Those seeking feminist-tinged picture books should look elsewhere

LIZA JANE & THE DRAGON

A young girl thinks that a dragon will be a better caregiver than her mom and dad.

Liza Jane’s parents tell her that she’s very lucky. She has all the trappings of a happy-enough childhood: a canopy bed, a goldfish, and pizza on Fridays. “Yet: people didn’t listen to her. People interrupted her. People didn’t care about her feelings. And by ‘people’—we mean her parents.” The mixed-race child decides to fire her parental unit, and after putting up signs around the neighborhood (“Wanted: A MOM + A DAD”), she hires a dragon who claims “I can do both jobs.” But the dragon can’t cook, can’t brush Liza Jane’s hair, and “if anything made Liza Jane mad or frustrated, the dragon set it on fire.” The illustrations are subdued watercolors; Liza Jane and the dragon are always rendered in bold colors, set against a retro sepia backdrop, with other splashes of color indicating the focal point of each spread. The text is awkward and clunky, using an overwhelmingly didactic tone for a story lacking any clear or compelling takeaways. “After two weeks, or maybe it was six months, or maybe it was four years,” Liza Jane sends the dragon away and rehires her parents. “She tells them every day how lucky they are.”

Those seeking feminist-tinged picture books should look elsewhere . (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61775-661-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Black Sheep/Akashic

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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Inspiration, shrink wrapped.

WHAT THE ROAD SAID

From an artist, poet, and Instagram celebrity, a pep talk for all who question where a new road might lead.

Opening by asking readers, “Have you ever wanted to go in a different direction,” the unnamed narrator describes having such a feeling and then witnessing the appearance of a new road “almost as if it were magic.” “Where do you lead?” the narrator asks. The Road’s twice-iterated response—“Be a leader and find out”—bookends a dialogue in which a traveler’s anxieties are answered by platitudes. “What if I fall?” worries the narrator in a stylized, faux hand-lettered type Wade’s Instagram followers will recognize. The Road’s dialogue and the narration are set in a chunky, sans-serif type with no quotation marks, so the one flows into the other confusingly. “Everyone falls at some point, said the Road. / But I will always be there when you land.” Narrator: “What if the world around us is filled with hate?” Road: “Lead it to love.” Narrator: “What if I feel stuck?” Road: “Keep going.” De Moyencourt illustrates this colloquy with luminous scenes of a small, brown-skinned child, face turned away from viewers so all they see is a mop of blond curls. The child steps into an urban mural, walks along a winding country road through broad rural landscapes and scary woods, climbs a rugged metaphorical mountain, then comes to stand at last, Little Prince–like, on a tiny blue and green planet. Wade’s closing claim that her message isn’t meant just for children is likely superfluous…in fact, forget the just.

Inspiration, shrink wrapped. (Picture book. 6-8, adult)

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-26949-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2021

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This tale of self-acceptance and respect for one’s roots is breathtaking.

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EYES THAT KISS IN THE CORNERS

A young Chinese American girl sees more than the shape of her eyes.

In this circular tale, the unnamed narrator observes that some peers have “eyes like sapphire lagoons / with lashes like lace trim on ballgowns,” but her eyes are different. She “has eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea.” Author Ho’s lyrical narrative goes on to reveal how the girl’s eyes are like those of other women and girls in her family, expounding on how each pair of eyes looks and what they convey. Mama’s “eyes sparkl[e] like starlight,” telling the narrator, “I’m a miracle. / In those moments when she’s all mine.” Mama’s eyes, the girl observes, take after Amah’s. While she notes that her grandmother’s eyes “don’t work like they used to,” they are able to see “all the way into my heart” and tell her stories. Here, illustrator Ho’s spreads bloom with references to Chinese stories and landscapes. Amah’s eyes are like those of the narrator’s little sister. Mei-Mei’s eyes are filled with hope and with admiration for her sister. Illustrator Ho’s textured cartoons and clever use of light and shadow exude warmth and whimsy that match the evocative text. When the narrator comes to describe her own eyes and acknowledges the power they hold, she is posed against swirling patterns, figures, and swaths of breathtaking landscapes from Chinese culture. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-18-inch double-page spreads viewed at 80.5% of actual size.)

This tale of self-acceptance and respect for one’s roots is breathtaking. (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-291562-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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