Lai uses a simple counting book to introduce the board-book set to the picture-book adventurer met previously in Tomo Explores the World (2016) and Tomo Takes Flight (2017).
After a promising start—“1 bright day on Half-Moon Bay / 2 best friends go on their way”—the story becomes just a list of what the friends see (“3 big bears,” “4 funny frogs”) rather than an artful incorporation of counting into the plot. Though Half Moon Bay is an actual place in Northern California, the animals featured in this story seem to have been chosen at random; polar bears don’t live there. Similarly, Tomo and his friend are not anchored in a particular place or ethnicity. They are shown in a hot air balloon, wearing furred parkas in a boat, and on an island dock. Both are black-haired with pink skin. Latinx? Asian? Indigenous? It’s impossible to know. Except when the girl friend looks horrified at the sight of jellyfish, they are always smiling, often with tongues visible. In companion title Tomo and His Animal Friends the girl is given a name, Maya. It features the same bland digital art and suffers from the same weaknesses.
Constructed with extra thick pages, the book probably won’t wear out quickly, but that doesn’t justify its purchase. Toddlers deserve better. (Board book. 1-3)