Chisholm’s dynamic digital illustrations and muted color palette, combined with rhyming text, conjure nostalgia and a sense of childlike wonder in places, though O’Neill writes mainly from the perspective of the parents in this advisory tale—a choice that allows him to dispense plenty of valuable advice, but may not hold the attention of younger readers, especially as early passages insist that the young bear protagonist is “still just a child” and “nowhere near ready” for life in the wild. O’Neill makes a cute joke of that, as the narrative voice registers the cub’s objections and runs the numbers before admitting “You appear to have gone and grown up overnight.”
That sense of regret, the cub’s resistance to the parents’ safety messages, and an often chiding tone (“But because you’ve been fresh / you’ll have to wait a few stanzas”) are throughlines that distinguish this title from other compendiums of advice about life’s journey, but they’re more likely to amuse and resonate with parents than fresh graduates. Still, there’s playful energy and power in O’Neill’s exhortations to “stretch limits” and burst free of comfort zones, and adventurous page spreads like one showing the cub, in a mortarboard and roller skates, zipping past tigers and tornadoes, are wonderful.
Takeaway: Playful picture book advice for young grads, from the voice of parents not ready to let go.
Great for fans of: Emily Winfield Martin’s The Wonderful Things You Will Be, Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar’s The Sky Is the Limit.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B