Delightful art and charming characters can’t compensate for a flawed narrative structure.


Clarissa invites her stuffed animals to a tea party, but they respond with gruff, grumpy refusals.

The animals (Elephant, Rabbit, Pig, Monkey, Bear, and Pup) all harbor different grudges, which they share with Clarissa (a paper-white, ebony-haired tot about their size) while she brightly tries to persuade them to party. “Clarissa: Let’s get started. Who’s going to bring the chairs? / Rabbit: Not me. Nuh-uh. You left me outside. I’m still damp. / Pig: I’m losing my stuffing. BECAUSE OF YOU!” All those colons and speaker designations appear throughout what could’ve been a charming story, compromising lively dialogue and disrupting narrative flow. Sadly stilted when read aloud, this book won’t find an audience with independent readers, who will find the stuffed animals and their grievances (lost stuffing, knotted shoelaces, and soap in the eyes) just a bit too infantile. Readers of any age can relate to occasionally acting like a crankypants, and they can also find much to love in such evocative, empathetic illustrations. Acrylics give color (lemony yellows, grass greens, and mellow reds) and shape (lovely, loose linework) to vivid feelings (shown effectively as weather changes). The group reaches reconciliation as Clarissa unravels a series of misunderstandings, demonstrating how heightened emotional moments can resolve and actually bring people closer together. Unfortunately, the narrative form will keep readers from appreciating all this.

Delightful art and charming characters can’t compensate for a flawed narrative structure. (Picture book. 2-6)

Pub Date: June 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4814-5900-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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Both beautiful and inspiring as graduation gift or guide to life.

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An inspirational picture book offers life advice for readers who want to be themselves.

Replete with sparkling, often quirky illustrations of children living their best lives, this book is a gorgeous guidebook for those seeking encouragement while encountering life’s challenges. The children featured—a racially diverse group ranging from infants to preschoolers—cheerfully navigate the various injunctions that flow through the text: “Be curious.…Be adventurous.…Be persistent.…Be kind.” What is remarkable about the book is that even though the instructions and the brief sentences explaining them are at times vague, the illustrations expand on them in ways readers will find endearing and uplifting. Those depicting painful or challenging moments are especially effective. The “Be persistent” double-page spread shows a child in a boat on stormy seas; it’s rich with deep blues as it emphasizes the energy of wind and rain and struggle in the face of challenge. Together with the accompanying repeated phrase “Keep going, never stop. Keep going, never stop. Keep going, never stop,” this spread arrests readers. By contrast, the “Be kind. Be understanding” spread simply presents two children’s faces, one cast in blue and the other in gold, but the empathy that Reynolds conveys is similarly captivating. While there is no plot to pull readers through the pages, the book provides rich fodder for caregivers to use as teachable moments, both informally and in classroom settings.

Both beautiful and inspiring as graduation gift or guide to life. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-57231-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A sweet reminder that it’s easy to weather a storm with the company and kindness of friends.


Is it a stormy-night scare or a bedtime book? Both!

Little Blue Truck and his good friend Toad are heading home when a storm lets loose. Before long, their familiar, now very nervous barnyard friends (Goat, Hen, Goose, Cow, Duck, and Pig) squeeze into the garage. Blue explains that “clouds bump and tumble in the sky, / but here inside we’re warm and dry, / and all the thirsty plants below / will get a drink to help them grow!” The friends begin to relax. “Duck said, loud as he could quack it, / ‘THUNDER’S JUST A NOISY RACKET!’ ” In the quiet after the storm, the barnyard friends are sleepy, but the garage is not their home. “ ‘Beep!’ said Blue. ‘Just hop inside. / All aboard for the bedtime ride!’ ” Young readers will settle down for their own bedtimes as Blue and Toad drop each friend at home and bid them a good night before returning to the garage and their own beds. “Blue gave one small sleepy ‘Beep.’ / Then Little Blue Truck fell fast asleep.” Joseph’s rich nighttime-blue illustrations (done “in the style of [series co-creator] Jill McElmurry”) highlight the power of the storm and capture the still serenity that follows. Little Blue Truck has been chugging along since 2008, but there seems to be plenty of gas left in the tank.

A sweet reminder that it’s easy to weather a storm with the company and kindness of friends. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-85213-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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