Small Girl, Big Dreams

This Is Ruby – written by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Alea Marley
Tundra Books, 2021

The fact that girls can do anything used to be rarely acknowledged in children’s books, but now multitalented girls with big dreams are often at the center of their storiesThis Is Ruby stands out in the super girls genre because it speaks to children rather than to adults who have high aspirations for their daughters.  (link to other books by Sara O’Leary if I have blogs on them, and maybe to I Will Be Fierce.). Ruby is confident, lovable, and still too young to specialize. She might become an astronaut, an engineer, or a doctor, but she has dreams outside of STEM fields, too.  Like all children, she’s on a voyage to an unknown destination.

Ruby’s unaffected greeting from behind a red door introduces her to young readers as a peer.  She’s imaginative and kinetic, and she has a big, friendly dog who helps her by being a patient when she explores medicine as a career. Knowing how things work is key to success in any chosen field; Ruby shows initiative and a valuable sense of perspective in examining the nuts and bolts, as well as gears and faces, of important objects. One key line of Sara O’Leary’s accessible text summarizes Ruby’s approach to life: “Ruby knows that there is always another way to see the world.” Fantasy and imagination are also central to Ruby’s experiments. After all, reading books about dinosaurs is essential to becoming a paleontologist, but make-believe time travel is another avenue of research for a young child. (image).  As O’Leary helpfully points out, “Ruby decides to go back to see what the dinosaurs really looked like.” The use of “decide” captures the. purposeful nature of this little girl’s pursuits.

Visually, Ruby is totally delightful. With her beautiful dark curls almost overwhelming her petite frame, and her practical fashion choice of striped sailor shirt and comfortable pants, she always looks ready for fun.  Cooking up “a potion that tastes like clouds,” is a mix of culinary and supernatural arts. Her star earrings and round-as-planet glasses ensure that she is geared up for any possibility. If parents are looking for a book that emphasizes only academic readiness to ensure a successful future, this is not it. Instead, O’Leary and Alea Marley convey on every page that learning for young children cannot be neatly separated from flights of imaginative fancy.

Marley’s use of color in This is Ruby is attuned to the way in which children view the world.  Whether building herself a town made of brown boxes, green trees, and dinosaurs of different hues, or playing under a rainbow-colored sky at the beach,  Ruby is immersed light and bright shades, sometimes arranged in kaleidoscopic sequences.  The pages of this book are so inviting, and children will respond to Ruby’s acknowledgement that “…she will always find something new to make, and that she can be whatever she wants to be.” 

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