A breezy look at a historical footnote, just right for young children on their way to the amusement park.

A ROYAL RIDE

CATHERINE THE GREAT'S GREAT INVENTION

Who knew that Catherine the Great was such a sport?

Today’s roller-coaster enthusiasts can thank Catherine the Great for her role in the creation of an early roller coaster. Since the 1400s, Russians had created ice slides, like giant versions of today’s playground slides but made of wood, with the slide itself covered in ice. Catherine apparently loved wintertime, when she could whoosh down the slope in her “jeweled tiara and tapestry gown,” but the fun ended when winter ended and the ice melted. So she ordered her royal builders to create a slide that could be enjoyed year-round. She envisioned “Gilded beams and poles as high as a mountain. Golden stairs that spiraled all the way to the top.” What she got, in 1784, was a wooden structure that threatened splinters in “her royal bum.” It was all downhill from there…and uphill…and around. With the installation of rails and a wheeled carriage, it was a success and the progenitor of the many refinements over the many years since. In lighthearted illustrations rendered in Adobe Photoshop, Catherine is portrayed as a rosy-cheeked, fun-loving, olive-skinned young woman who sponsored schools, universities, and museums. Absent from both text and illustrations are the despot’s less-sterling attributes. Simplifying history to provide context for a purposively upbeat story can be a slippery slope, but young readers will enjoy the fun in which the volume is intended.

A breezy look at a historical footnote, just right for young children on their way to the amusement park. (author’s note, timeline, bibliography, acknowledgments) (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4814-9657-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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Lovely illustrations wasted on this misguided project.

LUNAR NEW YEAR

From the Celebrate the World series

The Celebrate the World series spotlights Lunar New Year.

This board book blends expository text and first-person-plural narrative, introducing readers to the holiday. Chau’s distinctive, finely textured watercolor paintings add depth, transitioning smoothly from a grand cityscape to the dining room table, from fantasies of the past to dumplings of the present. The text attempts to provide a broad look at the subject, including other names for the celebration, related cosmology, and historical background, as well as a more-personal discussion of traditions and practices. Yet it’s never clear who the narrator is—while the narrative indicates the existence of some consistent, monolithic group who participates in specific rituals of celebration (“Before the new year celebrations begin, we clean our homes—and ourselves!”), the illustrations depict different people in every image. Indeed, observances of Lunar New Year are as diverse as the people who celebrate it, which neither the text nor the images—all of the people appear to be Asian—fully acknowledges. Also unclear is the book’s intended audience. With large blocks of explication on every spread, it is entirely unappealing for the board-book set, and the format may make it equally unattractive to an older, more appropriate audience. Still, readers may appreciate seeing an important celebration warmly and vibrantly portrayed.

Lovely illustrations wasted on this misguided project. (Board book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Dec. 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3303-8

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Little Simon/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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A lovely 20th-anniversary tribute to the towers and all who perished—and survived.

SURVIVOR TREE

A remarkable tree stands where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once soared.

Through simple, tender text, readers learn the life-affirming story of a Callery pear tree that grew and today still flourishes “at the foot of the towers.” The author eloquently describes the pre-9/11 life of the “Survivor Tree” and its heartening, nearly decadelong journey to renewal following its recovery from the wreckage of the towers’ destruction. By tracking the tree’s journey through the natural cycle of seasonal changes and colors after it was found beneath “the blackened remains,” she tells how, after replanting and with loving care (at a nursery in the Bronx), the tree managed miraculously to flourish again. Retransplanted at the Sept. 11 memorial, it valiantly stands today, a symbol of new life and resilience. Hazy, delicate watercolor-and–colored pencil artwork powerfully traces the tree’s existence before and after the towers’ collapse; early pages include several snapshotlike insets capturing people enjoying the outdoors through the seasons. Scenes depicting the towers’ ruins are aptly somber yet hopeful, as they show the crushed tree still defiantly alive. The vivid changes that new seasons introduce are lovingly presented, reminding readers that life unceasingly renews itself. Many paintings are cast in a rosy glow, symbolizing that even the worst disasters can bring forth hope. People depicted are racially diverse. Backmatter material includes additional facts about the tree.

A lovely 20th-anniversary tribute to the towers and all who perished—and survived. (author's note, artist's note) (Informational picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-48767-2

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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