On his eighth birthday, a boy uses his math and writing skills to help a group of gnomes please their prince in Collyer’s debut children’s picture book.
Jacky Foster lives on a farm with his parents, sister, Josie, and dog, and they keep a garden-gnome statue on their porch. After Jacky’s birthday party, he’s relaxing when suddenly the gnome comes to life and asks him for help. Jacky doesn’t hesitate: he grabs his backpack and he and his dog, Sparky, head into the forest to assist the gnomes. The “younger” gnomes initially greet Jacky with distrust, but he soon learns their problem: the prince has commanded them to count and describe all the animals in the land of Gnomia, but none of the gnomes can write or count. Luckily, Jacky is up to the task (after the one female gnome makes a meal for all of them): he teaches the gnomes to use their fingers and toes to count. Once they’ve mastered that, they go to tally up the animals and Jacky records their descriptions. Not long afterward, Jacky suddenly appears back home, and although he vaguely wonders whether his adventure was all a dream, he finds a note by his porch chair thanking him for his help—and the garden-gnome statue disappears. Thankfully, Jacky points out the oddness of the note (after all, the gnomes can’t write), but he looks forward to further adventures. It’s nice that the boy’s skills at math, reading, writing, and teaching others save the day, and Collyer’s rhyming text scans beautifully (“My name’s Jacky Foster, I’m just a young lad. / I live on a farm with my mom and my dad”). Kinra’s mixed-media illustrations depict the little fellows very traditionally, closely sticking to the classic versions in Rien Poorvliet and Wil Huygen’s 1977 book Gnomes. The problem with this choice, though, is that it leaves little room for diversity; the gnomes here are all, save for one, white-skinned and white-bearded, and only one little-seen female gnome is included.
A clever, cheerful rhyming adventure that caregivers may want to combine with other, more diverse titles, such as Janay Brown-Wood’s Imani’s Moon (2014) or Ashley Bryan’s Can’t Scare Me (2013).