A valiant message but not a terribly satisfying one.

PLAYING WICKED

Dante delights in gender-bending dress-up—will his new friend play along?

Dante, a peach-skinned child with short brown hair, is passionate about “playing make-believe.” With his friends, Dante enjoys dressing up in heroic costumes, sometimes being “a wizened wizard” or “regal royalty.” But Dante isn’t always interested in being one of the good guys: “Sometimes, he wanted to be… / wicked.” By himself, Dante revels in deliciously villainous roles, complete with wigs, makeup, and gowns. Though he obviously loves his “devilish dresses,” Dante doesn’t feel they are “ready for the eyes of others” until he creates a dress (and a character) he is particularly proud of: “a water witch in her gossamer gown.” Unable to resist keeping this outfit to himself, Dante decides to share his wicked character with his parents in their backyard. Their doting smiles indicate clear support of Dante’s gender nonconforming play, but Dante fears rejection when a passing child spots his feminine outfit over the garden fence. Luckily, the child, who appears black, proves to be an accepting new friend, who celebrates Dante’s multigendered dress-up without judgment. In this straightforward story, author Kahler models how fun and simple it can be to accept one another. However, the juxtaposition of wicked versus heroic and feminine versus masculine is a bit clunky.

A valiant message but not a terribly satisfying one. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8075-8739-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Whitman

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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As insubstantial as hot air.

THE WORLD NEEDS WHO YOU WERE MADE TO BE

A diverse cast of children first makes a fleet of hot air balloons and then takes to the sky in them.

Lifestyle maven Gaines uses this activity as a platform to celebrate diversity in learning and working styles. Some people like to work together; others prefer a solo process. Some take pains to plan extensively; others know exactly what they want and jump right in. Some apply science; others demonstrate artistic prowess. But “see how beautiful it can be when / our differences share the same sky?” Double-page spreads leading up to this moment of liftoff are laid out such that rhyming abcb quatrains typically contain one or two opposing concepts: “Some of us are teachers / and share what we know. / But all of us are learners. / Together is how we grow!” In the accompanying illustration, a bespectacled, Asian-presenting child at a blackboard lectures the other children on “balloon safety.” Gaines’ text has the ring of sincerity, but the sentiment is hardly an original one, and her verse frequently sacrifices scansion for rhyme. Sometimes it abandons both: “We may not look / or work or think the same, / but we all have an / important part to play.” Swaney’s delicate, pastel-hued illustrations do little to expand on the text, but they are pretty. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11.2-by-18.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 70.7% of actual size.)

As insubstantial as hot air. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4003-1423-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Tommy Nelson

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2021

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The buoyant uplift seems a bit pre-packaged but spot-on nonetheless.

THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PURPLE PEOPLE

A monohued tally of positive character traits.

Purple is a “magic color,” affirm the authors (both actors, though Hart’s name recognition is nowhere near the level of Bell’s), and “purple people” are the sort who ask questions, laugh wholeheartedly, work hard, freely voice feelings and opinions, help those who might “lose” their own voices in the face of unkindness, and, in sum, can “JUST BE (the real) YOU.” Unlike the obsessive protagonist of Victoria Kann’s Pinkalicious franchise, being a purple person has “nothing to do with what you look like”—a point that Wiseman underscores with scenes of exuberantly posed cartoon figures (including versions of the authors) in casual North American attire but sporting a wide range of ages, skin hues, and body types. A crowded playground at the close (no social distancing here) displays all this wholesome behavior in action. Plenty of purple highlights, plus a plethora of broad smiles and wide-open mouths, crank up the visual energy—and if the earnest overall tone doesn’t snag the attention of young audiences, a grossly literal view of the young narrator and a grandparent “snot-out-our-nose laughing” should do the trick. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10.4-by-20.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 22.2% of actual size.)

The buoyant uplift seems a bit pre-packaged but spot-on nonetheless. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12196-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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