THE WORST CHRISTMAS EVER

Poor Matthew is having the worst Christmas ever.

Well before the holiday season arrives, only Jasper the dog provides Matthew with any comfort when his parents announce in the springtime that the family is moving. When autumn rolls around, Matthew (whom stiff, undistinguished illustrations depict as resembling his dad and appearing white with light skin, red, straight hair, and blue eyes) still hasn’t adjusted. Readers learn that “at his new school, Matthew counted the hours until he could run home to Jasper. At church nothing felt right.” Little sister Lucy (who looks like their mother, with wavy dark hair, light-brown skin, and brown eyes), is happy in their new community, and their parents appear to be happy, too. Lucy’s joy is quite apparent when the minister announces plans for an outdoor Nativity, and she volunteers her doll, Gabriela, to “be baby Jesus.” Matthew is embarrassed by her exuberance, but those feelings shift to deep sadness and worry just before Christmas when Jasper disappears. The family makes fliers and calls around to shelters and veterinarian offices, to no avail. On Christmas Eve, Matthew’s “heart ached for Jasper, lost somewhere in that terribly silent night.” And then, in “a Christmas miracle,” Jasper appears in the living Nativity’s manger, a narrative contrivance that beggars belief and does not mitigate the one-note moodiness of the pages that have come before.

Not among the best. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-947888-09-8

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Flyaway Books

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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Halloween is used merely as a backdrop; better holiday titles for young readers are available.

THE LITTLE GHOST WHO WAS A QUILT

A ghost learns to appreciate his differences.

The little ghost protagonist of this title is unusual. He’s a quilt, not a lightweight sheet like his parents and friends. He dislikes being different despite his mom’s reassurance that his ancestors also had unconventional appearances. Halloween makes the little ghost happy, though. He decides to watch trick-or-treaters by draping over a porch chair—but lands on a porch rail instead. A mom accompanying her daughter picks him up, wraps him around her chilly daughter, and brings him home with them! The family likes his looks and comforting warmth, and the little ghost immediately feels better about himself. As soon as he’s able to, he flies out through the chimney and muses happily that this adventure happened only due to his being a quilt. This odd but gently told story conveys the importance of self-respect and acceptance of one’s uniqueness. The delivery of this positive message has something of a heavy-handed feel and is rushed besides. It also isn’t entirely logical: The protagonist could have been a different type of covering; a blanket, for instance, might have enjoyed an identical experience. The soft, pleasing illustrations’ palette of tans, grays, white, black, some touches of color, and, occasionally, white text against black backgrounds suggest isolation, such as the ghost feels about himself. Most humans, including the trick-or-treating mom and daughter, have beige skin. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-16.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 66.2% of actual size.)

Halloween is used merely as a backdrop; better holiday titles for young readers are available. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-6447-2

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Tundra Books

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Whimsy, intelligence, and a subtle narrative thread make this rise to the top of a growing list of self-love titles.

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YOU MATTER

Employing a cast of diverse children reminiscent of that depicted in Another (2019), Robinson shows that every living entity has value.

After opening endpapers that depict an aerial view of a busy playground, the perspective shifts to a black child, ponytails tied with beaded elastics, peering into a microscope. So begins an exercise in perspective. From those bits of green life under the lens readers move to “Those who swim with the tide / and those who don’t.” They observe a “pest”—a mosquito biting a dinosaur, a “really gassy” planet, and a dog whose walker—a child in a pink hijab—has lost hold of the leash. Periodically, the examples are validated with the titular refrain. Textured paint strokes and collage elements contrast with uncluttered backgrounds that move from white to black to white. The black pages in the middle portion foreground scenes in space, including a black astronaut viewing Earth; the astronaut is holding an image of another black youngster who appears on the next spread flying a toy rocket and looking lonely. There are many such visual connections, creating emotional interest and invitations for conversation. The story’s conclusion spins full circle, repeating opening sentences with new scenarios. From the microscopic to the cosmic, word and image illuminate the message without a whiff of didacticism.

Whimsy, intelligence, and a subtle narrative thread make this rise to the top of a growing list of self-love titles. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-2169-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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