Models how to say “I love you” for children—but readers may wonder what all the fuss is about.



Two little boys express their love for each other.

Everyone in Zack and Archie’s class knows they love each other. The two boys do everything together: ride a tandem bike, build elaborate sand castles, play miniature golf, fly rainbow kites. For unexplained reasons, neither boy can admit their love to the other even though they each want to. Archie, who’s White, writes brief letters telling Zack, who’s Black, his feelings, but in each one, “something’s missing.” He hides each one. Finally three girls find the hidden notes and give them to Zack in an elementary school version of forced outing. Since the entire book is about two kids who both love each other and everyone seems fine with it, it’s unclear where the tension is coming from, and the climax fizzles when it’s revealed that Zack has also been writing letters to Archie. The illustrations are goofy and energetic, with lots of small details on every page. Their classroom includes some background diversity; unfortunately, two children, likely intended as East Asian, are depicted with stereotypically slanted eyes. One girl wears a hijab and another a bindi, and a third uses a wheelchair; a Hanukkah scene indicates that at least one of the boys is Jewish. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-22-inch double-page spreads viewed at 15.3% of actual size.)

Models how to say “I love you” for children—but readers may wonder what all the fuss is about. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4367-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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Readers will agree: All differences should be hugged, er, embraced.


Watch out, Hug Machine (Scott Campbell, 2014), there’s another long-limbed lover of squeezes in the mix.

Bernard, a tiny, lavender bird, dejectedly sits atop a high branch. His wings droop all the way to the ground. Heaving a sigh, his disappointment is palpable. With insufferably long wings, he has never been able to fly. All of his friends easily took to the skies, leaving him behind. There is nothing left to do but sit in his tree and feel sorry for himself. Adamson amusingly shows readers the passage of time with a sequence of vignettes of Bernard sitting in the rain, the dark, and amid a cloud of paper wasps—never moving from his branch. Then one day he hears a sob and finds a tearful orangutan. Without even thinking, Bernard wraps his long wings around the great ape. The orangutan is comforted! Bernard has finally found the best use of his wings. In gentle watercolor and pencil sketches, Adamson slips in many moments of humor. Animals come from all over to tell Bernard their troubles (a lion muses that it is “lonely at the top of the food chain” while a bat worries about missing out on fun during the day). Three vertical spreads that necessitate a 90-degree rotation add to the fun.

Readers will agree: All differences should be hugged, er, embraced. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-9271-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Two Lions

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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Aims high but falls flat.


Through 20 short poems, Maestro Mouse invites readers to meet a series of animals who have lessons to impart and a symphony to perform.

Brown, author of The DaVinci Code (2003) and other wildly popular titles for adults, here offers young listeners a poetry collection accompanied by music: a “symphony” performed, for readers equipped with an audio device and an internet connection, by the Zagreb Festival Orchestra. From the introduction of the conductor and the opening “Woodbird Welcome” to the closing “Cricket Lullaby,” the writer/composer uses poems made of three to eight rhyming couplets, each line with four strong beats, to introduce the animals who will be revealed in the final double gatefold as the players in an all-animal orchestra. Each poem also contains a lesson, reinforced by a short message (often on a banner or signpost). Thus, “When life trips them up a bit, / Cats just make the best of it” concludes the poem “Clumsy Kittens,” which is encapsulated by “Falling down is part of life. The best thing to do is get back on your feet!” The individual songs and poems may appeal to the intended audience, but collectively they don’t have enough variety to be read aloud straight through. Nor does the gathering of the orchestra provide a narrative arc. Batori’s cartoon illustrations are whimsically engaging, however. They include puzzles: hard-to-find letters that are said to form anagrams of instrument names and a bee who turns up somewhere in every scene.

Aims high but falls flat. (Complete composition not available for review.) (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12384-3

Page Count: 44

Publisher: Rodale Kids

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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