Everyone needs a friend like Slow Lizard.

In It’s Ok, Slow Lizard, we watch Slow Lizard interact with forest friends: busy little Bird, mighty Elephant, speedy Rabbit, and funny Monkey. Slow Lizard tells us at the beginning of the story, translated from Korean:

“Just like my name,
I live a slow, slow life.
And because I live a slow life,
I see many things,
I hear many things,
and I have lots of time to help my friends.”

Author Yeorim Yoon sets up the narrative structure, prose and punctuation in a way that encourages us to read at the pace at which Slow Lizard moves: slowly and thoughtfully, with (line) breaks. The illustrations are carefully shaded with soft edges. Illustrator Jian Kim uses negative space around all the objects, creating a glowy effect and treating each leaf, fruit and animal with care.

The other animals speak in ways that reflect their own ways of moving throughout the world. Little Bird, for example, does everything early, speaks quickly, and anxiously wonders how to accomplish three days of work in one day. Slow Lizard invites Little Bird to sip on some flower tea (a decaf chrysanthemum, perhaps?), and we watch Little Bird’s stress melt away as they sit together, cozily leaning against soft clouds with eyes closed. Mighty Elephant is frustrated when they keep breaking their shoelaces, asking in all caps: “WHY does it keep BREAKING?” Slow Lizard calms Mighty Elephant with some cloud gazing and simple moments of mindfulness.

We watch Slow Lizard walk each animal through their anxieties, frustrations, and losses of the day, such as when Speedy Rabbit is bummed about losing the race. Slow Lizard sits quietly with Rabbit, saying that “It’s OK to make mistakes. It’s OK to not win.” The book seems to come to a close when Slow Lizard says:

“Do you think my friends
are glad that I’m around?
I’m glad I have my friends too.”

Slow Lizard saves the day, right?

But wait! With rain, thunder, and lightning, a storm is brewing. The animals come to each other’s aid, with Little Bird preparing supplies, mighty Elephant giving everyone a ride, speedy Rabbit finding a clever shortcut, and funny Monkey telling us jokes so we aren’t afraid of the dark. Once everyone is safe and sound, Slow Lizard tells us:

“Even if it’s stormy for a while, it’s OK.
The rain will always stop
and the sky will always clear up.”

What I loved about the second half of the book is each character was happy to help out their little community of friends by using their strengths that might have been written off as weaknesses, had we only read the first part of the book. The book doesn’t emphasize that any one trait is superior—being slow or fast, anxious or calm, big or small, good or bad. Allowing us to understand nuance and range, the book challenges binaries. And even though we all need mindful and thoughtful friends, the book also helps young readers identify themselves as that mindful and thoughtful friend.

For elementary and middle schoolers who are beginning to learn about the traits they most admire about themselves while also perhaps being pressured to be more of something they’re not, the book is a sweet reminder that everyone has something to offer, and we can turn to our friends when we need help or want to share the best parts of ourselves.

Importantly, It’s Ok, Slow Lizard reminds us that while we live in a capitalist society that demands hyperproductivity and urges a fast-paced world with winners and losers, we can exist in and move through the world differently. Our world often rewards those who are fast, productive and relentless workers, but the book helps us see that being slow is a strength. It’s in the slow moments that we can pause and care for ourselves and those around us.

As someone who can be a lot like Little Bird—anxious and nervous—or mighty Elephant—impatient and frustrated—I would’ve wanted to read this book in elementary school for reassurance that it’s okay to just be me. I remember learning the lesson of the tortoise and the hare as a kid: slow and steady wins the race. Though that’s not necessarily a bad adage to imprint on the minds of young readers, the binaristic lesson tells us that we can be like the hare, take shortcuts and breaks that lead us to lose, or we can proceed at a slow and steady pace and win. But is winning what we must always strive for? And what does it mean to win, anyway? As It’s Ok, Slow Lizard points out, maybe winning isn’t that big of a deal. And sometimes, it might not even make sense to finish the race. Like Slow Lizard says at the end of the book, it’s okay to just take your time.

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