Unnecessary anthropomorphization mars what should be a stirring, heroic tale.



Ordinary heroes dive into danger in this celebration of Hurricane Katrina’s Cajun Navy.

Around New Orleans and all along the Gulf Coast, a wide array of boats can be found. Here readers meet Bubba, a bass boat, Bennie, an airboat, and Sal, a speedboat. One day, a hurricane strikes Louisiana. The waves crash, the levees break, and suddenly there are too many people for the firefighters, police, and Coast Guardsmen to save. Initially Bubba, Bennie, and Sal feel helpless, but as word goes out for volunteers to help the people stranded, the boats feel the call of duty. As the backmatter relates, thousands of people were rescued thanks to this impromptu “Cajun Navy.” Additional information discusses the origins of hurricanes, the Cajun Navy’s ongoing efforts, and how to prepare before and keep safe during a hurricane. Much of Neubecker’s art is beautiful, as when the endpapers present New Orleans from above. However, these rescue boats have both eyeballs and sentience: “Bubba has an idea: ‘If all the little boats work together, we can do big things.’ ” The humans piloting them seem like afterthoughts. While the impulse to make this tale of disaster a child-friendly one is understandable, anthropomorphizing the boats detracts from the true heroism of the very real citizen rescuers. A straightforward retelling would have better served this history.

Unnecessary anthropomorphization mars what should be a stirring, heroic tale. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-17689-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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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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