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WILD ABOUT THE ALPHABET!

(AND OTHER TALES)

Wry wit, unusual choices, and pleasing images make this an enjoyable, all-ages ABC work.

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Our Verdict

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This debut illustrated abecedarian book aims to make reading aloud fun for adults as well as children.

Among the plethora of ABC books on the market, many offerings make animals their focus, and some creatures show up time and time again. This is especially so for less frequently used letters; for example, Q is usually for "Quail," and Z is almost always for "Zebra." Though children love familiarity and the repetition of their favorites, the grown-ups who read to them may feel jaded by the same old, same old. To address this problem, author and illustrator Crowder speaks to both audiences in his book. Though he does sometimes use well-known examples, like “A is for Alligator,” he often provides some uncommon alternatives, as when readers are told that A also stands for “aardvark, airedale, and akita.” And when a usual suspect shows up—Q is indeed for "Quail"—the author makes the entry amusing, acknowledging that “there are only about six animals that begin with Q. This is one.” For each spread, the left-hand page displays its animal exemplar in the shape of the appropriate capital letter, as with the toucan, whose long, large beak makes the horizontal crosspiece of a T, its body forming the upright. Each right-hand page shows the letter again in regular typography, both uppercase and lowercase, which is a useful touch that not all ABC books include.

For each letter of the alphabet, Crowder supplies some intriguing animal observations peppered with emphatic exclamations. “S is for Salamander,” for example, features the comment that the creature “can regrow lost limbs, parts of its heart, and even parts of its brain…its brain!” It’s easy to imagine reading this aloud with gusto. Many entries include quirky, humorous asides with references that will go over the heads of most children but will be entertaining for adults. For example, readers are warned that the gecko isn’t “cuddly” and “can’t talk either, so don’t let those commercials fool you.” Similarly, under K (somewhat unsurprisingly, for "Kangaroo"), the author notes that “a group of kangaroos is called a mob. It’s not a flash mob. Calm down.” The images are attractively colored, shaded, and proportioned. It’s a plus that the animals aren’t anthropomorphized or cartoony but instead are depicted fairly realistically in ways that convey their particular characteristics. For example, the dolphin’s lines flow aquatically, the fennec fox tilts its head in curious inquiry, and the raccoon washes its hands. The final pages present illustrations for animals mentioned but not portrayed in the main text, such as C for "Coelacanth." A pronunciation guide is included, more useful for adults than for pre-readers, but no glossary. This could have come in handy for terms the book uses but doesn’t define, such as the differences between monkeys, apes, and lemurs—something adults could find challenging to explain to kids.

Wry wit, unusual choices, and pleasing images make this an enjoyable, all-ages ABC work.

Pub Date: April 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-09-331811-1

Page Count: 60

Publisher: Mascot Books

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

LITTLE BLUE TRUCK'S CHRISTMAS

Little Blue’s fans will enjoy the animal sounds and counting opportunities, but it’s the sparkling lights on the truck’s own...

The sturdy Little Blue Truck is back for his third adventure, this time delivering Christmas trees to his band of animal pals.

The truck is decked out for the season with a Christmas wreath that suggests a nose between headlights acting as eyeballs. Little Blue loads up with trees at Toad’s Trees, where five trees are marked with numbered tags. These five trees are counted and arithmetically manipulated in various ways throughout the rhyming story as they are dropped off one by one to Little Blue’s friends. The final tree is reserved for the truck’s own use at his garage home, where he is welcomed back by the tree salestoad in a neatly circular fashion. The last tree is already decorated, and Little Blue gets a surprise along with readers, as tiny lights embedded in the illustrations sparkle for a few seconds when the last page is turned. Though it’s a gimmick, it’s a pleasant surprise, and it fits with the retro atmosphere of the snowy country scenes. The short, rhyming text is accented with colored highlights, red for the animal sounds and bright green for the numerical words in the Christmas-tree countdown.

Little Blue’s fans will enjoy the animal sounds and counting opportunities, but it’s the sparkling lights on the truck’s own tree that will put a twinkle in a toddler’s eyes. (Picture book. 2-5)

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-32041-3

Page Count: 24

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

CARPENTER'S HELPER

Renata’s wren encounter proves magical, one most children could only wish to experience outside of this lovely story.

A home-renovation project is interrupted by a family of wrens, allowing a young girl an up-close glimpse of nature.

Renata and her father enjoy working on upgrading their bathroom, installing a clawfoot bathtub, and cutting a space for a new window. One warm night, after Papi leaves the window space open, two wrens begin making a nest in the bathroom. Rather than seeing it as an unfortunate delay of their project, Renata and Papi decide to let the avian carpenters continue their work. Renata witnesses the birth of four chicks as their rosy eggs split open “like coats that are suddenly too small.” Renata finds at a crucial moment that she can help the chicks learn to fly, even with the bittersweet knowledge that it will only hasten their exits from her life. Rosen uses lively language and well-chosen details to move the story of the baby birds forward. The text suggests the strong bond built by this Afro-Latinx father and daughter with their ongoing project without needing to point it out explicitly, a light touch in a picture book full of delicate, well-drawn moments and precise wording. Garoche’s drawings are impressively detailed, from the nest’s many small bits to the developing first feathers on the chicks and the wall smudges and exposed wiring of the renovation. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at actual size.)

Renata’s wren encounter proves magical, one most children could only wish to experience outside of this lovely story. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-12320-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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