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

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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An astonishing work of art and a crucial addition to every bookshelf.

WHEN WE SAY BLACK LIVES MATTER

The author of The Patchwork Bike (illustrated by Van Thanh Rudd, 2016) writes to children about the meaning of the phrase Black Lives Matter.

Pastel illustrations, also by Clarke, on dark, textured paper are paired with oversized, contrasting text addressed to “Little one.” In the visuals, a family that begins as a couple expecting a baby grows into a family with a child and then becomes part of a community in protest, marching for Black lives, before a final page shows a jubilant Black boy in a cap and gown. The adult narrator explains that “when we say Black Lives Matter, / we’re saying Black people are wonderful-strong.” Other meanings of the rallying cry, when it is called out, screamed, sung, laughed, and known, include a demand for respect, a defiant joy, a channeling of ancestors, an acknowledgment of trouble, and knowing one’s worth. Clarke’s text is poignant and mesmerizing, with design elements that raise the text to an artistic level, shaping it around the art and highlighting active and emotional words in color: enough, dancing, radiant, precious. The art is truly outstanding, gripping the heart from the very first spread and not letting go. With colored shapes and stained-glass motifs, these Black figures feel real and weighty. Within this deep dive are tragedy, fear, anger, and mourning alongside hope, comfort, strength, and triumph. This slim book contains a necessary and healing exploration of our current moment that will remain relevant for decades to come.

An astonishing work of art and a crucial addition to every bookshelf. (Picture book. 4-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5362-2238-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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A humorous, meandering approach to a life lesson about leading every day with benevolence.

A NEW DAY

To the consternation of the other six days of the week, Sunday quits in protest, tired of being unappreciated for her consistent delivery of a weekly “beautiful free day.”

Sunday’s abrupt decision prompts the others to look for her replacement with an advertisement inviting auditions before the remaining six days. The competition quickly grows increasingly fierce as ideas are broached for DogDay, Big-BurpDay, PieDay, Band-AidDay, and, ridiculously, FirepoleSlidingIntoPoolsOfCottonCandyDay. Amid all this boisterous and frenzied rivalry, a little girl approaches the misunderstood Sunday with a small plant to say thank you and to suggest “simply a nice day. A day when people can show more kindness to each other.” The child’s humble gratitude is enough for Sunday to return to her important weekly position and to prompt all the days to value kindness as the key to each day’s possibilities. Bright art captures the mania, with cotton-candy hues representing each of the anthropomorphic days. Though undeniably comical as it unfolds in busy cartoon illustrations and speech balloons, the drawn-out, nonsensical, and unexpected course the narrative takes may be a stretch for youngsters who cannot always distinguish among days. Kindness as the ingredient for achieving a harmonious week is nevertheless a valuable message, however circuitously expressed. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-18-inch double-page spreads viewed at 50% of actual size.)

A humorous, meandering approach to a life lesson about leading every day with benevolence. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-55424-0

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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