Questions about what we see and what we don’t see, what we know and what we don’t know ripple through this beguiling book...

A KISS FOR AKARAKA

Daddy and little Lula rake autumn leaves alongside Akaraka, the girl’s imaginary friend.

Akaraka takes shape in the clouds, wind, leaves, and breeze—an evanescent silhouette that Daddy can’t see, though he playfully calls to her. Lula watches Akaraka out of the corner of her eye while giggling and teasing, “Daddy, you silly….” Readers  will feel exhilarated, enclosed in Lula’s private secret. They too make out her form in the autumnal natural world and later as a diaphanous shadow on bedroom wallpaper. Lithe, light-handed pen-and-ink–and-watercolor artwork appears both delicate and assured, making landscapes, expressions, and postures (even the folds of a sweatshirt) appear at once exact and exquisite. While interior domestic scenes seem cozily, concretely familiar with helpings of chocolate pudding (an extra for Akaraka), the world outdoors feels wildly atmospheric, with soaring skies and spinning leaves. Spacious double-page spreads evoke the luxuriant pull of the imagination, where the charm of an imaginary friend can sweep you away, across borders. Lula and her parents have pale skin and straight, black hair; Jackson’s back-flap biography explains that the word Akaraka comes from the Igbo-speaking people of southwestern Nigeria and was adopted by his then-3-year-old granddaughter, who loved the sound.

Questions about what we see and what we don’t see, what we know and what we don’t know ripple through this beguiling book like a playful October wind. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-265196-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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A hilarious autumnal comedy of errors.

THE LEAF THIEF

A confused squirrel overreacts to the falling autumn leaves.

Relaxing on a tree branch, Squirrel admires the red, gold, and orange leaves. Suddenly Squirrel screams, “One of my leaves is…MISSING!” Searching for the leaf, Squirrel tells Bird, “Someone stole my leaf!” Spying Mouse sailing in a leaf boat, Squirrel asks if Mouse stole the leaf. Mouse calmly replies in the negative. Bird reminds Squirrel it’s “perfectly normal to lose a leaf or two at this time of year.” Next morning Squirrel panics again, shrieking, “MORE LEAVES HAVE BEEN STOLEN!” Noticing Woodpecker arranging colorful leaves, Squirrel queries, “Are those my leaves?” Woodpecker tells Squirrel, “No.” Again, Bird assures Squirrel that no one’s taking the leaves and that the same thing happened last year, then encourages Squirrel to relax. Too wired to relax despite some yoga and a bath, the next day Squirrel cries “DISASTER” at the sight of bare branches. Frantic now, Squirrel becomes suspicious upon discovering Bird decorating with multicolored leaves. Is Bird the culprit? In response, Bird shows Squirrel the real Leaf Thief: the wind. Squirrel’s wildly dramatic, misguided, and hyperpossessive reaction to a routine seasonal event becomes a rib-tickling farce through clever use of varying type sizes and weights emphasizing his absurd verbal pronouncements as well as exaggerated, comic facial expressions and body language. Bold colors, arresting perspectives, and intense close-ups enhance Squirrel’s histrionics. Endnotes explain the science behind the phenomenon.

A hilarious autumnal comedy of errors. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-7282-3520-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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A beautifully poignant celebration of memories of a loved one that live on in those that remain.

THE SOUR CHERRY TREE

With ample emotional subtext, a young girl recalls everyday details about her beloved grandfather the day after his death.

The child bites her mother’s toe to wake her up, wishing that she could have done the same for her baba bozorg, her beloved grandfather, who had forgotten to wake up the day before. She kisses a pancake that reminds her of her grandfather’s face. Her mother, who had been admonishing her for playing with her food, laughs and kisses the pancake’s forehead. Returning to Baba Bozorg’s home, the child sees minute remnants of her grandfather: a crumpled-up tissue, smudgy eyeglasses, and mint wrappers in his coat pockets. From these artifacts the narrator transitions to less tangible, but no less vivid, memories of playing together and looks of love that transcend language barriers. Deeply evocative, Hrab’s narrative captures a child’s understanding of loss with gentle subtlety, and gives space for processing those feelings. Kazemi’s chalk pastel art pairs perfectly with the text and title: Pink cherry hues, smoky grays, and hints of green plants appear throughout the book, concluding in an explosion of vivid green that brings a sense of renewal, joy, and remembrance to the heartfelt ending. Though the story is universally relevant, cultural cues and nods to Iranian culture will resonate strongly with readers of Iranian/Persian heritage. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

A beautifully poignant celebration of memories of a loved one that live on in those that remain. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-77147-414-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Owlkids Books

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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Sincere and wholehearted.

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I PROMISE

The NBA star offers a poem that encourages curiosity, integrity, compassion, courage, and self-forgiveness.

James makes his debut as a children’s author with a motivational poem touting life habits that children should strive for. In the first-person narration, he provides young readers with foundational self-esteem encouragement layered within basketball descriptions: “I promise to run full court and show up each time / to get right back up and let my magic shine.” While the verse is nothing particularly artful, it is heartfelt, and in her illustrations, Mata offers attention-grabbing illustrations of a diverse and enthusiastic group of children. Scenes vary, including classrooms hung with student artwork, an asphalt playground where kids jump double Dutch, and a gym populated with pint-sized basketball players, all clearly part of one bustling neighborhood. Her artistry brings black and brown joy to the forefront of each page. These children evince equal joy in learning and in play. One particularly touching double-page spread depicts two vignettes of a pair of black children, possibly siblings; in one, they cuddle comfortably together, and in the other, the older gives the younger a playful noogie. Adults will appreciate the closing checklist of promises, which emphasize active engagement with school. A closing note very generally introduces principles that underlie the Lebron James Family Foundation’s I Promise School (in Akron, Ohio). (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at 15% of actual size.)

Sincere and wholehearted. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-297106-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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