A superficial celebration of diverse experiences, overcoming shyness, and friendship.

KAT AND JUJU

This debut gently encourages personal growth while reinforcing the value of being different.

Kat is most comfortable doing things “her very own way,” but sometimes she gets lonely. The “other kids” each have their own “very best friend”—an animal who serves as a playmate and confidant—so Kat is thrilled when Juju shows up. But Juju, a giant, fluffy red bird, soon diverges from Kat’s preferred activities and routines. While shy Kat is anxious about being disliked or being laughed at for being different, playful Juju sticks around and helps Kat both take herself less seriously and even befriend the other kids. With a limited color scheme of black, gray, red, and blue against a stark white background, the cartoon illustrations utilize watercolor- and crayonlike textures as well as collaged red gingham for Kat’s dress. The author/illustrator’s background in animation is evident: The children have large, round heads with exaggerated features. Black-haired Kat is white as paper. Among the other children, one has red hair and white skin, and there is a darker-skinned child with a black Afro; a third seems to have Asian features and, in a deeply unfortunate characterization choice, is almost always illustrated with prominent buck teeth. No other humans (not even family members!) or social institutions appear in the text or images, which makes this story feel disconnected from a larger community or context.

A superficial celebration of diverse experiences, overcoming shyness, and friendship. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: July 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-4328-1

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Two Lions

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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Renata’s wren encounter proves magical, one most children could only wish to experience outside of this lovely story.

CARPENTER'S HELPER

A home-renovation project is interrupted by a family of wrens, allowing a young girl an up-close glimpse of nature.

Renata and her father enjoy working on upgrading their bathroom, installing a clawfoot bathtub, and cutting a space for a new window. One warm night, after Papi leaves the window space open, two wrens begin making a nest in the bathroom. Rather than seeing it as an unfortunate delay of their project, Renata and Papi decide to let the avian carpenters continue their work. Renata witnesses the birth of four chicks as their rosy eggs split open “like coats that are suddenly too small.” Renata finds at a crucial moment that she can help the chicks learn to fly, even with the bittersweet knowledge that it will only hasten their exits from her life. Rosen uses lively language and well-chosen details to move the story of the baby birds forward. The text suggests the strong bond built by this Afro-Latinx father and daughter with their ongoing project without needing to point it out explicitly, a light touch in a picture book full of delicate, well-drawn moments and precise wording. Garoche’s drawings are impressively detailed, from the nest’s many small bits to the developing first feathers on the chicks and the wall smudges and exposed wiring of the renovation. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at actual size.)

Renata’s wren encounter proves magical, one most children could only wish to experience outside of this lovely story. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-12320-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Safe to creep on by.

LOVE FROM THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR

Carle’s famous caterpillar expresses its love.

In three sentences that stretch out over most of the book’s 32 pages, the (here, at least) not-so-ravenous larva first describes the object of its love, then describes how that loved one makes it feel before concluding, “That’s why… / I[heart]U.” There is little original in either visual or textual content, much of it mined from The Very Hungry Caterpillar. “You are… / …so sweet,” proclaims the caterpillar as it crawls through the hole it’s munched in a strawberry; “…the cherry on my cake,” it says as it perches on the familiar square of chocolate cake; “…the apple of my eye,” it announces as it emerges from an apple. Images familiar from other works join the smiling sun that shone down on the caterpillar as it delivers assurances that “you make… / …the sun shine brighter / …the stars sparkle,” and so on. The book is small, only 7 inches high and 5 ¾ inches across when closed—probably not coincidentally about the size of a greeting card. While generations of children have grown up with the ravenous caterpillar, this collection of Carle imagery and platitudinous sentiment has little of his classic’s charm. The melding of Carle’s caterpillar with Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE on the book’s cover, alas, draws further attention to its derivative nature.

Safe to creep on by. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-448-48932-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2021

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