With Picture Day looming, a girl worries because she can’t smile at will.

Willow’s nervous that Picture Day is tomorrow. Her classmates excitedly plan outfits; Willow goes home and studies herself in the mirror. Can certain clothing make her smile “picture perfect”? Willow smiles plenty; she just can’t do it on purpose. Well-meaning adults, trying to reassure her, only spotlight Willow’s exact point of worry: “Just bring your smile,” instructs her teacher, while her father soothes, “I’m sure your picture will be perfect.” Perfection’s quite a standard. Stressed, Willow pulls and tugs her cheeks with her fingers, trying to force a smile. On Picture Day, the moment of Willow’s snapshot will confuse readers: she decides that “her way of looking picture perfect didn’t have to include a smile,” and the text implies she follows through with that, but the illustration shows a smile—tiny yet unmistakable. Either way, it’s inadequate: the victorious climax shows Willow’s friends inspiring her smile from behind the camera. Howells uses bright, flat colors on white backgrounds; her characters are Photoshop figures, racially diverse (though Willow’s white), drawn in simple black lines and dots. Unlike Willow’s Whispers (2010), where it was easy to root for Willow to speak loudly enough to be heard, this is about performing emotional expression. This isn’t smile-when-you’re-ready; it’s smile-on-schedule, and the resolution undercuts its previous, apparent support for Willow’s reticence.

Not much to smile about. (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: April 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-77138-549-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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Another solid addition to the beloved series.


Summertime with all its pleasures is coming to an end, and school will soon begin again. What challenges will the new school year bring for Llama?

Told in a by-now-trademark rhyming verse style and accompanied by adorable, cheerful oil paint, colored pencil, and oil pastel illustrations, this story finds Llama taking pleasure in all the fun that summer brings—and hoping it will never be over. “Fishing, hiking, slip and slide. / Backyard camping, picnic time.” But as sure as one season follows another, fall is on its way and school will be starting again. Mamma Llama takes Llama shopping for new school supplies, but the expression on little Llama’s face makes it clear that preparing to return to school is anything but fun. Soon, the first day of school comes, and Llama is ready. There are so many rules: “Be on time. / Don’t push or shove. Stand in line. / Do not shout. Raise your hand.” “Lunch in cubbies. Coats on hooks.” But these are seasoned students, and they take it in stride. All except for one: A young rhino is new and feeling scared. Llama knows just what to do, sharing crayons and showing the newcomer how to glue. Soon the rhino is part of the gang. As is characteristic of the series, this is one more situation familiar to many a young child solved in sweet Llama style. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Another solid addition to the beloved series. (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-35244-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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Still, this young boy’s imagination is a powerful force for helping him deal with life, something that should be true for...


Oliver, of first-day-of-school alligator fame, is back, imagining adventures and still struggling to find balance between introversion and extroversion.

“When Oliver found his egg…” on the playground, mint-green backgrounds signifying Oliver’s flight into fancy slowly grow larger until they take up entire spreads; Oliver’s creature, white and dinosaurlike with orange polka dots, grows larger with them. Their adventures include sharing treats, sailing the seas and going into outer space. A classmate’s yell brings him back to reality, where readers see him sitting on top of a rock. Even considering Schmid’s scribbly style, readers can almost see the wheels turning in his head as he ponders the girl and whether or not to give up his solitary play. “But when Oliver found his rock… // Oliver imagined many adventures // with all his friends!” This last is on a double gatefold that opens to show the children enjoying the creature’s slippery curves. A final wordless spread depicts all the children sitting on rocks, expressions gleeful, wondering, waiting, hopeful. The illustrations, done in pastel pencil and digital color, again make masterful use of white space and page turns, although this tale is not nearly as funny or tongue-in-cheek as Oliver and His Alligator (2013), nor is its message as clear and immediately accessible to children.

Still, this young boy’s imagination is a powerful force for helping him deal with life, something that should be true for all children but sadly isn’t. (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: July 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4231-7573-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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