An endearing delivery of a valuable message, to be taken with several grains of salt.

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MARY WEARS WHAT SHE WANTS

A young schoolgirl learns to follow her own rules despite opposition and pressure in this picture book inspired by Mary Edward Walker.

In the early 1800s, girls weren’t allowed to wear pants. Only “uncomfortable dresses…heavy-and-hot-and-hard-to-breathe-in dresses.” The expressive pink and blue drawings and patterns on ample white space show unhappy, immobile girls, while boys in pants cartwheel, jump, run, and play. But one day Mary has an idea. She wears pants. The townspeople are shocked! They heckle her, they throw things at her, they tell her not to wear boys’ clothes. In a touching scene, she sits with her father and asks if she should stop wearing pants. He says that people sometimes fear what they don’t understand, but he doesn’t tell her what to do. She decides to stick with her decision: “I’m wearing my clothes!” In the end, she’s a trendsetter. The constant association of skirts with frowns and pants with happiness oversimplifies both the historical moment and a modern-day environment in which skirts are the norm in many cultures. The sudden appearance of all the girls in pants (and smiles) at the end as well as multiracial faces among both hecklers and classmates make this more of a story than a biography. But the example of following one’s inner compass and bucking the status quo comes across loud and clear. A note on the historical Walker, a white woman who served as a surgeon during the Civil War, is appended.

An endearing delivery of a valuable message, to be taken with several grains of salt. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-284679-2

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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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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A sweet and far-from-cloying ode to love.

THE LOVE LETTER

A mysterious love letter brightens the lives of three forest animals.

Appealing mixed-media illustrations made of ink, gouache, brush marker, and colored pencil combine with a timely message that one kind act can start a chain reaction of kindness. When Hedgehog, Bunny, and Squirrel stumble in turn upon a formally composed love letter, each finds their life improved: Squirrel is less anxious, Bunny spreads goodwill through helpfulness, and Hedgehog is unusually cheerful. As the friends converge to try to discover who sent the letter, the real author appears in a (rather) convenient turn: a mouse who wrote an ode to the moon. Though disappointed that the letter was never meant for them, the friends reflect that the letter still made the world a happier place, making it a “wonderful mix-up.” Since there’s a lot of plot to follow, the book will best serve more-observant readers who are able to piece the narrative cleanly, but those older readers may also better appreciate the special little touches, such as the letter’s enticing, old-fashioned typewriter-style look, vignettes that capture small moments, or the subdued color palette that lends an elegant air. Drawn with minimalist, scribbly lines, the creatures achieve an invigorating balance between charming and spontaneous, with smudged lines that hint at layers of fur and simple, dotted facial expressions.

A sweet and far-from-cloying ode to love. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-274157-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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