Hypnotic artwork and storytelling invite children to linger in the wild woods of worry and emerge intact, enriched, and...

LENNY & LUCY

Peter, his dad, and his dog, Harold, move to a narrow house just on the other side of “dark unfriendly woods,” across a rickety bridge.

Smudgy grays describe this new, murky place, communicating all of Peter’s uneasiness and uncertainty. Details as sharp as his edgy fears (“Terrible things hid in the trees”) ripple through riveting illustrations, in overwhelming floral wallpapers and spiky tree trunks, all bathed in graphite. Colors (yellows, blues, greens, and purples) appear only in spots, buoys in rough waters. Gripping narration unspools the story with the measured, easy command of a Grimm—or a Neil Gaiman. Children might wiggle a bit as they absorb, with grave recognition, the streaming undercurrents of discomfort and loneliness. To combat both these feelings and the things in the woods, Peter builds a pillow man he calls Lenny, Guardian of the Bridge, and, soon after, a friend for him named Lucy. These pillow people, somehow human in both their form (button eyes convey remarkable feeling) and puffy vulnerability, seem swollen with acute worries. They are the Guardians, after all. Subtly, quietly, Lenny and Lucy eventually move a bit, lifting their hats to a neighbor girl named Millie, who comes to Peter bringing binoculars, marshmallows, and the unspoken promise of friendship.

Hypnotic artwork and storytelling invite children to linger in the wild woods of worry and emerge intact, enriched, and utterly invigorated by this complex, contemporary fairy tale. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59643-932-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Neal Porter/Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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As insubstantial as hot air.

THE WORLD NEEDS WHO YOU WERE MADE TO BE

A diverse cast of children first makes a fleet of hot air balloons and then takes to the sky in them.

Lifestyle maven Gaines uses this activity as a platform to celebrate diversity in learning and working styles. Some people like to work together; others prefer a solo process. Some take pains to plan extensively; others know exactly what they want and jump right in. Some apply science; others demonstrate artistic prowess. But “see how beautiful it can be when / our differences share the same sky?” Double-page spreads leading up to this moment of liftoff are laid out such that rhyming abcb quatrains typically contain one or two opposing concepts: “Some of us are teachers / and share what we know. / But all of us are learners. / Together is how we grow!” In the accompanying illustration, a bespectacled, Asian-presenting child at a blackboard lectures the other children on “balloon safety.” Gaines’ text has the ring of sincerity, but the sentiment is hardly an original one, and her verse frequently sacrifices scansion for rhyme. Sometimes it abandons both: “We may not look / or work or think the same, / but we all have an / important part to play.” Swaney’s delicate, pastel-hued illustrations do little to expand on the text, but they are pretty. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11.2-by-18.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 70.7% of actual size.)

As insubstantial as hot air. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4003-1423-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Tommy Nelson

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2021

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A sweet gift to praise spirited individuality, this choice encourages readers to dream big. Let those sparkles fly! (Picture...

HAPPY DREAMER

Displaying his distinctive voice and images, Reynolds celebrates the joys and challenges of being a creative spirit.

“I am a HAPPY DREAMER,” cheers a thin, spiky-haired white boy as he flies skyward, streaming yellow swirls of sparkles. This little “dreamer maximus” piles on the energy with colors and noise and the joy-filled exuberance he has for life. “Wish you could HEAR inside my head / TRUMPETY, ZIGZAG JAZZ!” With clear honesty, he shares that the world tells him to be quiet, to focus and pay attention. Like a roller-coaster ride, Reynolds’ text and illustrations capture the energetic side of creativity and the gloom of cleaning up the messes that come with it while providing a wide vocabulary to describe emotional brilliance and resilience. The protagonist makes no apologies for expressing his feelings and embracing his distinct view of the world. This makes him happy. The book finishes with a question to readers: “What kind of dreamer are you?” Hinging outward, the double-page spread opens to four panels, each with a dozen examples of multiracial children being happy and being dreamers, showing inspiring possibilities for exploration. The best way, of course, is to “just BE YOU.”

A sweet gift to praise spirited individuality, this choice encourages readers to dream big. Let those sparkles fly! (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-86501-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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