Doesn’t quite make the grade.


It’s Kayla’s first day of kindergarten, and she’s riddled with anxiety about all the mistakes she’s sure she will make.

Then Kayla meets her teacher, Mrs. Muddle, and realizes that she might not be the only one learning the ropes. Mrs. Muddle passes out all the nametags to the wrong students, reads the morning storybook upside down, and confuses the library with the gym. Every time she makes a mistake, Kayla corrects her by figuring out the answer on her own. By the time the day is over, Kayla is confident in her ability to navigate her new school. Nelson’s narratorial voice is clear and charming, and the choice to illustrate Kayla as a dark-skinned girl of color is pleasing. The plot is not without its flaws, however. While Kayla claims to her mother after school that she made new friends, readers mostly see Kayla interacting with Mrs. Muddle, without the help of other students who might also be trying to correct their wayward teacher. Many of Kayla’s classmates appear also to be children of color. This would be a commendable gesture to diversity except that it transforms the book into the story of how a White teacher seems to decide that the best way to assuage the first-day jitters of a set of diverse kindergartners is to feign incompetence, a tactic that comes across as condescending.

Doesn’t quite make the grade. (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77278-131-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Pajama Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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Just the thing to get uncertain youngsters jazzed for a first day—at school or anywhere.


Barnes and Brantley-Newton team up for a follow-up to The King of Kindergarten (2019).

From the very first page, it’s clear that young MJ Malone is ready to face the world—and school. Once Mom bestows her with a glittery tiara and dubs her the queen of kindergarten, MJ is determined to fulfill her duties—brighten up every room she enters, treat others with kindness, and offer a helping hand. Barnes infuses each page with humor and a sense of grace as the immensely likable MJ makes the most of her first day. Barnes’ prose is entertaining and heartwarming, while Brantley-Newton’s vivid and playful artwork will be easily recognizable for anyone who’s seen her work (Grandma’s Purse, 2018; Becoming Vanessa, 2021). The illustrator adds verve to the bold young heroine’s character—from the colorful barrettes to the textured appearance of her adorable denim jumper, the girl has style and substance. MJ Malone embodies the can-do spirit every parent hopes to spark in their own children, though even shy kindergarteners will gladly find a friend in her. MJ and her family are Black; her classroom is diverse. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Just the thing to get uncertain youngsters jazzed for a first day—at school or anywhere. (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: May 24, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-11142-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022

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Uncomplicated and worthwhile for any age.


Parr focuses his simplistic childlike art and declarative sentences on gratitude for the pleasures and wonders of a child’s everyday life.

Using images of both kids and animals, each colorful scene in bold primary colors declaims a reason to be thankful. “I am thankful for my hair because it makes me unique” shows a yellow-faced child with a wild purple coiffure, indicating self-esteem. An elephant with large pink ears happily exclaims, “I am thankful for my ears because they let me hear words like ‘I love you.’ ” Humor is interjected with, “I am thankful for underwear because I like to wear it on my head.” (Parents will hope that it is clean, but potty-humor–loving children probably won’t care.) Children are encouraged to be thankful for feet, music, school, vacations and the library, “because it is filled with endless adventures,” among other things. The book’s cheery, upbeat message is clearly meant to inspire optimistic gratitude; Parr exhorts children to “remember some [things to be thankful for] every day.”

Uncomplicated and worthwhile for any age. (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-316-18101-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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