A solid but ultimately unexciting entry in the who’s-the-beast genre.

ALMA AND THE BEAST

A beast-girl and a girl-beast become friends in a hairy landscape.

“Alma’s day began like any other.” The big-eyed galumph covered in flowing gray fur picks “one butter breakfast tulip” and tends to her trees that are in need of braiding, the grass that needs combing, and the roof that needs a pat. Alma is sitting in her garden, a white “plumpooshkie butterfly” perched on her head, when a “little beast” comes to disturb her. Readers will quickly realize that the “beast” is a child like themselves, a very prim white girl in a yellow dress, but “Alma was frightened. She had never seen a hairless, button-nose beast before!” The girl, Mala, shouts that she is “TERRIBLY, TREMENDOUSLY, STUPENDOUSLY LOST,” and after some hesitation, Alma decides to help. The two become friends (Alma confused about the hairlessness of the girl’s environment), and “Mala’s day ended like any other.” Busy, lush paintings illustrate the strangeness of Alma’s thoroughly furred world, contrasting with the slightly long but well-paced and neatly structured story. While the overarching conceit—getting children to question their definition of “beast”—is clever, the meat of the story is somewhat lacking; tepid prose and weak characterization mean that most of the story is carried by the rich illustrations and the assumptions about beasts and not-beasts.

A solid but ultimately unexciting entry in the who’s-the-beast genre. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-6396-3

Page Count: 44

Publisher: Tundra

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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This seemingly simple tale packs a satisfying emotional punch. Scarily good! (Picture book. 4-7)

LOVE MONSTER

Monster lives in Cutesville, where he feels his googly eyes make him unlovable, especially compared to all the “cute, fluffy” kittens, puppies and bunnies. He goes off to find someone who will appreciate him just the way he is…with funny and heartwarming results.

A red, scraggly, pointy-eared, arm-dragging monster with a pronounced underbite clutches his monster doll to one side of his chest, exposing a purplish blue heart on the other. His oversized eyes express his loneliness. Bright could not have created a more sympathetic and adorable character. But she further impresses with the telling of this poor chap’s journey. Since Monster is not the “moping-around sort,” he strikes out on his own to find someone who will love him. “He look[s] high” from on top of a hill, and “he look[s] low” at the bottom of the same hill. The page turn reveals a rolling (and labeled) tumbleweed on a flat stretch. Here “he look[s] middle-ish.” Careful pacing combines with dramatic design and the deadpan text to make this sad search a very funny one. When it gets dark and scary, he decides to head back home. A bus’s headlights shine on his bent figure. All seems hopeless—until the next page surprises, with a smiling, orange monster with long eyelashes and a pink heart on her chest depicted at the wheel. And “in the blink of a googly eye / everything change[s].”

This seemingly simple tale packs a satisfying emotional punch. Scarily good! (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-34646-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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Spires’ understanding of the fragility and power of the artistic impulse mixes with expert pacing and subtle...

THE MOST MAGNIFICENT THING

Making things is difficult work. Readers will recognize the stages of this young heroine’s experience as she struggles to realize her vision.

First comes anticipation. The artist/engineer is spotted jauntily pulling a wagonload of junkyard treasures. Accompanied by her trusty canine companion, she begins drawing plans and building an assemblage. The narration has a breezy tone: “[S]he makes things all the time. Easy-peasy!” The colorful caricatures and creations contrast with the digital black outlines on a white background that depict an urban neighborhood. Intermittent blue-gray panels break up the white expanses on selected pages showing sequential actions. When the first piece doesn’t turn out as desired, the protagonist tries again, hoping to achieve magnificence. A model of persistence, she tries many adjustments; the vocabulary alone offers constructive behaviors: she “tinkers,” “wrenches,” “fiddles,” “examines,” “stares” and “tweaks.” Such hard work, however, combines with disappointing results, eventually leading to frustration, anger and injury. Explosive emotions are followed by defeat, portrayed with a small font and scaled-down figures. When the dog, whose expressions have humorously mirrored his owner’s through each phase, retrieves his leash, the resulting stroll serves them well. A fresh perspective brings renewed enthusiasm and—spoiler alert—a most magnificent scooter sidecar for a loyal assistant.

Spires’ understanding of the fragility and power of the artistic impulse mixes with expert pacing and subtle characterization for maximum delight. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-55453-704-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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