Austere and quirky, with lots of room for conversations.

UNCLE HOLLAND

A serial thief faces his choice of consequence.

Holland has a mother, a father, and two younger brothers; they all have gray skin and pink cheeks. Holland wears a fitted suit jacket; his jacket, tie, and collar are a collaged-in black-and-white photo, while his pants and feet are digitally rendered, making a visually entrancing combination. Holland’s problem is that he steals things—repeatedly. After his 37th apprehension, a police officer presents this choice: “either you go to jail or you join the army.” The following page repeats the options in hand-printed all-caps, and later the narration offers the decision—complete with check boxes—as a choice to readers: “what would you do if you were Holland? Would you go to jail, or join the army?” Whether the army’s meant as punishment or prevention, Holland chooses it and his life improves. Barely a military detail appears—just his new army uniform, a new faraway location, and the subtle presence of two rifles forming an easel for the paintings he learns to make as a substitute for stealing things. There are no military personnel, buildings, training, or tasks. Holland’s avuncular status—Lawson bases this story on his own uncle’s life—touches only the story’s title. Nelson highlights black and white, integrating tantalizing bits of found photography and ink drawings into digital illustration.

Austere and quirky, with lots of room for conversations. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-10)

Pub Date: April 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-55498-929-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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A simplistic take on the complex issue of Black identity in America.

WHO ARE YOUR PEOPLE?

A Black man teaches two Black children about their roots.

“Who are your people?” and “Where are you from?” These questions open the book as a man leads an unnamed boy and girl, presumably his children, into “Remembrance Park,” where they gaze up at Muhammad Ali, Maya Angelou, Stacey Abrams, and Martin Luther King Jr., who appear as cloudy apparitions in the sky. This imagery gives the misleading impression that Abrams, very much alive, is in heaven with the other figures, who are all deceased. Later on in the story, another potentially delusive illustration shows the main characters visiting a Mount Rushmore–like monument showcasing Kamala Harris alongside departed Black icons. After highlighting inspirational individuals who are not descended from people enslaved in the United States, the illustrations paradoxically depict enslaved Black Americans working in cotton fields. The portrayal of slavery is benevolent, and the images of civil rights marches and sit-ins likewise lack the necessary emotional depth. The text’s statement that “you are from the country where time moves with ease and where kindness is cherished” erases centuries of African American struggle in the face of racist violence and systemic exclusion. The book tries to instill pride in African Americans, who continue to struggle with a lack of shared identity or common experience; ultimately, it stumbles in its messaging and attempts to turn an extremely complicated, sometimes controversial topic into a warm and fuzzy picture book. All characters are Black.

A simplistic take on the complex issue of Black identity in America. (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-308285-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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The dynamic interaction between the characters invites readers to take risks, push boundaries, and have a little unscripted...

CLAYMATES

Reinvention is the name of the game for two blobs of clay.

A blue-eyed gray blob and a brown-eyed brown blob sit side by side, unsure as to what’s going to happen next. The gray anticipates an adventure, while the brown appears apprehensive. A pair of hands descends, and soon, amid a flurry of squishing and prodding and poking and sculpting, a handsome gray wolf and a stately brown owl emerge. The hands disappear, leaving the friends to their own devices. The owl is pleased, but the wolf convinces it that the best is yet to come. An ear pulled here and an extra eye placed there, and before you can shake a carving stick, a spurt of frenetic self-exploration—expressed as a tangled black scribble—reveals a succession of smug hybrid beasts. After all, the opportunity to become a “pig-e-phant” doesn’t come around every day. But the sound of approaching footsteps panics the pair of Picassos. How are they going to “fix [them]selves” on time? Soon a hippopotamus and peacock are staring bug-eyed at a returning pair of astonished hands. The creative naiveté of the “clay mates” is perfectly captured by Petty’s feisty, spot-on dialogue: “This was your idea…and it was a BAD one.” Eldridge’s endearing sculpted images are photographed against the stark white background of an artist’s work table to great effect.

The dynamic interaction between the characters invites readers to take risks, push boundaries, and have a little unscripted fun of their own . (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: June 20, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-30311-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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