Joe Estacio’s When I Was Young is a picture book in which the speaker reflects about his childhood.
The story begins: “When I was young, we’d go outside and play with our friends after school and on weekends. In the summer […] we’d ride bikes, and climb jungle gyms and trees at the park.”
It continues in this vein, repeating “When I was young…” Each iteration of the titular line transports readers to a different facet of the writer’s upbringing, including walking to school in all kinds of weather, hanging out at the mall, going to the laundromat, running to buy treats from the ice cream truck and attending church.
Throughout, Estacio includes no dialogue and little in the way of characterization. Instead, the story is told through exposition paired with vibrant illustrations that show unspecific children involved in these activities. It’s unclear who the narrator is in the pictures until roughly halfway through the story, when he mentions having three sisters.
Unfortunately, there’s very little connecting these scenes together, and even less connecting the narrator’s experience to that of children of today – except for two jarring pages that seem to refer to mass shootings. As the children shop at the supermarket, filling “Mom’s cart to the brim,” the happy scenes suddenly shift to pictures of shoppers desperately running and crouching in bathroom stalls. “We never had a thought to panic, or be frightened…or run, frantic…,” says the narrator, “or be really quiet and hide…in a stall.” This is tonally at odds with the rest of the book—and disconcertingly thrown in without context or discussion that could soothe children’s fears.
These scenes alone make the book a questionable choice. This aside, the work reads like a collection of anecdotes without a strong takeaway or any attempt to bridge the gap between the author’s experiences and that of today’s children. As such, it will be challenging for young readers to find themselves in the work.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.