Arbona’s teeming scenes should inspire both close observation and new compositions by young readers/artists.

Braids flying, bespectacled Martha heads home from school, vividly imagining what’s behind the windows lining an urban street.

While Martha, looking up, traverses each otherwise blank, white verso page by degrees, each recto’s deceptively staid, delicately rendered window “opens” along a centered gatefold, revealing multifarious black-and-white scenes with decidedly surreal touches. Behind a ledge with drooping potted plants, a veritable torrid zone thrives as a gardener tends its elaborate flora and fauna. A shuttered window hides vampires playing badminton among a colony of bats. A dainty fringed shade obscures a woman straight from Grimm, reading 101 Ways To Cook a Child as her cauldron bubbles. (Her intended victim, ostensibly having consumed the conspicuously included How To Escape, bolts right out of the picture.) French Canadian author/illustrator Arbona’s wordless tableaux include magical mushrooms, bioluminescent sea creatures, a sleeping giant, and a cozy library full of reading animals. Kids will appreciate the use of “almost 20” felt pens for these pictures, whose fine lines, crosshatching, and infinitesimal dots evoke Edward Gorey. The visual mayhem, meanwhile, channels Jon Agee, Fernando Krahn, and even Mad magazine. The 13th gatefold lands Martha at home in a cozy bedroom surrounded by objects that were transmogrified in earlier illustrations and where, flopped on the floor, the child draws. Most humans are as white as the page; people of color are tinted gray.

Arbona’s teeming scenes should inspire both close observation and new compositions by young readers/artists. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5253-0136-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020


From the Diary of an Ice Princess series

A jam-packed opener sure to satisfy lovers of the princess genre.

Ice princess Lina must navigate family and school in this early chapter read.

The family picnic is today. This is not a typical gathering, since Lina’s maternal relatives are a royal family of Windtamers who have power over the weather and live in castles floating on clouds. Lina herself is mixed race, with black hair and a tan complexion like her Asian-presenting mother’s; her Groundling father appears to be a white human. While making a grand entrance at the castle of her grandfather, the North Wind, she fails to successfully ride a gust of wind and crashes in front of her entire family. This prompts her stern grandfather to ask that Lina move in with him so he can teach her to control her powers. Desperate to avoid this, Lina and her friend Claudia, who is black, get Lina accepted at the Hilltop Science and Arts Academy. Lina’s parents allow her to go as long as she does lessons with grandpa on Saturdays. However, fitting in at a Groundling school is rough, especially when your powers start freak winter storms! With the story unfurling in diary format, bright-pink–highlighted grayscale illustrations help move the plot along. There are slight gaps in the storytelling and the pacing is occasionally uneven, but Lina is full of spunk and promotes self-acceptance.

A jam-packed opener sure to satisfy lovers of the princess genre. (Fantasy. 5-8)

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-35393-8

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019


Warm but underdone.

In this picture book from actor Gyllenhaal and his partner, Caruso, a child and his uncle bond on a fantastic journey.

Leo, an avid dancer, is dismayed when Uncle Mo visits—he’s in town for a “rubber band convention.” Illustrations show both with wavy brown hair and light tan skin. Not only does Leo think his uncle is rather dull, he’s also leery of Uncle Mo’s many rules. A rather abrupt narrative shift occurs when the pair inexplicably drive into another dimension. Here they encounter Great-Aunt Gloria (who is very tall and presents Black) and Uncle Munkle Carbunkle (who is very short and light-skinned), who guide them through the Secret Society of Aunts & Uncles. Unimpressed with Uncle Mo, Great-Aunt Gloria says he must take a quiz on “Auntieology and Uncleology.” After several wrong answers, Uncle Mo has a final chance at redemption: He must state his nephew’s favorite activity. When Leo springs into action to dance for his clueless uncle, a mishap leaves him mortified and un-bespectacled. Enter Uncle Mo to save the day by using a rubber band to secure Leo’s glasses. While Santat’s energetic illustrations do much to clarify the narrative, they can’t fully make up for the disjointed storytelling—it’s never clear why the two have entered this dimension or why Leo is suddenly so eager to help Uncle Mo. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Warm but underdone. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9781250776990

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023

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