JUST THE TWO OF US

The lyrics from Smith’s rap (of the same title) are beautifully illustrated here in this selection for one-on-one reading that celebrates the bond between father and son. Nelson (Big Jabe, 2000, etc.) uses a broad palette in his pencil and oil paintings to capture emotion and gesture in close-up or landscape views. The pictures are full of light, shadows, and love. He shows the father and the growing son of Smith’s text playing ball and trimming hair, as the father advises, “Throughout life people will make you mad / Disrespect you and treat you bad. / Let God deal with the things they do / ’Cause hate in your heart will consume you too.” Smith “standardized” some of the grammar in his text, which still needs to be read aloud, and with a beat. Different font size throughout a line indicates emphasis, and makes the words seem to move on the page. Though general in sentiment, the text is specific of an individual pair: “It didn’t work out with me and your mom / But yo, when push comes to shove / You were conceived in love.” This might make reading awkward for happily married fathers, but it’s a unique and beautiful title, and for some it will fit the bill. (Picture book. 6-10)

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-439-08792-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2001

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An effective early chapter book conveyed in a slightly overdone gag.

DEAR BEAST

Epistolary dispatches from the eternal canine/feline feud.

Simon the cat is angry. He had done a good job taking care of his boy, Andy, but now that Andy’s parents are divorced, a dog named Baxter has moved into Andy’s dad’s house. Simon believes that there isn’t enough room in Andy’s life for two furry friends, so he uses the power of the pen to get Baxter to move out. Inventively for the early-chapter-book format, the story is told in letters written back and forth; Simon’s are impeccably spelled on personalized stationery while Baxter’s spelling slowly improves through the letters he scrawls on scraps of paper. A few other animals make appearances—a puffy-lipped goldfish who for some reason punctuates her letter with “Blub…blub…” seems to be the only female character (cued through stereotypical use of eyelashes and red lipstick), and a mustachioed snail ferries the mail to and fro. White-appearing Andy is seen playing with both animals as a visual background to the text, as is his friend Noah (a dark-skinned child who perhaps should not be nicknamed “N Man”). Cat lovers will appreciate Simon’s prickliness while dog aficionados will likely enjoy Baxter’s obtuse enthusiasm, and all readers will learn about the time and patience it takes to overcome conflict and jealousy with someone you dislike.

An effective early chapter book conveyed in a slightly overdone gag. (Fiction. 6-8)

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4492-2

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Captivating and powerful.

THE MATCHBOX DIARY

The story of one person’s life is the very essence of history, transcending time, distance and generations.

A little girl and her great-grandfather meet for the first time and attempt to get to know each other. The child is intrigued by the curiosities she sees in a collection of matchboxes. These matchboxes represent the memories of the old man’s life, a tangible diary, undertaken as a substitute for the written form at a time in his life when he was illiterate. Bits and pieces contained within call forth events, emotions or people that were important in his life’s journey, from his early childhood in Italy to the difficult voyage to America and the struggles of his immigrant family in the new world. An olive pit, a pen nib, a fish bone, a piece of coal and more tell of poverty, dreams and perseverance. Writing entirely in dialogue, Fleischman employs a natural and believable matter-of-fact tone that provides a fresh view of the immigrant experience, as the humble objects and their stories form the beginning of a loving bond between the little girl and her great-grandfather. Ibatoulline’s illustrations, done in acrylic gouache, are extraordinarily detailed and expressive. Modern scenes appear in warm, amber-toned colors, while framed sepia vignettes depict past memories as if part of a family album.

Captivating and powerful. (Picture book. 6-10)

Pub Date: March 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7636-4601-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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