COUNTDOWN TO KINDERGARTEN

McGhee debuts for children with a very funny story about a girl who tries desperately to cope with not knowing how to tie her shoes. She’s been told that this is a requirement for kindergartners, but she just can’t get the knack. So she tries to rid herself of the problem: ditching her shoes in a haystack (her mother finds them, “Looky here—the missing shoes and that needle I’ve been searching for!”), trying to feed them to the cat, and deploying one as a bath toy. But they are always returned to her. Despite her parents reassurance that many five-year-olds can’t do this either, all she can picture is a phalanx of teachers droning: “Once again: You can’t ask us for help. Ever. Never.” If she tries to run a scam with laceless shoes, she knows she’ll pay the piper—“I’m sorry,” she imagines her teacher saying, “Baby shoe-wearers have to take rest time in the sub-basement. Good Luck.” Or worse yet, she’ll have to wear a sandwich board broadcasting the news that she is “Velcro Girl.” Then the big day comes—her shoes neatly tied by her parents—and she learns that most of her comrades haven’t got the goods on their shoelaces. Laughter as antidote to worry works wonders. Most inspired is Bliss’s (Which Would You Rather Be?, p. 668, etc) layout: illustrations, usually divided into half-pages, march the story along to present the thrumming drama as the day draws near. His big-eyed little girl shares the panic with her cat, whose face reflects hers until “Two days before kindergarten,” when he’s seen sleeping in earmuffs to drown her out. Her narrative is set in standard type, but the wittiest of comments appear in balloons tying up the laughter. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-15-202516-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Silver Whistle/Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2002

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Sadly, the storytelling runs aground.

LITTLE RED SLEIGH

A little red sleigh has big Christmas dreams.

Although the detailed, full-color art doesn’t anthropomorphize the protagonist (which readers will likely identify as a sled and not a sleigh), a close third-person text affords the object thoughts and feelings while assigning feminine pronouns. “She longed to become Santa’s big red sleigh,” reads an early line establishing the sleigh’s motivation to leave her Christmas-shop home for the North Pole. Other toys discourage her, but she perseveres despite creeping self-doubt. A train and truck help the sleigh along, and when she wishes she were big, fast, and powerful like them, they offer encouragement and counsel patience. When a storm descends after the sleigh strikes out on her own, an unnamed girl playing in the snow brings her to a group of children who all take turns riding the sleigh down a hill. When the girl brings her home, the sleigh is crestfallen she didn’t reach the North Pole. A convoluted happily-ever-after ending shows a note from Santa that thanks the sleigh for giving children joy and invites her to the North Pole next year. “At last she understood what she was meant to do. She would build her life up spreading joy, one child at a time.” Will she leave the girl’s house to be gifted to other children? Will she stay and somehow also reach ever more children? Readers will be left wondering. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-18-inch double-page spreads viewed at 31.8% of actual size.)

Sadly, the storytelling runs aground. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-72822-355-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Sourcebooks Wonderland

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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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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