Rip-roaring verse but painfully simplistic messaging.

THE SMEDS AND THE SMOOS

Two youngsters from mutually hostile groups connect.

This tale of prejudiced extraterrestrials jumps immediately into rollicking verse. “By a loobular lake on a far-off planet / There lived a young Smed, / and her name was Janet. / Not far away, on a humplety hill, / There lived a young Smoo / by the name of Bill.” The patter and nonsense words (wurpular, trockle) invoke Dr. Seuss. Smeds and Smoos alike have antennae and tubular noses, but Smeds, red, have webbed feet they wear bare while Smoos, blue, sport elflike boots. The illustrations’ eye-catching colors are intensely saturated throughout, sometimes jarringly so. Despite parallel contemptuous commands to “Never, never play with” the other group, Janet and Bill secretly bond and grow up to marry. “Janet and Bill stole out that night / While their families slept / and the squoon shone bright. / They clambered into the Smeds’ red rocket. / (Grandfather Sned had forgotten to lock it.) / Bill pressed the button, and Janet steered… // …When their families woke, they had both disappeared!” A multiplanet search leads to reconciliation and integration. This unsubtle metaphor for fixing racism and xenophobia ignores real-world power imbalances: The Smeds and Smoos may distrust one another, but they share equal status. Moreover, the notion that interracial couples and mixed-race offspring—a purple Smed/Smoo baby—are a solution for racism is false and places an unfair burden on mixed-race readers.

Rip-roaring verse but painfully simplistic messaging. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-66976-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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Halloween is used merely as a backdrop; better holiday titles for young readers are available.

THE LITTLE GHOST WHO WAS A QUILT

A ghost learns to appreciate his differences.

The little ghost protagonist of this title is unusual. He’s a quilt, not a lightweight sheet like his parents and friends. He dislikes being different despite his mom’s reassurance that his ancestors also had unconventional appearances. Halloween makes the little ghost happy, though. He decides to watch trick-or-treaters by draping over a porch chair—but lands on a porch rail instead. A mom accompanying her daughter picks him up, wraps him around her chilly daughter, and brings him home with them! The family likes his looks and comforting warmth, and the little ghost immediately feels better about himself. As soon as he’s able to, he flies out through the chimney and muses happily that this adventure happened only due to his being a quilt. This odd but gently told story conveys the importance of self-respect and acceptance of one’s uniqueness. The delivery of this positive message has something of a heavy-handed feel and is rushed besides. It also isn’t entirely logical: The protagonist could have been a different type of covering; a blanket, for instance, might have enjoyed an identical experience. The soft, pleasing illustrations’ palette of tans, grays, white, black, some touches of color, and, occasionally, white text against black backgrounds suggest isolation, such as the ghost feels about himself. Most humans, including the trick-or-treating mom and daughter, have beige skin. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-16.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 66.2% of actual size.)

Halloween is used merely as a backdrop; better holiday titles for young readers are available. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-6447-2

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Tundra Books

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Whimsy, intelligence, and a subtle narrative thread make this rise to the top of a growing list of self-love titles.

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YOU MATTER

Employing a cast of diverse children reminiscent of that depicted in Another (2019), Robinson shows that every living entity has value.

After opening endpapers that depict an aerial view of a busy playground, the perspective shifts to a black child, ponytails tied with beaded elastics, peering into a microscope. So begins an exercise in perspective. From those bits of green life under the lens readers move to “Those who swim with the tide / and those who don’t.” They observe a “pest”—a mosquito biting a dinosaur, a “really gassy” planet, and a dog whose walker—a child in a pink hijab—has lost hold of the leash. Periodically, the examples are validated with the titular refrain. Textured paint strokes and collage elements contrast with uncluttered backgrounds that move from white to black to white. The black pages in the middle portion foreground scenes in space, including a black astronaut viewing Earth; the astronaut is holding an image of another black youngster who appears on the next spread flying a toy rocket and looking lonely. There are many such visual connections, creating emotional interest and invitations for conversation. The story’s conclusion spins full circle, repeating opening sentences with new scenarios. From the microscopic to the cosmic, word and image illuminate the message without a whiff of didacticism.

Whimsy, intelligence, and a subtle narrative thread make this rise to the top of a growing list of self-love titles. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-2169-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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