for himself while also disconnecting from others—a price he’s not sure he is willing to pay.

After blindly following AL through his “sifted” and “filtered” reality, in the process learning how to pump out copycat creations that will attract the most followers, Charlie eventually takes a stand against AL and insists on marching to the beat of his own drum. “I’ll-go-rhythm instead,” he declares, opting to “explore real places” and offering readers a last-minute lesson about the origins of happiness: “It comes from helping others and having real relationships.” Adult readers will find the book’s championing of imagination and individuality valuable, though the moral about “real” relationships might land with more power if Charlie developed one within the story itself.

Illustrator Kayla Stark employs subdued hues and delicate lines to illuminate the story, and her geometric drawings fit the quirky theme. Especially effective: a haunting vision of a chain of identical children in violet coats, holding each others’ hands and bright red hearts, saying “We’re all alike. That’s what we do.” Webb’s rhyming is occasionally forced, but young readers will enjoy some of the more clever and tongue-twisting moments. The conceit of collecting those hearts as a measure of “how much you’re liked,” and a hint about online news being filtered to promote conformity, are heavy topics for the age group, but most readers will find the theme—and the warning—relevant and resonant.

Takeaway: A young boy learns that creativity beats out conformity in this cautionary tale against online living.

Great for fans of: Matteo Loglio’s Many Intelligences, Michael Rex’s Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A