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Strong visual appeal and lively storytelling with a caring, humane message.

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
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A captive young orca is a showbiz star, but he just wants to go home.

This good-hearted picture book about a playful orca named Yuki is clearly based on real-life captive orca Keiko (subject of the 1993 movie Free Willy) and the letter-writing campaign that led to his release. Black-and-white Yuki, dwarfing his goofy ocean pals (including an octopus and assorted fish and crustaceans) with his big, rounded body, becomes the main attraction at an aquarium in Mexico and stars in a movie about Nellie McGee, a whale “who yearned to be free.” The movie’s a big hit, but “one little girl had a curious thought. ‘How come Nellie is free, and Yuki is not?’” Children all over the world write letters on Yuki’s behalf; thanks to their kind hearts, the orca returns to frolic once more in his ocean home. This is veteran animator Bluth’s debut as a children’s author and the first of a planned series of “fables” from Don Bluth Studios, which specializes in hand-drawn illustrations and animation. (It isn’t a stretch to imagine Bluth’s expert, hand-painted artwork as an animated feature.) The story is told through loosely rhyming text, and each full-page illustration conveys a sense of motion in the positioning of foreground details and in the shifting palette of background colors that reflect mood, settings, and plot progression.

Strong visual appeal and lively storytelling with a caring, humane message.

Pub Date: April 1, 2024

ISBN: 9798986251912

Page Count: 34

Publisher: 2D Press

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2024

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Pete’s fans might find it groovy; anyone else has plenty of other “12 Days of Christmas” variants to choose among

Pete, the cat who couldn’t care less, celebrates Christmas with his inimitable lassitude.

If it weren’t part of the title and repeated on every other page, readers unfamiliar with Pete’s shtick might have a hard time arriving at “groovy” to describe his Christmas celebration, as the expressionless cat displays not a hint of groove in Dean’s now-trademark illustrations. Nor does Pete have a great sense of scansion: “On the first day of Christmas, / Pete gave to me… / A road trip to the sea. / GROOVY!” The cat is shown at the wheel of a yellow microbus strung with garland and lights and with a star-topped tree tied to its roof. On the second day of Christmas Pete gives “me” (here depicted as a gray squirrel who gets on the bus) “2 fuzzy gloves, and a road trip to the sea. / GROOVY!” On the third day, he gives “me” (now a white cat who joins Pete and the squirrel) “3 yummy cupcakes,” etc. The “me” mentioned in the lyrics changes from day to day and gift to gift, with “4 far-out surfboards” (a frog), “5 onion rings” (crocodile), and “6 skateboards rolling” (a yellow bird that shares its skateboards with the white cat, the squirrel, the frog, and the crocodile while Pete drives on). Gifts and animals pile on until the microbus finally arrives at the seaside and readers are told yet again that it’s all “GROOVY!”

Pete’s fans might find it groovy; anyone else has plenty of other “12 Days of Christmas” variants to choose among . (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-267527-9

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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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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