A fresh inversion of expectations told in vivid art and idiom.

WE BECAME JAGUARS

Left alone together, a small child and their grandmother transform into jaguars, walking on all fours on the carpet and then out into the night.

The grandmother, with her “very, very long” white hair, dark brows, crimson nails, and spotted cardigan, appears game for anything wild. The child has met her only once, and her bold demeanor will intrigue children used to benign literary grandmothers who dole out cookies and cuddles. This grandmother directs the child to look “leaner” and “fiercer” as they make the shape of a jaguar on the floor alongside her. “Now we go,” she states flatly. A clever gatefold shows the pair’s metamorphosis from white-skinned humans to furry felines stalking through night grasses. Transfixing painterly illustrations offer nocturnal purples and blues along with bioluminescent pinks and greens, creating a woozy, otherworldly habitat. The little jaguar seems a bit scared at first, tremulous, turning down raw rabbit by claiming an allergy. Young people will find humor in the child’s narration, perhaps especially when they relate that “we were somewhere in the Himalayas when I remembered that I had school.” The phrase “we jaguared on” repeats again and again as they cross varying landscapes, and it perfectly captures the fluidity of jaguar movement in its languid articulation. Children will relish this book’s blurred ambiguities; what’s real and what’s imagined are as hard to distinguish as a jaguar in the shadows.

A fresh inversion of expectations told in vivid art and idiom. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4521-8393-0

Page Count: 44

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Sincere and wholehearted.

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I PROMISE

The NBA star offers a poem that encourages curiosity, integrity, compassion, courage, and self-forgiveness.

James makes his debut as a children’s author with a motivational poem touting life habits that children should strive for. In the first-person narration, he provides young readers with foundational self-esteem encouragement layered within basketball descriptions: “I promise to run full court and show up each time / to get right back up and let my magic shine.” While the verse is nothing particularly artful, it is heartfelt, and in her illustrations, Mata offers attention-grabbing illustrations of a diverse and enthusiastic group of children. Scenes vary, including classrooms hung with student artwork, an asphalt playground where kids jump double Dutch, and a gym populated with pint-sized basketball players, all clearly part of one bustling neighborhood. Her artistry brings black and brown joy to the forefront of each page. These children evince equal joy in learning and in play. One particularly touching double-page spread depicts two vignettes of a pair of black children, possibly siblings; in one, they cuddle comfortably together, and in the other, the older gives the younger a playful noogie. Adults will appreciate the closing checklist of promises, which emphasize active engagement with school. A closing note very generally introduces principles that underlie the Lebron James Family Foundation’s I Promise School (in Akron, Ohio). (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at 15% of actual size.)

Sincere and wholehearted. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-297106-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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Feels like a retread—it may be time to put this series to bed.

YOU DON'T WANT A DRAGON!

If you thought having a unicorn as a pet was hard, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve tried owning a dragon.

The young protagonist of You Don’t Want a Unicorn! (2017) is back, and they clearly haven’t learned their lesson. Now they’ve wished for a pet dragon. As the intrusive narrator is quick to point out, everything about it seems fun at the beginning. However, it’s not long before the doglike dragon starts chasing squirrels, drooling, pooping (ever wondered where charcoal comes from?), scooting its butt across the floor (leaving fire and flames behind), and more. By now, the dragon has grown too huge to keep, so the child (who appears white and also to live alone) wishes it away and settles for a cute little hamster instead. A perfect pet…until it finds a stray magical cupcake. Simple cartoon art and a surfeit of jokes about defecation suggest this book will find an appreciative audience. The dragon/dog equivalences are cute on an initial read, but they may not be strong enough to convince anyone to return. Moreover, a surprising amount of the plot hinges on having read the previous book in this series (it’s the only way readers will know that cupcakes are unicorn poop).

Feels like a retread—it may be time to put this series to bed. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: June 9, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-53580-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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