Title: Ambition’s Not an Awful Word
Author: Zack Zage
Illustrator: Adam Watkins
Year published: 2012
Publisher: Ivy Court Press
Number of pages: 32
Recommended age: 6+
Son Rating: ★★★½☆
Mom Rating: ★★★½☆
Reviewed by: Renee and Dominic (Mother and Son)
Summary (Amazon): When Mrs. Grundy asks the students in her fourth grade class what they want to be when they grow up, Zack Zage goes all out. To his dismay, his precocious dreams are met with less than glowing enthusiasm. Children will love this story about an ambitious little kid with big dreams. AMBITION’S NOT AN AWFUL WORD will have you and your kids howling. The illustrations by Adam Watkins are fabulous. And, the glossary is unforgettably funny. It is a gift to all the parents who have struggled to stay awake while reading a bedtime story to the kids. Ambition is one of the most important traits you can encourage in a child. It is the beginning of everything they will accomplish in life. This very humorous story will make it clear how important it is to encourage children to explore their futures. What do Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Oprah Winfrey have in common? They were all normal kids with big ambitions. While their level of success is not guaranteed in life, it is virtually impossible without loads of encouragement. AMBITION’S NOT AN AWFUL WORD should be required reading, not just for every child, but for every parent, boss, teacher, and mentor of any stripe. If the parents of Bill or Steve had insisted on an accounting degree or dental school, I would be writing this synopsis on a typewriter. ZACKZAGEOUS – An overwhelming desire to learn, to excel, and to achieve. It takes root during childhood. It is nourished by a parent, teacher, or mentor as well as exposure to the book, AMBITION’S NOT AN AWFUL WORD. Dream it! Believe it! Work hard for it! Achieve it!
What I liked and disliked: I like that the story has lots of different ideas of what someone can be when they grow up. If I was the little boy, I would want to be an astronaut but I wouldn’t want to get stuck in the cheese on the moon. If I wasn’t an astronaut, then I would be a cowboy because riding a bull looks like fun. If I fell off the bull, then I would be an artist or a lawyer, but not the one where he falls off the box and into the fire. For sure, I wouldn’t want to be a banker who goes to jail, or a doctor or the singer or the chef, but I’m not sure about the architect.
I liked the pictures, they were good. My favorite one is the one where the cowboy is riding the bull.
I didn’t understand who was talking when they were saying bad things about what he wanted to be when he grew up. It made me feel sad when people said the bad things.
My bottom line: I thought this book was ok. I didn’t understand a lot of it. I think kids over five years old might like it.
What I liked and disliked: Ambition’s Not an Awful Word is written from the perspective of the author when he was a young boy contemplating all of the things he can be when he grows up. In the book, the boy describes how he could be an astronaut, a chef, a cowboy, a writer, an artist, or a lawyer among other professions; but what is unique is that the boy contemplates both all of the reasons why he CAN be those things and then also shares the negative self-talk around why he CAN’T be those things. Gulp… This might get a bit awkward…
I really like the concept of what the author is trying to do. In short, the message is that you can choose to be whatever you want to be and do whatever you want to do despite the discouraging things that people will tell you and despite that little voice inside your head that will place doubt in yourself and your abilities. I love the range of options that the author provides – some of which are traditional like a doctor, lawyer, or banker, some of which are more high risk like an artist, singer, or writer, and some which involve really shooting for the moon, like an astronaut. In addition, the illustrations are excellent. The book is over-sized and the illustrations are all very large and detailed.
On some level, the book would be enjoyable for the recommended audience of kids aged 6 and up. I just happen to have a 6 year old son and a 9 year old daughter so they both fit the intended demographic. First, it is not clear to me (nor was it for the kids) who is saying all the negative things. Is it negative self-talk or is it people external to him? Or is a combination of both? One could argue that it doesn’t really matter. As I explained to my son, “One side of the page is about what the boy is dreaming of becoming when he grows up; and the other side of the page is all about the voices giving reasons why you can’t be those things. Which voice do you think the boy should listen to?” Although interestingly, I found myself thinking that you really do need to balance out decisions by thinking through what is a good fit for yourself. For example, not everyone is a natural artist!
This book has very complex language and terminology. For example, when dreaming of becoming a world famous singer, the boy says the following:
I would sing like Luciano at the Cinderella Ball.
I would sing a cappella at Carnegie Hall.
In this case, I had to stop and explain who Luciano is, what a cappella means, and the significance of Carnegie Hall. While there is an extensive glossay in the back (100+ words/phrases!), it is extremely disruptive (especially with rhyming text) when you have to explain what words mean every one or two sentences. In addition to providing definitions of words, I then had to explain concepts as well. Honestly, I think my son didn’t understand most of the text and was happy to look at the pictures. My daughter, as a 9 year-old, reads chapter books and found this book too “childish” for her. So, the remaining question is, “Who is the target audience?”
I do also want to comment on the glossary. While intended to be humorous for grown-ups, the glossary is, in some cases, as complex as the word or term being defined. For example the definition provided for “hold a tune” is the following: “An idiomatic expression meaning to have the ability to sing a song in tune.” My son’s response: “Mom, what does idjomagnet mean?” Seriously, I don’t want to spend my time re-defining definitions.
In some cases, the definitions are not quite accurate:
a cappella: The literal meaning of this Latin term is, “in the style of the chapel.” Here, it means singing by myself.
Actually, that definition could be misinterpreted to mean “singing with no other people/solo” rather than the true meaning: “without instruments”. Ok, I’m getting picky.
My bottom line: I think it’s important to note that this is not a picture storybook. This book is a springboard for discussion between grown-ups and their kids around ambition and confidence-building. I think the concepts in the book are a bit too advanced for a 6 year-old but that doesn’t mean that young children wouldn’t enjoy the rhyming text and illustrations. I would recommend this book to parents and their children ages 6+ as a tool for building self-esteem.
Ambition’s Not an Awful Word was provided to us by the publisher free-of-charge in exchange for our honest review.
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