This is a tremendously moving story, but some people will be moved only on the second reading, after they’ve Googled “How to...

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I NEED A HUG

A hug shouldn’t require an instruction manual—but some do.

A porcupine can frighten even the largest animal. In this picture book, a bear and a deer, along with a small rabbit, each run away when they hear eight simple words and their name: “I need a hug. Will you cuddle me,…?” As they flee, each utters a definitive refusal that rhymes with their name. The repetitive structure gives Blabey plenty of opportunities for humor, because every animal responds to the question with an outlandish, pop-eyed expression of panic. But the understated moments are even funnier. Each animal takes a moment to think over the request, and the drawings are nuanced enough that readers can see the creatures react with slowly building anxiety or, sometimes, a glassy stare. These silent reaction shots not only show exquisite comic timing, but they make the rhymes in the text feel pleasingly subtle by delaying the final line in each stanza. The story is a sort of fable about tolerance. It turns out that a porcupine can give a perfectly adequate hug when its quills are flat and relaxed, but no one stays around long enough to find out except for an animal that has its own experiences with intolerance: a snake. It’s an apt, touching moral, but the climax may confuse some readers as they try to figure out the precise mechanics of the embrace.

This is a tremendously moving story, but some people will be moved only on the second reading, after they’ve Googled “How to pet a porcupine.” (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-29710-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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Banal affirmation buoyed by charming illustrations.

I BELIEVE I CAN

Diversity is the face of this picture book designed to inspire confidence in children.

Fans of Byers and Bobo’s I Am Enough (2018) will enjoy this book that comes with a universal message of self-acceptance. A line of children practices ballet at the barre; refreshingly, two of the four are visibly (and adorably) pudgy. Another group tends a couple of raised beds; one of them wears hijab. Two more children coax a trepidatious friend down a steep slide. Further images, of children pretending to be pirates, dragons, mimes, playing superhero and soccer, and cooking, are equally endearing, but unfortunately they don’t add enough heft to set the book apart from other empowerment books for children. Though the illustrations shine, the text remains pedagogic and bland. Clichés abound: “When I believe in myself, there’s simply nothing I can’t do”; “Sometimes I am right, and sometimes I am wrong. / But even when I make mistakes, I learn from them to make me strong.” The inclusion of children with varying abilities, religions, genders, body types, and racial presentations creates an inviting tone that makes the book palatable. It’s hard to argue with the titular sentiment, but this is not the only book of its ilk on the shelf.

Banal affirmation buoyed by charming illustrations. (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-266713-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Still, this young boy’s imagination is a powerful force for helping him deal with life, something that should be true for...

OLIVER AND HIS EGG

Oliver, of first-day-of-school alligator fame, is back, imagining adventures and still struggling to find balance between introversion and extroversion.

“When Oliver found his egg…” on the playground, mint-green backgrounds signifying Oliver’s flight into fancy slowly grow larger until they take up entire spreads; Oliver’s creature, white and dinosaurlike with orange polka dots, grows larger with them. Their adventures include sharing treats, sailing the seas and going into outer space. A classmate’s yell brings him back to reality, where readers see him sitting on top of a rock. Even considering Schmid’s scribbly style, readers can almost see the wheels turning in his head as he ponders the girl and whether or not to give up his solitary play. “But when Oliver found his rock… // Oliver imagined many adventures // with all his friends!” This last is on a double gatefold that opens to show the children enjoying the creature’s slippery curves. A final wordless spread depicts all the children sitting on rocks, expressions gleeful, wondering, waiting, hopeful. The illustrations, done in pastel pencil and digital color, again make masterful use of white space and page turns, although this tale is not nearly as funny or tongue-in-cheek as Oliver and His Alligator (2013), nor is its message as clear and immediately accessible to children.

Still, this young boy’s imagination is a powerful force for helping him deal with life, something that should be true for all children but sadly isn’t. (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: July 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4231-7573-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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