An uneven picture book about a popular game that exploits familiar South Asian iconography.


This French import is inspired by the biography of Mir Sultan Khan, once known as the most talented chess master from Asia.

One day a child who is begging for food is surprised with an unusual gift from a mysterious, turbaned, bearded man: a wooden chess set. The nameless old man explains to the boy how to move the pieces and tells him stories as he plays with the figurines. “The boy found himself on a great adventure” in those stories—“defender and conqueror…victor and vanquished.” As the boy becomes more skilled at the game, a maharajah becomes his patron and sends him to play in tournaments overseas. Marais reimagines Khan’s story using Orientalist textual and graphic tropes. The book’s first sentences are “A long time ago, in a country far away, there lived a boy who had nothing”; the boy’s bare feet are in the foreground, and onion domes clutter the background. In real life, Khan grew up in a landed family and learned chess from his father; he went to London as an adult with the encouragement of an elected member of India’s national legislative body—there was no maharajah. Still, Marais’ limited color palette of black, white, blue, and orange is striking, and the spreads when the boy falls into the game and its characters are energetic and original. (This book was reviewed digitally with 12.6-by-18.8-inch double-page spreads viewed at 11.1% of actual size.)

An uneven picture book about a popular game that exploits familiar South Asian iconography. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: May 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4788-7035-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Reycraft Books

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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Sincere and wholehearted.

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The NBA star offers a poem that encourages curiosity, integrity, compassion, courage, and self-forgiveness.

James makes his debut as a children’s author with a motivational poem touting life habits that children should strive for. In the first-person narration, he provides young readers with foundational self-esteem encouragement layered within basketball descriptions: “I promise to run full court and show up each time / to get right back up and let my magic shine.” While the verse is nothing particularly artful, it is heartfelt, and in her illustrations, Mata offers attention-grabbing illustrations of a diverse and enthusiastic group of children. Scenes vary, including classrooms hung with student artwork, an asphalt playground where kids jump double Dutch, and a gym populated with pint-sized basketball players, all clearly part of one bustling neighborhood. Her artistry brings black and brown joy to the forefront of each page. These children evince equal joy in learning and in play. One particularly touching double-page spread depicts two vignettes of a pair of black children, possibly siblings; in one, they cuddle comfortably together, and in the other, the older gives the younger a playful noogie. Adults will appreciate the closing checklist of promises, which emphasize active engagement with school. A closing note very generally introduces principles that underlie the Lebron James Family Foundation’s I Promise School (in Akron, Ohio). (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at 15% of actual size.)

Sincere and wholehearted. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-297106-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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This simple and sincere tale of working up courage to face fears makes quite a splash.


Young Jabari decides today is the day he is going to jump from the diving board, even though it’s a little high and a little scary.

Jabari’s father and baby sister accompany him to the swimming pool in the city, where Jabari has already made up his mind about today’s goal: jumping off the diving board. “I’m a great jumper,” he says, “so I’m not scared at all.” But that’s not entirely true. Readers see Jabari play the waiting game as the other children (a diverse bunch) make their ways past him in line. Once Jabari finally begins to climb up, he slyly remembers that he forgot to “stretch.” The stalling techniques don’t faze his dad, who sees an opportunity for a life lesson. “It’s okay to feel a little scared,” offers his dad at the side of the pool. With renewed will, Jabari returns to the towering diving board, ready to embrace the feat. In her debut, Cornwall places her loving black family at the center, coloring the swimming pool and park beyond in minty hues and adding whimsy with digitally collaged newspaper for skyscrapers. A bird’s-eye view of Jabari’s toes clinging to the edge of the diving board as he looks way, way down at the blue pool below puts readers in his head and in the action.

This simple and sincere tale of working up courage to face fears makes quite a splash. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: May 9, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7838-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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