This school story for Christmas has a narrower audience than it depicts.

READ REVIEW

HO HO HOMEWORK

Is Jack’s substitute teacher really Kris Kringle incognito?

Young Jack, who appears to be a child of color with light brown skin and straight, black hair, is wishing for snow. Kids in his class think that all of their wishes will come true when they notice that their substitute teacher, Mr. Clausen, has a lot in common with Santa Claus. He appears white with light skin and curly white hair, including a full beard. Beyond his physical appearance, he also: has a fondness for milk and cookies; wears a red shirt, green pants, and black boots; has a big laugh that “sounded a lot like a ‘ho, ho, ho’ ”; knits stockings; makes lists; and uses a sled as a prop in science class. The titular “ho ho homework” is an assignment for the kids to make paper snowflakes and write their wishes on them. Jack is at first reluctant to do this because he is dubious about whether or not Mr. Clausen is, in fact, Santa Claus, but he ultimately does so, and he and “the whole neighborhood” wake to a white Christmas. The colorful, digitally enhanced watercolor art has an aesthetic that Tomie dePaola fans will recognize and enjoy. It depicts an apparently racially diverse classroom, but the children all seem to be united in a belief in Santa Claus, which feels unlikely.

This school story for Christmas has a narrower audience than it depicts. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-279688-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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A welcome addition to autumnal storytelling—and to tales of traditional enemies overcoming their history.

THE SCARECROW

Ferry and the Fans portray a popular seasonal character’s unlikely friendship.

Initially, the protagonist is shown in his solitary world: “Scarecrow stands alone and scares / the fox and deer, / the mice and crows. / It’s all he does. It’s all he knows.” His presence is effective; the animals stay outside the fenced-in fields, but the omniscient narrator laments the character’s lack of friends or places to go. Everything changes when a baby crow falls nearby. Breaking his pole so he can bend, the scarecrow picks it up, placing the creature in the bib of his overalls while singing a lullaby. Both abandon natural tendencies until the crow learns to fly—and thus departs. The aabb rhyme scheme flows reasonably well, propelling the narrative through fall, winter, and spring, when the mature crow returns with a mate to build a nest in the overalls bib that once was his home. The Fan brothers capture the emotional tenor of the seasons and the main character in their panoramic pencil, ballpoint, and digital compositions. Particularly poignant is the close-up of the scarecrow’s burlap face, his stitched mouth and leaf-rimmed head conveying such sadness after his companion goes. Some adults may wonder why the scarecrow seems to have only partial agency, but children will be tuned into the problem, gratified by the resolution.

A welcome addition to autumnal storytelling—and to tales of traditional enemies overcoming their history. (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-247576-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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Kids may choose differently at the pumpkin patch after reading this tale, though any deeper message may be lost on them.

STUMPKIN

A stemless pumpkin who isn’t chosen gets the best Halloween of all.

On the shelves outside a shop in a busy city, a shopkeeper makes a display of orange pumpkins and a single yellow gourd. They are all sizes and shapes and have lovely stems, save for one. Poor Stumpkin worries that, despite his good qualities, his stemlessness will prevent him from becoming a jack-o’-lantern like all the other pumpkins that go home with customers to decorate the windows across the street. On Halloween night, he alone is left (even the gourd went home with someone!). So the shopkeeper scoops him up. The spreads that follow are marvelous, wordless creations that will delight young readers: A black spread is followed by one with an orange-rimmed white triangle on the verso, then one with similar triangles on both pages. “Stumpkin wouldn’t be getting a window. And he wouldn’t be getting a new home. // He already had a home.” The final page shows Stumpkin as a jack-o’-lantern back on the shelves with the shopkeeper’s friendly black cat. Though undoubtedly feel-good, the book may leave readers wondering exactly what it’s saying about Stumpkin’s physical irregularity—is it some kind of disability metaphor? The city sights, people, and animals other than the cat are all black silhouettes, keeping the focus on Stumpkin.

Kids may choose differently at the pumpkin patch after reading this tale, though any deeper message may be lost on them. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: July 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5344-1362-7

Page Count: 56

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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