A perfunctory plotline, buried among visual wonders that more than compensate.

BENNY'S BRIGADE

In this bland but surreal tale two children find a tiny walrus in a nut.

Prying open a coconut-sized walnut, sisters Elsie and Theo free little Benny—who thanks them profusely, accompanies them to school, where he sings a sad song about missing the sea, and then sets out for home aboard a milk-carton boat. Three adventuresome slugs (looking much like Benny, aside from lacking tusks) come along for the ride but, being salt-averse, debark before reaching the sea. The language is downright fustian (the children "were sorry to see Benny and the slugs go, but now it was time for school, and they had adventures of their own to which they must attend") and printed in blocks of small type that look lost on the large pages. Moreover, Bradford's narrative has none of the illustrations' luxuriant strangeness. Frequently zooming in for extreme close-ups, Hanawalt floats the simply drawn children and their blubbery buddy slightly above leafy, grassy meadows that are thickly strewn with both low wildflowers and an astonishing menagerie of onlooking birds, insects, lizards and other wildlife. A huge foldout poster featuring crowds of picnicking walruses, slugs and fantasy animals in a "peaceable kingdom"–style scene serves as dust jacket and also echoes the culminating spread within.

A perfunctory plotline, buried among visual wonders that more than compensate. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-936365-61-6

Page Count: 48

Publisher: McSweeney's McMullens

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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A brisk if bland offering for series fans, but cleverer metafictive romps abound.

HOW TO CATCH A GINGERBREAD MAN

From the How To Catch… series

The titular cookie runs off the page at a bookstore storytime, pursued by young listeners and literary characters.

Following on 13 previous How To Catch… escapades, Wallace supplies sometimes-tortured doggerel and Elkerton, a set of helter-skelter cartoon scenes. Here the insouciant narrator scampers through aisles, avoiding a series of elaborate snares set by the racially diverse young storytime audience with help from some classic figures: “Alice and her mad-hat friends, / as a gift for my unbirthday, / helped guide me through the walls of shelves— / now I’m bound to find my way.” The literary helpers don’t look like their conventional or Disney counterparts in the illustrations, but all are clearly identified by at least a broad hint or visual cue, like the unnamed “wizard” who swoops in on a broom to knock over a tower labeled “Frogwarts.” Along with playing a bit fast and loose with details (“Perhaps the boy with the magic beans / saved me with his cow…”) the author discards his original’s lip-smacking climax to have the errant snack circling back at last to his book for a comfier sort of happily-ever-after.

A brisk if bland offering for series fans, but cleverer metafictive romps abound. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-7282-0935-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Sourcebooks Wonderland

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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A visually striking, compelling recollection.

FROM THE TOPS OF THE TREES

The author recounts a formative childhood experience that continues to inspire her today.

Born to Hmong refugees, Kalia has only ever known the confines of the Ban Vinai refugee camp in Thailand. Even while playing with her cousins, reminders of the hardships of their life are always present. She overhears the aunties sharing their uncertainty and fear of the future. They are a people with no home country and are still trying to find peace. Kalia asks her father why they live behind a gate and wonders what lies beyond the fences that surround the camp. The next day they climb a tall tree, and he shows her the vast expanse around them, from familiar camp landmarks to distant mountains “where the sky meets earth.” This story of resilience and generational hope is told in an expressive, straightforward narrative style. The simplicity of the text adds a level of poignancy that moves readers to reflection. The layered and heavily textured illustrations complement the text while highlighting the humanity of the refugees and providing a quiet dignity to camp life. The militarylike color palette of olive greens, golden yellows, and rich browns reinforces the guarded atmosphere but also represents the transitional period from winter to spring, a time ripe with anticipation and promise.

A visually striking, compelling recollection. (author's note, glossary, map.) (Picture book/memoir. 5-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5415-8130-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Carolrhoda

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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A lesson that never grows old, enacted with verve by two favorite friends

WAITING IS NOT EASY!

From the Elephant & Piggie series

Gerald the elephant learns a truth familiar to every preschooler—heck, every human: “Waiting is not easy!”

When Piggie cartwheels up to Gerald announcing that she has a surprise for him, Gerald is less than pleased to learn that the “surprise is a surprise.” Gerald pumps Piggie for information (it’s big, it’s pretty, and they can share it), but Piggie holds fast on this basic principle: Gerald will have to wait. Gerald lets out an almighty “GROAN!” Variations on this basic exchange occur throughout the day; Gerald pleads, Piggie insists they must wait; Gerald groans. As the day turns to twilight (signaled by the backgrounds that darken from mauve to gray to charcoal), Gerald gets grumpy. “WE HAVE WASTED THE WHOLE DAY!…And for WHAT!?” Piggie then gestures up to the Milky Way, which an awed Gerald acknowledges “was worth the wait.” Willems relies even more than usual on the slightest of changes in posture, layout and typography, as two waiting figures can’t help but be pretty static. At one point, Piggie assumes the lotus position, infuriating Gerald. Most amusingly, Gerald’s elephantine groans assume weighty physicality in spread-filling speech bubbles that knock Piggie to the ground. And the spectacular, photo-collaged images of the Milky Way that dwarf the two friends makes it clear that it was indeed worth the wait.

A lesson that never grows old, enacted with verve by two favorite friends . (Early reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4231-9957-1

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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