Though engagingly conveyed, this slight account grievously lacks context.

A rivalry between Thomas Jefferson and a French naturalist is detailed in this lengthy picture book.

In Rockliff’s rollicking tale, Jefferson jots down numbers everywhere he goes. He reads a new book by a famous Frenchman named Buffon, claiming that “America [is] a terrible, miserable, cold, damp place where nothing good could grow” and animals are unnaturally small. Jefferson is mystified by these claims from a person who has never even been to America, and he sets out to prove him wrong. Amid the Revolutionary War, Jefferson finds time to compile enough numbers for a book, Notes on the State of Virginia. When he is asked to represent the new United States in France, Jefferson hopes to have his book presented to Buffon, but “the famous Frenchman had already made up his mind.” Jefferson compiles more numbers—measurements of animals small and large—and finally has a rotting moose carcass sent to Buffon. Anticlimactically, Buffon dies without acknowledging the huge animal. Schindler’s finely detailed illustrations are well suited to the subject and impress with period detail; they include one background character of color among the otherwise all-white cast. Children obsessed with the early republic and with science may find this obscure tale entertaining, but adults familiar with Jefferson’s writings and biography will hesitate to share this frivolous anecdote with children, as it ignores his legacy of racism and slavery even in the backmatter notes, which span six pages.

Though engagingly conveyed, this slight account grievously lacks context. (sources) (Informational picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7636-9410-4

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020



From the Holidays Around the World series

A good-enough introduction to a contested festivity but one that’s not in step with the community it’s for.

An overview of the modern African-American holiday.

This book arrives at a time when black people in the United States have had intraracial—some serious, some snarky—conversations about Kwanzaa’s relevance nowadays, from its patchwork inspiration that flattens the cultural diversity of the African continent to a single festive story to, relatedly, the earnest blacker-than-thou pretentiousness surrounding it. Both the author and consultant Keith A. Mayes take great pains—and in painfully simplistic language—to provide a context that attempts to refute the internal arguments as much as it informs its intended audience. In fact, Mayes says in the endnotes that young people are Kwanzaa’s “largest audience and most important constituents” and further extends an invitation to all races and ages to join the winter celebration. However, his “young people represent the future” counterpoint—and the book itself—really responds to an echo of an argument, as black communities have moved the conversation out to listen to African communities who critique the holiday’s loose “African-ness” and deep American-ness and moved on to commemorate holidays that have a more historical base in black people’s experiences in the United States, such as Juneteenth. In this context, the explications of Kwanzaa’s principles and symbols and the smattering of accompanying activities feel out of touch.

A good-enough introduction to a contested festivity but one that’s not in step with the community it’s for. (resources, bibliography, glossary, afterword) (Nonfiction. 5-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4263-2849-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: National Geographic Kids

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2017


A delightful story of love and hope.

Families are formed everywhere—including large metropolitan mass-transit systems!

Baby Kevin, initially known as “Danny ACE Doe,” was found in the New York City’s 14th Street subway station, which serves the A-C-E lines, by one of his future fathers, Danny. Kevin’s other father, Pete (author Mercurio), serves as the narrator, explaining how the two men came to add the newborn to their family. Readers are given an abridged version of the story from Danny and Pete’s point of view as they work to formally adopt Kevin and bring him home in time for Christmas. The story excels at highlighting the determination of loving fathers while still including realistic moments of hesitation, doubt, and fear that occur for new and soon-to-be parents. The language is mindful of its audience (for example using “piggy banks” instead of “bank accounts” to discuss finances) while never patronizing young readers. Espinosa’s posterlike artwork—which presents the cleanest New York readers are ever likely to see—extends the text and makes use of unexpected angles to heighten emotional scenes and moments of urgency. The diversity of skin tones, ages, and faces (Danny and Pete both present white, and Kevin has light brown skin) befits the Big Apple. Family snapshots and a closing author’s note emphasize that the most important thing in any family is love. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11.3-by-18-inch double-page spreads viewed at 43% of actual size.)

A delightful story of love and hope. (Informational picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42754-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

Close Quickview