Imagination conquers fear yet again. Arrgh!


From the It's Not a Bed series

Rapkin and Martinez build on the imaginative fun of It’s Not a Bed, It’s a Time Machine (2019) with this romp on a pirate ship that looks suspiciously like a school bus.

A cowering child in a red-and-white–striped shirt clutches a stuffed parrot as the school bus approaches. Mom says, “Don’t be scared. You’re the Master of Mornings. The Captain of Cool!” A blue-toned interior shot of the bus shows the imaginary horrors the child envisions seated on the bus, all rendered in a childlike style: a pelican, a shark, a ghost, a skeleton. But everything changes when the driver announces it’s a pirate ship, not a bus. The pint-sized buccaneer, who has pale skin and wavy brown hair, quickly makes a friend in Zenzi, a brown-skinned girl with curls in a topknot. The two exchange jokes, sing pirate songs, and apply sticker tattoos as the riders around them improvise their own pirate gear, including a scribbled paper beard, a hook hand, and an eye patch. The protagonist’s nerves come back when they land at school, but with Zenzi, they can face anything. Martinez’s whimsical flights of fancy fill the illustrations to bursting. Some of what the children see seems based on reality—mermaids exercising with headphones—while others are more difficult to parse, opening the reading up to a dialogue. Pair with Kindergarrrten Bus (2018) by Mike Ornstein and illustrated by Kevin M. Barry.

Imagination conquers fear yet again. Arrgh! (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-22977-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Imprint

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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Slight and contrived.


A little orange food truck parks in the same place every day, bringing tacos to hungry construction workers—till one morning, a falafel truck takes his spot.

Miss Falafel then brings by more of her friends, crowding out the taco truck. Little Taco Truck whines and cries, but after four days of being shut out by the bigger trucks, he finally takes the initiative. He spends the night in his former parking space, defending his territory when the other trucks arrive. The rest immediately apologize, and after some creative maneuvering, everyone fits—even the newly arrived noodle truck. Valentine’s naïve call for cooperation glosses over the very real problem of urban gentrification represented by the flood of bigger and better-equipped trucks taking over the neighborhood. When the taco truck is the only game in town, the food line consists of hard-hatted construction workers. Then, as falafel, arepa, gelato, hot dog, and gumbo trucks set up shop, professionals and hipsters start showing up. (All the customers are depicted as animals.) The author also inadvertently equates tacos with a lack of sophistication. “ ‘Hola, Miss Fal…Fal…’ Little Taco Truck tried to sound out the words on the side of the other truck.” Sadly, the truck sells Americanized crisp-shelled tacos. Even the glossary ignores the culinary versatility and cultural authenticity of the soft taco with this oversimplified and inaccurate definition: “A crispy Mexican corn pancake folded or rolled around a filling of meat, beans, and cheese.”

Slight and contrived. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6585-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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Visual fun overrides textual inadequacies, making this an enjoyable read with an inarguably valuable message.


If it first you don’t succeed, try getting hit by lightning.

The smallest of his four brothers, Elbow Grease is an electric-powered monster truck with big dreams. Each one of his brothers is tougher, faster, smarter, or braver than he is, but at least he’s got enough “gumption” to spare. That comes in handy when he rushes off to join a Grand Prix in a fit of pique. And while in the end he doesn’t win, he does at least finish thanks to a conveniently placed lightning bolt. That inspires the true winner of the race (Elbow Grease’s hero, Big Wheels McGee) to declare that it’s gumption that’s the true mark of a winner. With his emphasis on trying new things, even if you fail, Cena, a professional wrestler and celebrity, earnestly offers a legitimately inspiring message even if his writing borders on the pedestrian. Fortunately McWilliam’s illustrations give a great deal of life, emotion, action, and mud splatters to the middling text. Humans are few and far between, but the trucks’ keeper, Mel the mechanic, is pictured as a brown-skinned woman with glasses.

Visual fun overrides textual inadequacies, making this an enjoyable read with an inarguably valuable message. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-7350-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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