Phelan (Around the World) takes Park’s jaunty story about a panda with a complicated social life and develops it still further. In ink-and-watercolor vignettes, he animates the many zoo creatures Xander considers inviting to his party, capturing their expressions and interactions with a few quick pen strokes. Xander begins with his bear compatriots: Black Bear, Brown Bear, the Polar Bears, and Koala. “From her tree, Koala hollered,/ ‘Xander, I am not a bear.... Will I not be welcome there?’ ” Xander reconsiders: should he include all mammals? When he does, Rhinoceros complains that he can’t bring his bird. Should he include birds, too? Eventually, of course, Xander must invite everyone, and after the arrival of an unexpected mystery guest, the attendance list expands—providing Xander with a new friend. Park (The Third Gift) is really talking about the fluidity of boundaries, and how social groupings that look solid fall apart under closer inspection. Her afterword explores symbiosis (the rhino-bird duo), taxonomic classification, and zoo exchanges—there’s food for thought throughout. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown. Illustrator’s agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Sept.)
"Phelan takes Park's jaunty story about a panda with a complicated social life and develops it still further. . . . There's food for thought throughout."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"The upbeat, mostly rhyming text provides a surprising amount of information about animal families and species without tripping up the pace. . . . Perfect for young animal lovers and a great read-aloud for storytime."
—School Library Journal, starred review
"Liberal use of internal rhyme. . . makes Park's text sing as it relates how Xander tackles each new challenge."
—The Horn Book Magazine, starred review
"Phelan's ink and watercolor compositions offer the perfect counterpoint to the tightly wrought verses, with playfulness inherent in the fluid inky outlines encasing broadly applied brushstrokes."
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review
"Newbery Medalist Park's playful rhyming text introduces young kids to different species of animals. . . Share this story about the importance of inclusion with birthday kids and those fond of a trip to the zoo."
PreS-Gr 1—In this charming story that celebrates friendship and inclusion, Xander wants to throw a party, but since he's the zoo's only panda, he invites all of the bears. Then Koala tells him that she's a marsupial, not a bear. After much thoughtful bamboo-nibbling, Xander opens his party to all mammals. But Rhino won't come without his bird, and then the reptiles request an invitation, and the little panda doesn't know what to do. A new friend pitches in, and the party goes "from grand to even grander" as the whole zoo is invited. As a last surprise, a new panda, Zhu Zi, arrives to complete the celebration, "What a party! What a ball! Lots of new friends, tall and small!" The ink and watercolor illustrations add dashes of personality to the animals-the rhino scowls as his bird cheerfully waves from atop his horn-and touches of humor, as when Xander blends in with a crowd of penguins. The cartoonlike animals have wonderfully expressive faces, so even the wordless pages convey the panda's feelings. The upbeat, mostly rhyming text provides a surprising amount of information about animal families and species without tripping up the pace. The author's note gives information that expands on facts mentioned in the book, like the symbiotic relationship between the oxpecker and the rhino. Perfect for young animal lovers and a great read-aloud for storytime.—Marian McLeod, Darien Library, CT
As a member of a rare species, Xander the Panda runs into some evolutionary conflicts when faced with the eternal quandary of whom to invite to his party. As pandas are thin on the ground, he decides to expand the guest list to bears. This plan is upset by a bear look-alike, Koala, who turns out to be a marsupial, not a bear. Even broadening the invitation to all mammals doesn't please everyone; Rhinoceros won't come without his bird, so Xander invites all the birds. Crocodile adds to Xander's stress by insisting that reptiles, being a prehistoric bird-related species, should be invited too. The solution to Xander's dilemma comes from tiny Amanda Salamander, who suggests inviting all creatures, which (surprise) includes humans too! The party is a roaring success, and a nice girl panda shows up at the right moment to keep Xander company. Phelan's pencil-and-watercolor vignettes are imaginative and charming, making the most of the story's humorous potential. Though a solid addition to the popular category of books about inclusiveness, the tale, like Xander's party, feels a little too-hastily put together. Children who chuckle at the sight of Xander lowering an invitation into the lion's zoo enclosure may find themselves wondering how prey animals will fare at Xander's shindig, for instance. Park includes a final note about pandas and species preservation. Unquestionably warmhearted, but its emphasis on zoological facts somewhat undermines its whimsy. (Picture book. 3-5)