A wise and gentle lesson on making and helping friends.


When a child moves to the city, he misses the friendly sounds of the rainforest in Puerto Rico.

Ren lives with his mother and grandmother on the fringes of el Yunque, the rainforest in Puerto Rico. There, his days are “filled with green and dirt and rocks and mud.” It’s an idyllic “place of endless possibility, where anything he imagined became real,” and so Ren plays with dragons, unicorns, fairies, and kings, and he goes to sleep to the croaks of the coquís. All this changes when he moves with his mother to the city. Its loud mechanical sounds crowd his head and leave no room for wild, making him feel lonely. Meanwhile, Ava, a girl who lives upstairs, is “never lonely. She loved her building and she loved her city.” So when Ren tells her why he’s not happy, Ava is determined to make him see the city with different eyes. With her encouragement, Ren eventually finds in the city “a new kind of wild,” proving that friendship often goes a long way toward curing homesickness. Hoang’s color-filled illustrations incorporate fanciful views of mythical creatures into the rainforest and equally whimsical robots and ETs into the very diverse city as Ren learns to see with Ava’s eyes. Ren and his family present white; Ava and her family present black; all characters seem to be Latinx.

A wise and gentle lesson on making and helping friends. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-55389-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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A full-hearted valentine.


A soaring panegyric to elementary school as a communal place to learn and grow.

“This is a kid,” Schu begins. “This is a kid in a class. This is a class in a hall….” If that class—possibly second graders, though they could be a year to either side of that—numbers only about a dozen in Jamison’s bright paintings, it makes up for that in diversity, with shiny faces of variously brown or olive complexion well outnumbering paler ones; one child using a wheelchair; and at least two who appear to be Asian. (The adult staff is likewise racially diverse.) The children are individualized in the art, but the author’s narrative is addressed more to an older set of readers as it runs almost entirely to collective nouns and abstract concepts: “We share. We help. / This is a community, growing.” Younger audiences will zero in on the pictures, which depict easily recognizable scenes of both individual and collective learning and play, with adults and classmates always on hand to help out or join in. Signs of conflict are unrealistically absent, but an occasional downcast look does add a bit of nuance to the general air of eager positivity on display. A sad face at an apartment window with a comment that “[s]ometimes something happens, and we can’t all be together” can be interpreted as an oblique reference to pandemic closings, but the central message here is that school is a physical space, not a virtual one, where learning and community happen. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

A full-hearted valentine. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: March 29, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0458-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Accessible, reassuring and hopeful.


This endearing picture book about a timid boy who longs to belong has an agenda but delivers its message with great sensitivity.

Brian wants to join in but is overlooked, even ostracized, by his classmates. Readers first see him alone on the front endpapers, drawing in chalk on the ground. The school scenarios are uncomfortably familiar: High-maintenance children get the teacher’s attention; team captains choose kickball players by popularity and athletic ability; chatter about birthday parties indicates they are not inclusive events. Tender illustrations rendered in glowing hues capture Brian’s isolation deftly; compared to the others and his surroundings, he appears in black and white. What saves Brian is his creativity. As he draws, Brian imagines amazing stories, including a poignant one about a superhero with the power to make friends. When a new boy takes some ribbing, it is Brian who leaves an illustrated note to make him feel better. The boy does not forget this gesture. It only takes one person noticing Brian for the others to see his talents have value; that he has something to contribute. Brian’s colors pop. In the closing endpapers, Brian’s classmates are spread around him on the ground, “wearing” his chalk-drawn wings and capes. Use this to start a discussion: The author includes suggested questions and recommended reading lists for adults and children.

Accessible, reassuring and hopeful. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-582-46450-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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