Riley Can Be Anything, Davina Hamilton, The Ella Riley Group, 2017.

Do you remember in grade school being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It was a fun question designed to get us to think about vocation. There were lofty dreams of going to space or being a vet or a firefighter.

The question would come again during high school and college as we inched closer to the “real world.” It was a question that could be a stressor in its own right.

To be honest, I never felt like, “I don’t know,” was an acceptable answer.

There was the inescapable feeling of pressure that we had to know – we had to decide.  In my years of youth ministry, I have seen countless teenagers under this same pressure. In some cases, the pressure was very real. At other times, it was perceived.

It was stressful either way.

Riley is an African-American boy who is not quite sure what he wants to be when he grows up. Riley’s Cousin Joe, who is older, helps by making suggestions based on what others in their family have done. They range from being a pilot to a chef.

After fifteen years of experience as a journalist, Riley is Hamilton’s debut children’s book.  Hamilton wanted a children’s book for her own children. As she told The Voice Online:

I believe that black children should be able to see reflections of themselves in the books they read, so they don’t have to question why they hardly ever see black characters in books, or, worse still, they start forming their own negative ideas as to why they are so rarely part of the narrative.

When Riley gets to school and his classmates are sharing what they want to be when they grow up, Riley gives the best answer. “I can be anything!”

You can be anything.

This is an affirming children’s book reminding kids of all ages that they truly can be anything. And Cousin Joe’s role in affirming this in little cousin should not go unnoticed. With each suggestion made by Cousin Joe, he affirms Riley that he can be anything.

Riley Can Be Anything is a great conversation starter between parent and child or in a classroom setting to talk about what a child might want to be when they grow up. But it is also a chance to affirm the child that he or she can be truly be anything. This is especially important for children who may be hindered in thinking they can be anything because of their gender or the color of their skin.

You can buy your own copy by clicking on the image below:

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital review copy.