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Once upon a time, we didn’t have cell phones. Emergency Quarters, written by Carlos Matias and illustrated by Gracey Zhang, takes us back to those days, while coming with a perfectly worded note for those young enough to not remember technology-free days. Emergency Quarters follows Ernesto through his first week of going to and from school without his parents. Before he heads out to walk with his friends, his mother gives him a payphone quarter to tuck safely away. Full of independence and responsibility, but not completely immune to temptation, Ernesto may be a child of the ’90s, but the essence of his story is timeless.

Carlos Matias narrates skillfully, conveying the thoughts of a child with lines like “But I got emergencies.” Ernesto comes across as generally thoughtful, observant and sincere: a character you can’t help but like. He is even adorably funny, such as when he declares he’s “Feelin’ freshhhh!” Matias uses descriptions, alliteration and assonance to craft a story perfect for reading aloud: just the right length, with good variety between dialogue and narration, and natural flow and rhythm.

Gracey Zhang’s illustrations make Emergency Quarters feel retro in the best way. It’s a comfortable mix between Sesame Street, Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein that is instantly recognizable to those who grew up in that era. Wonderfully messy with imperfect lines and wonky angles, Zhang’s art is filled with more details than you could ever absorb. Every page is so alive and full of energy, I just wanted to visit Ernesto’s world. From Ernesto’s warm, happy house to the busy sidewalks, Zhang fills the neighborhood with kind and expressive faces that radiate safety and belonging.

While Emergency Quarters feels a bit like a tribute to the older generations who navigated their school route with a coin tucked into a pocket, its story will resonate with kids of all ages. Spending time with friends and sharing that little bit of independence. Hearing our parents’ reminders in our heads as we make decisions. And sometimes slipping up, knowing that even if the quarters aren’t plentiful, the love absolutely is.

From Ernesto’s warm, happy house to the busy sidewalks, the neighborhood of Emergency Quarters is alive and full of energy, and its story will resonate with kids of all ages.
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Who doesn’t love a friendly little ghost? Readers will fall in love with the delightful hero of Wolfgang in the Meadow, who yearns to be a master of causing fright, but whose happy place is basking in the wonders of a nearby meadow. When he’s not casting spells and “twirling in the air,” Wolfgang loves to hug trees, pick wildflowers and gaze at the sky. His goal is to follow his hero, The Mighty Hubert, as guardian of the Dark Castle. After 999.5 years of his reign, Hubert is about to pick his successor.

As Wolfgang studies the dark arts, he no longer has time to enjoy the splendors of the sunny meadow. Once he achieves his goal and holes up in the castle, he starts to flounder because something is missing. How can Wolfgang continue following this dream while not losing his essence as a nature-loving ghoul?

Author-illustrator Lenny Wen achieves eye-catching contrasts between the gentle meadow and fearsome manor with a combination of graphite and acrylic gouache. Children will delight in the spooky, darkly-tinted Dark Castle, which brims with lightning bolts, skulls and secret potions. The tone is perfect for young audiences, with well-balanced—“frightful,” but ultimately nonthreatening—scenes featuring pint-sized spirits. Nightmares are highly unlikely to ensue from all of this spooky cuteness. These eerie scenes stand out vividly against the bright colors of Wolfgang’s meadow, and together they provide a visual feast that helps readers understand the pleasures of both of Wolfgang’s passions, and how one feeds the other. Wolfgang himself—whose huggable shape resembles a puffy marshmallow—pops out amidst the lush green landscape, filled with wildflowers and woodland creatures.

With Wolfgang in the Meadow, Wen has created a fine story arc about making one’s own way in the world, defying stereotypes and the pleasures of leading a well-rounded life. It’s full of heart and humor, and Wolfgang’s dilemma will speak to readers of any age trying to navigate clashes between joy and ambition.

Wolfgang in the Meadow is full of heart and humor, and Wolfgang’s dilemma will speak to readers of any age trying to navigate clashes between joy and ambition.
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Drew Beckmeyer’s The First Week of School is a game changer, an exceptionally creative back-to-school book that practically turns the genre on its head. It’s full of droll humor that will appeal to readers young and old. As the title suggests, it chronicles a first week inside an elementary school classroom, offering a bird’s-eye view of a variety of perspectives. In a clever, understated nod to the way people tend to pigeonhole both themselves and others, the students are given simple monikers such as the Artist, the Inventor and the Sports Kings, “who usually spend all Recess arguing about teams and never get to actually playing.” But at one point, readers learn that “The Artist is actually the fastest runner in the grade.” Beckmeyer even shares the perspective of Pat, the class’s pet bearded dragon; as well as the teacher (“the teacher gets her eighth cup of coffee before lunch”).

The plot thickens on Tuesday, when an alien called Nobody is beamed down from a spaceship, although everyone at school simply assumes this is the new student who was supposed to arrive next week. All sorts of unexpected, imaginative interactions occur: Nobody and Pat have a slumber party; the Inventor finds mysterious machine parts under his desk; Nobody takes an interest in the shy Artist’s drawings and even mounts an exhibition.

The First Week of School is a sophisticated picture book that packs an amazing punch, brimming with atmosphere and personality—and a wide range of activities, including a STEM lab, gym, show and tell, and recess. It overflows with wry comments, such as an escalating exchange about reading levels during storytime that ends with one student announcing, “I actually memorized this whole book. I read at a twentieth-grade level.”

Beckmeyer’s art style carries a childlike feel, adding authenticity to his narrative voice. Rendered in crayon, his many aerial perspectives take the reader from outer space and zoom in on the sun setting over the ocean and hilly terrain surrounding the school, then on the schoolyard and parking lot, eventually beaming readers—as well as the visiting alien—right into the classroom. In addition to being chock-full of pure entertainment, the diverse perspectives offered in The First Week of School remind readers of all ages that there are many ways to approach a classroom and the many unique, surprising personalities inside.

The First Week of School is a sophisticated picture book that packs an amazing punch, brimming with atmosphere and personality
Review by

Get ready to fall in love with Max, the irrepressible elementary school narrator of That Always Happens Sometimes. He’s full of energy and enthusiasm that constantly erupts like a volcano.

In Kiley Frank’s clever text, Max poses a series of questions that reveal his personality, such as “Have your electric pencil sharpener privileges ever been revoked because of an unfortunate incident with a crayon?”  On each spread, K-Fai Steele’s illustrations beautifully capture Max’s gusto and the path of debris—not to mention consequences—that follow. His parents and teachers try to rein him in with multiple checklists (items include “keep hands to myself”) and interventions (tennis balls on the legs of his chair to squelch his noisy movements).

Both Frank and Steele excel at conveying much with small, powerful flourishes. For instance, in the chaotic aftermath of Max’s parents trying to get him to school on time, Frank writes, “The car ride to school was very quiet,” while a full-page spread uses just a few strokes to show Max in the back seat clutching his backpack and his father gripping the steering wheel, fury flashing in his eyes and tight-lipped mouth.

Frank uses Max’s questions to reveal life at home and at school, and poses variations on his answers to move the story along in creative ways. Max repeatedly notes, “That always happens sometimes,” or “I always feel that way.”  One day, however, he says, “This has never happened before,” as he participates in an intriguing team-building exercise that produces surprising and affirming results for all.

Young and old readers alike will recognize themselves or someone they know in Max. That Always Happens Sometimes is a delightful book guaranteed to bring on both laughs and greater understanding of the many Maxs in the world.

That Always Happens Sometimes is a delightful book guaranteed to bring on both laughs and greater understanding of the many Maxs in the world.
Review by

On the first morning of preschool, Ravi comes downstairs wearing ladybug wings and antennae. When he refuses cornflakes for breakfast, his mother tells him that it’s actually a bowl full of “aphids,” leading him to slurp it down. Later, when she suggests that Ravi brush his teeth, he replies, “Ladybugs don’t have teeth . . . but my mandibles could do with a clean—they’re full of aphid guts.” Such is the delightful back-and-forth between a mother and her imaginative son in Ali Rutstein’s Ladybugs Do Not Go to Preschool, a familiar tale of first day of school jitters with a creative twist.

Despite his reluctance, Ravi is a “curious sort of ladybug,” somewhat tempted by his mother’s promise of new friends and art projects. There’s a perfectly balanced interplay between Ravi’s worries and his mother’s support and encouragement. Kids will enjoy the exchange of ladybug details, although additional educational facts about these insects would have been a nice addition for eager learners.

Niña Nill’s cheerful art adds just the right touch, transforming Ravi and his bowl haircut into a ladybug look-alike, and adding subtle details such as an “Aphids” label to the cereal box. Nill puts elements like this on every page—Ravi’s red cheeks look like ladybug spots, and the house’s bright floral dining room rug, seen from an overhead perspective, makes readers feel as though they’re gazing into a garden scene.

Ravi’s worried expressions readily transmit his fears, which evaporate when he sees a helpful omen once at school, as well as other students’ imaginative costumes on the final spread. Ladybugs Do Not Go to Preschool overflows with imagination and humor, making it an excellent choice for young new students.

Ladybugs Do Not Go to Preschool overflows with imagination and humor, making it an excellent choice for young new students.

Young children courageously face their fears in Dare to Be Daring, a funny and reassuring tale told in upbeat, singsongy rhyme that provides an excellent mantra for situations when a little extra motivation is needed: “Today, I will dare to be daring.”

As author Chelsea Lin Wallace acknowledges in straightforward, witty prose, trying something for the first time is daunting, indeed. But what if taking risks can lead to wonderful things, like a little boy’s feelings of elation and relief after conquering his fear of the dentist? He happily discovers, “That paste tastes like candy! / This suck tool is handy! / A trip to the toy bin, woo-hoo!”

In a variety of scenarios depicting a relatable mix of physical, social and emotional challenges, children throw caution to the wind in gym class, try a new food, ask to join a group of others playing a game and more. Their initial trepidation and ultimate exuberance is expertly depicted by illustrator Lian Cho, who conjures up expressive characters that are a delight to behold, including the comically huge grimace and widened eyes of a skeptical girl bracing herself for a meal of pea and beef stew (“It’s GREEN and it’s GRIMY”).

Cho’s gouache and colored pencil art is rendered in a cheery mix of patterns and textures. There’s a splattery Pollock-esque painting, a furry Bernese mountain dog and the gaping dark maw of the unlit basement—the latter of which will have readers cringing and giggling as a little girl tries, again and again, to take that first step down the stairs.

Dare to Be Daring makes a sweetly supportive case for mustering up the courage to try new things—and remembering you don’t have to do it alone, perfectly or all at once. After all, as Wallace shows us, “It’s our light that we shine that is daring. / It glows when we set our fears free.”

Dare to Be Daring makes a sweetly supportive case for mustering up the courage to try new things—and remembering you don’t have to do it alone, perfectly or all at once.
STARRED REVIEW
July 15, 2024

3 picture books to inspire a garden

These plant-filled offerings will have you wanting to spend your summer digging in the dirt.

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Growing up in Venezuela, Paola Santos hated having to clear the rotten fruit from beneath her family’s four mango trees, a chore that resulted in an early resistance to this delicious fruit. Her picture book debut, How to Eat a Mango, reclaims this experience with joy through the eyes (and ears, nose and mouth) of young Carmencita as she works with and learns from her Abuelita. Like the author, Carmencita doesn’t like the work of picking mangoes and thinks she also dislikes the fruit—until Abuelita explains, “There’s more to a mango, mi amor,” and teaches her the five steps of enjoying one. Abuelita takes Carmencita on a journey through all her senses and encourages a sense of gratitude towards the abundant goodness of the world around her.

That journey is told in lyrical language, beginning with, “Uno, we listen,” as the mango trees “whistle stories of sunrays and rain and those under its shade.” Juliana Perdamo’s accompanying illustrations are full of life and warmth and color, and combine with the writing to create a lush story that encourages young readers to tune in—with all their senses—to the many gifts nature has to offer. Simultaneously lively and meditative, How to Eat a Mango would make an excellent choice to teach kids about mindfulness. It is no quiet book, however; sensory experiences explode on each page, and young readers will appreciate the way Carmencita connects the mango to her own life: “Mangoes grow up! When I teach Carlitos to get dressed, I feel like a big kid.” Through it all, Santos weaves in the youthful wonder that she resisted as a child, explaining in an author’s note that, now that she lives in Canada, mangoes “embody my desire to go back in time and tell my younger self to pay attention.” With its simultaneous publication in Spanish, this gentle book will remind all its readers, young and old, of the joys of thoughtful attention.

Simultaneously lively and meditative, How to Eat a Mango would make an excellent addition to any series on mindfulness. It is no quiet book, however: Sensory experiences explode on each page.
Review by

Prunella tells the story of a young girl who develops a passion for unusual and often unloved plants, but struggles to find her place with other kids. Bestselling author Beth Ferry partners with artist Claire Keane to create a picture book with a color palette and style as unique as Prunella herself. From the cover through every page, the illustrations root Prunella in a lush but heavily shaded green space, populated by such “persnickety plants” as the obscure bladderwort, the better-known Venus flytrap or even the familiar yet hated poison ivy, with brief scientific descriptions accompanying drawings of each plant on the book’s endpapers. Readers are introduced to Prunella as an infant, child of two master gardeners and born with a purple—rather than the customary green—thumb. As she grows, her fascination with strange plants grows along with her, and though her parents “didn’t always understand Prunella’s choices . . . they completely understood her passion. And they fueled it!” 

Though Prunella has the unconditional support of her family, making friends does not come easily for her, and she takes solace in her garden. Despite its comforts, she feels left out until the day her neighbor Oliver (and soon his sister Clem) arrives, which plants “a tiny, hopeful friend-shaped seed.” Ferry makes use of nature-related words to tell this sweet story of finding your place, noting the “bouquet of botanists” and the group of young scientists who “wormed their way into Prunella’s heart.” To bring this world fully to life, Keane draws on a varied set of visual tools, sometimes breaking the page into vertical or horizontal segments like soft-edged comics panels and other times spreading out across two pages with rich and exuberant drawings. Besides the plant life, Keane is especially skilled at rendering facial expressions, giving visual voice to each character even if they never speak. Couple Ferry’s clever wordplay with Keane’s detailed illustrations, and you’ve got a book that is sure to resonate with young readers, especially those who have ever felt they didn’t fit in.

Couple Beth Ferry’s clever wordplay with Claire Keane’s detailed illustrations, and you’ve got a book that is sure to resonate with young readers, especially those who have ever felt they didn’t fit in.
Review by

In Garden Glen, every building is the same except for the “tumbledown house” that now belongs to Millie Fleur La Fae and her mother. The barren yard needs some love, so Millie decides to fill it with her favorite poisonous plants: sore toothwort, fanged fairymoss, tentacled tansy and a dozen other curious flowers and herbs.

Unused to something so new and weird, the people of Garden Glen protest outside Millie’s fence, but Millie and her mother know that the garden is just misunderstood. Millie invites her new neighbors to tour the garden, where they find themselves “astonished,” “grossed out” and “at times, a little nervous.” Can Millie’s neighbors learn how charming her creepy plants can be?

Time to throw away summer plans: Kids will want to spend all their time digging in the dirt after reading Millie Fleur’s Poison Garden. This charming picture book from author-illustrator Christy Mandin (The Storytellers Rule) pays homage to classic and beloved creeps like those featured in Frankenstein and The Addams Family while simultaneously creating its own—in the form of original plants. From curdled milkweed to witches wort, the abundant puns are sure to please kids who love a joke, as well as those who enjoy fantastical imagery.

The heart of Millie Fleur’s Poison Garden is, of course, Millie Fleur. Young readers will leave inspired by Millie’s refusal to hide what she loves, no matter how weird it may be. Backmatter includes information on different easy-to-care-for plants and the real history of poison gardens. This plant-filled tome will be a great pick for parents and teachers looking for an educational moment on embracing identity and rebuking bullying, or a quirky gardening lesson.

Millie Fleur’s Poison Garden is made for the oddballs, who will love it. Pair with Flavia Z. Drago’s Gustavo the Shy Ghost and Jess Hannigan’s Spider in the Well.

Time to throw away summer plans: Kids will want to spend all their time digging in the dirt after reading Millie Fleur’s Poison Garden.

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These plant-filled offerings will have you digging in the mud this summer.
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When little Afia can’t sleep, her mind as active as a summer night, she and her papa travel in their imaginations to find love. And find it they do—in the sun-warmed sand, on a snowy mountain top, in the ocean’s friendly waves and even in the darkest night sky. Before she finally drifts off to sleep, Afia and her father discover that love looks like many things across the world; but most of all, it looks like them. What Love Looks Like, written by Laura Obuobi and illustrated by Anna Cunha, is a captivating addition to the bedtime bookshelf.

Against the safe coziness of a cream-colored background, Cunha’s characters are sweet and softly drawn, as well as a little messy and hazy, like a dream. Her oil painting style and warm colors enchant from the start, but as Afia and Papa journey on, Cunha’s art blossoms into magical worlds that feel wondrous and grand while remaining calm and welcoming. Cunha manages to make her art feel both old and contemporary—which means it will never be dated or stale.

Cunha’s artwork is so captivating, it hardly needs accompanying narration, but it’s perfectly balanced by author Laura Obuobi’s beautiful, well-chosen descriptions told with a storyteller’s sensibility. Obuobi’s writing begs to be read aloud and savored, and she peppers her narration with alliteration and a rhythm that pulls one gently forward. Her poetic descriptions are impeccable and lovely, conjuring new settings in seconds. All of these things make What Love Looks Like a perfect last book before bed: Readers may find themselves relaxing and feeling sleepy as they read. 

While there is no lack of picture books to help with bedtime procrastination, What Love Looks Like deserves a spotlight. Not many offerings are so well-matched in their text and art. Indeed, Cunha and Obuobi deliver the embodiment of What Love Looks Like: beautiful things to look at, gentle words before bedtime and someone dear to share them with.

Cunha and Obuobi deliver the embodiment of What Love Looks Like: beautiful things to look at, gentle words before bedtime and someone dear to share them with.

A lone green apple on a tree full of vibrant reds is the only one left behind after picking season begins in Linda Liu’s stylish Sour Apple

The dejected little apple sits alone in the orchard and wonders what failings could have caused the rejection. It utters laments in clever rhyming couplets that are at once plaintive and amusing, rife as they are with allusions to popular apple-centric figures and sayings that will appeal to kids and adults alike. “Am I too ordinary to make or break your day? / Or not extraordinary enough to keep the doctor away?” the distraught fruit muses as it imagines plopping on Sir Isaac Newton’s head, being offered by the Evil Queen to the Seven Dwarfs, and uncomfortably wending its way through the human digestive system. Vivid watercolor-and-digital paintings add to the fun thanks to striking geometric shapes, finely rendered patterns and texture, and Liu’s knack for clever composition and expressive humor.

Sadly, the apple’s distress sinks it so low that it frustratedly offers itself to ravenous insects, who carry it off into underground darkness. But what if that’s not the end for the apple? What if there’s something waiting just around the corner that’s even more amazing than getting picked? Is it possible there’s joy to be found in not being like everyapple else?

As in her sparkling debut, Hidden Gem, Liu has created a charming and emotional protagonist to whom readers of all ages will relate: After all, recognizing and appreciating our own unique potential is an ongoing process. It’s a delight to follow along as this apple’s outlook changes from sour to sweet, eventually undergoing an astonishing transformation that celebrates the wonder of a new perspective and a hopeful future.

As in her sparkling debut, Hidden Gem, Linda Liu has created a charming and emotional protagonist to whom readers of all ages will relate. After all, recognizing and appreciating our own unique potential is an ongoing process.
Review by

Prunella tells the story of a young girl who develops a passion for unusual and often unloved plants, but struggles to find her place with other kids. Bestselling author Beth Ferry partners with artist Claire Keane to create a picture book with a color palette and style as unique as Prunella herself. From the cover through every page, the illustrations root Prunella in a lush but heavily shaded green space, populated by such “persnickety plants” as the obscure bladderwort, the better-known Venus flytrap or even the familiar yet hated poison ivy, with brief scientific descriptions accompanying drawings of each plant on the book’s endpapers. Readers are introduced to Prunella as an infant, child of two master gardeners and born with a purple—rather than the customary green—thumb. As she grows, her fascination with strange plants grows along with her, and though her parents “didn’t always understand Prunella’s choices . . . they completely understood her passion. And they fueled it!” 

Though Prunella has the unconditional support of her family, making friends does not come easily for her, and she takes solace in her garden. Despite its comforts, she feels left out until the day her neighbor Oliver (and soon his sister Clem) arrives, which plants “a tiny, hopeful friend-shaped seed.” Ferry makes use of nature-related words to tell this sweet story of finding your place, noting the “bouquet of botanists” and the group of young scientists who “wormed their way into Prunella’s heart.” To bring this world fully to life, Keane draws on a varied set of visual tools, sometimes breaking the page into vertical or horizontal segments like soft-edged comics panels and other times spreading out across two pages with rich and exuberant drawings. Besides the plant life, Keane is especially skilled at rendering facial expressions, giving visual voice to each character even if they never speak. Couple Ferry’s clever wordplay with Keane’s detailed illustrations, and you’ve got a book that is sure to resonate with young readers, especially those who have ever felt they didn’t fit in.

Couple Beth Ferry’s clever wordplay with Claire Keane’s detailed illustrations, and you’ve got a book that is sure to resonate with young readers, especially those who have ever felt they didn’t fit in.
Review by

In Garden Glen, every building is the same except for the “tumbledown house” that now belongs to Millie Fleur La Fae and her mother. The barren yard needs some love, so Millie decides to fill it with her favorite poisonous plants: sore toothwort, fanged fairymoss, tentacled tansy and a dozen other curious flowers and herbs.

Unused to something so new and weird, the people of Garden Glen protest outside Millie’s fence, but Millie and her mother know that the garden is just misunderstood. Millie invites her new neighbors to tour the garden, where they find themselves “astonished,” “grossed out” and “at times, a little nervous.” Can Millie’s neighbors learn how charming her creepy plants can be?

Time to throw away summer plans: Kids will want to spend all their time digging in the dirt after reading Millie Fleur’s Poison Garden. This charming picture book from author-illustrator Christy Mandin (The Storytellers Rule) pays homage to classic and beloved creeps like those featured in Frankenstein and The Addams Family while simultaneously creating its own—in the form of original plants. From curdled milkweed to witches wort, the abundant puns are sure to please kids who love a joke, as well as those who enjoy fantastical imagery.

The heart of Millie Fleur’s Poison Garden is, of course, Millie Fleur. Young readers will leave inspired by Millie’s refusal to hide what she loves, no matter how weird it may be. Backmatter includes information on different easy-to-care-for plants and the real history of poison gardens. This plant-filled tome will be a great pick for parents and teachers looking for an educational moment on embracing identity and rebuking bullying, or a quirky gardening lesson.

Millie Fleur’s Poison Garden is made for the oddballs, who will love it. Pair with Flavia Z. Drago’s Gustavo the Shy Ghost and Jess Hannigan’s Spider in the Well.

Time to throw away summer plans: Kids will want to spend all their time digging in the dirt after reading Millie Fleur’s Poison Garden.
Review by

Meet King Lion, who rules all the happy animals and smiling people below his balcony. He should be the happiest of all in this happy city, but instead has a very big problem: Hidden away in his tall castle, he is an awfully fearsome creature without a friend in the world. 

Not one to let his own kingdom get the better of him, King Lion sets out into his city to find himself a friend. But when he shouts “Hello!” all anyone hears is a “deafening roar.” When he waves his paws to greet a pal or opens his mouth for a large smile, all anyone sees are his “dangerous claws” and “dripping jaws.” 

But one little girl isn’t so sure. Like the king, she is also lonely. Could they . . . be friends? 

King Lion, written and illustrated by Emma Yarlett, promises to be an immediate hit with librarians, teachers and young readers everywhere. The prose lends itself well to a group read-aloud, giving plenty of opportunities to roar and expose those fearsome claws and jaws. This picture book would also provide a more intimate bedtime reading experience, giving children a chance to talk about why the King might be lonely, why people are afraid of him and how it might sometimes feel to come on a bit too strong when we are excited to meet new friends. The illustrations are lively, colorful and provide many Easter eggs throughout the story that compel the reader to stop and pore over the background, smelling the proverbial flowers and questioning the looks on the townspeoples’ faces: Are they happy? Alarmed? Scared? Sad? Loving? 

King Lion is a heartwarming story for the awfully fearsome and misunderstood creatures everywhere.

King Lion is a heartwarming story for all the awfully fearsome and misunderstood creatures everywhere.

A group of cheerful walruses, friendly birds and an inquisitive cat are living their best lives on an island where everyone says “YES!” It’s a happy existence: The walruses play sand volleyball (aka “Walrus Ball”), wear stylish hats and enjoy delicious treats from Café Donutto. Sure, only saying yes “was not so great when someone asked you to wear an itchy shirt or get a haircut,” but overall, the island’s culture of mutual agreement is working well for everyone.

Then, the Kid shows up. He breezily refuses to consider others’ requests, responding with a shocking “NO.” He even cuts the donut shop line and leaves with a bunch of pastries he didn’t pay for. The proprietor said yes, so what’s the problem?

Well, it’s a big problem for the walruses. They can’t play Walrus Ball because the Kid’s boat is sitting in their net. There are no more donuts to eat (he won’t share, of course). And it hurts when he bounces on the narrator walrus’s back and yanks their whiskers. Alas, things get even worse when more Kids arrive and gleefully wreak havoc on the once peaceful island.

Things can’t go on this way, so the walruses decide to teach each other how to say no. It’s a struggle at first: “I tried to say the new word,” the narrating walrus shares. “But my tries came out see-through like glass, light as dandelion puffs. They blew away in the wind.” But it’s the only way to protect their home. Will their new approach work?

The Island Before No is a super fun read, a visual treat and an excellent conversation starter all in one. Hudson Christie’s art perfectly complements Christina Uss’ engaging and uplifting tale, thanks to its appealing claymation-esque style, skillfully employed pastel colors and energy that bursts from every page. The walruses’ efforts to establish and enforce boundaries will resonate with readers of all ages, from their initial hesitance to their realization that practice makes close to perfect—especially if there are donuts involved. The Island Before No is a quirky gem of a tale that’s sure to elicit giggles even as it inspires confidence.

The Island Before No is a quirky gem of a tale that’s sure to elicit giggles even as it inspires confidence.

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