With its heart on its sleeve, this offering falls short of other, better picture books that come out swinging against...

MARLENE, MARLENE, QUEEN OF MEAN

A heartfelt, albeit heavy-handed, treatise against bullying is delivered in plodding rhyming verse.

Co-authored by Lynch (who, as Sue Sylvester on television’s Glee, is a notorious bully), the rhyming text suffers under the weight of its earnest message and slim characterization. Why is Marlene so mean? Readers don’t ever find out—apart from an oblique reference to anger that motivates her random acts of cruelty. Other children cower in her wake, while adults who might step in are pointedly absent from words and pictures. Finally, Big Freddy, “his voice loud and steady,” intervenes to stop all the mean. He does so by simply asking Marlene why she is so mean and by pointing out to the others that she is not so scary after all. The children are emboldened by his actions, and they stand up to her too, refusing to flinch when she continues her tirade of bullying. In an odd narrative twist, she ends up sneezing out her meanness and deciding to reform, though the text eagerly points out that she doesn’t become an angel overnight. Tusa’s comical, lively, watercolor illustrations save the day in what would otherwise be a fairly forgettable addition to the anti-bullying bandwagon.

With its heart on its sleeve, this offering falls short of other, better picture books that come out swinging against bullying. (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-37908-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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THIS BOOK IS GRAY

A gray character tries to write an all-gray book.

The six primary and secondary colors are building a rainbow, each contributing the hue of their own body, and Gray feels forlorn and left out because rainbows contain no gray. So Gray—who, like the other characters, has a solid, triangular body, a doodle-style face, and stick limbs—sets off alone to create “the GRAYest book ever.” His book inside a book shows a peaceful gray cliff house near a gray sea with gentle whitecaps; his three gray characters—hippo, wolf, kitten—wait for their arc to begin. But then the primaries arrive and call the gray scene “dismal, bleak, and gloomy.” The secondaries show up too, and soon everyone’s overrunning Gray’s creation. When Gray refuses to let White and Black participate, astute readers will note the flaw: White and black (the colors) had already been included in the early all-gray spreads. Ironically, Gray’s book within a book displays calm, passable art while the metabook’s unsubtle illustrations and sloppy design make for cramped and crowded pages that are too busy to hold visual focus. The speech-bubble dialogue’s snappy enough (Blue calls people “dude,” and there are puns). A convoluted moral muddles the core artistic question—whether a whole book can be gray—and instead highlights a trite message about working together.

Low grade. (glossary) (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5420-4340-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Two Lions

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Though books on childhood anxiety are numerous, it is worth making space on the shelf for this one.

WAY PAST WORRIED

Brock may be dressed like a superhero, but he sure doesn’t feel like one, as social anxieties threaten to rain on his fun    .

Juan’s superhero-themed birthday party is about to start, but Brock is feeling trepidatious about attending without his brother as his trusty sidekick. His costume does not fit quite right, and he is already running late, and soon Brock is “way past worried.” When he arrives at the party he takes some deep breaths but is still afraid to jump in and so hides behind a tree. Hiding in the same tree is the similarly nervous Nelly, who’s new to the neighborhood. Through the simple act of sharing their anxieties, the children find themselves ready to face their fears. This true-to-life depiction of social anxiety is simply but effectively rendered. While both Nelly and Brock try taking deep breathes to calm their anxieties without success, it is the act of sharing their worries in a safe space with someone who understands that ultimately brings relief. With similar themes, Brock’s tale would make a lovely companion for Tom Percival’s Ruby Finds a Worry (2019) on social-emotional–development bookshelves. Brock is depicted with black hair and tan skin, Nelly presents White, and peers at the party appear fairly diverse.

Though books on childhood anxiety are numerous, it is worth making space on the shelf for this one. (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8075-8686-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Whitman

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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