Unquestionably warmhearted, but its emphasis on zoological facts somewhat undermines its whimsy.

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XANDER'S PANDA PARTY

As a member of a rare species, Xander the Panda runs into some evolutionary conflicts when faced with the eternal quandary of whom to invite to his party.

As pandas are thin on the ground, he decides to expand the guest list to bears. This plan is upset by a bear look-alike, Koala, who turns out to be a marsupial, not a bear. Even broadening the invitation to all mammals doesn’t please everyone; Rhinoceros won’t come without his bird, so Xander invites all the birds. Crocodile adds to Xander’s stress by insisting that reptiles, being a prehistoric bird-related species, should be invited too. The solution to Xander’s dilemma comes from tiny Amanda Salamander, who suggests inviting all creatures, which (surprise) includes humans too! The party is a roaring success, and a nice girl panda shows up at the right moment to keep Xander company. Phelan’s pencil-and-watercolor vignettes are imaginative and charming, making the most of the story’s humorous potential. Though a solid addition to the popular category of books about inclusiveness, the tale, like Xander’s party, feels a little too-hastily put together. Children who chuckle at the sight of Xander lowering an invitation into the lion’s zoo enclosure may find themselves wondering how prey animals will fare at Xander’s shindig, for instance. Park includes a final note about pandas and species preservation.

Unquestionably warmhearted, but its emphasis on zoological facts somewhat undermines its whimsy. (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-547-55865-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Clarion

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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Watching unlikely friends finally be as “happy as two someones can be” feels like being enveloped in your very own hug.

THE HUG

What to do when you’re a prickly animal hankering for a hug? Why, find another misfit animal also searching for an embrace!

Sweet but “tricky to hug” little Hedgehog is down in the dumps. Wandering the forest, Hedgehog begs different animals for hugs, but each rejects them. Readers will giggle at their panicked excuses—an evasive squirrel must suddenly count its three measly acorns; a magpie begins a drawn-out song—but will also be indignant on poor hedgehog’s behalf. Hedgehog has the appealingly pink-cheeked softness typical of Dunbar’s art, and the gentle watercolors are nonthreatening, though she also captures the animals’ genuine concern about being poked. A wise owl counsels the dejected hedgehog that while the prickles may frighten some, “there’s someone for everyone.” That’s when Hedgehog spots a similarly lonely tortoise, rejected due to its “very hard” shell but perfectly matched for a spiky new friend. They race toward each other until the glorious meeting, marked with swoony peach swirls and overjoyed grins. At this point, readers flip the book to hear the same gloomy tale from the tortoise’s perspective until it again culminates in that joyous hug, a book turn that’s made a pleasure with thick creamy paper and solid binding.

Watching unlikely friends finally be as “happy as two someones can be” feels like being enveloped in your very own hug. (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-571-34875-6

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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This is a tremendously moving story, but some people will be moved only on the second reading, after they’ve Googled “How to...

I NEED A HUG

A hug shouldn’t require an instruction manual—but some do.

A porcupine can frighten even the largest animal. In this picture book, a bear and a deer, along with a small rabbit, each run away when they hear eight simple words and their name: “I need a hug. Will you cuddle me,…?” As they flee, each utters a definitive refusal that rhymes with their name. The repetitive structure gives Blabey plenty of opportunities for humor, because every animal responds to the question with an outlandish, pop-eyed expression of panic. But the understated moments are even funnier. Each animal takes a moment to think over the request, and the drawings are nuanced enough that readers can see the creatures react with slowly building anxiety or, sometimes, a glassy stare. These silent reaction shots not only show exquisite comic timing, but they make the rhymes in the text feel pleasingly subtle by delaying the final line in each stanza. The story is a sort of fable about tolerance. It turns out that a porcupine can give a perfectly adequate hug when its quills are flat and relaxed, but no one stays around long enough to find out except for an animal that has its own experiences with intolerance: a snake. It’s an apt, touching moral, but the climax may confuse some readers as they try to figure out the precise mechanics of the embrace.

This is a tremendously moving story, but some people will be moved only on the second reading, after they’ve Googled “How to pet a porcupine.” (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-29710-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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