This book’s few strengths are sadly underutilized.

Handa spends the night at her friend Akeyo’s house and hears sounds throughout the night.

Handa and Akeyo, children of the Luo people of Kenya, are excited to sleep in the hut (evidently an outbuilding—it is unclear what kind of structure the main house is). Once inside, they lay out their mats, have a snack, and play games. Meanwhile, all sorts of sounds reach them from outside the hut. When Handa hears snorting, Akeyo says it’s just her father laughing, but readers see a view of a pig outside. When Handa hears chattering, Akeyo says the grown-ups are talking, but the illustration shows a group of bat-eared foxes outside. The noises and explanations continue, with each image of the children inside facing a view of an animal outside, as the two get ready for bed and lie down to sleep. In the morning, when Akeyo accuses her family of being noisy and they say they were quiet as mice, the two friends look out at readers as they ask, “So who was making the noise?” Handa and Akeyo are sympathetic protagonists, and the vividly illustrated creatures of the night will intrigue child readers. The persistent comparison of Akeyo’s family members to animals, however, is both ludicrous—these children have presumably heard these sounds all their lives and must know what they are—and somewhat unsettling, particularly from the perspective of a European author/illustrator. The page turns and layouts are disappointingly predictable and fail to create a suspenseful, dramatic story rhythm.

This book’s few strengths are sadly underutilized. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5362-1489-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: April 7, 2020


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


Safe to creep on by.

Carle’s famous caterpillar expresses its love.

In three sentences that stretch out over most of the book’s 32 pages, the (here, at least) not-so-ravenous larva first describes the object of its love, then describes how that loved one makes it feel before concluding, “That’s why… / I[heart]U.” There is little original in either visual or textual content, much of it mined from The Very Hungry Caterpillar. “You are… / …so sweet,” proclaims the caterpillar as it crawls through the hole it’s munched in a strawberry; “…the cherry on my cake,” it says as it perches on the familiar square of chocolate cake; “…the apple of my eye,” it announces as it emerges from an apple. Images familiar from other works join the smiling sun that shone down on the caterpillar as it delivers assurances that “you make… / …the sun shine brighter / …the stars sparkle,” and so on. The book is small, only 7 inches high and 5 ¾ inches across when closed—probably not coincidentally about the size of a greeting card. While generations of children have grown up with the ravenous caterpillar, this collection of Carle imagery and platitudinous sentiment has little of his classic’s charm. The melding of Carle’s caterpillar with Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE on the book’s cover, alas, draws further attention to its derivative nature.

Safe to creep on by. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-448-48932-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2021

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