A playful celebration of difference (and poetry).

DEAR DRAGON

A PEN PAL TALE

Two pen pals get to know each other over several months, and when they meet, each discovers that the other is a little different than imagined.

Two classes in different schools are assigned a poetry and pen-pal project in which the members exchange letters, and all the letters must be in rhyme. But from the very beginning, readers know something the pen pals don’t: George Slair is a young boy of color, while Blaise Dragomir is a young green dragon. The pair establish a quick bond, but whether due to the constriction of rhyme or the brevity of their letters, George and Blaise are a little vague in their descriptions, allowing each to imagine the other is a boy or dragon similar to himself. When Blaise declares his favorite sport is sky diving, George pictures a boy fearlessly gliding under a parachute; when George says his towering volcano won the science fair, Blaise envisions a dragonet circling the mouth of an actual volcano. Epistolary anticipation builds for pen pals and readers alike until boy and dragon finally come face to face, and each is thrilled to discover that his new friend is even cooler than he imagined. Montalvo’s visual irony skillfully paces alongside Funk’s gamboling rhymes, rendering readers’ investigations of each spread just as rewarding as the page turns.

A playful celebration of difference (and poetry). (Picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-451-47230-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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As insubstantial as hot air.

THE WORLD NEEDS WHO YOU WERE MADE TO BE

A diverse cast of children first makes a fleet of hot air balloons and then takes to the sky in them.

Lifestyle maven Gaines uses this activity as a platform to celebrate diversity in learning and working styles. Some people like to work together; others prefer a solo process. Some take pains to plan extensively; others know exactly what they want and jump right in. Some apply science; others demonstrate artistic prowess. But “see how beautiful it can be when / our differences share the same sky?” Double-page spreads leading up to this moment of liftoff are laid out such that rhyming abcb quatrains typically contain one or two opposing concepts: “Some of us are teachers / and share what we know. / But all of us are learners. / Together is how we grow!” In the accompanying illustration, a bespectacled, Asian-presenting child at a blackboard lectures the other children on “balloon safety.” Gaines’ text has the ring of sincerity, but the sentiment is hardly an original one, and her verse frequently sacrifices scansion for rhyme. Sometimes it abandons both: “We may not look / or work or think the same, / but we all have an / important part to play.” Swaney’s delicate, pastel-hued illustrations do little to expand on the text, but they are pretty. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11.2-by-18.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 70.7% of actual size.)

As insubstantial as hot air. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4003-1423-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Tommy Nelson

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2021

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Both beautiful and inspiring as graduation gift or guide to life.

Our Verdict

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BE YOU!

An inspirational picture book offers life advice for readers who want to be themselves.

Replete with sparkling, often quirky illustrations of children living their best lives, this book is a gorgeous guidebook for those seeking encouragement while encountering life’s challenges. The children featured—a racially diverse group ranging from infants to preschoolers—cheerfully navigate the various injunctions that flow through the text: “Be curious.…Be adventurous.…Be persistent.…Be kind.” What is remarkable about the book is that even though the instructions and the brief sentences explaining them are at times vague, the illustrations expand on them in ways readers will find endearing and uplifting. Those depicting painful or challenging moments are especially effective. The “Be persistent” double-page spread shows a child in a boat on stormy seas; it’s rich with deep blues as it emphasizes the energy of wind and rain and struggle in the face of challenge. Together with the accompanying repeated phrase “Keep going, never stop. Keep going, never stop. Keep going, never stop,” this spread arrests readers. By contrast, the “Be kind. Be understanding” spread simply presents two children’s faces, one cast in blue and the other in gold, but the empathy that Reynolds conveys is similarly captivating. While there is no plot to pull readers through the pages, the book provides rich fodder for caregivers to use as teachable moments, both informally and in classroom settings.

Both beautiful and inspiring as graduation gift or guide to life. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-57231-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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