A quirky friendship story with lots of humor.

UNLIKE OTHER MONSTERS

A young monster breaks a taboo against friendship—kind of.

Zander’s a normal monster (except for having a sister who’s a fairy—a strange detail that’s part of the book’s deadpan whimsy). And like a normal monster, he doesn’t have friends, though the illustrations imply he longs for connection. However, there’s apparently no injunction against fairies having friends, and his sister has plenty. Instead, Zander enjoys normal monster activities such as scaring children (which the illustrations hilariously suggest fills him with a wicked glee) and...surfing. While surfing, Zander notices a bird watching him. They silently greet each other with nods and points of the chin for a couple days until Zander invites the bird to the sand, whereupon the other monsters notice and mock Zander about his “friend.” Zander denies the friendship, and the hurt-looking bird wings away...but returns the next day. With information gleaned from his sister about friends, the next time he’s mocked, Zander decides that he and the bird aren’t friends—they don’t do everything his sister and her friends do (like “give money to kids who’ve lost teeth”)—they just enjoy spending time together. Jack’s colorful, humorous art makes for active illustrations and engaging characters, aptly complementing Vernick’s gently speculative text. The book ends without explicit acknowledgment of Zander’s friendship with the bird or his desire for closeness, allowing readers to digest the message.

A quirky friendship story with lots of humor. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: July 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4231-9959-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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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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