An enjoyable start to a potentially engaging series for tweens.

THE TEST

From the Junior Lifeguards series , Vol. 1

In this middle-grade series starter, four friends embark on a challenging summer of training to save lives. 

Thirteen-year-old Jenna Bowers and her family have deep roots on the Massachusetts cape, and water has always played a big role in her life. She dreams of winning an Olympic swimming medal, but although she relishes “the relaxation of the pace and rhythm, the feeling of power as I slice through the water,” a lifetime of emphasis on times, stats, and drills has dimmed her passion for the sport. Still, she’s intrigued by a poster announcing tryouts for the prestigious junior lifeguard crew—and by the handsome young man pinning it up. Her former babysitter, Molly Cruise, was a lifeguard, and she made the job look like fun. Could becoming a lifeguard herself be the very thing Jenna needs to reignite her motivation? With the help of her coach and, more reluctantly, her parents, she decides to try out, and she convinces her best friends, Piper Janssens, Selena Diaz, and Ziggy Bloom, to vie for slots too. Although one might expect the outcome of the test to be a foregone conclusion, Carey (The Callahan Cousins: Keeping Cool, 2015) delivers believable surprises. She vividly renders scenes depicting Jenna in the water and deftly handles the often tense dynamic between the town’s year-round residents and its summer incomers. She makes sure that all the girls are distinct characters, as well: Ziggy’s family lives close to the land, seemingly without any income; Selena’s are the Ecuadorian caretakers at one of the large estates; and Piper’s divorced parents work out of state, so she lives with her grandmother and tends horses. The girls’ friendship feels authentic, and their easily expressed affection and sensitivity to one another’s foibles should inspire readers. Carey also emphasizes the hard work involved in lifeguard training. This first installment plants numerous seeds for future stories, including the arrival of the glamorous, jet-setting Frankel sisters; a mystery surrounding Ziggy’s grandparents; and the jealousies that arise as the girls vie for the attentions of attractive boys on the junior lifeguard squad.

An enjoyable start to a potentially engaging series for tweens.

Pub Date: April 20, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9984997-4-1

Page Count: 254

Publisher: Dunemere Books

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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An A+ for Little E and his creator.

LITTLE EXCAVATOR

A petite excavator named Little E finds his place among a crew of full-sized, heavy-construction equipment working together to build a park.

The anthropomorphic Little E, with bright, friendly eyes and a cheery smile, invites readers into the story on the large-format cover. He is followed by a brown-and-white–spotted dog, which appears throughout the story as a friend to Little E. The construction vehicles arrive at an abandoned lot and begin working together to transform the property into a park. The rollicking, rhyming text names each type of rig and its function, including lots of sound effects and action verbs set in display type integrated into the illustrations: “Pusha-pusha smusha-smusha SMASH SMASH SMASH!” Little E tries to help with each step, but he is either too small or not strong enough for the task at hand. The last step of the park-construction project is the planting of a tree on an island reached by a bridge, but all the big rigs are too large to safely cross the wooden bridge. In a pitch-perfect conclusion, Little E is just the right size for the job. Dewdney, the late author/illustrator of the Llama Llama series, has constructed a solid winner for one of her final books, with an appealing main character, vibrant illustrations with varying perspectives, and an action-packed, rhyming text with sound effects just begging to be read aloud with dramatic effect.

An A+ for Little E and his creator. (Picture book. 2-5)

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-99920-2

Page Count: 44

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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A joyful celebration.

FAMILIES BELONG

Families in a variety of configurations play, dance, and celebrate together.

The rhymed verse, based on a song from the Noodle Loaf children’s podcast, declares that “Families belong / Together like a puzzle / Different-sized people / One big snuggle.” The accompanying image shows an interracial couple of caregivers (one with brown skin and one pale) cuddling with a pajama-clad toddler with light brown skin and surrounded by two cats and a dog. Subsequent pages show a wide array of families with members of many different racial presentations engaging in bike and bus rides, indoor dance parties, and more. In some, readers see only one caregiver: a father or a grandparent, perhaps. One same-sex couple with two children in tow are expecting another child. Smart’s illustrations are playful and expressive, curating the most joyful moments of family life. The verse, punctuated by the word together, frequently set in oversized font, is gently inclusive at its best but may trip up readers with its irregular rhythms. The song that inspired the book can be found on the Noodle Loaf website.

A joyful celebration. (Board book. 1-3)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-22276-8

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Rise x Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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