An unconvincing attempt to contrast fantasy with historical reality.



Text and Disney-esque artwork contrast the “typical” fairy-tale princess’s way of life and that of a real (though fictional) princess in medieval Europe.

“Psst…you in your tiara and twirly dress. You look like you’re dreaming of being a princess like Cinderella. Or Snow White. Or Sleeping Beauty.” The princess peering out of a mirror, who looks exactly like the white, pink-gowned princess looking in except for her brown dress, introduces herself as Beatrice—a “very real” princess from the Middle Ages who will reveal her life “versus a fairy-tale day.” The book falls flat for several reasons. From the start, the sole benchmarks for fairy tales appear to be only the aforementioned princesses. How else to contrast singing to forest animals with practicing riding and archery? Or “Princess Charm School” with French lessons from a tutor? The art’s cartoonish renderings minimize opportunities for real contrast by constantly showing the fairy-tale life in bright pinks and medieval life in earth tones. There are a few facts that might be new for some readers, such as the itchy wool of Beatrice’s everyday dresses, the polluted waters of moats, and the custom of arranged marriage. Although princesses of color appear in minor roles in some of the fairy-tale scenes, wholly absent from the “real” history is the fact that the world beyond Europe existed during the medieval period. Oddly, a realistic contrast to fairy-tale knights is avoided, and a double-page spread of a “realistic” feast seems not too different from fairy-tale feasts.

An unconvincing attempt to contrast fantasy with historical reality. (author’s note, bibliography) (Informational picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9769-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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Readers will agree that “Melba Doretta Liston was something special.” (Picture book. 4-8)


Bewitched by the rhythms of jazz all around her in Depression-era Kansas City, little Melba Doretta Liston longs to make music in this fictional account of a little-known jazz great.

Picking up the trombone at 7, the little girl teaches herself to play with the support of her Grandpa John and Momma Lucille, performing on the radio at 8 and touring as a pro at just 17. Both text and illustrations make it clear that it’s not all easy for Melba; “The Best Service for WHITES ONLY” reads a sign in a hotel window as the narrative describes a bigotry-plagued tour in the South with Billie Holiday. But joy carries the day, and the story ends on a high note, with Melba “dazzling audiences and making headlines” around the world. Russell-Brown’s debut text has an innate musicality, mixing judicious use of onomatopoeia with often sonorous prose. Morrison’s sinuous, exaggerated lines are the perfect match for Melba’s story; she puts her entire body into her playing, the exaggerated arch of her back and thrust of her shoulders mirroring the curves of her instrument. In one thrilling spread, the evening gown–clad instrumentalist stands over the male musicians, her slide crossing the gutter while the back bow disappears off the page to the left. An impressive discography complements a two-page afterword and a thorough bibliography.

Readers will agree that “Melba Doretta Liston was something special.” (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: July 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60060-898-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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A humorous tribute to the zany, determined and innovative side of invention.


Young Virena, one of four children, provides inspiration for her aspiring inventor papa’s latest ambitious construction: a submarine.

Fleming bases her tale on the true story of Civil War–era inventor Lodner Phillips, who tried his hand at submarine design on the shores of Lake Michigan. In Fleming’s lively, enthusiastic account, Papa builds three increasingly large and more complicated underwater vehicles, each of which sinks, with Papa emerging cheerfully, if damply, ready for the next round. As Virena muses on the nature of marine life, providing Papa with ideas for improvements, the baby interjects disarmingly funny comments: “No pee pee!” chortles the baby when Virena asks how fish stay dry. The Whitefish IV has room for everyone, and Papa puts his entire family into the contraption—somehow the cheerful presentation keeps readers from worrying about the outcome. Kulikov’s expansive, comical illustrations offer exaggerated perspectives from above and below the deep blue-green water, huge and beautiful fish just under the surface and a loving family for the determined inventor. Blueprints for each version of the mechanical fish are included—a neat glimpse into the invention process—while the peculiarly human expressions on the family bulldog remind readers that this is a fantasy. An author’s note and an extensive list of adult resources give background information about the real Lodner Phillips.

A humorous tribute to the zany, determined and innovative side of invention. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: June 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-39908-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Margaret Ferguson/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2013

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