When Words Have Power

When Words Have Power
Co-Authors / Illustrators
  • Kaitlin Yang
Publisher Name
West Margin Press
Age Range
Release Date
October 25, 2022
With gentleness and empathy, this beautiful story follows a young boy as he learns how a word that may seem funny to one person can be hurtful to another.
"When Words Have Power. . . follows a boy as he learns how a word that may seem funny to one person can be hurtful to another."
Publishers Weekly, Fall Children's Announcements

Henry overhears someone calling his Chinese American mother a strange name at the market: "banana." But Henry doesn't understand. A banana is just a piece of fruit. What's the big deal? And what does the name mean?

With beautiful illustrations, When Words Have Power gently reveals the powerful effect microaggressions and name calling can have, and instead shows how a little kindness and respect can lead to bright, new friendships and stronger relationships with loved ones.

Editor review

1 review
picture book about empathy
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
WHEN WORDS HAVE POWER is a story to help children understand the ways that the things they say can make others feel. Henry and his mother are going to the park and then the Chinese market. When they get to the playground, Henry sees his friend Jason, who they like to call tomato head because he has red hair. Henry's mom tries to speak with him about how that might make Jason feel, but Henry shrugs it off.

At the market, the men working at the meat counter are laughing and saying something. When Henry asks his mother, she says that they were calling her a banana, and it makes her feel sad. Henry begins to think about it more and the way that he had treated Jason. The next day, when he pulls out a banana at lunch, he hears laughter and thinks it is directed at him. Although it is not, it makes him think more about the words he uses, and he calls Jason by his name.

What I loved: This is a story to help introduce why some words may hurt others. The story internalizes Henry's learning through his mother's story and imagining how it feels when it was directed at him, with the main point of change being the way he addresses his friend, Jason, who it seems is teased for having red hair. The story is written for older picture book readers and seems appropriate for the older audience, as it does not fully explain everything, which would be needed for younger children.

This would be a great book to use as part of a larger discussion about the ways the things we say can make others feel - even if we did not mean to make them feel sad or like they don't belong. For young readers, this is a key lesson in empathy, and the book could start conversations around this critical topic.

What left me wanting more: As a small thing, it would be helpful to have some of the gaps filled in a bit more in the story, though this can be done through discussion. The illustrations are expressive even where words are not, such as showing how Jason feels when the other children laugh or call him tomato head as well as when Henry feels like others may be laughing at him, to fully make the connections for the reader.

Final verdict: WHEN WORDS HAVE POWER is a helpful tool to encourage young readers to have empathy and consider the words they use and the impacts they may have on others. This would work best in the context of conversations with teachers or caregivers.
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