More a cute collectible for established fans than a children’s book that invites new curiosity.

This story of how siblings Willie and Bobbie Nelson became lifelong musical partners focuses on how the two grew up together in Abbott, Texas.

Many fans know the story of the redheaded stranger Willie Nelson, the songwriter and performer who, at age 88, continues to perform and release music. But far fewer know the story of Nelson’s sister, Bobbie, a pianist and gifted singer who has played with her brother since the two were young children. “My first piano was one we made from cardboard, with a keyboard drawn in crayon,” Bobbie says in the alternating narration. “We loved music. Music loved us back. It provided for us and protected us and supported our family’s soul,” Willie says. The family’s rural life is portrayed as loving and idyllic as the two are raised by their grandparents until their grandfather dies. From there it’s a short, abrupt journey from playing in church and in front of their first crowds to playing to huge audiences, as shown in a collection of ticket stubs that bookend the storybook. This picture book feels disconnected from its putative child audience. By softening rough edges and by focusing only on the siblings’ childhood, the story pins itself to an old-fashioned past. The serviceable illustrations that seem intentionally faded and muted likewise don’t concede much to a modern kid audience. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

More a cute collectible for established fans than a children’s book that invites new curiosity. (Picture book/memoir. 3-7)

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984851-83-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021


Renata’s wren encounter proves magical, one most children could only wish to experience outside of this lovely story.

A home-renovation project is interrupted by a family of wrens, allowing a young girl an up-close glimpse of nature.

Renata and her father enjoy working on upgrading their bathroom, installing a clawfoot bathtub, and cutting a space for a new window. One warm night, after Papi leaves the window space open, two wrens begin making a nest in the bathroom. Rather than seeing it as an unfortunate delay of their project, Renata and Papi decide to let the avian carpenters continue their work. Renata witnesses the birth of four chicks as their rosy eggs split open “like coats that are suddenly too small.” Renata finds at a crucial moment that she can help the chicks learn to fly, even with the bittersweet knowledge that it will only hasten their exits from her life. Rosen uses lively language and well-chosen details to move the story of the baby birds forward. The text suggests the strong bond built by this Afro-Latinx father and daughter with their ongoing project without needing to point it out explicitly, a light touch in a picture book full of delicate, well-drawn moments and precise wording. Garoche’s drawings are impressively detailed, from the nest’s many small bits to the developing first feathers on the chicks and the wall smudges and exposed wiring of the renovation. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at actual size.)

Renata’s wren encounter proves magical, one most children could only wish to experience outside of this lovely story. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-12320-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021


Nice enough but not worth repeat reads.

Emma deals with jitters before playing the guitar in the school talent show.

Pop musician Kevin Jonas and his wife, Danielle, put performance at the center of their picture-book debut. When Emma is intimidated by her very talented friends, the encouragement of her younger sister, Bella, and the support of her family help her to shine her own light. The story is straightforward and the moral familiar: Draw strength from your family and within to overcome your fears. Employing the performance-anxiety trope that’s been written many times over, the book plods along predictably—there’s nothing really new or surprising here. Dawson’s full-color digital illustrations center a White-presenting family along with Emma’s three friends of color: Jamila has tanned skin and wears a hijab; Wendy has dark brown skin and Afro puffs; and Luis has medium brown skin. Emma’s expressive eyes and face are the real draw of the artwork—from worry to embarrassment to joy, it’s clear what she’s feeling. A standout double-page spread depicts Emma’s talent show performance, with a rainbow swirl of music erupting from an amp and Emma rocking a glam outfit and electric guitar. Overall, the book reads pretty plainly, buoyed largely by the artwork. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Nice enough but not worth repeat reads. (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: March 29, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-35207-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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