This 32 page book for preschool to second graders, 3-7, is very formulaic and reads like an episode of Handy Manny, or Dora the Explorer, or Paw Patrol. Each of the six characters has a skill and represents a different culture, when they work together magic happens and they learn something in the process. There is a girl with hijab and even a mayor that has to be convinced and the kids are successful and save the day. Sure there is nothing wrong with it, but it is a bit cheesy, on the nose, and largely forgettable. The book claims that the six kids are going to learn and celebrate other New Years festivals, as they travel to New York, China, and India for Diwali, except, nothing is really learned or even experienced at any of the festivals or the one that they are hosting in their own village. The book is the first in a series, and I don’t plan to purchase the next one to see if it improves on showing, rather than telling, but if I could find it in a library, I would definitely read it and enjoy the bright illustrations of diverse kids.
The book starts off showing a sad broken fountain that isn’t loved or used except by six kids every day who gather there to play. Zoya to paint, Christopher to build, Riya to play her flute, Dalai to ride his bicycle, Noelle to fly her drone, and Jacob to share the treats he baked. They like to pretend that the waters of the fountain are connected to all the water around the world and that they can go on adventures.
When the kids learn that the New Year’s party is canceled because the fountain can’t be repaired in time the kids decide to take action. Time-out, I know, I usually give the entire summary then highlight the holes, but the book claims no one uses the fountain, now it is in the city center and needs repairs for a party, it seemed that it was old and crumbling, but last year it was fine? And if the kids could have always fixed it, why didn’t they? Any way Riya assigns everyone jobs to fix the fountain, AND THEN they go get the mayor and let her know they are going to fix it and she agrees saying if they can get it done in time the New Year’s Celebration wouldn’t be canceled. The order seems off to me, they start fixing it, then work it out with the mayor and then have it all fixed in two days and the mayor clears it. The illustrations show it pretty much fixed when the mayor arrives the first time, not sure what took two more days, and how it was ok for kids to fix a fountain prior to getting permission.
With the festival back on, the fountain looks happy and the kids suddenly have enhanced skills: notes from the flute turn in to birds, Zoya can paint in the air, Dailai’s bracelet is glowing, tools are growing and multiplying, and the drone, iDea, speaks. She tells the children to read the inscription on the heart of the fountain. Somehow the kids know to each touch a glowing orb and sing a song verse together. It reminded me of Dragon Tales.
The fountain whisks the kids to New York where they see a “jostling, jolly,” crowd celebrating. Then they are off to watch “millions of people clap and sway together, hoping for happiness and good fortune for all,” at a Chinese celebration. That is literally all it says, it doesn’t say that Chinese New Year would be at a different time because of the lunar calendar or anything, and then they are off to celebrate Diwali, in India, which also wouldn’t be at the same time as western New Years, and all they learn about it is that it is a celebration of light over darkness. I’d guess readers wouldn’t even realize that it often coincides with the Hindu lunar calendar’s new year celebrations.
The kids come back, name the fountain the Friendship Fountain, use some of the decorations they saw to decorate for their own new year’s party, and then they clean up after the party. There is no showing how their village celebrated, there are no other villagers attending or helping or participating, it just says they agreed it was “the best party ever.”
Perhaps I am cynical because the book is $17, but even if the book was free, it really is lacking some depth. If you are going to highlight some cultures, then highlight some cultures, don’t just name drop and move on. I love that the characters are diverse, but I hope in future book, their own cultures and beliefs are shared not just visually represented. The formula works for little readers, but if even a talking hammer and screw driver in Handy Manny can have their own personalities, sadly these six kids missed a chance to show themselves and foster inclusive representation and teamwork in a celebratory manner.