Sweetness with no substance


Wan takes her rhyming formula, previously applied to pumpkins, cupcakes, and more, and uses a unicorn as a vehicle for her newest outing in esteem-building.

“You are magical, my little one. / Reach for the stars, the moon, the sun.” In each image, a rotund white unicorn with flowing, rainbow-colored mane and tail, stubby yellow horn, and yellow stars on its rump poses fetchingly, gallops adorably, or leaps cunningly. It repels angry thunder clouds as it trots along a rainbow and emits stars as it’s exhorted to “sparkle and dazzle” in front of a small throng of admiring woodland animals. The artist’s signature thick, black outlines and smiley faces (except for the frowning thunder clouds) give the book a solidly cheerful feel that is reinforced by the pastel palette. Landing as it does in an environment in which an emphasis on resilience is superseding rank cheerleading in early-childhood instruction and in which empathy must be cultivated, it feels only half-baked. It’s all well and good to tell babies to “let your wondrous light shine through. / Baby, I believe in you!” But with no modeling of how to overcome adversity beyond the instruction not to “let fear stand in your way” nor even any sense that other creatures may be equally deserving of attention, it feels like the cotton candy it resembles.

Sweetness with no substance . (Board book. 1-3)

Pub Date: Dec. 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-338-33410-4

Page Count: 14

Publisher: Cartwheel/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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A joyful celebration.


Families in a variety of configurations play, dance, and celebrate together.

The rhymed verse, based on a song from the Noodle Loaf children’s podcast, declares that “Families belong / Together like a puzzle / Different-sized people / One big snuggle.” The accompanying image shows an interracial couple of caregivers (one with brown skin and one pale) cuddling with a pajama-clad toddler with light brown skin and surrounded by two cats and a dog. Subsequent pages show a wide array of families with members of many different racial presentations engaging in bike and bus rides, indoor dance parties, and more. In some, readers see only one caregiver: a father or a grandparent, perhaps. One same-sex couple with two children in tow are expecting another child. Smart’s illustrations are playful and expressive, curating the most joyful moments of family life. The verse, punctuated by the word together, frequently set in oversized font, is gently inclusive at its best but may trip up readers with its irregular rhythms. The song that inspired the book can be found on the Noodle Loaf website.

A joyful celebration. (Board book. 1-3)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-22276-8

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Rise x Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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As warm as a hug from Grandma.


Grandma is the star in dozens of picture books for older children, but seldom is the special bond between a toddler and their grandmother portrayed in a book for very young children.

This sweet, but not saccharine, board book fills that gap. Thankfully, this grandma does not have Alzheimer’s and is not dying. She simply delights in spending time with her cherished grandchild. The narrator, a charming bear cub, is not identified as male or female, which makes it easy for both girls and boys to insert themselves in the story. Each of the six rhyming couplets is spread across double-page spreads: “I love the fun we have each day, / And all the funny things you say.” Even in its small board-book trim size, there is still plenty of room for the winsome watercolors to highlight the familiar yet memorable rituals of a day spent with a loving and patient grandma. Note: “Rory Tyger” is the collective pseudonym for the British artistic team of Richard Greaves, Tracey Simmons, and Gabrielle Murphy. Their illustrations were originally used in Good Night, Sleep Tight by Claire Freedman (2003). In that story, the little bear is resisting bedtime. This reworking is a gentle and conflict-free ode to the special love between little bear and a doting grandma.

As warm as a hug from Grandma. (Board book. 1-3)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-68010-524-7

Page Count: 28

Publisher: Tiger Tales

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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