Beautiful to behold but uneven to read.

THE TREE THAT'S MEANT TO BE

O (little) Christmas tree!

Though it’s not as scraggly as the tree Charlie Brown selects in the television special, the little fir tree who narrates this story isn’t like the others in the forest. A scene in springtime reads, “While other trees grew poised and tall, / I lagged behind. / Looking different. / Feeling small.” When humans come to cut down trees to decorate for Christmas, the little fir tree isn’t chosen. It stands, lonesome, surrounded by the stumps of the other fir trees, with bare-branched deciduous trees in the background. In a happy turn, woodland animals hear the tree’s cries and bring “berries, feathers, / nuts, and flowers” to decorate it right where it stands. It’s a joyful, peaceable kingdom of a scene, enlivened with a bit of whimsy when the tree says that “a shooting star dropped down // [and] sank into my branches and shone so pure, / so bright, that I became a tree of light.” Here and throughout, Zommer’s gentle, warm illustrations outshine the text, which falters in its cadence and rhyme. Closing spreads show the tree growing taller, if still a bit crooked and spindly, with birds and forest animals around it. The final spread depicts a child of color and a white child reading books at its base, affirming the act of reading that brought real children to this closing page.

Beautiful to behold but uneven to read. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-593-11967-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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Whimsy, intelligence, and a subtle narrative thread make this rise to the top of a growing list of self-love titles.

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YOU MATTER

Employing a cast of diverse children reminiscent of that depicted in Another (2019), Robinson shows that every living entity has value.

After opening endpapers that depict an aerial view of a busy playground, the perspective shifts to a black child, ponytails tied with beaded elastics, peering into a microscope. So begins an exercise in perspective. From those bits of green life under the lens readers move to “Those who swim with the tide / and those who don’t.” They observe a “pest”—a mosquito biting a dinosaur, a “really gassy” planet, and a dog whose walker—a child in a pink hijab—has lost hold of the leash. Periodically, the examples are validated with the titular refrain. Textured paint strokes and collage elements contrast with uncluttered backgrounds that move from white to black to white. The black pages in the middle portion foreground scenes in space, including a black astronaut viewing Earth; the astronaut is holding an image of another black youngster who appears on the next spread flying a toy rocket and looking lonely. There are many such visual connections, creating emotional interest and invitations for conversation. The story’s conclusion spins full circle, repeating opening sentences with new scenarios. From the microscopic to the cosmic, word and image illuminate the message without a whiff of didacticism.

Whimsy, intelligence, and a subtle narrative thread make this rise to the top of a growing list of self-love titles. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-2169-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A cute, Halloween-y take on the old dare-to-be-you moral.

HARDLY HAUNTED

What could be worse for a house than to be haunted? Unless….

“There was a house on a hill, and that house was worried.” Overgrown with vines and frequented by a curious black cat, the abandoned abode fears that she will remain unoccupied because of her eerie countenance. Supplying the house with rounded, third-story windows and exterior molding that shift to express emotions, Sima takes readers through a tour of the house’s ominous interior. At first, the enchanted homestead tries to suppress her creaky walls, squeaky stairs, and rattling pipes. Despite all efforts to keep “VERY still. And VERY quiet. And VERY calm,” the house comes to find that being a rather creepy residence might actually be fun. The realization dawns on the decrepit dwelling with both relief and joy: “She liked being noisy. Maybe she liked being haunted.” Once the house embraces herself for who she is, the plot moves in a pleasant yet predictable direction: A cheerful family of ghosts loves the house in all her noisy glory and decides to move in. Sima’s lighthearted, cartoony style and cozy palette disarm the book of any frightening elements. The gentle, upbeat vibe makes it a fair choice to remind kids that their differences from others are the key to their belonging. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

A cute, Halloween-y take on the old dare-to-be-you moral. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: July 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5344-4170-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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