John’s Turn, by Mac Barnett/Illustrated by Kate Berube, (Feb. 2022, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536203950
Every Friday, a school cafeteria turns into a place where kids put on performances for one another: an artistic show and tell. This week, it’s John’s turn, and he’s a little nervous. When it’s time, he changes into his leotard, pants, and ballet slippers, and begins to dance. It’s tense at first, as John’s fellow students watch him, but as John gives himself over to the music and the dance, his confidence builds; his joy is evident. At the end of his dance, his classmates cheer and applaud, and John beams, having shared a special moment with them. Kate Berube’s ink and paint illustrations gracefully capture the tension and anticipation that goes into a performance; those moments where the performer goes through the day with butterflies in their stomach, the worry, the pre-show jitters. He knows kids, and the thinking that ballet dancing is largely thought of as “a girl thing”, and the nervous snickers when the music begins. Mac Barnett’s narration is simple, elegant, to the point, and pausing to let Kate Berube shine during the performance: she beautifully captures the shifting emotions surging through John as he begins his dance; a nervous, almost nauseated feeling on his face at first, moving into a slight smile as he moves through the routine, and the background color shifts from a dull brown to a positively incandescent rose as he loses himself in the emotion of his dance, ending with soft pastels as, cheeks flushed, he takes a bow. It’s a gorgeous story.
John’s Turn has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, The Horn Book, and BookPage.