Lovely illustrations wasted on this misguided project.

LUNAR NEW YEAR

From the Celebrate the World series

The Celebrate the World series spotlights Lunar New Year.

This board book blends expository text and first-person-plural narrative, introducing readers to the holiday. Chau’s distinctive, finely textured watercolor paintings add depth, transitioning smoothly from a grand cityscape to the dining room table, from fantasies of the past to dumplings of the present. The text attempts to provide a broad look at the subject, including other names for the celebration, related cosmology, and historical background, as well as a more-personal discussion of traditions and practices. Yet it’s never clear who the narrator is—while the narrative indicates the existence of some consistent, monolithic group who participates in specific rituals of celebration (“Before the new year celebrations begin, we clean our homes—and ourselves!”), the illustrations depict different people in every image. Indeed, observances of Lunar New Year are as diverse as the people who celebrate it, which neither the text nor the images—all of the people appear to be Asian—fully acknowledges. Also unclear is the book’s intended audience. With large blocks of explication on every spread, it is entirely unappealing for the board-book set, and the format may make it equally unattractive to an older, more appropriate audience. Still, readers may appreciate seeing an important celebration warmly and vibrantly portrayed.

Lovely illustrations wasted on this misguided project. (Board book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Dec. 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3303-8

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Little Simon/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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A picture book more than worthy of sharing the shelf with Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney’s Minty (1996) and Carole Boston...

BEFORE SHE WAS HARRIET

A memorable, lyrical reverse-chronological walk through the life of an American icon.

In free verse, Cline-Ransome narrates the life of Harriet Tubman, starting and ending with a train ride Tubman takes as an old woman. “But before wrinkles formed / and her eyes failed,” Tubman could walk tirelessly under a starlit sky. Cline-Ransome then describes the array of roles Tubman played throughout her life, including suffragist, abolitionist, Union spy, and conductor on the Underground Railroad. By framing the story around a literal train ride, the Ransomes juxtapose the privilege of traveling by rail against Harriet’s earlier modes of travel, when she repeatedly ran for her life. Racism still abounds, however, for she rides in a segregated train. While the text introduces readers to the details of Tubman’s life, Ransome’s use of watercolor—such a striking departure from his oil illustrations in many of his other picture books—reveals Tubman’s humanity, determination, drive, and hope. Ransome’s lavishly detailed and expansive double-page spreads situate young readers in each time and place as the text takes them further into the past.

A picture book more than worthy of sharing the shelf with Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney’s Minty (1996) and Carole Boston Weatherford and Kadir Nelson’s Moses (2006). (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8234-2047-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS

From the Celebrate the World series

The traditions and history of one of Mexico’s most important holidays are introduced in this latest of Eliot’s Celebrate the World series.

From setting up the flower-festooned altars to decorating the calaveras, the preparations depicted involve entire communities over several weeks. Characters in cowboy hats, sombreros, and baseball caps place the final touches on skeletons in full lucha libre regalia or spangled mariachi outfits. However, instead of accurately using Mexico’s name for the holiday, Día de Muertos, Eliot uses the English back-translation, “Día de los Muertos,” as is common in the U.S. even though the story evidently takes place in Mexico. Also, aside from stating that the celebration “is an ancient tradition,” there is no mention of its Indigenous, pre-European/Christian roots nor does the book actively distinguish between Día de Muertos and Halloween. The first-person narration vacillates between child and adult perspectives. “We do all this to celebrate the beauty of life and death rather than mourn it.” Gutierrez’s mixed-media illustrations are convulsive, crowded panes of frenetic activity. Exaggerated facial features border on stereotypical caricatures—snouts and bug eyes abound. Contributing to the crowded page design is the unfortunate choice of board rather than picture-book format. Consequently, the initial perception is that this series is geared toward toddlers, when it is the school-age child who would most benefit from the information in this book.

Pass. (Board book. 4-7)

Pub Date: July 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5344-1515-7

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Little Simon/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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