Striking illustrations cannot redeem these lackluster etymologies.




Ukulele, mummy, karaoke: What do they have in common? These are three of just 12 nouns selected for their “surprising stories.”

In this rather slim volume about linguistic cross-fertilization, the author uses almost more words in his adult-oriented introduction and closing note than he provides for young readers. The format presents phonetic pronunciation, original language, original and English definitions, and a brief history for each word. While the historical anecdotes are interesting, this does not really add up to much of a book. The accomplished, striking, and vividly colored two-page spreads that cunningly work each word into the overall design of an illustration are the real draw. Ukulele means “jumping flea” in the original language, Hawaiian. The name was given to the instruments Hawaiians fashioned after seeing “small guitars brought by European settlers….A ukulele player’s fingers bounce on the strings as quickly as jumping fleas.” In the picture, a band of orangey-brown fleas all bedecked in leis play ukuleles. Questions go unanswered. The entry for “mummy” doesn’t quite explain how the Persian word for “wax” came to be applied to the special Egyptian method of preserving bodies. “Karaoke” means “empty orchestra” in Japanese. The explanation mentions that the “first karaoke machines were developed in Japan” but doesn’t indicate when. The color key locating language families is difficult to correlate with the unlabeled map.

Striking illustrations cannot redeem these lackluster etymologies. (Informational picture book. 8-11)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-912920-18-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: What on Earth Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A scrumptious concept but overcooked.



Picture the endless variety of foods that make up the world’s menus.

Small, labeled images of various nations’ main food products, including grains, meats, fruits, fish, vegetables, and dairy products, are scattered over 41 country maps and nearby bodies of water. Due to lack of room or perhaps poor design, popular dishes are placed outside the country’s borders, often within the landmass of an adjoining or nearby country, providing very perplexing impressions. For example, the page for Argentina shows the food products (Pampas cattle, sweet potatoes, wheat, etc.) within the Argentine border and the popular dishes (such as the dessert dulce de leche and the “national dish” of asado, “flame-grilled meat”) outside the national border. The inclusion of nonfood marine animals such as whales and dolphins is both unfortunate and confusing. The book is organized by region, and several individual countries are featured in each section. European countries predominate in this Italian import. Minimal coverage is given to the African continent, but unusually, Madagascar is included. The book could be a visual feast, but due to the sheer amount of poorly presented graphic information, it ends up a jumble. The notions of “slow food and slow fish presidiums” are inadequately explained. There is no index and no references, highly inappropriate for this informational text. Readers can browse but cannot easily find information that they may want to revisit.

A scrumptious concept but overcooked. (Nonfiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-77085-952-4

Page Count: 72

Publisher: Firefly

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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Scanty for a stand-alone guide but definitely a vocabulary enricher.


A playful introduction to bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae, archaea, and protozoa.

Readers are going to need a basic grounding in cytology from the start, as Gallagher drops such terms as “nucleus” and “organelles” into the discourse without defining them and rushes past plasmids without explaining what they are or do. Likewise, though she fits out all of the jelly-bean–like cells and microbes in her lighthearted illustrations with expressive faces—not to mention occasional limbs, fashion accessories, and hair—she rarely includes recognizable biological components. She’s not particularly systematic either, as she mentions four major components of the human immune system but goes on to describe only two. More usefully, along with frequent mentions of how ubiquitous microbes are, her main focus seems to be laying out microbial types and subtypes, from the five shape-related groups of bacteria to the even more ancient archaea (Crenarchaeota, Euryarchaeota, and Korarchaeota), and describing their individual distinctions and how they reproduce. Polysyllabic as some of this content is, the breezy presentation should impart to general students, as well as budding microbiologists, a nodding acquaintance with our single-celled neighbors and residents.

Scanty for a stand-alone guide but definitely a vocabulary enricher. (glossary) (Nonfiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63411-009-9

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Thunderstone Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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