Awards & Accolades

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PEPPER ZHANG, ARTIST EXTRAORDINAIRE!

Colorful, amusing, and well-told with text and illustrations working perfectly together.

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
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A rambunctious 3-year-old Asian girl whose artwork gains acclaim gets a big head—literally—in this children’s picture book.

Pepper Zhang is enjoying the day of her third birthday so much that she just doesn’t want to go to bed, so she throws a giant tantrum. But then she catches sight of the one birthday gift she hasn’t played with yet: a paint box and easel. Pepper paints angry, broad-stroked red swirls that reflect her big emotions in a work she titles “Red Dino Destroys Bedtime!” (A nice touch is illustrator Hautéa’s “artist’s interpretation” of Pepper’s abstract swirls.) As time goes on, Pepper paints more pictures and has fewer tantrums. Her bedroom becomes a private art gallery that becomes famous, Pepper’s fans proclaiming her to be an “Artist Extraordinaire!” But as Pepper’s fame grows, so does her head, until it’s so large that it interferes with her painting. Pepper decides to close her gallery, take a break from being famous, and focus on being a normal 3-year-old. Be reassured, though: “We have a feeling she’ll be making a comeback!” It’s hard to find picture books featuring contemporary Asian children in the United States, so with the delightful Pepper, debut author Zhang helps fill a gap. Pepper’s parents respect her outsized emotions and personality while gently helping her grow up—a good balance. Hautéa’s illustrations are well-suited for the subject with their bright colors, playful style, and well-observed details.

Colorful, amusing, and well-told with text and illustrations working perfectly together.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little Ning Books, LLC

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2017

JUST BECAUSE

Charming and thought-provoking proof that we all contain multitudes.

Oscar winner McConaughey offers intriguing life observations.

The series of pithy, wry comments, each starting with the phrase “Just because,” makes clear that each of us is a mass of contradictions: “Just because we’re friends, / doesn’t mean you can’t burn me. / Just because I’m stubborn, / doesn’t mean that you can’t turn me.” Witty, digitally rendered vignettes portray youngsters diverse in terms of race and ability (occasionally with pets looking on) dealing with everything from friendship drama to a nerve-wracking footrace. “Just because I’m dirty, / doesn’t mean I can’t get clean” is paired with an image of a youngster taking a bath while another character (possibly an older sibling) sits nearby, smiling. “Just because you’re nice, / doesn’t mean you can’t get mean” depicts the older one berating the younger one for tracking mud into the house. The artwork effectively brings to life the succinct, rhyming text and will help readers make sense of it. Perhaps, after studying the illustrations and gaining further insight into the comments, kids will reread and reflect upon them further. The final page unites the characters from earlier pages with a reassuring message for readers: “Just because the sun has set, / doesn’t mean it will not rise. / Because every day is a gift, / each one a new surprise. BELIEVE IT.” As a follow-up, readers should be encouraged to make their own suggestions to complete the titular phrase. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Charming and thought-provoking proof that we all contain multitudes. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9780593622032

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2023

LITTLE BLUE TRUCK'S VALENTINE

Little Blue Truck keeps on truckin’—but not without some backfires.

Little Blue Truck feels, well, blue when he delivers valentine after valentine but receives nary a one.

His bed overflowing with cards, Blue sets out to deliver a yellow card with purple polka dots and a shiny purple heart to Hen, one with a shiny fuchsia heart to Pig, a big, shiny, red heart-shaped card to Horse, and so on. With each delivery there is an exchange of Beeps from Blue and the appropriate animal sounds from his friends, Blue’s Beeps always set in blue and the animal’s vocalization in a color that matches the card it receives. But as Blue heads home, his deliveries complete, his headlight eyes are sad and his front bumper droops ever so slightly. Blue is therefore surprised (but readers may not be) when he pulls into his garage to be greeted by all his friends with a shiny blue valentine just for him. In this, Blue’s seventh outing, it’s not just the sturdy protagonist that seems to be wilting. Schertle’s verse, usually reliable, stumbles more than once; stanzas such as “But Valentine’s Day / didn’t seem much fun / when he didn’t get cards / from anyone” will cause hitches during read-alouds. The illustrations, done by Joseph in the style of original series collaborator Jill McElmurry, are pleasant enough, but his compositions often feel stiff and forced.

Little Blue Truck keeps on truckin’—but not without some backfires. (Board book. 1-4)

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-358-27244-1

Page Count: 20

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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