A breezy look at a historical footnote, just right for young children on their way to the amusement park.

A ROYAL RIDE

CATHERINE THE GREAT'S GREAT INVENTION

Who knew that Catherine the Great was such a sport?

Today’s roller-coaster enthusiasts can thank Catherine the Great for her role in the creation of an early roller coaster. Since the 1400s, Russians had created ice slides, like giant versions of today’s playground slides but made of wood, with the slide itself covered in ice. Catherine apparently loved wintertime, when she could whoosh down the slope in her “jeweled tiara and tapestry gown,” but the fun ended when winter ended and the ice melted. So she ordered her royal builders to create a slide that could be enjoyed year-round. She envisioned “Gilded beams and poles as high as a mountain. Golden stairs that spiraled all the way to the top.” What she got, in 1784, was a wooden structure that threatened splinters in “her royal bum.” It was all downhill from there…and uphill…and around. With the installation of rails and a wheeled carriage, it was a success and the progenitor of the many refinements over the many years since. In lighthearted illustrations rendered in Adobe Photoshop, Catherine is portrayed as a rosy-cheeked, fun-loving, olive-skinned young woman who sponsored schools, universities, and museums. Absent from both text and illustrations are the despot’s less-sterling attributes. Simplifying history to provide context for a purposively upbeat story can be a slippery slope, but young readers will enjoy the fun in which the volume is intended.

A breezy look at a historical footnote, just right for young children on their way to the amusement park. (author’s note, timeline, bibliography, acknowledgments) (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4814-9657-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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Lovely illustrations wasted on this misguided project.

LUNAR NEW YEAR

From the Celebrate the World series

The Celebrate the World series spotlights Lunar New Year.

This board book blends expository text and first-person-plural narrative, introducing readers to the holiday. Chau’s distinctive, finely textured watercolor paintings add depth, transitioning smoothly from a grand cityscape to the dining room table, from fantasies of the past to dumplings of the present. The text attempts to provide a broad look at the subject, including other names for the celebration, related cosmology, and historical background, as well as a more-personal discussion of traditions and practices. Yet it’s never clear who the narrator is—while the narrative indicates the existence of some consistent, monolithic group who participates in specific rituals of celebration (“Before the new year celebrations begin, we clean our homes—and ourselves!”), the illustrations depict different people in every image. Indeed, observances of Lunar New Year are as diverse as the people who celebrate it, which neither the text nor the images—all of the people appear to be Asian—fully acknowledges. Also unclear is the book’s intended audience. With large blocks of explication on every spread, it is entirely unappealing for the board-book set, and the format may make it equally unattractive to an older, more appropriate audience. Still, readers may appreciate seeing an important celebration warmly and vibrantly portrayed.

Lovely illustrations wasted on this misguided project. (Board book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Dec. 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3303-8

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Little Simon/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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A unique angle on a watershed moment in the civil rights era.

I AM RUBY BRIDGES

The New Orleans school child who famously broke the color line in 1960 while surrounded by federal marshals describes the early days of her experience from a 6-year-old’s perspective.

Bridges told her tale to younger children in 2009’s Ruby Bridges Goes to School, but here the sensibility is more personal, and the sometimes-shocking historical photos have been replaced by uplifting painted scenes. “I didn’t find out what being ‘the first’ really meant until the day I arrived at this new school,” she writes. Unfrightened by the crowd of “screaming white people” that greets her at the school’s door (she thinks it’s like Mardi Gras) but surprised to find herself the only child in her classroom, and even the entire building, she gradually realizes the significance of her act as (in Smith’s illustration) she compares a small personal photo to the all-White class photos posted on a bulletin board and sees the difference. As she reflects on her new understanding, symbolic scenes first depict other dark-skinned children marching into classes in her wake to friendly greetings from lighter-skinned classmates (“School is just school,” she sensibly concludes, “and kids are just kids”) and finally an image of the bright-eyed icon posed next to a soaring bridge of reconciliation. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

A unique angle on a watershed moment in the civil rights era. (author and illustrator notes, glossary) (Autobiographical picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-338-75388-2

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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