M Is for Masks
For young people today, the COVID-19 pandemic is a defining feature of their childhoods. We can hope that someday, picture books like Randi Hacker's clever abecedarium M Is for Masks will mainly be treasured for their nostalgia value, like those Cold War "duck-and-cover" ads. While we're still in the thick of it, this catchy and informative little book can give kids a sense of mastery over keeping themselves safe.
I don't know if Hacker had Edward Gorey's The Gashlycrumb Tinies in mind, but the dactylic meter resembles that gleefully macabre classic. This strong yet playful rhythm is a good choice for children's books, but to do it well, it requires precision and natural-sounding end rhymes. Hacker makes it look easy—and we know it's not, because a lot of entries in this genre are written in clunky verse that should have been plain prose.
"E is for Elbow, it's what you should cough in./ F is for Face, which you shouldn't touch often." There are many satisfying moments like this in M Is for Masks, where a witty rhyme combines with clear and useful advice pitched to a child's level of awareness. Other couplets offer hopeful messages about kindness, solidarity, and reliance on our scientists and essential workers.
It never felt like a distracting or irrelevant statement was thrown in to complete the alphabet poem. My co-judge Ellen LaFleche observed that some of the advice became outdated as we learned more about COVID: "Washing hands is still important, but fomite transmission is not as great a concern as respiratory droplets. But it's always great for kids to wash their hands a lot because it helps prevent colds and flus."
Legibility was good. The print was large, clear, and black-on-white, with uncluttered and brightly colored illustrations. The book's physical construction was a bit flimsy. This mini-sized paperback might not hold up to many readings.
Younger readers might need adult help with vocabulary words like antibodies, isolation, and bacterial. We thought this would be a good book for teachers to share with their kindergarten through second-grade classrooms. It would also work well as a handout in pediatricians' offices.
Buy this book on Home Planet Books