Riley’s courageous vulnerability is refreshing, fun, and worthy of celebration.

WHAT RILEY WORE

Is Riley a girl or a boy? Riley decides to answer an entirely different question through the creative self-expression of their clothing.

Each day of the week, Riley invents a new outfit to wear to school, around the house, and to the park. The tan-skinned, dark-haired protagonist has clothing for every mood and occasion: a bunny suit for first-day-of-school shyness, “a superhero cape to the dentist’s because teeth cleaning is scary,” and a tutu, perfectly mismatched with a dinosaur hat, for the weekend. Instead of making Riley a target of bullies, the gender-fluid ensembles draw their classmates in. Heartwarmingly, Arnold and Davick depict the spectacularly nongendered protagonist in positive connection with the people around them. Children are at the center of this colorful story: Adults, when they appear, mostly line the periphery of Davick’s double-page–spread illustrations while classmates of various skin tones are featured in cheerful detail. In the growing landscape of children’s books that explore gender, this offering beautifully normalizes the multifaceted gender expressions people can have, demonstrates the support adults can provide to nonbinary children, and models how easily young ones can relate to one another without having to choose between two gender options. Though Riley’s gender identity is never explicitly stated in the narrative, Arnold and Davick’s entertaining tale speaks volumes about the creativity of nonbinary kids.

Riley’s courageous vulnerability is refreshing, fun, and worthy of celebration. (Picture book. 3-9)

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4814-7260-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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Inspiration, shrink wrapped.

WHAT THE ROAD SAID

From an artist, poet, and Instagram celebrity, a pep talk for all who question where a new road might lead.

Opening by asking readers, “Have you ever wanted to go in a different direction,” the unnamed narrator describes having such a feeling and then witnessing the appearance of a new road “almost as if it were magic.” “Where do you lead?” the narrator asks. The Road’s twice-iterated response—“Be a leader and find out”—bookends a dialogue in which a traveler’s anxieties are answered by platitudes. “What if I fall?” worries the narrator in a stylized, faux hand-lettered type Wade’s Instagram followers will recognize. The Road’s dialogue and the narration are set in a chunky, sans-serif type with no quotation marks, so the one flows into the other confusingly. “Everyone falls at some point, said the Road. / But I will always be there when you land.” Narrator: “What if the world around us is filled with hate?” Road: “Lead it to love.” Narrator: “What if I feel stuck?” Road: “Keep going.” De Moyencourt illustrates this colloquy with luminous scenes of a small, brown-skinned child, face turned away from viewers so all they see is a mop of blond curls. The child steps into an urban mural, walks along a winding country road through broad rural landscapes and scary woods, climbs a rugged metaphorical mountain, then comes to stand at last, Little Prince–like, on a tiny blue and green planet. Wade’s closing claim that her message isn’t meant just for children is likely superfluous…in fact, forget the just.

Inspiration, shrink wrapped. (Picture book. 6-8, adult)

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-26949-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2021

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As insubstantial as hot air.

THE WORLD NEEDS WHO YOU WERE MADE TO BE

A diverse cast of children first makes a fleet of hot air balloons and then takes to the sky in them.

Lifestyle maven Gaines uses this activity as a platform to celebrate diversity in learning and working styles. Some people like to work together; others prefer a solo process. Some take pains to plan extensively; others know exactly what they want and jump right in. Some apply science; others demonstrate artistic prowess. But “see how beautiful it can be when / our differences share the same sky?” Double-page spreads leading up to this moment of liftoff are laid out such that rhyming abcb quatrains typically contain one or two opposing concepts: “Some of us are teachers / and share what we know. / But all of us are learners. / Together is how we grow!” In the accompanying illustration, a bespectacled, Asian-presenting child at a blackboard lectures the other children on “balloon safety.” Gaines’ text has the ring of sincerity, but the sentiment is hardly an original one, and her verse frequently sacrifices scansion for rhyme. Sometimes it abandons both: “We may not look / or work or think the same, / but we all have an / important part to play.” Swaney’s delicate, pastel-hued illustrations do little to expand on the text, but they are pretty. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11.2-by-18.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 70.7% of actual size.)

As insubstantial as hot air. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4003-1423-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Tommy Nelson

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2021

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