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MR. BENJAMIN'S SUITCASE OF SECRETS

The emphasis on the mysterious and unknowable contents of the suitcase seems misplaced in a story whose real message is...

A German philosopher disappears during World War II in an attempt to flee his country.

This unusual book from Switzerland is based on the real life of Walter Benjamin, a writer who tried to escape Nazi persecution by traveling across the Pyrenees with a group of refugees under the guidance of an Austrian woman named Mrs. Fittko. In the story, Mr. Benjamin insists on dragging a very heavy suitcase along, the contents of which “can change everything.” He is turned back at the border and never seen again. Speculation about what was in the suitcase ranges from weapons of war to his favorite foods, occupying the final several pages of the story and leaving readers wondering as well. In her first children’s book, Chang uses mixed-media illustrations to convey the bleakness of Mr. Benjamin’s journey. Matte collage with cutouts of white-skinned people and a classic newspaper typeface hint at political cartoons of the era. Starkly rigid figures of officers with not-quite swastikas on their sleeves are the only clue to the story’s setting, in keeping with the vaguely ominous feel of the simple text. It’s likely that Walter Benjamin’s story is more widely known in Europe than in the United States; the brief biographical notes about Mr. Benjamin and Mrs. Fittko provide some further information.

The emphasis on the mysterious and unknowable contents of the suitcase seems misplaced in a story whose real message is about the ease with which governments, then and now, can disappear individuals, especially those with “extraordinary ideas.” (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7358-4280-9

Page Count: 48

Publisher: NorthSouth

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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LITTLE DAYMOND LEARNS TO EARN

It’s hard to argue with success, but guides that actually do the math will be more useful to budding capitalists.

How to raise money for a coveted poster: put your friends to work!

John, founder of the FUBU fashion line and a Shark Tank venture capitalist, offers a self-referential blueprint for financial success. Having only half of the $10 he needs for a Minka J poster, Daymond forks over $1 to buy a plain T-shirt, paints a picture of the pop star on it, sells it for $5, and uses all of his cash to buy nine more shirts. Then he recruits three friends to decorate them with his design and help sell them for an unspecified amount (from a conveniently free and empty street-fair booth) until they’re gone. The enterprising entrepreneur reimburses himself for the shirts and splits the remaining proceeds, which leaves him with enough for that poster as well as a “brand-new business book,” while his friends express other fiscal strategies: saving their share, spending it all on new art supplies, or donating part and buying a (math) book with the rest. (In a closing summation, the author also suggests investing in stocks, bonds, or cryptocurrency.) Though Miles cranks up the visual energy in her sparsely detailed illustrations by incorporating bright colors and lots of greenbacks, the actual advice feels a bit vague. Daymond is Black; most of the cast are people of color. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

It’s hard to argue with success, but guides that actually do the math will be more useful to budding capitalists. (Picture book. 7-9)

Pub Date: March 21, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-593-56727-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

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STELLA DÍAZ HAS SOMETHING TO SAY

From the Stella Díaz series , Vol. 1

A nice and timely depiction of an immigrant child experience.

Speaking up is hard when you’re shy, and it can be even harder if you’ve got two languages in your head.

Third-grader Estrella “Stella” Díaz, is a shy, Mexican-American girl who draws pictures and loves fish, and she lives in Chicago with her mother and older brother, Nick. Jenny, Stella’s best friend, isn’t in her class this year, and Stella feels lonely—especially when she sees that Vietnamese-American Jenny is making new friends. When a new student, Stanley Mason, arrives in her class, Stella introduces herself in Spanish to the white former Texan without realizing it and becomes embarrassed. Surely Stanley won’t want to befriend her after that—but he seems to anyway. Stella often confuses the pronunciation between English and Spanish sounds and takes speech classes. As an immigrant with a green card—a “legal alien,” according to her teacher—Stella feels that she doesn’t fully belong to either American culture or Mexican culture, and this is nicely reflected in her not being fully comfortable in either language, an experience familiar to many immigrant and first-generation children. This early-middle-grade book features italicized Spanish words and phrases with direct translations right after. There is a small subplot about bullying from Stella’s classmate, and readers will cheer as they see how, with the help of her friends and family, Stella overcomes her shyness and gives a presentation on Jacques Cousteau. Dominguez’s friendly black-and-white drawings grace most pages.

A nice and timely depiction of an immigrant child experience. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62672-858-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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