Luminescent illustrations dazzle, but this purported nonfiction study of mermaids confounds.


Are mermaids real?

For thousands of years, stories of women and men with fishlike tales have been told, but this text employs the conceit that they really exist. The thinking that dugongs or the now-extinct Steller’s sea cows were mistaken for mermaids is quickly pooh-poohed. The author treats mermaids like other marine animals, discussing their habitats, their eating habits, and other aspects of their daily lives. Delicate, entrancing illustrations in an immersive, large trim display conventionally attractive shell bra–clad mermaids with diverse skin tones and hair colors, but they also show mermaids at various ages, from babies to older sea creatures, including some with different body types rarely depicted. The lone merman has pale skin, dark scraggly hair, a beard, and pointy barnacles on his shoulders. While people have always enjoyed myths and legends about these marvelous sea creatures, what’s the place of this book that is presented as natural history? There is no doubt that many readers will pore over the pictures, but is the young audience prepared to understand the joke? The last page shows a young human with brown skin and dark hair lying on a beach next to a mermaid with white skin, with text that reads: “If you go down to the water and wait, sooner or later you’ll see one.” Is the author playing at a tongue-in-cheek game of pretend or seeding disappointment? It all depends on the gullibility of the reader.

Luminescent illustrations dazzle, but this purported nonfiction study of mermaids confounds. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-30715-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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A close encounter of the best kind.


Left behind when the space bus departs, a child discovers that the moon isn’t as lifeless as it looks.

While the rest of the space-suited class follows the teacher like ducklings, one laggard carrying crayons and a sketchbook sits down to draw our home planet floating overhead, falls asleep, and wakes to see the bus zooming off. The bright yellow bus, the gaggle of playful field-trippers, and even the dull gray boulders strewn over the equally dull gray lunar surface have a rounded solidity suggestive of Plasticine models in Hare’s wordless but cinematic scenes…as do the rubbery, one-eyed, dull gray creatures (think: those stress-busting dolls with ears that pop out when squeezed) that emerge from the regolith. The mutual shock lasts but a moment before the lunarians eagerly grab the proffered crayons to brighten the bland gray setting with silly designs. The creatures dive into the dust when the bus swoops back down but pop up to exchange goodbye waves with the errant child, who turns out to be an olive-skinned kid with a mop of brown hair last seen drawing one of their new friends with the one crayon—gray, of course—left in the box. Body language is expressive enough in this debut outing to make a verbal narrative superfluous.

A close encounter of the best kind. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: May 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4253-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Margaret Ferguson/Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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Waiting for Godot imagined for the playground population’s sensibilities.

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If Samuel Beckett had written an early reader, it might look something like this one.

In the first of five chapters, Klassen places his now-familiar turtle and armadillo (wearing bowler hats) on a minimalist gray/green landscape with one flower and—on the facing page—one plant. Personalities are revealed through occasional, slow movement across the gutter together with color-coded dialogue that feels as if it is being invented in the moment, sans script. Turtle is inflexible, not wanting to relocate, even when Armadillo moves farther away after a bad feeling about the space. It is only when Snake (sporting a beret) appears near the mammal that Turtle joins them—just in time: A huge asteroid falls on the vacated spot. Readers have watched it coming, suspense effectively building as they turn the pages. In subsequent episodes, Armadillo attempts to be helpful; miscommunication abounds; and Turtle is stubborn, proud, and jealous of the unspeaking snake, now near the rock: “I see how it is. Just enough room for two.” Turtle playing the martyr: “Maybe I will never come back.” As daylight turns into a striking, rose-tinged sunset and then a starlit evening, a life-zapping extraterrestrial (created previously in Armadillo’s futuristic forest fantasy) stalks Turtle. At the last minute, a second asteroid annihilates the creature. Klassen’s animals react to their seemingly absurd—but never tragic—universe with characteristically subtle, humorous postures and eye maneuvers. The weirdness of it all exerts its own attractive force, drawing readers back to it to wonder and ponder.

Waiting for Godot imagined for the playground population’s sensibilities. (Early reader. 5-8)

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5362-1562-5

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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