THE BOY AND THE GORILLA

In the wake of Mom’s death, a gorilla helps a child process grief and open up to Dad so they may heal and find hope again together.

As shadows grow long at the funeral and attendees cross a gray-green field, a gorilla looks on. During the reception, the ape’s heavy mass quietly fills the living room where the child sits. But once outside, in Mom’s garden, the child talks with the gorilla. The unnamed child asks about death and dying, and where Mom went, and if she’ll ever come back. The gorilla’s honest yet reassuring responses offer the child relief in the quest to understand. Feelings of hurt, confusion, isolation, and even resentment are acknowledged, but the gorilla’s gentle presence and wise responses help to recenter the soul. Through dialogue, the child begins to understand how Mom’s love continues to live on. When the child bravely reaches out to Dad, the two begin to find comfort and solace in their love for Mom and each other. The artwork, full of expressive brush strokes and washes of color, offers a poeticism that perfectly matches the text. The gorilla’s large purple shape serves as a visual metaphor for the emotional weight of the child’s sadness. Derby’s flowing application of paint conjures a sea of emotions, and the paintings appear as if viewed through a wall of tears. Well-placed pops of bright color are both striking and uplifting. As father and child (both present White) hug, talk, and walk hand in hand under a sweeping sky, the gorilla fades into the distance.

Luminous. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7636-9832-4

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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Sweet, good-hearted fun.

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THE SOUR GRAPE

From the Food Group series

A recovering curmudgeon narrates life lessons in the latest entry in the punny Food Group series.

Grape wasn’t always sour, as they explain in this origin story. Grape’s arc starts with an idyllic childhood within “a close-knit bunch” in a community of “about three thousand.” The sweet-to-sour switch begins when Grape plans an elaborate birthday party to which no one shows up. Going from “sweet” to “bitter,” “snappy,” and, finally, “sour,” Grape “scowled so much that my face got all squishy.” Minor grudges become major. An aha moment occurs when a run of bad luck makes Grape three hours late for a meetup with best friend Lenny, who’s just as acidic as Grape. After the irate lemon storms off, Grape recognizes their own behavior in Lenny. Alone, Grape begins to enjoy the charms of a lovely evening. Once home, the fruit browses through a box of memorabilia, discovering that the old birthday party invitation provided the wrong date! “I realized nobody’s perfect. Not even me.” Remaining pages reverse the downturn as Grape observes that minor setbacks are easily weathered when the emphasis is on talking, listening, and working things out. Oswald’s signature illustrations depict Grape and company with big eyes and tiny limbs. The best sight gag occurs early: Grape’s grandparents are depicted as elegant raisins. The lessons are as valuable as in previous outings, and kids won’t mind the slight preachiness. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Sweet, good-hearted fun. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-304541-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2022

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All we want for Christmas is a more coherent story.

THE CHRISTMAS PRINCESS

THE ADVENTURES OF LITTLE MARIAH

Singer Carey, whose “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is in near-constant rotation each holiday season, makes the leap to Christmas picture book with co-author Davis.

Little Mariah lives in a worn, shabby house in a wealthy neighborhood; though poor, she has a kind nature and musical talent—both of which ultimately save her. Taunted by a nasty brother-sister duo who enter her home uninvited, Little Mariah is distracted by snowfall and runs out into the nearby woods. The snow transforms into Snowflake Butterfly Fairies. Following these entrancing visions, she encounters a gang of bullies but, having tripped over a heart-shaped stone, she uses its magical properties for good in a convoluted series of events. The Butterfly Fairy Queen arrives and crowns Little Mariah the Christmas Princess for her “perfectly pure songs from the heart.” Back at Little Mariah’s house, which has been miraculously transformed, Little Mariah performs Carey’s uber-hit Christmas song. Overwritten, overwrought, overlong, and narrated in clunky verse, this holiday story, seemingly inspired by Carey’s early childhood and with “Little Match Girl” and “Cinderella” vibes, rambles while making its trite, albeit well-meaning, point. It will attract attention because of the star power of its co-author; note her empowering foreword. The colorful illustrations are cheery. Wide-eyed, blond-curled Mariah and the Fairy Queen have light-tan skin; Mariah’s mom and several other characters, including the bullying brother and sister, are pale-skinned; the fairies are diverse in skin tone. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

All we want for Christmas is a more coherent story. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-83711-0

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2022

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