A funny and intimate behind-the-scenes look at royal family life by the National Book Award–winning Whelan (Homeless Bird,...

The Victorian era is often caricatured as a time of excessive modesty, and this buoyant, rhyming picture book highlights a royal example with affection and good humor.

Queen Victoria longs for a summer swim, but even when she’s vacationing at her informal residence on the Isle of Wight, decorum prevents her from traipsing down to the beach in her bathing suit—it would expose her queenly knees! Her doting husband, Prince Albert, invents a “bathing machine,” a caravan of sorts in which his wife can change out of her corset and petticoats in privacy and be wheeled straight into the water: “You climb down the steps in perfect repose, / into the ocean right up to your nose. / No one will get so much as a peep, / except for the creatures down in the deep.” Jaunty Seuss-ian rhymes (most effective when read aloud with an English accent) tell the amusing true-life story, and gleeful pen-and-watercolor illustrations of the royal family—including nine busy children—spill into lively double-page spreads. In one Monty Python–esque scene, Queen Victoria is unceremoniously flipped into the Atlantic via catapult, one of her husband’s earlier queen-transportation solutions. The book’s crown jewel? The underwater queen blissfully blowing bubbles with the fish.

A funny and intimate behind-the-scenes look at royal family life by the National Book Award–winning Whelan (Homeless Bird, 2000). (author’s note, photo of actual bathing machine, bibliography, websites) (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: April 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4169-2753-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014


Nice enough but not worth repeat reads.

Emma deals with jitters before playing the guitar in the school talent show.

Pop musician Kevin Jonas and his wife, Danielle, put performance at the center of their picture-book debut. When Emma is intimidated by her very talented friends, the encouragement of her younger sister, Bella, and the support of her family help her to shine her own light. The story is straightforward and the moral familiar: Draw strength from your family and within to overcome your fears. Employing the performance-anxiety trope that’s been written many times over, the book plods along predictably—there’s nothing really new or surprising here. Dawson’s full-color digital illustrations center a White-presenting family along with Emma’s three friends of color: Jamila has tanned skin and wears a hijab; Wendy has dark brown skin and Afro puffs; and Luis has medium brown skin. Emma’s expressive eyes and face are the real draw of the artwork—from worry to embarrassment to joy, it’s clear what she’s feeling. A standout double-page spread depicts Emma’s talent show performance, with a rainbow swirl of music erupting from an amp and Emma rocking a glam outfit and electric guitar. Overall, the book reads pretty plainly, buoyed largely by the artwork. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Nice enough but not worth repeat reads. (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: March 29, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-35207-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022


Readers will agree that “Melba Doretta Liston was something special.” (Picture book. 4-8)

Bewitched by the rhythms of jazz all around her in Depression-era Kansas City, little Melba Doretta Liston longs to make music in this fictional account of a little-known jazz great.

Picking up the trombone at 7, the little girl teaches herself to play with the support of her Grandpa John and Momma Lucille, performing on the radio at 8 and touring as a pro at just 17. Both text and illustrations make it clear that it’s not all easy for Melba; “The Best Service for WHITES ONLY” reads a sign in a hotel window as the narrative describes a bigotry-plagued tour in the South with Billie Holiday. But joy carries the day, and the story ends on a high note, with Melba “dazzling audiences and making headlines” around the world. Russell-Brown’s debut text has an innate musicality, mixing judicious use of onomatopoeia with often sonorous prose. Morrison’s sinuous, exaggerated lines are the perfect match for Melba’s story; she puts her entire body into her playing, the exaggerated arch of her back and thrust of her shoulders mirroring the curves of her instrument. In one thrilling spread, the evening gown–clad instrumentalist stands over the male musicians, her slide crossing the gutter while the back bow disappears off the page to the left. An impressive discography complements a two-page afterword and a thorough bibliography.

Readers will agree that “Melba Doretta Liston was something special.” (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: July 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60060-898-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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