This heartening, well-crafted story refreshingly places its emphasis on its protagonist’s resilience.

SPECTACULARLY BEAUTIFUL

A REFUGEE'S STORY

Based on a true refugee story, this deep and hopeful book sports colorful, simplified shapes depicting students and their teacher.

Stein does not attempt realistic depictions. The children look like jelly beans with limbs, facial features, and hair, and their all-blue teacher is only very slightly more detailed; all are digitally collaged over black-and-white photos of a Western classroom. This surprisingly effective choice allows readers to concentrate on the characters’ emotions. One day Ms. Truong asks her students to draw a memory from the places where they were born. A bike, a bowl of rice, children running through tall grass—and bricks and kids with crabby faces are some of what the students draw. The children each talk about their drawings and their cultures, things they like, dislike, or miss, and the teacher offers support and consolation when needed. When it is Shahad’s turn, she says that the bricks she drew are what inflicted the scar on her face and made her leg look the way it does. Shahad’s bubbly illustration does have scars next to her eye and on her knee. As Shahad leaves the classroom that day, Ms. Truong compliments her perfectly braided hair. With continued support, Shahad eventually asks, “Do you think I’m beautiful?” “I think you are spectacularly beautiful,” the teacher responds. Beautiful Shahad grows more confident and will pleasantly surprise with similar support to others the following year. Readers will likely infer that Shahad is from Syria or Iraq.

This heartening, well-crafted story refreshingly places its emphasis on its protagonist’s resilience. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Dec. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-57687-891-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: POW!

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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As insubstantial as hot air.

THE WORLD NEEDS WHO YOU WERE MADE TO BE

A diverse cast of children first makes a fleet of hot air balloons and then takes to the sky in them.

Lifestyle maven Gaines uses this activity as a platform to celebrate diversity in learning and working styles. Some people like to work together; others prefer a solo process. Some take pains to plan extensively; others know exactly what they want and jump right in. Some apply science; others demonstrate artistic prowess. But “see how beautiful it can be when / our differences share the same sky?” Double-page spreads leading up to this moment of liftoff are laid out such that rhyming abcb quatrains typically contain one or two opposing concepts: “Some of us are teachers / and share what we know. / But all of us are learners. / Together is how we grow!” In the accompanying illustration, a bespectacled, Asian-presenting child at a blackboard lectures the other children on “balloon safety.” Gaines’ text has the ring of sincerity, but the sentiment is hardly an original one, and her verse frequently sacrifices scansion for rhyme. Sometimes it abandons both: “We may not look / or work or think the same, / but we all have an / important part to play.” Swaney’s delicate, pastel-hued illustrations do little to expand on the text, but they are pretty. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11.2-by-18.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 70.7% of actual size.)

As insubstantial as hot air. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4003-1423-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Tommy Nelson

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2021

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The dynamic interaction between the characters invites readers to take risks, push boundaries, and have a little unscripted...

CLAYMATES

Reinvention is the name of the game for two blobs of clay.

A blue-eyed gray blob and a brown-eyed brown blob sit side by side, unsure as to what’s going to happen next. The gray anticipates an adventure, while the brown appears apprehensive. A pair of hands descends, and soon, amid a flurry of squishing and prodding and poking and sculpting, a handsome gray wolf and a stately brown owl emerge. The hands disappear, leaving the friends to their own devices. The owl is pleased, but the wolf convinces it that the best is yet to come. An ear pulled here and an extra eye placed there, and before you can shake a carving stick, a spurt of frenetic self-exploration—expressed as a tangled black scribble—reveals a succession of smug hybrid beasts. After all, the opportunity to become a “pig-e-phant” doesn’t come around every day. But the sound of approaching footsteps panics the pair of Picassos. How are they going to “fix [them]selves” on time? Soon a hippopotamus and peacock are staring bug-eyed at a returning pair of astonished hands. The creative naiveté of the “clay mates” is perfectly captured by Petty’s feisty, spot-on dialogue: “This was your idea…and it was a BAD one.” Eldridge’s endearing sculpted images are photographed against the stark white background of an artist’s work table to great effect.

The dynamic interaction between the characters invites readers to take risks, push boundaries, and have a little unscripted fun of their own . (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: June 20, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-30311-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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