JEAN LAFFITE AND THE BIG OL’ WHALE

There are plenty of old, larger-than-life characters who are more closely associated with the Mississippi River than Jean Lafitte and are being forgotten as the years slip into the mists of time. The legendary Mike Fink, Bob Hooker, and even James Eads, who opened the South pass of the America’s Great River, deserve to be remembered. So why Fox, in his debut for children, decided to hoist Lafitte onto the level of John Bunyan and other tall-tale heroes is a mystery. Eschewing Lafitte’s French roots and his membership in a Privateer pre-mafia, Fox concocts a brand-new character with a familiar name (spelled differently) who, in the best tradition of remarkable legends, is able to walk and swim almost immediately. When a whale swims upriver from the Gulf of Mexico and blocks all water coming down, Laffite comes up with an ingenious way to move the whale and turn the tide. And in true big-country-hero style, he finishes by digging a huge lake (Ponchartrain), thinly because the whale would have someplace to go if he returns rather than providing the people with an alternative if the river were blocked again. Cook’s (Lapin Plays Possum, 2002, etc.) illustrations, usually fun and right on for southern fables, come up soggy in this outing, perhaps because the whale is too cute or because Cook’s loose style doesn’t suit the shadings and odd perspectives needed to paint this tall tale grandly. The story is told in good fun and well enough for the unwashed, but muddies the history and myth of a river that has forgotten more interesting lore than this. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: April 3, 2003

ISBN: 0-374-33669-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2003

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Halloween is used merely as a backdrop; better holiday titles for young readers are available.

THE LITTLE GHOST WHO WAS A QUILT

A ghost learns to appreciate his differences.

The little ghost protagonist of this title is unusual. He’s a quilt, not a lightweight sheet like his parents and friends. He dislikes being different despite his mom’s reassurance that his ancestors also had unconventional appearances. Halloween makes the little ghost happy, though. He decides to watch trick-or-treaters by draping over a porch chair—but lands on a porch rail instead. A mom accompanying her daughter picks him up, wraps him around her chilly daughter, and brings him home with them! The family likes his looks and comforting warmth, and the little ghost immediately feels better about himself. As soon as he’s able to, he flies out through the chimney and muses happily that this adventure happened only due to his being a quilt. This odd but gently told story conveys the importance of self-respect and acceptance of one’s uniqueness. The delivery of this positive message has something of a heavy-handed feel and is rushed besides. It also isn’t entirely logical: The protagonist could have been a different type of covering; a blanket, for instance, might have enjoyed an identical experience. The soft, pleasing illustrations’ palette of tans, grays, white, black, some touches of color, and, occasionally, white text against black backgrounds suggest isolation, such as the ghost feels about himself. Most humans, including the trick-or-treating mom and daughter, have beige skin. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-16.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 66.2% of actual size.)

Halloween is used merely as a backdrop; better holiday titles for young readers are available. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-6447-2

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Tundra Books

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Whimsy, intelligence, and a subtle narrative thread make this rise to the top of a growing list of self-love titles.

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YOU MATTER

Employing a cast of diverse children reminiscent of that depicted in Another (2019), Robinson shows that every living entity has value.

After opening endpapers that depict an aerial view of a busy playground, the perspective shifts to a black child, ponytails tied with beaded elastics, peering into a microscope. So begins an exercise in perspective. From those bits of green life under the lens readers move to “Those who swim with the tide / and those who don’t.” They observe a “pest”—a mosquito biting a dinosaur, a “really gassy” planet, and a dog whose walker—a child in a pink hijab—has lost hold of the leash. Periodically, the examples are validated with the titular refrain. Textured paint strokes and collage elements contrast with uncluttered backgrounds that move from white to black to white. The black pages in the middle portion foreground scenes in space, including a black astronaut viewing Earth; the astronaut is holding an image of another black youngster who appears on the next spread flying a toy rocket and looking lonely. There are many such visual connections, creating emotional interest and invitations for conversation. The story’s conclusion spins full circle, repeating opening sentences with new scenarios. From the microscopic to the cosmic, word and image illuminate the message without a whiff of didacticism.

Whimsy, intelligence, and a subtle narrative thread make this rise to the top of a growing list of self-love titles. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-2169-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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