All You Need Is…

All We Need – written by Kathy Wolff, illustrated by Margaux Meganck
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021

Children have basic needs, and they need adults to fulfill them.  If they are fortunate enough to enjoy all the material and emotional comforts, they should also learn to share.  This basic message takes shape in Kathy Wolff and Margaux Meganck’s new picture book, which validates what children already know about their lives.  With a rhyming text and lovely watercolor, gouache and pencil illustrations, author and illustrator build a series of scenarios about kindness and generosity.

Children generally love rhyming books. As you read them this one, they will begin to anticipate what comes next.  Each two-page spread depicts something in the environment which enables life and happiness.  On the following pages the anticipated conclusion appears.  The rhythm is not monotonous; Wolff often uses slant rhyme: “hotter/water,” “return/learn.” The book begins with the most fundamental needs, such as air and water, and progresses to concepts, making even abstractions like “sharing” as concrete as can be. 

The people bringing the concepts to life are multicultural and multigenerational, and they make use of life’s essentials in specific contexts.  Water is not only “what falls from above,” but the excitement of a sprinkler in the neighborhood park. .  Two dads prepare a meal with their children’s participation , opening to a beautiful still life of different dishes, carefully arranged with enough blank space in the center to appreciate each one’s unique qualities. .  There is a sliced-open avocado complete with pit, but pots of soup and stew only partially revealed.  The book’s design all reflects this same quiet appreciation, inviting the reader to spend a few minutes on each page. Food is, most fundamentally, “a belly that’s filled,” but it’s also the sustenance that allows creativity, “the strength to grow and rebuild.”

There is no explicit reminder that some people, tragically, are denied the right to food, water, or shelter. This is a book for young children. Instead, All We Need emphasizes that anyone lucky enough to feel secure will naturally both need and want to share with others.  No one here seems to have excessive material goods, but everyone realizes that “when we’re well and at ease,” they are even more privileged to be part of a community where everyone both gives and takes.  The communal feast at the end of the book is deliberately open to interpretation. It might be a local gathering, a meal for people in need, a fundraising event, or a holiday celebration.  All we need to know about the meal is that it offers nourishment and comfort.

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