Bob Seeney on Books

What Do You Do with a Problem?

July, 2017

As they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” What I say is, “A series of pictures, (i.e., a picture book) can tell a story, teach a lesson, and take you to worlds unknown in ways that a text-only book can’t!” This is exactly what our book for this issue does. Kobi Yamada’s What Do You Do With a Problem? (2016, Compendium, Inc.), illustrated by Mae Besom, is a unique discovery and an important work.

As the book jacket states, this book poses the questions:

What do you do with a problem? Especially one that follows you around and doesn’t seem to be going away? Do you worry about it? Ignore it? Do you run and hide from it? This is a story for anyone, at any age, who has ever had a problem that they wished would go away. It’s a story to inspire you to look closely at that problem and to find out why it’s here. Because you might discover something amazing about your problem …and yourself.

In the story-line, a little guy finds that he has a problem. He didn’t look for it. He didn’t ask for it. He didn’t want it, but it was there. He tried to ignore it. He tried to hide from it. He tried to shoo it away. He even scowled at it. But nothing worked. The more he avoided his problem, the bigger it grew. Finally, he knew he had to face it. Then something happened (spoiler alert here): “When I got face-to-face with it. I discovered something. My problem wasn’t what I thought it was. I discovered it had something beautiful inside. My problem held an opportunity.”

What Do You Do With a Problem? is beautifully designed. The illustrations by Mae Besom are wonderful! Besom was trained at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in China. Using both pencil and watercolor, she creates texture, movement, form, and light that magically flows from the page. The illustrations and text are presented in double, facing pages, which allows for visual interpretation, additional details, and important story factors not found in the text.

The colors are in muted shades of sepia, but as the story unfolds the colors become brighter and the final pages are all executed in yellows and golds — the opportunity has been discovered! Besom is truly a gifted artist. I would love to see her do a textless book.

What we have in this book is a wonderful example of the marriage of text and illustration, an element that I consider most important. In my opinion, this is the most sophisticated of the three basic uses of illustration:

  • To provide decoration
  • To provide visual clues for reading
  • To provide visual clues and details that are not in the printed text but extend the story and add to it.

Another wonderful example of this marriage is my favorite Chris Van Allsberg book: The Stranger (1986, HMH Books for Young Readers).

We are all faced with problems in our journeys — some big and some small — but the question is: What do we do with them? Many of our 2e learners face multiple problems from academic, to social, to emotional. I am convinced that this little book, truly a book for all ages, is not only a guide but can be an inspiration for helping 2e kids — and all of us — in meeting and responding to problems as opportunities. As Yamada states in the book, “Every problem has an opportunity for something good. You just have to look for it.”

Parents and teachers, this book just might very well be a must! Then, if you are hooked like me, you will want to read Yamada and Besom’s What Do You Do With an Idea (2014, Compendium, Inc.) Both are in my library and both remind me that I miss having a classroom where we can discover and enjoy the richness of literature and where it can lead us.

Happy Reading!

Bob Seney


Professor Emeritus Bob Seney is retired from teaching in the Masters of Gifted Studies Program at Mississippi University for Women. He has been 2e Newsletter's children's book columnist since 2007. Reach him at

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