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

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 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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Renata’s wren encounter proves magical, one most children could only wish to experience outside of this lovely story.

A home-renovation project is interrupted by a family of wrens, allowing a young girl an up-close glimpse of nature.

Renata and her father enjoy working on upgrading their bathroom, installing a clawfoot bathtub, and cutting a space for a new window. One warm night, after Papi leaves the window space open, two wrens begin making a nest in the bathroom. Rather than seeing it as an unfortunate delay of their project, Renata and Papi decide to let the avian carpenters continue their work. Renata witnesses the birth of four chicks as their rosy eggs split open “like coats that are suddenly too small.” Renata finds at a crucial moment that she can help the chicks learn to fly, even with the bittersweet knowledge that it will only hasten their exits from her life. Rosen uses lively language and well-chosen details to move the story of the baby birds forward. The text suggests the strong bond built by this Afro-Latinx father and daughter with their ongoing project without needing to point it out explicitly, a light touch in a picture book full of delicate, well-drawn moments and precise wording. Garoche’s drawings are impressively detailed, from the nest’s many small bits to the developing first feathers on the chicks and the wall smudges and exposed wiring of the renovation. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at actual size.)

Renata’s wren encounter proves magical, one most children could only wish to experience outside of this lovely story. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-12320-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Nice enough but not worth repeat reads.

Emma deals with jitters before playing the guitar in the school talent show.

Pop musician Kevin Jonas and his wife, Danielle, put performance at the center of their picture-book debut. When Emma is intimidated by her very talented friends, the encouragement of her younger sister, Bella, and the support of her family help her to shine her own light. The story is straightforward and the moral familiar: Draw strength from your family and within to overcome your fears. Employing the performance-anxiety trope that’s been written many times over, the book plods along predictably—there’s nothing really new or surprising here. Dawson’s full-color digital illustrations center a White-presenting family along with Emma’s three friends of color: Jamila has tanned skin and wears a hijab; Wendy has dark brown skin and Afro puffs; and Luis has medium brown skin. Emma’s expressive eyes and face are the real draw of the artwork—from worry to embarrassment to joy, it’s clear what she’s feeling. A standout double-page spread depicts Emma’s talent show performance, with a rainbow swirl of music erupting from an amp and Emma rocking a glam outfit and electric guitar. Overall, the book reads pretty plainly, buoyed largely by the artwork. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Nice enough but not worth repeat reads. (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: March 29, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-35207-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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