I am a huge fan of Amanda Gorman, the extraordinary young poet who wowed us at Joe Biden’s inauguration. Her book “The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country,” sits on my desk and I read a stanza whenever I need inspiration, whenever I need to buck up and keep on keeping on. Every line of the poem is beautiful, but the last stanza is worth memorizing.

When day comes, we step out of the shade,
Aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it,
For there is always light,
If only we’re brave enough to see it,
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

When Amanda spoke at Biden’s inauguration, we now know well, she was the youngest poet (at age 22) to deliver a reading at a presidential inauguration. A Harvard graduate, Amanda has risen to well-deserved prominence. Her work has been featured on the Today Show and CBS This Morning, and in The New York Times, Vogue, and Essence.

Amanda is also an activist who advocates on the local, national, and international level for racial justice, gender equality, and the environment.

Because I am Amanda Gorman’s huge fan, I was delighted when her new children’s book, Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem, was published, after receiving considerable advance press and buzz. I ran out to purchase a copy as soon as the book came out. 

Although it says on the inside cover that Change Sings is intended for children ages 4 – 8, I knew that this grandma was going to love the book just as much as my granddaughter Fiona, now seven months old, will do so in time.

It’s true: the book is enchanting. Amanda’s text is lyrical and touching. The pictures by Loren Long, The New York Times best-selling illustrator, are bold, textured, and powerful, and make each page come alive with activity and emotion.

The story revolves around a young African American girl and her guitar. Beginning on page 1, we see this young girl playing her guitar and we read the words that frame the whole narrative:

I can hear change humming
In its loudest, proudest song.

I don’t fear change coming,
And so I sing along.

As the story unfolds, the protagonist teams up with a group of kids, one-by-one, to do community service work—picking up trash, distributing food, and building a ramp for wheelchairs. 

Each service project leads to a new young person picking up a musical instrument and joining an increasingly diverse parade of kids with a mission. 

I talk not only of distance,
From where and how we came.

I also walk our difference,
To show we are the same.

I’m a movement that roars and spring.
There’s a wave where my change sings.

More community service activities occur as this diverse group of young people grows. We read, “I am just what the world needs.”

Near the end of the book, there is a two-page spread depicting a huge mural showing the entire parade of young people—all playing their various instruments under the banner “We Are The Change.” The vigor and vitality of the mural almost jump off the page.

At the very end of the book, we are back to just the original African American girl with her guitar, and these closing lines,

We’re what the world is becoming,
And we know it won’t be long.

We all hear change strumming.
Won’t you sing along?

This book is a treasure and I know our family will love reading it to little Fiona and watching her become mesmerized by the words, the beautiful colors, and the riveting illustrations. 

But while I look forward to many hours of sharing Change Sings with Fiona, and I have great admiration for Amanda Gorman, this book is not perfect. 

The basic premise of the book is that Amanda Gorman has written a “children’s anthem.” One-by-one, the children encountered by the protagonist pick up a musical instrument and become part of a moving band that marches down the street to a common beat.

Lovely pictures of children playing guitar, trumpet, drums, euphonium, and trombone grace the pages of this spirited story, but creating an “anthem” on the written page is a tall order. For me—and this may be just me—the idea of an “anthem” does not translate very successfully to book form.

While reading this children’s book, I longed to hear the words of the story made into music. I wanted the children’s anthem to be sung out loud so that I could enjoy the music that seems to want to leap off the page but instead is trapped there, contained in words only.

We can imagine the anthem in our minds, and almost hear the music. But it’s a stretch. I keep wondering why the publisher did not turn the words of Change Sings into a song and tuck a CD inside the front cover of the book, with all the children and the instruments pictured in the book playing their parts as each one joins in.

The addition of a CD to this “children’s anthem” would enhance the whole experience. We could see, read, and listen! Maybe we could hear Amanda Gorman reading (or singing!) the words while the band we see forming on the printed page performs the music.

Although I am a devoted reader, I am a singer/songwriter at heart. And so I heard a soundtrack in my mind as I read Change Sings. For me, this book needs an accompanying CD to be played while the book is being read, and also to be enjoyed independently.

And there’s one additional quibble that I have with the book, arising from my experience as an anti-racism educator for the past many decades. Let me circle back to several lines I quoted earlier.

I talk not only of distance,
From where and how we came.

I also walk our difference,
To show we are the same.

I am always nervous when I hear references to people being called all “the same.” What comes to mind is: The same as what?

This brings to mind an experience I had while working with a school system in eastern Massachusetts as a consultant years ago and observing a kindergarten class over the course of a morning. I was concerned about the children of color in the class and spoke about this with their teacher later that day.

“Oh, don’t worry,” the teacher told me. “I treat all the children the same.”

That was exactly the problem. I had to gently point out to this teacher that she WAS treating all the children the same: The same as the white, privileged, middle-class kids. This ignored the distinctive identities and culture of the children of color.

So when Amanda Gorman writes, 

I also walk our difference,
To show we are the same.

I worry that sameness is not the message that kids of color, poor kids, and kids with disabilities may need or want to hear. 

The message I think children need to hear is that we are not all the same, and that that’s great—each one of us is unique and wonderful, possessing our own gifts and talents, our own stories, our own strengths, and our own struggles. 

I think kids need to know that it is our differences, not our sameness, that endow this wild and wonderful human family with beauty, energy, vitality, creativity, and strength.

Amanda Gorman’s lifting up the sameness in the human family in her book is a common way of reaching for compassion and caring among diverse groups. It is a way of drawing everyone in and embracing us all. But I think highlighting our “sameness” tends to erase our differences, and is both untrue and not needed. We need to celebrate the differences, not gloss over them.

Overall, Change Sings is an uplifting book that children will love. It is a book I will give to our granddaughter and be delighted to read to her. What may happen when I put her on my lap and read this book to her is that I will add my own music to the text and sing to her as the “music” Amanda Gorman creates on the page builds to a crescendo.