A buoyant authorial debut spoiled by some unexamined assumptions.

THE STRAY

Challenges both unique and familiar await a family that takes in a (literally) otherworldly stray.

For her first solo outing, Ruttan unspools a narrative that could apply to any terrestrial animal: “He didn’t have a collar, and he didn’t have a tag…so we brought him home.” She pairs it with sprightly views of a human family laying out bowls and bedding on the kitchen floor for Grub,” a doglike (if stalk-eyed) creature pulled from a crashed flying saucer. At first Grub exuberantly emits anti-gravity waves that create glorious chaos (“He wasn’t even housebroken”), but when, rather than settle in, he turns mopey, the family puts out “Found” posters. Soon a larger saucer swoops down to beam him back aboard. “We were sad Grub had to leave, but it felt good to know he was happy and was back with his family.” His rescuers are never seen aside from similar eyes on stalks viewed through windows. Read one way this makes a droll and cozy tale…but if seen as a riff on E.T. (“Grub” evidently piloted his own saucer), it’s discomfiting to see a stranded, sapient stranger treated as a pet, kitted with a cute name, given a bone to chew, and leashed for a walk outside. Subtle differences in the features and skin color of the human family’s two parents hint that they might be an interracial couple, though that too is left ambiguous.

A buoyant authorial debut spoiled by some unexamined assumptions. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-51446-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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An effective early chapter book conveyed in a slightly overdone gag.

DEAR BEAST

Epistolary dispatches from the eternal canine/feline feud.

Simon the cat is angry. He had done a good job taking care of his boy, Andy, but now that Andy’s parents are divorced, a dog named Baxter has moved into Andy’s dad’s house. Simon believes that there isn’t enough room in Andy’s life for two furry friends, so he uses the power of the pen to get Baxter to move out. Inventively for the early-chapter-book format, the story is told in letters written back and forth; Simon’s are impeccably spelled on personalized stationery while Baxter’s spelling slowly improves through the letters he scrawls on scraps of paper. A few other animals make appearances—a puffy-lipped goldfish who for some reason punctuates her letter with “Blub…blub…” seems to be the only female character (cued through stereotypical use of eyelashes and red lipstick), and a mustachioed snail ferries the mail to and fro. White-appearing Andy is seen playing with both animals as a visual background to the text, as is his friend Noah (a dark-skinned child who perhaps should not be nicknamed “N Man”). Cat lovers will appreciate Simon’s prickliness while dog aficionados will likely enjoy Baxter’s obtuse enthusiasm, and all readers will learn about the time and patience it takes to overcome conflict and jealousy with someone you dislike.

An effective early chapter book conveyed in a slightly overdone gag. (Fiction. 6-8)

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4492-2

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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A close encounter of the best kind.

FIELD TRIP TO THE MOON

Left behind when the space bus departs, a child discovers that the moon isn’t as lifeless as it looks.

While the rest of the space-suited class follows the teacher like ducklings, one laggard carrying crayons and a sketchbook sits down to draw our home planet floating overhead, falls asleep, and wakes to see the bus zooming off. The bright yellow bus, the gaggle of playful field-trippers, and even the dull gray boulders strewn over the equally dull gray lunar surface have a rounded solidity suggestive of Plasticine models in Hare’s wordless but cinematic scenes…as do the rubbery, one-eyed, dull gray creatures (think: those stress-busting dolls with ears that pop out when squeezed) that emerge from the regolith. The mutual shock lasts but a moment before the lunarians eagerly grab the proffered crayons to brighten the bland gray setting with silly designs. The creatures dive into the dust when the bus swoops back down but pop up to exchange goodbye waves with the errant child, who turns out to be an olive-skinned kid with a mop of brown hair last seen drawing one of their new friends with the one crayon—gray, of course—left in the box. Body language is expressive enough in this debut outing to make a verbal narrative superfluous.

A close encounter of the best kind. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: May 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4253-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Margaret Ferguson/Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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