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Tamar Johnson
Where Is the Sun?
When times are down, it can be difficult to see the good around you. One young girl is able to see the sun in the darkest of places, showing those around her that beauty and joy are everywhere, we just need to look carefully. Where is the Sun expertly portrays the need for joy and gratitude, particularly during pandemic times. As young Lea and her mom hustle through the grey and rainy city, the sun seems to be nowhere in sight. Running their errands, Lea searches for the sun and is happy when she can see slivers of it throughout her day: At Mr. Bocelli’s restaurant, once bustling and lively but now quiet and empty. Or outside Ms. Henrietta’s flower shop, now shuttered, where the florist sells flowers only from her outdoor stand. The sun even casts a slim ray on the dreary playground where Lea meets up with her friend, Christian. With each turn, Lea points out the sliver of sun to everyone, bringing a smile and a change of heart to their cheerless hearts. A beautiful story reminding us that there is always hope and thankfulness shining down if you look in the right places.
Pandemic life is hard on everyone, but it is perhaps most confusing for children, who can sense the frustration that surrounds them but lack the ability to contextualize it. In Johnson’s heartwarming picture book for young children, a little girl named Lea heads out one morning to run errands with her mother only to find the city shrouded in gloomy gray drizzle. She asks where the sun has gone, and her mother suggests that it’s hiding–and that Lea could look for it as they go about their day. At each of their stops, Lea makes welcome discoveries: “gleams of light and color” in a favorite neighborhood restaurant, the smiling eyes of a local florist, and a ray of sun in a park, where she manages to have fun despite the weather.

The message, of course, is deeper than Lea being disappointed that it’s raining–it’s about finding optimism in difficult times, which will speak as much to adults as it does to kids. When Lea and her mom stop at the flower shop, Lea notices that “these days Ms. Henrietta didn’t smile very often,” which serves as a heartbreaking reminder that even the youngest kids know when things aren’t right. It also shows Johnson’s deep respect for her audience, as Lea has the power to observe the sadness in someone she cares about and do what she can to “bring back the sunshine,” even if only for a moment.

Johnson’s illustrations follow wide-eyed Lea and her mother as they walk from place to place. Each scene starts in varying shades of gray, but after Lea observes the goodness in others and infuses each situation with her own brand of enthusiasm, the pictures are full of vibrant colors. Johnson doesn’t need to explicitly mention the pandemic–the book ends with Lea and a friend holding a sign thanking health care workers outside a hospital, making this a touching message of hope for a challenging era.

Takeaway: Johnson’s heartwarming picture book follows a little girl as she looks for the sun on a rainy day–and hope in a time of uncertainty.

Great for fans of: Patrick Guest’s Windows, Smriti Prasadam-Halls’s Rain Before Rainbows.

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