A solid introduction to discovering one’s own heritage that also teaches respect for others’.


Embarrassed by her long, unusual last name, an 8-year old girl discovers a reason to be proud of her heritage in Pillalamarri’s debut children’s book.

Leela Kongkitisoupchai is excited about her first day of second grade, when she’ll reunite with old friends and meet new ones. But her excitement quickly turns to shame and anger when, during roll call, her teacher stumbles on the pronunciation of her name and some fellow students in the class tease her. One boy says, “Could you get me some soup and maybe some chai tea too while you’re at it, pleaseee?” Adding to Leela’s angst is the upcoming mandatory class talent show; she has no idea what she’ll do. At an after-school trip to the grocery store, she encounters classmate Aleph Boker, who’s working behind the bakery counter. He’s sympathetic to her plight, and they find a common bond: “Hey, did you know that my last name is sort of funny too? It is Boker which actually means Baker in Hebrew!” Aleph opens Leela’s eyes to the possibility of finding meaning in her surname, but she’s convinced that hers must mean “nothing cool except for some yucky old soup and some stale cold chai tea.” Finally, after two days of moping, she confides her feelings to her grandmother, who reveals the story behind their family name, and Leela is both astonished and proud. Young readers will delight in Leela’s brave, surprising performance at the talent show. Pillalamarri does a fine job of developing her characters. Leela is an appealing protagonist who’s inquisitive, smart and sensitive. The lovely illustrations, featuring the spunky, freckled Leela, bring the perfectly chosen scenes to vivid life. The prose is smooth, and the dialogue rings with authenticity throughout. However, there are a few places where the narrative starts to drag, particularly the point where Leela attends a baby-naming ritual. Pillalamarri also includes ideas for lessons on genealogy and etymology, including three worksheets for classroom use.

A solid introduction to discovering one’s own heritage that also teaches respect for others’.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2014


Page Count: 97

Publisher: Lion Heart Books LC

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2014

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Little Blue Truck keeps on truckin’—but not without some backfires.


Little Blue Truck feels, well, blue when he delivers valentine after valentine but receives nary a one.

His bed overflowing with cards, Blue sets out to deliver a yellow card with purple polka dots and a shiny purple heart to Hen, one with a shiny fuchsia heart to Pig, a big, shiny, red heart-shaped card to Horse, and so on. With each delivery there is an exchange of Beeps from Blue and the appropriate animal sounds from his friends, Blue’s Beeps always set in blue and the animal’s vocalization in a color that matches the card it receives. But as Blue heads home, his deliveries complete, his headlight eyes are sad and his front bumper droops ever so slightly. Blue is therefore surprised (but readers may not be) when he pulls into his garage to be greeted by all his friends with a shiny blue valentine just for him. In this, Blue’s seventh outing, it’s not just the sturdy protagonist that seems to be wilting. Schertle’s verse, usually reliable, stumbles more than once; stanzas such as “But Valentine’s Day / didn’t seem much fun / when he didn’t get cards / from anyone” will cause hitches during read-alouds. The illustrations, done by Joseph in the style of original series collaborator Jill McElmurry, are pleasant enough, but his compositions often feel stiff and forced.

Little Blue Truck keeps on truckin’—but not without some backfires. (Board book. 1-4)

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-358-27244-1

Page Count: 20

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.


From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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