Isobel Adds It Up

Illustrated by AG Ford
40 pages  •  Published 2021 (Random House Studio)
Book cover
Recommended Age Range: Preschool through 2nd grade.
Publisher's Summary: Isobel is a problem solver . . . addition, subtraction, multiplication, division! But trying to figure out who is causing all the noise next door is one problem she can’t quite work out. Is it a marching band? A basketball team in the middle of a practice? Could it be a family of elephants? Isobel doesn’t know what to do about all the noise, but the solution just might come from the most unlikely place!
Book cover

Dr. Annie's Takeaways

Recommended for: This book is a fun read for kids who need some encouragement to advocate respectfully for what they want. It’s especially, but not specifically, relevant to children who are bothered by loud noises and/or who love math. Kids who tend to complain without doing anything about the situation or who use aggressive or passive aggressive strategies may benefit from Isobel’s experimentation with these different strategies and her ultimate realization that kindly and directly articulating one’s preferences is often most effective.
Would a child like it? This story is a bit silly, and it’s delightful to think about being friends with an elephant. Many children will enjoy it.
Evidence-Based Practices: Effective Communication
Tone: Silly, sweet
Story Quality: This story is charming and relatable to anyone who has ever lived somewhere with loud neighbors doing who-knows-what (Are they moving furniture?? Dancing?? Are there elephants living there??). It’s a slightly zany story about a math-loving girl who is struggling to do her homework with all of the noise coming from next door (trumpeting, stomping). There’s a surprise twist to the book–the neighbors are actually elephants (for me, this was a slightly jarring moment of breaking the realism of the story, but many kids will think it’s funny). It’s cute to see how Isobel and Bernadette the Elephant become friends and how their differences enhance their friendship.
Illustrations: Expressive illustrations with a lot of detail.
Representation: Isobel is a math-loving Black girl who lives in an apartment or townhouse with her father who is a Black man and a cute Boston Terrier dog. A family of elephants moves in next door (and shares a wall with her). The elephant family includes a mom, dad, brother, and sister elephant named Bernadette who befriends Isobel. Food allergy note: Isobel bakes Bernadette peanut butter cookies because “everyone knows that peanut butter cookies are the best,” which might be sad to read for kids who are allergic to peanuts.
Psychological Practices: This book helps kids learn to manage a situation that is bothering them by respectfully asking for what they would like to be different. In this case, Isobel likes it to be quiet so she can concentrate on her beloved math homework, but her new neighbors are loud! She first tries solving the problem herself by going outside and, when it rains, by hiding in a cupboard with tissues in her ears, but neither of these solutions works. Then she tries out being passive aggressive by turning up her music and stomping as loud as she can, but this doesn’t work either–the neighbors just join in. Finally she has the idea to make the neighbors cookies and leave them a note respectfully asking if they could try to keep the noise down so that she can concentrate on her homework. Neighbor Bernadette responds appreciatively, says that the family will try to be more quiet, and suggests that she and Isobel study together. They become good friends, and sometimes Isobel even joins “the ruckus next door.” The story is clear that the most effective solution was respectfully and clearly asking for what she wanted–it resulted in Isobel having a quieter home and a new friend.
Concerns: None.

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