Rip-roaring verse but painfully simplistic messaging.

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THE SMEDS AND THE SMOOS

Two youngsters from mutually hostile groups connect.

This tale of prejudiced extraterrestrials jumps immediately into rollicking verse. “By a loobular lake on a far-off planet / There lived a young Smed, / and her name was Janet. / Not far away, on a humplety hill, / There lived a young Smoo / by the name of Bill.” The patter and nonsense words (wurpular, trockle) invoke Dr. Seuss. Smeds and Smoos alike have antennae and tubular noses, but Smeds, red, have webbed feet they wear bare while Smoos, blue, sport elflike boots. The illustrations’ eye-catching colors are intensely saturated throughout, sometimes jarringly so. Despite parallel contemptuous commands to “Never, never play with” the other group, Janet and Bill secretly bond and grow up to marry. “Janet and Bill stole out that night / While their families slept / and the squoon shone bright. / They clambered into the Smeds’ red rocket. / (Grandfather Sned had forgotten to lock it.) / Bill pressed the button, and Janet steered… // …When their families woke, they had both disappeared!” A multiplanet search leads to reconciliation and integration. This unsubtle metaphor for fixing racism and xenophobia ignores real-world power imbalances: The Smeds and Smoos may distrust one another, but they share equal status. Moreover, the notion that interracial couples and mixed-race offspring—a purple Smed/Smoo baby—are a solution for racism is false and places an unfair burden on mixed-race readers.

Rip-roaring verse but painfully simplistic messaging. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-66976-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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This seemingly simple tale packs a satisfying emotional punch. Scarily good! (Picture book. 4-7)

LOVE MONSTER

Monster lives in Cutesville, where he feels his googly eyes make him unlovable, especially compared to all the “cute, fluffy” kittens, puppies and bunnies. He goes off to find someone who will appreciate him just the way he is…with funny and heartwarming results.

A red, scraggly, pointy-eared, arm-dragging monster with a pronounced underbite clutches his monster doll to one side of his chest, exposing a purplish blue heart on the other. His oversized eyes express his loneliness. Bright could not have created a more sympathetic and adorable character. But she further impresses with the telling of this poor chap’s journey. Since Monster is not the “moping-around sort,” he strikes out on his own to find someone who will love him. “He look[s] high” from on top of a hill, and “he look[s] low” at the bottom of the same hill. The page turn reveals a rolling (and labeled) tumbleweed on a flat stretch. Here “he look[s] middle-ish.” Careful pacing combines with dramatic design and the deadpan text to make this sad search a very funny one. When it gets dark and scary, he decides to head back home. A bus’s headlights shine on his bent figure. All seems hopeless—until the next page surprises, with a smiling, orange monster with long eyelashes and a pink heart on her chest depicted at the wheel. And “in the blink of a googly eye / everything change[s].”

This seemingly simple tale packs a satisfying emotional punch. Scarily good! (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-34646-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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Spires’ understanding of the fragility and power of the artistic impulse mixes with expert pacing and subtle...

THE MOST MAGNIFICENT THING

Making things is difficult work. Readers will recognize the stages of this young heroine’s experience as she struggles to realize her vision.

First comes anticipation. The artist/engineer is spotted jauntily pulling a wagonload of junkyard treasures. Accompanied by her trusty canine companion, she begins drawing plans and building an assemblage. The narration has a breezy tone: “[S]he makes things all the time. Easy-peasy!” The colorful caricatures and creations contrast with the digital black outlines on a white background that depict an urban neighborhood. Intermittent blue-gray panels break up the white expanses on selected pages showing sequential actions. When the first piece doesn’t turn out as desired, the protagonist tries again, hoping to achieve magnificence. A model of persistence, she tries many adjustments; the vocabulary alone offers constructive behaviors: she “tinkers,” “wrenches,” “fiddles,” “examines,” “stares” and “tweaks.” Such hard work, however, combines with disappointing results, eventually leading to frustration, anger and injury. Explosive emotions are followed by defeat, portrayed with a small font and scaled-down figures. When the dog, whose expressions have humorously mirrored his owner’s through each phase, retrieves his leash, the resulting stroll serves them well. A fresh perspective brings renewed enthusiasm and—spoiler alert—a most magnificent scooter sidecar for a loyal assistant.

Spires’ understanding of the fragility and power of the artistic impulse mixes with expert pacing and subtle characterization for maximum delight. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-55453-704-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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