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

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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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A welcome addition to autumnal storytelling—and to tales of traditional enemies overcoming their history.

THE SCARECROW

Ferry and the Fans portray a popular seasonal character’s unlikely friendship.

Initially, the protagonist is shown in his solitary world: “Scarecrow stands alone and scares / the fox and deer, / the mice and crows. / It’s all he does. It’s all he knows.” His presence is effective; the animals stay outside the fenced-in fields, but the omniscient narrator laments the character’s lack of friends or places to go. Everything changes when a baby crow falls nearby. Breaking his pole so he can bend, the scarecrow picks it up, placing the creature in the bib of his overalls while singing a lullaby. Both abandon natural tendencies until the crow learns to fly—and thus departs. The aabb rhyme scheme flows reasonably well, propelling the narrative through fall, winter, and spring, when the mature crow returns with a mate to build a nest in the overalls bib that once was his home. The Fan brothers capture the emotional tenor of the seasons and the main character in their panoramic pencil, ballpoint, and digital compositions. Particularly poignant is the close-up of the scarecrow’s burlap face, his stitched mouth and leaf-rimmed head conveying such sadness after his companion goes. Some adults may wonder why the scarecrow seems to have only partial agency, but children will be tuned into the problem, gratified by the resolution.

A welcome addition to autumnal storytelling—and to tales of traditional enemies overcoming their history. (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-247576-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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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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