This well-intended fable founders amid misrepresentation of basic desert botany.

CACTUS AND FLOWER

A BOOK ABOUT LIFE CYCLES

A saguaro cactus and its own flower become good friends and immerse themselves in the exuberance of life.

They share these “butterfly days” by admiring the many-colored desert sky, the bright stars at night, and the various wild birds and animals. Life is great for the two “buds” until the terrible day a petal is lost to the wind—soon to be followed by all. Cactus is inconsolable—not even a confluence of “all the butterflies in the world” can cheer him. Finally, memories of his friend start evoking joy instead of pain. When a new flower blooms, Cactus is ready to embrace life’s mysteries and inevitabilities. Williamson’s whimsical portrayal of Sonoran desert animals is the high point of this rather flat paean to the cycle of life. Disappointingly, the author/illustrator presents myriad inaccuracies that elicit first puzzlement and then eye rolls among readers familiar with the region. True saguaro flower clusters are ivory and yellow; the solitary pink flower looks like that of the hedgehog cactus—a different species altogether. Readers may also note that befriending the flower is akin to befriending one’s elbow—it is a part of the cactus. It does not, as indicated in the story, live side by side with the saguaro. Despite the subtitle, neither the life cycle of the saguaro nor its blossom’s is discussed in any way, shape, or form.

This well-intended fable founders amid misrepresentation of basic desert botany. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4337-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A full-hearted valentine.

THIS IS A SCHOOL

A soaring panegyric to elementary school as a communal place to learn and grow.

“This is a kid,” Schu begins. “This is a kid in a class. This is a class in a hall….” If that class—possibly second graders, though they could be a year to either side of that—numbers only about a dozen in Jamison’s bright paintings, it makes up for that in diversity, with shiny faces of variously brown or olive complexion well outnumbering paler ones; one child using a wheelchair; and at least two who appear to be Asian. (The adult staff is likewise racially diverse.) The children are individualized in the art, but the author’s narrative is addressed more to an older set of readers as it runs almost entirely to collective nouns and abstract concepts: “We share. We help. / This is a community, growing.” Younger audiences will zero in on the pictures, which depict easily recognizable scenes of both individual and collective learning and play, with adults and classmates always on hand to help out or join in. Signs of conflict are unrealistically absent, but an occasional downcast look does add a bit of nuance to the general air of eager positivity on display. A sad face at an apartment window with a comment that “[s]ometimes something happens, and we can’t all be together” can be interpreted as an oblique reference to pandemic closings, but the central message here is that school is a physical space, not a virtual one, where learning and community happen. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

A full-hearted valentine. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: March 29, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0458-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Accessible, reassuring and hopeful.

THE INVISIBLE BOY

This endearing picture book about a timid boy who longs to belong has an agenda but delivers its message with great sensitivity.

Brian wants to join in but is overlooked, even ostracized, by his classmates. Readers first see him alone on the front endpapers, drawing in chalk on the ground. The school scenarios are uncomfortably familiar: High-maintenance children get the teacher’s attention; team captains choose kickball players by popularity and athletic ability; chatter about birthday parties indicates they are not inclusive events. Tender illustrations rendered in glowing hues capture Brian’s isolation deftly; compared to the others and his surroundings, he appears in black and white. What saves Brian is his creativity. As he draws, Brian imagines amazing stories, including a poignant one about a superhero with the power to make friends. When a new boy takes some ribbing, it is Brian who leaves an illustrated note to make him feel better. The boy does not forget this gesture. It only takes one person noticing Brian for the others to see his talents have value; that he has something to contribute. Brian’s colors pop. In the closing endpapers, Brian’s classmates are spread around him on the ground, “wearing” his chalk-drawn wings and capes. Use this to start a discussion: The author includes suggested questions and recommended reading lists for adults and children.

Accessible, reassuring and hopeful. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-582-46450-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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