A GIFT OF LOVE

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

A gently told story of loss and love from a child’s perspective, written by a former grade school teacher who served in Iraq, dedicated to the memory of members of the New York City Fire Department “and all who fell” on September 11, 2001.

Written in simple, at times uneven, rhyme, this awkwardly illustrated but heartfelt story begins as an affectionate dad helps his adoring daughter get ready for her first day as a second grader. After a pancake breakfast, she tries on her dad’s FDNY helmet, proud that “My father is a fireman, and he is strong and brave. / There is not anybody that my daddy cannot save.” As she snuggles into his “barreled chest” while he has his morning coffee, we learn that mom is due for a meeting at the World Trade Center: “A house of steel and stone, / which has a matching tower and they stand boldly alone.” The little girl packs her lunch, her dad gives her his badge for show-and-tell and it’s off to school for a seemingly normal day. Then comes an announcement that buses have arrived to take the children home early. Dr. Claus handles what comes next with sensitivity, aware that young children would be confused and anxious, unable to interpret what was happening around them. When the little girl arrives home, she sees a crowd of adults gathered around the TV in the living room and wonders if it’s “a birthday surprise for Daddy.” Then her tearful mother takes her to a quiet room, holds her close and explains that “Four hijacked planes; it sounds insane; exploded on impact / Hurting innocent people in a terrorist attack.” She tells her daughter that Daddy was a hero who saved many lives that day, including Mom’s. When it turns out that he has left his daughter the present that he had promised her just that morning, that small surprise symbolizes a comforting “gift of love” in a time of profound loss. Some verses should be reworked to scan evenly and the ragged cartoon illustrations are an unfortunate choice, but this children’s book by Dr. Claus, with its core message about the healing power of love, treats a difficult subject with great sensitivity, warmth and reassurance.

 

Pub Date: June 12, 2011

ISBN: 978-1614970019

Page Count: 30

Publisher: Dr. Claus Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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An entertaining, if light, addition to the growing shelf of celebrity-authored picture books.

BUSY BETTY

Actor and author Witherspoon makes her picture-book debut.

Betty, a light-skinned, bespectacled child with blond pigtails, was born busy. Constantly in motion, Betty builds big block towers, cartwheels around the house (underfoot, of course), and plays with the family’s “fantabulous” dog, Frank, who is stinky and dirty. That leads to a big, busy, bright idea that, predictably, caroms toward calamity yet drags along enough hilarity to be entertaining. With a little help from best friend Mae (light-skinned with dark hair), the catastrophe turns into a lucrative dog-washing business. Busy Betty is once again ready to rush off to the next big thing. Yan uses vivid, pastel colors for a spread of a group of diverse kids bringing their dogs to be washed, helping out, and having fun, while the grown-ups are muted and relegated to the background. Extreme angles in several of the illustrations effectively convey a sense of perpetual motion and heighten the story’s tension, drawing readers in. An especially effective, glitter-strewn spread portrays Frank looming large and seemingly running off the page while Betty looks on, stricken at the ensuing mess. Though it’s a familiar and easily resolved story, Witherspoon’s rollicking text never holds back, replete with amusing phrases such as “sweet cinnamon biscuits,” “bouncing biscuits,” and “busted biscuits.” As Betty says, “Being busy is a great way to be.” Young readers are sure to agree. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

An entertaining, if light, addition to the growing shelf of celebrity-authored picture books. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-46588-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Flamingo Books

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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Pleasant but slightly pedestrian.

THE THREE BILLY GOATS GRUFF

Fairy-tale fun for everyone. (Except trolls.)

Barnett and Klassen partner for a retelling of the classic folktale about a trio of variously sized goats (all named Gruff) and a troll whose greed ultimately leads to his downfall. The story has been told many times, but in this variation, Barnett shows off for his audience by giving the troll a substantial amount of dialogue, most of which rhymes: “I love goat! Let me count the ways. / Goat rump in a honey glaze. / Goat smoked, goat poached, a goat pot roast. / Goat smorgasbord! Goat smeared on toast! / A goat kale salad—hold the kale. / Goat escargot! (That’s goat plus snails.) / On goat I’ll dine, on goat I’ll sup. / You little goat, I’ll eat you up!” It’s amusing verbal play, and librarians and caregivers who love to read out loud will enjoy hamming it up, although it may lessen the scary impact of the character. Likewise, the artwork, created in ink, watercolor, and graphite and compiled digitally, is pure Klassen, and the brown, green, and blue tones combine into an earthy setting where the ratlike troll (sans tail) fits in perfectly. But the visual reveal of the third billy goat takes a bit of oomph out of the story, as readers will be able to anticipate that this troll won’t be having goat strudel anytime soon. Fans of either Barnett or Klassen will love this retelling, but librarians won’t be sending their Paul Galdone or Jerry Pinkney retellings out to pasture just yet. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Pleasant but slightly pedestrian. (Folktale. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-3386-7384-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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