Praiseworthy! (Early reader. 6-8)


Fun with compound words defines this early reader.

In a classroom headed by a white teacher, a diverse group of children with varied skin tones reviews a lesson about compound words. “Homework” is the first such word that a brown-skinned, black-haired girl named Annemarie identifies, and an accompanying illustration uses a thought balloon to show her imagining two anthropomorphic houses in hard hats doing roadwork with a jackhammer. Similar pictures and playful text follow in later spreads that depict Annemarie and other children in the classroom and playing on the playground while thinking of other compound words. The compound wordplay continues as Annemarie drives home with her father and then interacts with her family, all of whom share her coloring. A return to school has Annemarie turning in her homework, pleased with the many compound words she’s listed. Throughout, humorous digitally colored cartoon illustrations provide context clues for readers decoding the compound-word–rich text. The use of panels in the well-designed spreads makes it easy to follow the engaging, sequential illustrations.

Praiseworthy! (Early reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-943145-17-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: TOON Books & Graphics

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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A solo debut for Wenzel showcasing both technical chops and a philosophical bent.

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Wouldn’t the same housecat look very different to a dog and a mouse, a bee and a flea, a fox, a goldfish, or a skunk?

The differences are certainly vast in Wenzel’s often melodramatic scenes. Benign and strokable beneath the hand of a light-skinned child (visible only from the waist down), the brindled cat is transformed to an ugly, skinny slinker in a suspicious dog’s view. In a fox’s eyes it looks like delectably chubby prey but looms, a terrifying monster, over a cowering mouse. It seems a field of colored dots to a bee; jagged vibrations to an earthworm; a hairy thicket to a flea. “Yes,” runs the terse commentary’s refrain, “they all saw the cat.” Words in italics and in capital letters in nearly every line give said commentary a deliberate cadence and pacing: “The cat walked through the world, / with its whiskers, ears, and paws… // and the fish saw A CAT.” Along with inviting more reflective viewers to ruminate about perception and subjectivity, the cat’s perambulations offer elemental visual delights in the art’s extreme and sudden shifts in color, texture, and mood from one page or page turn to the next.

A solo debut for Wenzel showcasing both technical chops and a philosophical bent. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4521-5013-0

Page Count: 44

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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After a promising start, this autumnal offering ultimately disappoints.


Change is on the horizon for a trio of leaves at home in the branches of various trees in a park.

When the air grows chilly, Birch, Oak, and Maple all experience different emotions. Birch is optimistic and expectant, Oak is cautious and reluctant, and obstinate Maple feels left out as the other leaves change colors but she doesn’t. Illustrations rendered in acrylic gouache, colored pencil, and collage depict endearingly anthropomorphized leaves, with autumnal colors that pop. As the leaves learn more about fall from a pair of knowledgeable squirrels, Maple’s slow change to red is overshadowed by her impatience to join her friends. It’s only when she pulls herself free that she learns about the downside of fall—namely, the bottoms of boots, rain gutters, and rakes. Much like the shift from the bright crisp early days of autumn to the damp cold ones later in the season, it’s here that the story changes, going from a surprisingly nuanced examination of growth to something fluffy and less interesting. A young girl with straight black hair and tan skin finds the fallen leaves and takes them home, where she draws them as anthropomorphic characters, and all discussion of the importance of change is lost. Caregivers looking for a springboard to a discussion about growing up and the uncertainty of change may find this useful, but its sputtering ending detracts from its early momentum. Maybe next year will bring a more promising crop of leaves. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

After a promising start, this autumnal offering ultimately disappoints. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-358-41945-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Clarion/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2022

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