Not exactly first-class travel.

PEACE TRAIN

Climb aboard, with this visual interpretation of the classic 1971 song.

The lyrics of Stevens’ song are the catalyst for this colorful picture book, which depicts a golden-hued train with a plume of psychedelic smoke initially traveling across an unknown and barren landscape. As the train chugs along, a tan-skinned, purple-haired guitar player makes their way to the train and travels with it, sometimes riding, sometimes walking alongside it, as it picks up a racially and ethnically diverse group of passengers. Reynolds’ cartoon illustrations are characteristically bold, the flower-power symbols in the smoke making a cheery if sometimes hard-to-distinguish clutter. As with many songs-cum–picture books, some of the lyrics defy visual interpretation. “Everyone jump up on the Peace Train” is nicely imagined with a cat leaping into the arms of the guitar-playing protagonist, but Reynolds’ accompaniment to the stanza that begins “Now, come and join the living” simply frames it in a close-up of symbolic smoke. In visual answer to “Why must we go on hating? / Why can’t we live in bliss?” the guitar player lays musical notes over a scary hole in the tracks that represents “the world as it is.” The train safely passes, but it all seems awfully easy. Musically inclined caregivers who feel confident belting out the lyrics may find this a useful title for peace-themed storytimes, but the overall depictions of peace and unity feel superficial at best.

Not exactly first-class travel. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-305399-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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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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A sweet gift to praise spirited individuality, this choice encourages readers to dream big. Let those sparkles fly! (Picture...

HAPPY DREAMER

Displaying his distinctive voice and images, Reynolds celebrates the joys and challenges of being a creative spirit.

“I am a HAPPY DREAMER,” cheers a thin, spiky-haired white boy as he flies skyward, streaming yellow swirls of sparkles. This little “dreamer maximus” piles on the energy with colors and noise and the joy-filled exuberance he has for life. “Wish you could HEAR inside my head / TRUMPETY, ZIGZAG JAZZ!” With clear honesty, he shares that the world tells him to be quiet, to focus and pay attention. Like a roller-coaster ride, Reynolds’ text and illustrations capture the energetic side of creativity and the gloom of cleaning up the messes that come with it while providing a wide vocabulary to describe emotional brilliance and resilience. The protagonist makes no apologies for expressing his feelings and embracing his distinct view of the world. This makes him happy. The book finishes with a question to readers: “What kind of dreamer are you?” Hinging outward, the double-page spread opens to four panels, each with a dozen examples of multiracial children being happy and being dreamers, showing inspiring possibilities for exploration. The best way, of course, is to “just BE YOU.”

A sweet gift to praise spirited individuality, this choice encourages readers to dream big. Let those sparkles fly! (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-86501-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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