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)