Book Reviews: March 2020 Picture Book Roundup: Important Lessons and Cartoonish Animals


Click to visit BN's page for links to order, summary, and reviews.

A Whale of a Mistake by Ioana Hobai. Page Street Kids-Page Street, 2020.

I have been waiting for the release of this book since going to a talk by an editor for Page Street Kids who had an ARC with her. The cover is SPLENDID. The illustrations are SPLENDID. I adore the color scheme.  I hadn’t been able at that talk to spend time with its text. The text actually fell a little flat to me. I know that this book was inspired by the author’s divorce, though the text for children speaks more broadly to any large or seemingly large mistake. I was reminded strongly of Kobi Yamada’s What Would You Do series, and I think if I was not so familiar with these books, I would like this one better. It would be more standout. Still, this is a message that Yamada has yet to cover, and it is a good message—that large mistakes when we take a step back from them, are small in the face of a vast universe, and become less frightening to rectify when seen from this perspective.  This book just feels like it should be part of that series, and in that way, the contrasts of blues and salmons seem out of place; I expect sepia, and I expect my round-faced, medieval-ly dressed protagonist, not someone white-faced and blue-haired.

The mistake here is represented as a whale that takes the protagonist out to sea, away from help and community, and then shrinks as she faces it and steers it back towards land.  In much the way that Yamada’s problem seems overwhelming until it is faced and reveals its opportunity.


Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.

You Will Be Found by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and illustrated by Sarah J. Coleman (inkymole). Little, Brown-Hachette, 2020.  Intended audience: Teens and young adults.

The text of this picture book, shelved at Barnes & Noble right now in the teen section though I think it is absolutely for any age, is the lyrics from the song of the same title from the musical Dear Evan Hansen. This song in particular has always made my eyes sting, and it could not have come out at a more appropriate time. The song in the musical (to my understanding from memorizing the soundtrack but never having actually seen the play) is the speech given by the title character, Evan Hansen, at a school assembly honoring the memory of a schoolmate who has committed suicide. This speech is filmed by one of the students and goes viral.  The general message is that we are never alone, that there is always help.  The illustrations in this edition are watercolors in mostly blues and purples but with flashes of yellow and warmer colors and one page that is a rainbow of text. It all looks very modern and very soothing. I think the illustrations chosen represent the text on the pages well. If you need this reminder (and I think we all probably need this reminder), this is a good book to keep on a coffee table. Is it as moving as the song? Probably not. Can I read the book to myself without singing the song in my mind? Also no. So my impression of it may be skewed.  The text isn’t 100% word for word, but it is near enough. I am glad though that the authors opted against keeping in, for example, the bridge text of the newscasters and Facebook comments and likes. I think it makes for a stronger book as it is than if they had done. For what this is, this is excellently done. I’ve read several books the texts of which are song lyrics, and I think this has been my favorite.


Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Llama Unleashes the Alpacalypse by Jonathan Stutzman and illustrated by Heather Fox. Henry, Holt-Macmillan, 2020.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.  Intended release May 2020.

I received an ARC of this book about a lazy llama who doesn’t want to clean. His friend Alpaca loves to clean though. So Llama invents the Replicator 3000, into which he tricks his friend Alpaca. Two Alpacas clean Llama’s house with ease, but Llama wonders what he could do with more Alpacas. The legion Alpacas get loose and wreck havoc by cleaning the town. Llama sits happily in his clean home with a pizza. The pizza draws the many Alpacas back to Llama’s home, where Llama realizes his mistake and rectifies it with a reverse switch. But now he and Alpaca are both at his home in time for dessert, and Llama has only one slice of cake. And a Replicator 3000. This book is silly. But this book made me smile. Llama’s unthinking hijinks remind me of Pig the Pug, though Llama’s illustration style is even more cartoonish, sharing Pig’s and Trevor’s bulbous eyes but simplifying even more their bodies. I like this better than Blabey’s books though. Alpaca is unhurt. Llama is unhurt. Everyone gets cake. The damage is not permanent. And if Stutzman has a Replicator 3000 and a cleaning alpaca, now would be the time to release a legion of alpacas on the world and scrub everything clean.  I also enjoyed the framing of this story, opening with “By dinner, Llama will unleash a great Alpacalypse upon the world” and continuing to mark the passage of time by Llama’s meals, which include second lunch and second dinner.  Llamas eat often like hobbits.


Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.

How to Catch a Unicorn by Adam Wallace and illustrated by Andy Elkerton. Wonderland-Sourcebooks, 2019.

This is narrated not by the would-be-captors but by the unicorn herself. Bored, she sets off for the zoo, but she is spotted by some kids who set out to capture her. She eludes their creative traps occasionally helped by the zoo inhabitants, so you could use this book as an animal primer. The unicorn lore in this was… interesting. A good bit of it I had never heard and I think was made up by Wallace for this story rather than pulled from previously established lore. You can’t say that any of its wrong, though, as unicorns, if they ever existed, exist no longer.


Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.

How to Catch a Dinosaur by Adam Wallace and illustrated by Andy Elkerton. Wonderland-Sourcebooks, 2019.

This is the fourth book that I’ve read from this series (missed from this blog is How to Catch a Dragon, a book written for the Chinese New Year; I may go back to review those picture books eventually). This one is about a boy who hopes to win a school science fair by catching a dinosaur. Though ultimately unsuccessful in his hunt, his contraptions for catching the dino do snag him the trophy. I was pleasantly surprised by the modern dino facts that this book alludes to: that some dinos had feathers, that dinos are nearer to birds than other living creatures. In this particularly the “better luck next time” refrain that ends of each of the the books in this series is jarring because the narration and the perspective changes from the children to the dino for this last line.


These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

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