This is a tremendously moving story, but some people will be moved only on the second reading, after they’ve Googled “How to...

I NEED A HUG

A hug shouldn’t require an instruction manual—but some do.

A porcupine can frighten even the largest animal. In this picture book, a bear and a deer, along with a small rabbit, each run away when they hear eight simple words and their name: “I need a hug. Will you cuddle me,…?” As they flee, each utters a definitive refusal that rhymes with their name. The repetitive structure gives Blabey plenty of opportunities for humor, because every animal responds to the question with an outlandish, pop-eyed expression of panic. But the understated moments are even funnier. Each animal takes a moment to think over the request, and the drawings are nuanced enough that readers can see the creatures react with slowly building anxiety or, sometimes, a glassy stare. These silent reaction shots not only show exquisite comic timing, but they make the rhymes in the text feel pleasingly subtle by delaying the final line in each stanza. The story is a sort of fable about tolerance. It turns out that a porcupine can give a perfectly adequate hug when its quills are flat and relaxed, but no one stays around long enough to find out except for an animal that has its own experiences with intolerance: a snake. It’s an apt, touching moral, but the climax may confuse some readers as they try to figure out the precise mechanics of the embrace.

This is a tremendously moving story, but some people will be moved only on the second reading, after they’ve Googled “How to pet a porcupine.” (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-29710-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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A forgettable tale.

THE LITTLEST REINDEER

Dot, the smallest reindeer at the North Pole, is too little to fly with the reindeer team on Christmas Eve, but she helps Santa in a different, unexpected way.

Dot is distressed because she can’t jump and fly like the other, bigger reindeer. Her family members encourage her and help her practice her skills, and her mother tells her, “There’s always next year.” Dot’s elf friend, Oliver, encourages her and spends time playing with her, doing things that Dot can do well, such as building a snowman and chasing their friend Yeti (who looks like a fuzzy, white gumdrop). On Christmas Eve, Santa and the reindeer team take off with their overloaded sleigh. Only Dot notices one small present that’s fallen in the snow, and she successfully leaps into the departing sleigh with the gift. This climactic flying leap into the sleigh is not adequately illustrated, as Dot is shown just starting to leap and then already in the sleigh. A saccharine conclusion notes that being little can sometimes be great and that “having a friend by your side makes anything possible.” The story is pleasant but predictable, with an improbably easy solution to Dot’s problem. Illustrations in a muted palette are similarly pleasant but predictable, with a greeting-card flavor that lacks originality. The elf characters include boys, girls, and adults; all the elves and Santa and Mrs. Claus are white.

A forgettable tale. (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-338-15738-3

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Cartwheel/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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Exciting artwork paired with disappointingly dull text.

KINDNESS GROWS

Rhyming verses about kindness using a consistent metaphor of widening cracks versus blooming plants are amplified by cutouts on each page.

The art and layout are spectacular, from the cover through the double-page spreads near the end. Racially diverse toddlers are shown engaging in various moods and behaviors, some of which create unhappiness and some of which lead to friendship and happiness. Every page’s color palette and composition perfectly complement the narrative. The initial verso shows two children in aggressive stances, backgrounded by a dark, partly moonlit sky. Between them is a slender, crooked cutout. The large-type text reads: “It all / starts / with a / crack / that we can hardly see. / It happens when we shout / or if we disagree.” The recto shows two children in sunlight, with one offering a pretty leaf to the other, and the rhyme addresses the good that grows from kindness. In this image, the crooked die cut forms the trunk of a tiny sapling. Until the final double-page spreads, the art follows this clever setup: dark deeds and a crack on the left, and good deeds and a growing tree on the right. Unfortunately, the text is far from the equal of the art: It is banal and preachy, and it does not even scan well without some effort on the part of whomever is reading it. Still, the youngest children will solemnly agree with the do’s and don’ts, and they may decide to memorize a page or two.

Exciting artwork paired with disappointingly dull text. (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68010-229-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Tiger Tales

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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