February 2020

Hand-drawn image of a five-point star

February 2020 Stars & Big Picture

Starred titles are books of special distinction. See the archives for selections from previous months.

Barnett, MacJack at Bat; illus. by Greg Pizzoli. Viking, 2020 [80p] (Jack Books)
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-593-11382-0 $9.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-593-11383-7 $9.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 1-2

Fleming, CandaceHoneybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera; illus. by Eric Rohmann. Porter/Holiday House, 2020 [40p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-8234-4285-0 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-8234-4304-8 $11.99
Reviewed from galleys R* 6-9 yrs

Fogliano, JulieMy Best Friend; illus. by Jillian Tamaki. Atheneum, 2020 [32p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-5344-2722-8 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-5344-2723-5 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys R* 2-4 yrs

Khanani, IntisarThorn. HarperTeen, 2020 [512p] (Dauntless Path)
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-06-283570-3 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-06-283573-4 $9.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 9-12

Levithan, David19 Love Songs. Knopf, 2020 [320p]
Library ed. ISBN 978-1-9848-4864-2 $20.99
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-9848-4863-5 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-9848-4865-9 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 9-12

Sullivan, MaryUp on Bob; written and illus. by Mary Sullivan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020 [34p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-328-99471-4 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-358-16721-1 $12.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. K-2

Pennypacker, SaraHere in the Real World. Balzer + Bray, 2020 [320p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-06-269895-7 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-06-269897-1 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 4-6


written by Deborah Underwood; illustrated by T. L. McBeth

Picture book stalwart Deborah Underwood has featured cats (Here Comes Teacher Cat, BCCB 9/17), pandas (The Panda Problem, BCCB 5/19), and nonspecific mammals (Ogilvy, BCCB 5/19), and now she brings yet another animal cleverly to the page—the duck. After leaving the pond for just a moment to chase a butterfly, little Duck returns to find its entire family gone (“NO DUCKS!”). Duck searches for clues, misled first by the Squawk! Squawk! Squawk! of a loud marching band, then the trail of footprints from a diver wearing flippers, and then by feathers floating around post-pillow fight. Duck even goes to a Duck Sale (“DUCKS?”), but it’s just toy rubber ducks (“NOOOOO DUCKS!”). Taking inspiration from a Lost Dog poster, Duck makes Lost Ducks posters, which leads finally to Duck’s reunion with its family.

Underwood’s been a reliable provider of conventional-length picture book texts; here she pares down to two words alone in the dialogue (plus a few optional sound effects and labels scattered around), in a minimal text with big punch reminiscent of the work of Mary Sullivan (Nobody’s Duck, BCCB 1/18, and Ball, BCCB 5/13). The book depends on an easy-to-follow pattern of hopeful DUCKS?/disappointed NO DUCKS with an accompanying upending of expectations, which will easily hook youngsters into reading. Professionals will appreciate the careful crafting too, from the clearly structured schemas and the clever clues (the feathers floating through the air would indicate birds to most people, not, as the page turn reveals, a downy pillow), to the relatable story of a youngster who loses track of family members. It’s also seriously funny, with a ton of giggleworthy moments, and kids will enjoy speculating about what Duck could be mistaking for his family as they’re forced by the format to think beyond the immediate first guess. Younger viewers are easily included as well, and storytime attendees are sure to join in with the text’s disheartened chorus of “NO DUCKS!”

McBeth’s digital art is minimalistic, mirroring the barebones nature of the text. The ducks’ bodies are built from simple lines and shapes, and the springtime-suitable sky blue and spicy orange are the only colors against the black lines and white backgrounds. The style is spare but never dry, though, as Duck’s big eyes still shine with emotion: they’re lifted eagerly at the prospect of reunion, or bunched up angrily at being fooled again. Abundant visual jokes up the humor: Duck hopes a hatching egg will reveal another duck, but it’s actually a reptile who greets Duck with a small “Mommy?”; a visual pullback to the skyline of Duck’s city shows Duck’s silhouette jumping over the buildings at a bigger-than-feasible scale to scream “NOOOOO DUCKS!” to comedic effect.

Ultimately, Ducks! is notable for its potential to engage its viewers and readers to engage on a creative level, and each is bound to glean something different from its pages, whether it’s a lesson about the meaning of family or the importance of thinking through all possible outcomes before jumping to conclusions. Any kid who has lost their parent at the supermarket will easily relate to Duck’s plight.

Natalie Berglind, Reviewer

Cover illustration by T. L. McBeth from Ducks! copyright © 2020 and reproduced by permission of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.