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Hugh O'Neill
Just a Zillion Things Before You Go
Hugh O'Neill, author

Adult; Spirituality/Inspirational; (Market)

“Just a Zillion Things Before You Go” celebrates a young person setting sail – an epic parental poem for parents to stuff in dorm-bound duffle bags as grads head out to their next big adventure. The book offers a high-spirited salute and one last nagging yet vital piece of advice – how to be careful and courageous at the same time.
In the vein of Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, O’Neill (Put Up the Hoop Sooner) offers readers an uplifting reminder of how quickly children grow up. When a young bear cub graduates and leaves home, their parents are faced with an empty nest—and start to wonder if their advice over the years was adequate. In between encouraging the cub and reminiscing about their own shortcomings, the pair dispense with last minute “wisdom-giving” and inspiration to “live big and free, Ships are safe in the harbor, but they should be at sea.”

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.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: B