Why is successful Herbert Rowbarge so cold of heart, so lacking in the delight or merriment one would expect of someone so devoted to his popular amusement park and its old-fashioned merry-go-round? The answer, readers are aware throughout, is that "a vital piece of him was wrenched away in his third month of life"—a twin brother adopted from the Home to which both abandoned infants were confined when a day old. After that Herbert's first pleasure in life is a second-hand Noah's Ark, with the animals all in pairs except for "one lonely lion that had lost his twin forever." (It is to the pair of lions on his merry-go-round that the grown-up Herbert goes for comfort.) At three, he finds joy in an entrance-hall mirror, but his tantrums on being carried away result in his being exiled from the hall. Through life, he experiences a pleasurable but terrible "twinkling down the spine" when he catches himself in a mirror. Herbert never returns the affection of his "older brother" from the Home, though the two are business partners through life. He marries for money, is repelled by his wife, and resents through life the twin daughters she bears five years before her death. When they are 40, he arranges for one of the twins to live with and care for a newly widowed aunt; as it doesn't matter which one goes—he can't tell them apart anyway—the two switch off by the month between their aunt's house and their father's. In his later years Herbert has a few near-brushes with his twin, but is never aware of the other man's existence—not even when he kills him in a car accident on the day of his own death at 72. Babbitt alternates chapters in Herbert's life, from birth to death, with dry observations of his devoted 45-year-old daughters Babe and Louisa on those last days before his death liberates them to live together in drab contentment. It's an expertly turned artifact of a story, which is not to deny its human sympathy and penetrating edge.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 1982

ISBN: 046004642X

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1982

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More gift book than storybook, this is a meaningful addition to nursery bookshelves


A young child explores the unlimited potential inherent in all humans.

“Have you ever wondered why you are here?” asks the second-person narration. There is no one like you. Maybe you’re here to make a difference with your uniqueness; maybe you will speak for those who can’t or use your gifts to shine a light into the darkness. The no-frills, unrhymed narrative encourages readers to follow their hearts and tap into their limitless potential to be anything and do anything. The precisely inked and colored artwork plays with perspective from the first double-page spread, in which the child contemplates a mountain (or maybe an iceberg) in their hands. Later, they stand on a ladder to place white spots on tall, red mushrooms. The oversized flora and fauna seem to symbolize the presumptively insurmountable, reinforcing the book’s message that anything is possible. This quiet read, with its sophisticated central question, encourages children to reach for their untapped potential while reminding them it won’t be easy—they will make messes and mistakes—but the magic within can help overcome falls and failures. It’s unlikely that members of the intended audience have begun to wonder about their life’s purpose, but this life-affirming mood piece has honorable intentions. The child, accompanied by an adorable piglet and sporting overalls and a bird-beaked cap made of leaves, presents white.

More gift book than storybook, this is a meaningful addition to nursery bookshelves . (Picture book. 2-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-946873-75-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Compendium

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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Visually accomplished but marred by stereotypical cultural depictions.


Ellis, known for her illustrations for Colin Meloy’s Wildwood series, here riffs on the concept of “home.”

Shifting among homes mundane and speculative, contemporary and not, Ellis begins and ends with views of her own home and a peek into her studio. She highlights palaces and mansions, but she also takes readers to animal homes and a certain famously folkloric shoe (whose iconic Old Woman manages a passel of multiethnic kids absorbed in daring games). One spread showcases “some folks” who “live on the road”; a band unloads its tour bus in front of a theater marquee. Ellis’ compelling ink and gouache paintings, in a palette of blue-grays, sepia and brick red, depict scenes ranging from mythical, underwater Atlantis to a distant moonscape. Another spread, depicting a garden and large building under connected, transparent domes, invites readers to wonder: “Who in the world lives here? / And why?” (Earth is seen as a distant blue marble.) Some of Ellis’ chosen depictions, oddly juxtaposed and stripped of any historical or cultural context due to the stylized design and spare text, become stereotypical. “Some homes are boats. / Some homes are wigwams.” A sailing ship’s crew seems poised to land near a trio of men clad in breechcloths—otherwise unidentified and unremarked upon.

Visually accomplished but marred by stereotypical cultural depictions. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6529-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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