Despite the dead fish, this isn’t about grief; it’s about anxious, humane, funny attempts to protect loved ones from sadness.

SPLOTCH

How identifiable is an individual goldfish, anyway?

Jeffrey’s goldfish, Splotch, is fine when the dark-haired, pale-skinned boy bids it goodbye as he leaves for school, but by noon, it’s floating upside-down and has X’s for eyes. Dialogue and time notations offer readers a sparse, clever aid to decoding this mostly-visually-told plot. At noon, Mom (who shares Jeffrey’s coloring) exits the bathroom holding a dripping net while a curious black cat looks on. Heartbreak-avoidance techniques involve Frank’s Fish World (clued by telltale bags), benevolent deception, and the grand question of how important the exact shape of a fish’s white splotch is. At midnight, Jeffrey sits bolt upright, realizing that a certain new fish isn’t his old fish; the epiphany shows up on the page as Jeffrey’s eyes open wide in horror, his mental images of two fish (old and new) separated by a “not-equal” sign and three huge red exclamation marks. Can fish run away? Has old Splotch been changed by aliens? When exactly does Jeffrey realize what’s going on, and when does he decide to reverse emotional roles with his mother? Marino uses fine pencil lines, half-cartoony faces that blend wryness and sincerity, water-textured gouache on watercolor paper, and easygoing visual patterns to make illustrations that highlight the plot but are visually friendly.

Despite the dead fish, this isn’t about grief; it’s about anxious, humane, funny attempts to protect loved ones from sadness. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-46957-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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A jam-packed opener sure to satisfy lovers of the princess genre.

SNOW PLACE LIKE HOME

From the Diary of an Ice Princess series

Ice princess Lina must navigate family and school in this early chapter read.

The family picnic is today. This is not a typical gathering, since Lina’s maternal relatives are a royal family of Windtamers who have power over the weather and live in castles floating on clouds. Lina herself is mixed race, with black hair and a tan complexion like her Asian-presenting mother’s; her Groundling father appears to be a white human. While making a grand entrance at the castle of her grandfather, the North Wind, she fails to successfully ride a gust of wind and crashes in front of her entire family. This prompts her stern grandfather to ask that Lina move in with him so he can teach her to control her powers. Desperate to avoid this, Lina and her friend Claudia, who is black, get Lina accepted at the Hilltop Science and Arts Academy. Lina’s parents allow her to go as long as she does lessons with grandpa on Saturdays. However, fitting in at a Groundling school is rough, especially when your powers start freak winter storms! With the story unfurling in diary format, bright-pink–highlighted grayscale illustrations help move the plot along. There are slight gaps in the storytelling and the pacing is occasionally uneven, but Lina is full of spunk and promotes self-acceptance.

A jam-packed opener sure to satisfy lovers of the princess genre. (Fantasy. 5-8)

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-35393-8

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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A surprisingly nuanced lesson set in confidence-building, easy-to-decode text.

BO'S MAGICAL NEW FRIEND

From the Unicorn Diaries series , Vol. 1

A unicorn learns a friendship lesson in this chapter-book series opener.

Unicorn Bo has friends but longs for a “bestie.” Luckily, a new unicorn pops into existence (literally: Unicorns appear on especially starry nights) and joins Bo at the Sparklegrove School for Unicorns, where they study things like unicorn magic. Each unicorn has a special power; Bo’s is granting wishes. Not knowing what his own might be distresses new unicorn Sunny. When the week’s assignment is to earn a patch by using their unicorn powers to help someone, Bo hopes Sunny will wish to know Bo's power (enabling both unicorns to complete the task, and besides, Bo enjoys Sunny’s company and wants to help him). But when the words come out wrong, Sunny thinks Bo was feigning friendship to get to grant a wish and earn a patch, setting up a fairly sophisticated conflict. Bo makes things up to Sunny, and then—with the unicorns friends again and no longer trying to force their powers—arising circumstances enable them to earn their patches. The cheerful illustrations feature a sherbet palette, using patterns for texture; on busy pages with background colors similar to the characters’ color schemes, this combines with the absence of outlines to make discerning some individual characters a challenge. The format, familiar to readers of Elliott’s Owl Diaries series, uses large print and speech bubbles to keep pages to a manageable amount of text.

A surprisingly nuanced lesson set in confidence-building, easy-to-decode text. (Fantasy. 5-8)

Pub Date: Dec. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-32332-0

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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