Adds little to the original while propagating Asian and martial arts stereotypes.

THE NINJABREAD MAN

A ninja-themed retelling of “The Gingerbread Man.”

“Once upon a time, there was a little old sensei who taught ninjas in a hidden dojo.” Said sensei is a small fuchsia-and-white panda with trailing mustache and beard and a stereotypical conical hat, and his ninjas include Bear, Fox, Mouse, and Snake, all in black outfits tied with a colored belt. To reward their hard work, the sensei, working from an ancient recipe, crafts a Ninjabread treat: a tiny ninja complete with his own miniscule sword and throwing stars. When the cookie escapes the oven, the teacher warns his students with a gong. Bear, Snake, and Mouse hear it and confront the little cookie, but they fail to capture or eat him. Fox’s difficulty hearing anything over the sound of the waterfall gives him the perfect way to lure the Ninjabread Man closer, to the cookie’s demise. Leigh’s retelling may enthrall kids practicing martial arts, but the tale is rather weak: the rhymes the cookie spouts are loose and sporadic; the fights with the other ninjas are over too quickly; and it’s never clear just how the cookie succeeds against his much larger opponents. Spare, Asian-inspired scenes background the action of the ninjas, who all sport extremely mean faces when confronting their small nemesis.

Adds little to the original while propagating Asian and martial arts stereotypes. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-545-81430-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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It’s a bit hard to dance, or count, to this beat.

ONE MORE DINO ON THE FLOOR

Dinos that love to move and groove get children counting from one to 10—and perhaps moving to the beat.

Beginning with a solo bop by a female dino (she has eyelashes, doncha know), the dinosaur dance party begins. Each turn of the page adds another dino and a change in the dance genre: waltz, country line dancing, disco, limbo, square dancing, hip-hop, and swing. As the party would be incomplete without the moonwalk, the T. Rex does the honors…and once they are beyond their initial panic at his appearance, the onlookers cheer wildly. The repeated refrain on each spread allows for audience participation, though it doesn’t easily trip off the tongue: “They hear a swish. / What’s this? / One more? / One more dino on the floor.” Some of the prehistoric beasts are easily identifiable—pterodactyl, ankylosaurus, triceratops—but others will be known only to the dino-obsessed; none are identified, other than T-Rex. Packed spreads filled with psychedelically colored dinos sporting blocks of color, stripes, or polka dots (and infectious looks of joy) make identification even more difficult, to say nothing of counting them. Indeed, this fails as a counting primer: there are extra animals (and sometimes a grumpy T-Rex) in the backgrounds, and the next dino to join the party pokes its head into the frame on the page before. Besides all that, most kids won’t get the dance references.

It’s a bit hard to dance, or count, to this beat. (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8075-1598-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Whitman

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

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An astonishing work of art and a crucial addition to every bookshelf.

WHEN WE SAY BLACK LIVES MATTER

The author of The Patchwork Bike (illustrated by Van Thanh Rudd, 2016) writes to children about the meaning of the phrase Black Lives Matter.

Pastel illustrations, also by Clarke, on dark, textured paper are paired with oversized, contrasting text addressed to “Little one.” In the visuals, a family that begins as a couple expecting a baby grows into a family with a child and then becomes part of a community in protest, marching for Black lives, before a final page shows a jubilant Black boy in a cap and gown. The adult narrator explains that “when we say Black Lives Matter, / we’re saying Black people are wonderful-strong.” Other meanings of the rallying cry, when it is called out, screamed, sung, laughed, and known, include a demand for respect, a defiant joy, a channeling of ancestors, an acknowledgment of trouble, and knowing one’s worth. Clarke’s text is poignant and mesmerizing, with design elements that raise the text to an artistic level, shaping it around the art and highlighting active and emotional words in color: enough, dancing, radiant, precious. The art is truly outstanding, gripping the heart from the very first spread and not letting go. With colored shapes and stained-glass motifs, these Black figures feel real and weighty. Within this deep dive are tragedy, fear, anger, and mourning alongside hope, comfort, strength, and triumph. This slim book contains a necessary and healing exploration of our current moment that will remain relevant for decades to come.

An astonishing work of art and a crucial addition to every bookshelf. (Picture book. 4-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5362-2238-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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Aims high but falls flat.

WILD SYMPHONY

Through 20 short poems, Maestro Mouse invites readers to meet a series of animals who have lessons to impart and a symphony to perform.

Brown, author of The DaVinci Code (2003) and other wildly popular titles for adults, here offers young listeners a poetry collection accompanied by music: a “symphony” performed, for readers equipped with an audio device and an internet connection, by the Zagreb Festival Orchestra. From the introduction of the conductor and the opening “Woodbird Welcome” to the closing “Cricket Lullaby,” the writer/composer uses poems made of three to eight rhyming couplets, each line with four strong beats, to introduce the animals who will be revealed in the final double gatefold as the players in an all-animal orchestra. Each poem also contains a lesson, reinforced by a short message (often on a banner or signpost). Thus, “When life trips them up a bit, / Cats just make the best of it” concludes the poem “Clumsy Kittens,” which is encapsulated by “Falling down is part of life. The best thing to do is get back on your feet!” The individual songs and poems may appeal to the intended audience, but collectively they don’t have enough variety to be read aloud straight through. Nor does the gathering of the orchestra provide a narrative arc. Batori’s cartoon illustrations are whimsically engaging, however. They include puzzles: hard-to-find letters that are said to form anagrams of instrument names and a bee who turns up somewhere in every scene.

Aims high but falls flat. (Complete composition not available for review.) (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12384-3

Page Count: 44

Publisher: Rodale Kids

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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