Sensational for reading aloud, with dramatic onomatopoeic opportunities aplenty.

It’s never too early to learn to show grit, try again, and “fail better.”

A cheerful, chunky blue elephant in a small green helmet mounts a two-wheeler. Swirls of bright yellow serve as a spotlight or a horizon against the white of the page. With her tomato-red bird friend on the handlebars, ebullient Elena takes off, ecstatic…but not for long: “KA-BANG!” Her bird fluttering around her, she tries again: “KA-PLUNK!” With support from her bird pal, she tries again. And again. Tears, adamant refusal (“N-O: NO!”), more encouragement, and finally, she’s on a roll. Concise text in a large, sans-serif type is direct but includes some reading challenges like buckles, awhile, and bawls. The cartoon-outline, block-color illustrations feature energetic double-page compositions, readable facial expressions, and dynamic changes from close-up to distance (young readers will soon grasp that both cycling elephants on a page are Elena). The restrained typeface gives way to appropriately thick, page-filling brush strokes for every “KA-RASH!” and “KA-BANG!” before the typeface returns with triumphantly enlarged final words: “Elena rides!” Storytime listeners will be enthralled. (This book was reviewed digitally.) 

Sensational for reading aloud, with dramatic onomatopoeic opportunities aplenty. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: March 14, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-5362-1635-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2022


Sadly, the storytelling runs aground.

A little red sleigh has big Christmas dreams.

Although the detailed, full-color art doesn’t anthropomorphize the protagonist (which readers will likely identify as a sled and not a sleigh), a close third-person text affords the object thoughts and feelings while assigning feminine pronouns. “She longed to become Santa’s big red sleigh,” reads an early line establishing the sleigh’s motivation to leave her Christmas-shop home for the North Pole. Other toys discourage her, but she perseveres despite creeping self-doubt. A train and truck help the sleigh along, and when she wishes she were big, fast, and powerful like them, they offer encouragement and counsel patience. When a storm descends after the sleigh strikes out on her own, an unnamed girl playing in the snow brings her to a group of children who all take turns riding the sleigh down a hill. When the girl brings her home, the sleigh is crestfallen she didn’t reach the North Pole. A convoluted happily-ever-after ending shows a note from Santa that thanks the sleigh for giving children joy and invites her to the North Pole next year. “At last she understood what she was meant to do. She would build her life up spreading joy, one child at a time.” Will she leave the girl’s house to be gifted to other children? Will she stay and somehow also reach ever more children? Readers will be left wondering. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-18-inch double-page spreads viewed at 31.8% of actual size.)

Sadly, the storytelling runs aground. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-72822-355-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Sourcebooks Wonderland

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020


Nice enough but not worth repeat reads.

Emma deals with jitters before playing the guitar in the school talent show.

Pop musician Kevin Jonas and his wife, Danielle, put performance at the center of their picture-book debut. When Emma is intimidated by her very talented friends, the encouragement of her younger sister, Bella, and the support of her family help her to shine her own light. The story is straightforward and the moral familiar: Draw strength from your family and within to overcome your fears. Employing the performance-anxiety trope that’s been written many times over, the book plods along predictably—there’s nothing really new or surprising here. Dawson’s full-color digital illustrations center a White-presenting family along with Emma’s three friends of color: Jamila has tanned skin and wears a hijab; Wendy has dark brown skin and Afro puffs; and Luis has medium brown skin. Emma’s expressive eyes and face are the real draw of the artwork—from worry to embarrassment to joy, it’s clear what she’s feeling. A standout double-page spread depicts Emma’s talent show performance, with a rainbow swirl of music erupting from an amp and Emma rocking a glam outfit and electric guitar. Overall, the book reads pretty plainly, buoyed largely by the artwork. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Nice enough but not worth repeat reads. (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: March 29, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-35207-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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