A heartwarming call and response.

GRACE FOR GUS

Based on a short film by Bliss’ son, Alexander, this nearly wordless graphic novel follows a seemingly quiet second-grader through an eventful 24 hours.

The narrative opens in Grace’s diverse classroom, where her teacher, a black man, reminds students about contributing to the “Buddy Fund” to purchase a companion for Gus, the guinea pig. The light-skinned protagonist sports a black pageboy and wears round glasses; they are opaque except when she greets Gus, at which point a double-page–spread close-up shows the affectionate creature reflected in her lenses. After dinner with her two dads (both pale-skinned), Grace grabs her violin case and sneaks out her bedroom window, the Manhattan skyline visible in the distance. The multitalented heroine busks for tips in the subway station, draws caricatures on Fifth Avenue, and performs pole gymnastics on the train home. Children and adults will enjoy perusing the sequential panels, designed in various sizes to control the pace. There is plenty to discover and chuckle over, from cartoon and literary characters (Charlie Brown, Nancy, Tintin) and cultural icons (Vincent van Gogh, Alfred Hitchcock, Donald Trump, Patti Smith) to physical comedy, humorous book titles, and clever signs (“Rump Tower”). Dramatic diagonals, beautiful contrasts in lighting, and a joyful vibrancy pervade the scenes drawn in ink by Bliss and digitally colored by Young. There is much rejoicing at the overflowing classroom coffers—and the goal for Gus is realized.

A heartwarming call and response. (Graphic fiction. 5-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-264410-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

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Hee haw.

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THE WONKY DONKEY

The print version of a knee-slapping cumulative ditty.

In the song, Smith meets a donkey on the road. It is three-legged, and so a “wonky donkey” that, on further examination, has but one eye and so is a “winky wonky donkey” with a taste for country music and therefore a “honky-tonky winky wonky donkey,” and so on to a final characterization as a “spunky hanky-panky cranky stinky-dinky lanky honky-tonky winky wonky donkey.” A free musical recording (of this version, anyway—the author’s website hints at an adults-only version of the song) is available from the publisher and elsewhere online. Even though the book has no included soundtrack, the sly, high-spirited, eye patch–sporting donkey that grins, winks, farts, and clumps its way through the song on a prosthetic metal hoof in Cowley’s informal watercolors supplies comical visual flourishes for the silly wordplay. Look for ready guffaws from young audiences, whether read or sung, though those attuned to disability stereotypes may find themselves wincing instead or as well.

Hee haw. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: May 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-545-26124-1

Page Count: 26

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2018

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An astonishing work of art and a crucial addition to every bookshelf.

WHEN WE SAY BLACK LIVES MATTER

The author of The Patchwork Bike (illustrated by Van Thanh Rudd, 2016) writes to children about the meaning of the phrase Black Lives Matter.

Pastel illustrations, also by Clarke, on dark, textured paper are paired with oversized, contrasting text addressed to “Little one.” In the visuals, a family that begins as a couple expecting a baby grows into a family with a child and then becomes part of a community in protest, marching for Black lives, before a final page shows a jubilant Black boy in a cap and gown. The adult narrator explains that “when we say Black Lives Matter, / we’re saying Black people are wonderful-strong.” Other meanings of the rallying cry, when it is called out, screamed, sung, laughed, and known, include a demand for respect, a defiant joy, a channeling of ancestors, an acknowledgment of trouble, and knowing one’s worth. Clarke’s text is poignant and mesmerizing, with design elements that raise the text to an artistic level, shaping it around the art and highlighting active and emotional words in color: enough, dancing, radiant, precious. The art is truly outstanding, gripping the heart from the very first spread and not letting go. With colored shapes and stained-glass motifs, these Black figures feel real and weighty. Within this deep dive are tragedy, fear, anger, and mourning alongside hope, comfort, strength, and triumph. This slim book contains a necessary and healing exploration of our current moment that will remain relevant for decades to come.

An astonishing work of art and a crucial addition to every bookshelf. (Picture book. 4-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5362-2238-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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An impressive sequel.

PAX, JOURNEY HOME

Boy and fox follow separate paths in postwar rebuilding.

A year after Peter finds refuge with former soldier Vola, he prepares to leave to return to his childhood home. He plans to join the Junior Water Warriors, young people repurposing the machines and structures of war to reclaim reservoirs and rivers poisoned in the conflict, and then to set out on his own to live apart from others. At 13, Peter is competent and self-contained. Vola marvels at the construction of the floor of the cabin he’s built on her land, but the losses he’s sustained have left a mark. He imposes a penance on himself, reimagining the story of rescuing the orphaned kit Pax as one in which he follows his father’s counsel to kill the animal before he could form a connection. He thinks of his heart as having a stone inside it. Pax, meanwhile, has fathered three kits who claim his attention and devotion. Alternating chapters from the fox’s point of view demonstrate Pax’s care for his family—his mate, Bristle; her brother; and the three kits. Pax becomes especially attached to his daughter, who accompanies him on a journey that intersects with Peter’s and allows Peter to not only redeem his past, but imagine a future. This is a deftly nuanced look at the fragility and strength of the human heart. All the human characters read as White. Illustrations not seen.

An impressive sequel. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-293034-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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