A timely, eye-opening portrait of resilience, community, and hope.

A SKY-BLUE BENCH

An Afghan girl resourcefully finds a way to accommodate her new prosthesis.

After losing her leg in an accident, Aria is finally ready to return to school with her new “helper-leg.” But all the school benches have been used for firewood, requiring students to sit on the floor—which hurts Aria’s leg terribly. In a montage of awkward positions, Aria attempts to alleviate her discomfort to no avail. Despite the other girls’ skepticism, Aria resolves to build her own bench, insisting she “can do anything a boy can.” When she consults kind carpenter Kaka Najar for help, he gives her tools and a can of sky-blue paint—the color of “courage, peace and…wisdom.” With help from her mother, her little brother, and a friend, Aria proudly builds a bench and assures inspired classmates, “We can build everything we need, together!” Gently but poignantly, Collins’ richly hued, cartoon-style illustrations convey Aria’s discomfort, determination, and joy; family members’ and friends’ warm eyes and sympathetic faces are reassuring. Background characters bustle in a rainbow of jewel-toned clothing, their faces bearing a variety of expressions. Though Aria’s accident is unspecified in the simple primary text, an author’s note reveals that Aria’s story, partially based on Rahman’s childhood during Afghanistan’s civil war, honors Afghan children whose lives were changed forever by unexploded ordnance. Most characters’ complexions, including Aria’s, are varying shades of brown.

A timely, eye-opening portrait of resilience, community, and hope. (glossary) (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-77278-222-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Pajama Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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A deliciously sweet reminder to try one’s unique best.

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THE SMART COOKIE

From the Food Group series

This smart cookie wasn’t alwaysa smart cookie.

At the corner of Sweet Street stands a bakery, which a whole range of buns and cakes and treats calls home, including a small cookie who “didn’t feel comfortable speaking up or sharing” any ideas once upon a time. During the early days of gingerbread school, this cookie (with sprinkles on its top half, above its wide eyes and tiny, smiling mouth) never got the best grades, didn’t raise a hand to answer questions, and almost always finished most tests last, despite all best efforts. As a result, the cookie would worry away the nights inside of a cookie jar. Then one day, kind Ms. Biscotti assigns some homework that asks everyone “to create something completely original.” What to do? The cookie’s first attempts (baking, building a birdhouse, sculpting) fail, but an idea strikes soon enough. “A poem!” Titling its opus “My Crumby Days,” the budding cookie poet writes and writes until done. “AHA!” When the time arrives to share the poem with the class, this cookie learns that there’s more than one way to be smart. John and Oswald’s latest installment in the hilarious Food Group series continues to provide plenty of belly laughs (thanks to puns galore!) and mini buns of wisdom in a wholly effervescent package. Oswald’s artwork retains its playful, colorful creative streak. Although slightly less effective than its predecessors due to its rather broad message, this one’s nonetheless an excellent addition to the menu.(This book was reviewed digitally.)

A deliciously sweet reminder to try one’s unique best. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-304540-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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Not astonishingly go-out-and-buy-it-at-graduation inspirational, but all it takes is one seed of change to be planted.

GOING PLACES

Imagination soars—quite literally—when a little girl follows her own set of rules.

Every year Oak Hill School has a go-kart race called the Going Places contest. Students are given identical go-kart kits with a precise set of instructions. And of course, every single kart ends up exactly the same. Every one, that is, except Maya’s. Maya is a dreamy artist, and she would rather sketch birds in her backyard than get caught up in the competition. When she finally does start working, she uses the parts in the go-kart box but creates something completely different. No one ever said it had to be a go-kart. Maya’s creative thinking inspires Rafael, her neighbor (and the most enthusiastic Going Places contestant), to ask to team up. The instructions never say they couldn’t work together, either! An ode to creativity and individuality to be sure, but the Reynolds brothers are also taking a swipe at modern education: Endless repetition and following instructions without question create a culture of conformity. Hopefully now, readers will see infinite possibility every time the system hands them an identical go-kart box.

Not astonishingly go-out-and-buy-it-at-graduation inspirational, but all it takes is one seed of change to be planted. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4424-6608-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

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