Picture Book Review: The People You May See by Lisa Marie Koehler

Black and white hyper-realistic pictures of people laid out in a grid. From left to right, top to bottom there is a woman wearing a bindi, a girl with an eye patch, a man with a brightly colored beard, a boy with a red birthmark on his face, a child with a hearing aid, a woman in a hijab, , two men holding a baby together, a woman with a large bow on her head, a baby with a helmet, and a toddler wearing glasses. . The title of the book is in the middle in black text.
Image description: Black and white hyper-realistic pictures of people laid out in a grid. From left to right, top to bottom there is a woman wearing a bindi, a girl with an eye patch, a man with a brightly colored beard, a boy with a red birthmark on his face, a child with a hearing aid, a woman in a hijab, , two men holding a baby together, a woman with a large bow on her head, a baby with a helmet, and a toddler wearing glasses. . The title of the book is in the middle in black text.

The People You May See written and illustrated Lisa Marie Koehler

From Goodreads: Sometimes you will see someone that makes you curious about what they are wearing, saying, or doing. Many of these people experience strange looks, personal questions, and bullying. Volunteer models have agreed to be part of this book in an effort to spread awareness and to educate. Children are curious and have many questions about what they are seeing. You can use this book as a guide to approach the world with kindness, understanding, and an open heart.

Children are deeply curious people so long as you do not kill their desire to constantly ask questions about the world. They are sorting through the things they see to make sense of how the world works and how they fit in it. This is a double edged sword. On the one side, they are incredibly open and affirming of human variety. On the other, if you are not explicit in discussing what they see (and don’t see) they are open to broader societal ideas about white supremacy, ableism, sexism, homophobia, transmisia (hatred for trans people), anti-semitism, fatphobia, etc.

If you are a school or family who doesn’t have a diversity of people around you, first you need to take a hard look at why and do the work to fix that. Then you need to present your children with places to see diversity before you’re out and about. Head some of these questions off at the pass, so to speak.

This was a long intro to a beautiful book that celebrates the diversity people come in. The illustrations are hyper realistic portraits of real people. Mostly in black and white pencil some feature small splashes of color, such as the person with a beard featured on the cover. For the most part it works well, but my one complaint is that race is not directly addressed and the black and white illustrations make it hard to see that the people don’t all have white skin. Instead of discounting the book for that, it merely points to the need to have a variety of books that showcase skin color and other physical differences.

I appreciate the range of people shown and it may be the first (or only) place a child sees themself reflected. For that reason alone it needs to be on book shelves everywhere. It’s also a book you can come to after your child has seen or noticed someone different and a book you can read to prep them for what they might see out in the world. Let your child be curious about these things. It’s completely normal and not malicious. By explicitly talking to them about these things, you can help them make sense of the world in a positive and affirming way. Don’t worry if you don’t know the answers to all their questions. You should stay curious too and be honest when you don’t know the answer. This book is a great starting point.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links). Please, in this uncertain time, if at all possible, purchase from an independent/local bookstore. They need our help right now.

I bought this book several years ago and apparently never reviewed it. Since then the book appears to have been release in a second edition with both English and Spanish. I am linking to both options.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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