Not only does Johnson once again take something simple and make it extraordinary, but he will inspire readers to do the same.

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ALPHABET SCHOOL

The multiple–award-winning illustrator takes a page from his own book—Alphabet City (1995), that is—and creates a graphic-alphabet book that will have students searching their own schools for letters.

In an introductory note, Johnson says his inspiration was a partially eaten peanut-butter–and-jelly sandwich his daughter brought home from school: it formed a perfect letter G (and is the basis for the page featuring that letter). No matter the inspiration, though, the artwork within will surely have readers looking at the world from all different angles and perspectives and appreciating the beauty in the mundane. A shadow on the fender of a yellow school bus forms a B; an ordinary double-paned window is an E when viewed from the side; the handle on a pencil sharpener is an L; two metal bookends next to one another form an M; an upturned toilet seat is a perfect U. Not all of these can be found in every school—Q is the center circle on a basketball court with a painted comet logo bursting through—but there are enough ideas here that kids will leave no stone unturned in looking for their own versions. Johnson’s art consists of monoprints on paper with digital enhancements, and it has an old-fashioned photo feel, complete with grainy texture and whitish borders around every picture.

Not only does Johnson once again take something simple and make it extraordinary, but he will inspire readers to do the same. (Alphabet book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4169-2521-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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A welcome addition to autumnal storytelling—and to tales of traditional enemies overcoming their history.

THE SCARECROW

Ferry and the Fans portray a popular seasonal character’s unlikely friendship.

Initially, the protagonist is shown in his solitary world: “Scarecrow stands alone and scares / the fox and deer, / the mice and crows. / It’s all he does. It’s all he knows.” His presence is effective; the animals stay outside the fenced-in fields, but the omniscient narrator laments the character’s lack of friends or places to go. Everything changes when a baby crow falls nearby. Breaking his pole so he can bend, the scarecrow picks it up, placing the creature in the bib of his overalls while singing a lullaby. Both abandon natural tendencies until the crow learns to fly—and thus departs. The aabb rhyme scheme flows reasonably well, propelling the narrative through fall, winter, and spring, when the mature crow returns with a mate to build a nest in the overalls bib that once was his home. The Fan brothers capture the emotional tenor of the seasons and the main character in their panoramic pencil, ballpoint, and digital compositions. Particularly poignant is the close-up of the scarecrow’s burlap face, his stitched mouth and leaf-rimmed head conveying such sadness after his companion goes. Some adults may wonder why the scarecrow seems to have only partial agency, but children will be tuned into the problem, gratified by the resolution.

A welcome addition to autumnal storytelling—and to tales of traditional enemies overcoming their history. (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-247576-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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A multilayered, endearing treasure of a day.

MY DAY WITH GONG GONG

Spending a day with Gong Gong doesn’t sound like very much fun to May.

Gong Gong doesn’t speak English, and May doesn’t know Chinese. How can they have a good day together? As they stroll through an urban Chinatown, May’s perpetually sanguine maternal grandfather chats with friends and visits shops. At each stop, Cantonese words fly back and forth, many clearly pointed at May, who understands none of it. It’s equally exasperating trying to communicate with Gong Gong in English, and by the time they join a card game in the park with Gong Gong’s friends, May is tired, hungry, and frustrated. But although it seems like Gong Gong hasn’t been attentive so far, when May’s day finally comes to a head, it is clear that he has. First-person text gives glimpses into May’s lively thoughts as they evolve through the day, and Gong Gong’s unchangingly jolly face reflects what could be mistaken for blithe obliviousness but is actually his way of showing love through sharing the people and places of his life. Through adorable illustrations that exude humor and warmth, this portrait of intergenerational affection is also a tribute to life in Chinatown neighborhoods: Street vendors, a busker playing a Chinese violin, a dim sum restaurant, and more all combine to add a distinctive texture. 

A multilayered, endearing treasure of a day. (glossary) (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77321-429-0

Page Count: 36

Publisher: Annick Press

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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Thank you, Gerald and Piggie. We’ll miss you

THE THANK YOU BOOK

From the Elephant & Piggie series

Piggie is “one lucky pig,” and she’s determined to make sure she thanks “everyone who is important to” her in this, the final Elephant & Piggie book.

Gerald is sure his friend will forget someone—“someone important”—but Piggie assures him, “It will be a THANK-O-RAMA!” Piggie proceeds to thank the Squirrels for their great ideas, Snake for playing ball, and the Pigeon “for never giving up.” Piggie thanks and thanks: “I am a thanking machine!” She thanks character after character, even the Flies (“Any time, dude!”), as Gerald continues to interject that she’ll forget “someone VERY important.” Finally Piggie runs out of thanks, and by this time Gerald is steamed. “I goofed,” Piggie says in itty-bitty type, before lavishing thanks on Gerald. But that’s not whom Piggie forgot to thank! A classic Willems tantrum later, Gerald reveals the “someone important”: “Our reader.” Of course. “We could not be ‘us’ without you,” says Gerald, earnestly looking out from the page, and Piggie chimes in, “You are the best!” As Elephant & Piggie books go, this isn’t one of the strongest, but it is a validating valediction to fans of the two characters, who have won Willems two Geisel Medals and five Honors. Yes, Gerald and Piggie have ushered countless readers into literacy, but as they rightly note, reading is a collaborative act.

Thank you, Gerald and Piggie. We’ll miss you . (Early reader. 5-8)

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4231-7828-6

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2016

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