MAGRITTE’S APPLE

Magritte’s brand of surrealism is inherently intriguing to children; Belgian artist Verplancke builds on that interest, inventing a playful narrative that explores his compatriot’s subjects and style while showcasing his own formidable talent.

Opening panels portray the artist in bed, wide awake. Carefully chosen words contrast and connect to pull readers—and man—forward: “René was a painter, / but René couldn’t paint…. // His canvas was empty, / but his head was full.” He eventually approaches the easel, stares at a green apple, and nods off: images flow from his dreams. Wearing blue pajamas, the artist reaches across the page turn to paint himself in a suit and bowler hat. That figure stretches over the gutter to form an apple, a hat, and finally an “applehat,” the catalyst for more surprising mergers (a pipe and branch, spectacles and eggs). Subsequent spreads add frames and words to further tease imagination; i.e., a mouth fashioned from a red leaf is entitled “the mirror.” Verplancke mixes spare figures outlined and crosshatched in ink, fully colored compositions, and Magritte’s “impossible” views—windows as canvases, bright skies over a dark cityscape—to achieve the appropriate arc and atmosphere. He wisely emphasizes humor and clever visuals over facts to convey Magritte’s essence. Six reproductions in the backmatter prompt reflection and a return to the mind-boggling interior.

Absurdity at its best. (biographical note, selected works) (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-63345-016-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: MoMA

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2016

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An entertaining, if light, addition to the growing shelf of celebrity-authored picture books.

BUSY BETTY

Actor and author Witherspoon makes her picture-book debut.

Betty, a light-skinned, bespectacled child with blond pigtails, was born busy. Constantly in motion, Betty builds big block towers, cartwheels around the house (underfoot, of course), and plays with the family’s “fantabulous” dog, Frank, who is stinky and dirty. That leads to a big, busy, bright idea that, predictably, caroms toward calamity yet drags along enough hilarity to be entertaining. With a little help from best friend Mae (light-skinned with dark hair), the catastrophe turns into a lucrative dog-washing business. Busy Betty is once again ready to rush off to the next big thing. Yan uses vivid, pastel colors for a spread of a group of diverse kids bringing their dogs to be washed, helping out, and having fun, while the grown-ups are muted and relegated to the background. Extreme angles in several of the illustrations effectively convey a sense of perpetual motion and heighten the story’s tension, drawing readers in. An especially effective, glitter-strewn spread portrays Frank looming large and seemingly running off the page while Betty looks on, stricken at the ensuing mess. Though it’s a familiar and easily resolved story, Witherspoon’s rollicking text never holds back, replete with amusing phrases such as “sweet cinnamon biscuits,” “bouncing biscuits,” and “busted biscuits.” As Betty says, “Being busy is a great way to be.” Young readers are sure to agree. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

An entertaining, if light, addition to the growing shelf of celebrity-authored picture books. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-46588-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Flamingo Books

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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Pleasant but slightly pedestrian.

THE THREE BILLY GOATS GRUFF

Fairy-tale fun for everyone. (Except trolls.)

Barnett and Klassen partner for a retelling of the classic folktale about a trio of variously sized goats (all named Gruff) and a troll whose greed ultimately leads to his downfall. The story has been told many times, but in this variation, Barnett shows off for his audience by giving the troll a substantial amount of dialogue, most of which rhymes: “I love goat! Let me count the ways. / Goat rump in a honey glaze. / Goat smoked, goat poached, a goat pot roast. / Goat smorgasbord! Goat smeared on toast! / A goat kale salad—hold the kale. / Goat escargot! (That’s goat plus snails.) / On goat I’ll dine, on goat I’ll sup. / You little goat, I’ll eat you up!” It’s amusing verbal play, and librarians and caregivers who love to read out loud will enjoy hamming it up, although it may lessen the scary impact of the character. Likewise, the artwork, created in ink, watercolor, and graphite and compiled digitally, is pure Klassen, and the brown, green, and blue tones combine into an earthy setting where the ratlike troll (sans tail) fits in perfectly. But the visual reveal of the third billy goat takes a bit of oomph out of the story, as readers will be able to anticipate that this troll won’t be having goat strudel anytime soon. Fans of either Barnett or Klassen will love this retelling, but librarians won’t be sending their Paul Galdone or Jerry Pinkney retellings out to pasture just yet. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Pleasant but slightly pedestrian. (Folktale. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-3386-7384-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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