A well-meaning but anodyne picture book for the post–gay-marriage era that doesn’t imagine what could come next.

WILLOW AND THE WEDDING

Following her eponymous debut (2008), Willow’s second adventure is gay—as in happy and as in, well, gay.

It’s hard to find LGBTQ–themed picture books that don’t focus on matrimony or meanies, and Brennan-Nelson’s newest utilizes both. In a world populated mostly by smiling white people (except in crowd scenes), Willow’s beloved uncle Ash is marrying his partner, David, but he doesn’t dance—and what would a wedding be without a cut-up rug? Willow learns that her uncle was traumatized as a child during an enthusiastic dance performance, shamed by his father and called “Twinkle Toes” by classmates (code for “light in the loafers”?), and his ego never recovered. After a day of shopping, Willow convinces Uncle Ash to watch her dance class, and then to join in, where he rediscovers his confidence. By the end, everyone at the wedding (even Grandpa) dances happily, though the new husbands always keep a lot of distance between their bodies. In addition to offering an entirely toothless message, this story lacks an interesting structure. The plot plods along, with illustrations reflecting the text rather than expanding on it. While it’s nice that no one has to explain or defend gay marriage, there’s nothing to distinguish this story from any other picture book about uncles getting married.

A well-meaning but anodyne picture book for the post–gay-marriage era that doesn’t imagine what could come next. (Picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: May 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-58536-966-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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Plotless and pointless, the book clearly exists only because its celebrity author wrote it.

YOUR BABY'S FIRST WORD WILL BE DADA

A succession of animal dads do their best to teach their young to say “Dada” in this picture-book vehicle for Fallon.

A grumpy bull says, “DADA!”; his calf moos back. A sad-looking ram insists, “DADA!”; his lamb baas back. A duck, a bee, a dog, a rabbit, a cat, a mouse, a donkey, a pig, a frog, a rooster, and a horse all fail similarly, spread by spread. A final two-spread sequence finds all of the animals arrayed across the pages, dads on the verso and children on the recto. All the text prior to this point has been either iterations of “Dada” or animal sounds in dialogue bubbles; here, narrative text states, “Now everybody get in line, let’s say it together one more time….” Upon the turn of the page, the animal dads gaze round-eyed as their young across the gutter all cry, “DADA!” (except the duckling, who says, “quack”). Ordóñez's illustrations have a bland, digital look, compositions hardly varying with the characters, although the pastel-colored backgrounds change. The punch line fails from a design standpoint, as the sudden, single-bubble chorus of “DADA” appears to be emanating from background features rather than the baby animals’ mouths (only some of which, on close inspection, appear to be open). It also fails to be funny.

Plotless and pointless, the book clearly exists only because its celebrity author wrote it. (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: June 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-00934-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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Sincere and wholehearted.

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I PROMISE

The NBA star offers a poem that encourages curiosity, integrity, compassion, courage, and self-forgiveness.

James makes his debut as a children’s author with a motivational poem touting life habits that children should strive for. In the first-person narration, he provides young readers with foundational self-esteem encouragement layered within basketball descriptions: “I promise to run full court and show up each time / to get right back up and let my magic shine.” While the verse is nothing particularly artful, it is heartfelt, and in her illustrations, Mata offers attention-grabbing illustrations of a diverse and enthusiastic group of children. Scenes vary, including classrooms hung with student artwork, an asphalt playground where kids jump double Dutch, and a gym populated with pint-sized basketball players, all clearly part of one bustling neighborhood. Her artistry brings black and brown joy to the forefront of each page. These children evince equal joy in learning and in play. One particularly touching double-page spread depicts two vignettes of a pair of black children, possibly siblings; in one, they cuddle comfortably together, and in the other, the older gives the younger a playful noogie. Adults will appreciate the closing checklist of promises, which emphasize active engagement with school. A closing note very generally introduces principles that underlie the Lebron James Family Foundation’s I Promise School (in Akron, Ohio). (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at 15% of actual size.)

Sincere and wholehearted. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-297106-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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