Big Picture

A young boy begins to cry.Sometimes I Cry

Written by Jess Townes; illus. by Daniel Miyares

At some point, most boys internalize that it’s not okay to cry—whether it’s from an adult, a peer, or the soup of children’s media that still traffics heavily in gender stereotypes. Girl power abounds, but children of all genders are limited by a version of masculinity that prizes power, stoicism, and self-reliance above all else. With simple yet emotive text and vibrant, evocative artwork, Sometimes I Cry offers a potent antidote to such messages, treating the big feelings of childhood (and adulthood) with empathy and respect.

From pain to laughter to fear, the book’s young narrator recounts the many distinct reasons he sometimes cries. First, a fall from his bike and a skinned knee that “stings / And the sting hurts my eyes / And I cry.” But tears convey more than just pain: in the next sequence, father and son wrestle and tickle and laugh until they snort; laughter “spills out of our eyes / And we cry.” Striking out at a baseball game elicits tears of disappointment and shame, and fear of an unexplained nighttime scritch-scratch brings tears, too. Townes gives each emotion equal weight and validation as the boy presents his feelings, with graceful free verse capturing his prevailing sentiments in just a few lines.

Appropriately, a teardrop motif appears throughout Miyares’ expressive artwork, which ranges from impressionistic to abstract, skillfully capturing the boy’s overwhelming feelings with distinct compositions and colors. Under a pale blue sky full of fluffy clouds, a sequence of vignettes depicting the school bully destroying the boy’s origami frogs transitions as the boy’s fists curl with rage: “My whole body is a volcano / That rumbles and roars.” The two-page spread that follows immerses the viewer in the red glow of a literal volcano of tears— “I erupt / With red-hot lava tears / that I cry.” The boy hugs his knees inside one of the falling teardrops, evoking a sense of being swept away by anger too big to contain. This sensation is further explored in a later spread; hiding under his covers in the night, the boy’s fear fills him up so only his wide eyes look out from a stormy purple-blue sea of teardrops, as if the rest of him has disintegrated in the dark.

A wide-ranging palette of vivid hues moves the viewer from one emotion to the next, building to more complex, subtle emotions in the latter pages. “Sometimes / When I bake cookies with Grandpa / In a cinnamon and flour kitchen,” both boy and grandpa reminisce about his grandmother. Grandpa’s “eyes overflow with glittering tears,” and they both cry. In the warm apricot glow of the kitchen, they share their desserts and sit with both grief and love. The yellow radiance that surrounds them intensifies on the next spread when the boy holds his new baby sister, “And she fits just right in my lap / My heart begins to grow / Until there’s no more room in my body/ … / So I cry.”

For young readers just beginning to identify and grapple with complex emotions, this picture book is a cozy reassurance that it’s okay to cry and could also serve as a conversation starter for older kids, especially boys, to consider how they process their feelings. Just like the narrator, they too may come to understand how crying can be an important coping tool: “when I let my tears out / My feelings fit perfectly inside my body / All my feelings together.”

—Sarah Sahn, Reviewer

Cover illustration from Sometimes I Cry. Text copyright © 2023 by Jess Townes. Cover image copyright © 2023 Daniel Miyares. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux /Macmillan.