HU WAN AND THE SLEEPING DRAGON

A Chinese boy learns a craft and shares a humble gift.

Nine-year-old peasant Hu Wan gardens with his grandfather beyond Beijing’s Forbidden City in this story set “many centuries ago.” Each year, Hu Wan’s grandfather cultivates a special gourd—shaping and carving it to create an intricate, decorative cricket cage. This year, Grandfather allows Hu Wan to shape the gourd, and when Grandfather gets sick and only weakly recovers, Hu Wan must carve the gourd as well. He creates a simple cricket cage in the shape of a sleeping dragon, and a cricket’s chirps fill the dragon with beautiful music. Could this lowly dragon, with its simple song, bring peace to a young, bereaved emperor? Inspired by a display of cricket cages, Young attempts to create a parablelike tale from imaginings of ancient China. Indeed, descriptions of the cage-crafting and the author’s note with cricket facts are the most compelling parts of this text. The story itself winds desultorily from one romantic stereotype to the next, with no redemption from the art. Solano’s illustrations caricature rather than characterize—a palace guard appears to be modeled after stock Asian villain Fu Manchu—and they omit critical plot details: despite textual references, images of the sleeping dragon do not include visible breathing holes, raising the question of how a cricket would actually survive inside.

This dragon disappoints. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-58536-977-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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An effective early chapter book conveyed in a slightly overdone gag.

DEAR BEAST

Epistolary dispatches from the eternal canine/feline feud.

Simon the cat is angry. He had done a good job taking care of his boy, Andy, but now that Andy’s parents are divorced, a dog named Baxter has moved into Andy’s dad’s house. Simon believes that there isn’t enough room in Andy’s life for two furry friends, so he uses the power of the pen to get Baxter to move out. Inventively for the early-chapter-book format, the story is told in letters written back and forth; Simon’s are impeccably spelled on personalized stationery while Baxter’s spelling slowly improves through the letters he scrawls on scraps of paper. A few other animals make appearances—a puffy-lipped goldfish who for some reason punctuates her letter with “Blub…blub…” seems to be the only female character (cued through stereotypical use of eyelashes and red lipstick), and a mustachioed snail ferries the mail to and fro. White-appearing Andy is seen playing with both animals as a visual background to the text, as is his friend Noah (a dark-skinned child who perhaps should not be nicknamed “N Man”). Cat lovers will appreciate Simon’s prickliness while dog aficionados will likely enjoy Baxter’s obtuse enthusiasm, and all readers will learn about the time and patience it takes to overcome conflict and jealousy with someone you dislike.

An effective early chapter book conveyed in a slightly overdone gag. (Fiction. 6-8)

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4492-2

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Heartfelt content for children who need to feel seen.

BEING YOU

Words addressed to children aimed at truth-telling, encouraging, and inspiring are accompanied by pictures of children of color going about their days.

“This story is about you,” the narrator opens, as a black boy looks up toward readers, a listening expression on his face. A multiracial group of children romp in a playground to encouraging words: “you are… / a dancer / a singer / in charge of the game.” Then comes a warning about the “whispers” out in the world that “tell you who you are / But only you and love decide.” There is advice about what to do when you “think there is nowhere safe”: “Watch a bird soar / and think, / Me too.” It asks readers to wonder: “If there was a sign on your chest / what would it say?” Children argue and show frustration and anger for reasons unclear to readers, then they hold up signs about themselves, such as “I am powerful” and “I am talented.” A girl looks hurt, and a boy looks “tough” until someone finds them “sitting there wondering / when the sky will blue.” While the words are general, the pictures specify a teacher, who is brown-skinned with straight black hair, as one who “can see you.” While young readers may find the wording unusual, even obscure in places, the nurturing message will not be lost.

Heartfelt content for children who need to feel seen. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68446-021-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Capstone Young Readers

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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