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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This seemingly simple tale packs a satisfying emotional punch. Scarily good! (Picture book. 4-7)

LOVE MONSTER

Monster lives in Cutesville, where he feels his googly eyes make him unlovable, especially compared to all the “cute, fluffy” kittens, puppies and bunnies. He goes off to find someone who will appreciate him just the way he is…with funny and heartwarming results.

A red, scraggly, pointy-eared, arm-dragging monster with a pronounced underbite clutches his monster doll to one side of his chest, exposing a purplish blue heart on the other. His oversized eyes express his loneliness. Bright could not have created a more sympathetic and adorable character. But she further impresses with the telling of this poor chap’s journey. Since Monster is not the “moping-around sort,” he strikes out on his own to find someone who will love him. “He look[s] high” from on top of a hill, and “he look[s] low” at the bottom of the same hill. The page turn reveals a rolling (and labeled) tumbleweed on a flat stretch. Here “he look[s] middle-ish.” Careful pacing combines with dramatic design and the deadpan text to make this sad search a very funny one. When it gets dark and scary, he decides to head back home. A bus’s headlights shine on his bent figure. All seems hopeless—until the next page surprises, with a smiling, orange monster with long eyelashes and a pink heart on her chest depicted at the wheel. And “in the blink of a googly eye / everything change[s].”

This seemingly simple tale packs a satisfying emotional punch. Scarily good! (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-34646-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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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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