A right jolly paean to the deliciousness of words.


A tale of vocabulary-related piratical chicanery doubles as a touching ode to the deceased author Margaret Mahy.

Hungry pirates are nothing to mess with under ordinary circumstances, and these buccaneers are absolutely not ordinary. Capt. Rottingbones and his crew crave but one substance for their meals: words! With their Bumblebirds trained to steal from writers and books, the crew feasts on words both long (“antidisestablishmentarianism”) and short (“pop”). Their doom comes when the captain sets his sights on a rainbow-wigged New Zealand “Word Wizard” (a nod to Mahy, to whom this book is dedicated). Unafraid, she does battle with the pirates with her pen, ultimately chastening them and setting them on a new path in life. There is always room for one more tale about the power of the written word, and adding pirates to the mix lends a bit of spice and flavor to this one. Accompanying the rollicking storyline, Kellogg’s bright paintings, done in his signature style, fill his pages with busyness. The Bumblebirds look like white sea gulls, and the words they hunt droop from their beaks like dead fish. The pirates and other characters represent a variety of skin tones and genders while the Word Wizard and captain present white. One pirate has both an eye patch and a peg leg, but otherwise the captain’s crew is largely free of stereotype.

A right jolly paean to the deliciousness of words. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4359-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Neal Porter/Holiday House

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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A mind-stretching outlook that may help youngsters with change—and will certainly cause them to think.


A cyclical take on life.

Endings can sometimes feel sad or heavy in their finality. But Bender reverses this perspective. In fact, the story starts, as a tiny caterpillar tells readers, with “THE END.” A young tot on a bed closing a book looks puzzled. Bender acknowledges the absurdity. “But wait—how can a book possibly start with the end? That’s ridiculous.” It’s not, once you change your frame of reference. Continuing in a conversational tone, Bender gives examples. Some are personal and immediate: “The end of a disagreement with someone … / is just the beginning of making up.” Others are more abstract: “When you count, the end of one number is just the beginning of the next number… / and so on and so on and so on, all the way to infinity, which, by the way, NEVER ends!” Two friends or perhaps siblings (one with brown skin and brown hair in two Afro puffs, the other with pale skin and straight, black hair) act out the scenarios, which are strung together over the course of a day from one morning to the next. Mayo’s illustrations also dance between concrete and abstract, illustrating disagreement with one kid scowling, sitting back to the other, who looks distressed, next to a ruined sand castle and infinity with an image of the two kids cycling along an enormous infinity sign. In a meta-infused closing, Bender concludes with “THE BEGINNING / (of discovering the next book).” A cleverly placed butterfly flits away. The hazy wash over muted tones gives a warm, cozy embrace to the message. (This book was reviewed digitally with 9-by-18-inch double-page spreads viewed at 48.2% of actual size.)

A mind-stretching outlook that may help youngsters with change—and will certainly cause them to think. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984896-93-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A gray character tries to write an all-gray book.

The six primary and secondary colors are building a rainbow, each contributing the hue of their own body, and Gray feels forlorn and left out because rainbows contain no gray. So Gray—who, like the other characters, has a solid, triangular body, a doodle-style face, and stick limbs—sets off alone to create “the GRAYest book ever.” His book inside a book shows a peaceful gray cliff house near a gray sea with gentle whitecaps; his three gray characters—hippo, wolf, kitten—wait for their arc to begin. But then the primaries arrive and call the gray scene “dismal, bleak, and gloomy.” The secondaries show up too, and soon everyone’s overrunning Gray’s creation. When Gray refuses to let White and Black participate, astute readers will note the flaw: White and black (the colors) had already been included in the early all-gray spreads. Ironically, Gray’s book within a book displays calm, passable art while the metabook’s unsubtle illustrations and sloppy design make for cramped and crowded pages that are too busy to hold visual focus. The speech-bubble dialogue’s snappy enough (Blue calls people “dude,” and there are puns). A convoluted moral muddles the core artistic question—whether a whole book can be gray—and instead highlights a trite message about working together.

Low grade. (glossary) (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5420-4340-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Two Lions

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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