Xander wants to have a rip-roaring panda party. But this turns out to be a bit tricky, as he is the only panda in the zoo. So he expands his idea to invite all of the bears. But it turns out that Koala is actually a marsupial. He doesn't want to leave her out, so Xander has to expand the party to encompass all mammals. But then Rhinoceros wants to bring his bird, and so on, and so on, until everyone at the zoo is invited to the bash. Xander's generosity of spirit is rewarded at the end, when a very special new friend arrives at the zoo.
Park's text is poetic, using lots of rhyme without being sing-songy. Like this:
"But Xander was the only panda. Just one panda at the zoo.
Xander sat and chewed bamboo. He changed his plans and point of view."
Doesn't that just beg to be read aloud? And this:
"Xander's party preparations took great pains and perspiration.
"The menu needs some taste sensations, plus the proper vegetation!""
Delightful! This is a book that parents will be able to read over and over again, because the cadence is so enjoyable. There are also plenty of strong vocabulary words, like "congregating" and "fidgeted."
The message of inclusiveness, while certainly present, is surrounded by the gentle humor of the story, such that it doesn't feel overwhelming. I like that it's not always obvious to Xander that he should keep expanding his party. He really struggles with the decision each time. This having to work to decide to do the right thing will certainly make the book resonate more with young readers.
As rendered in ink and watercolor by Matt Phelan, Xander is adorable. His loneliness at the start of the book is palpable. His joy at the end will bring a smile to any reader's face. The other animals are sketched in, interesting though not quite realistic, but the focus remains on Xander. My favorite page is one filled with small vignettes, as Xander races about the zoo, inviting other creatures to his party, leaving a trail of colored envelopes behind.
It sounds a bit trite to say that a picture book is heart-warming. But what can I say? Xander's Panda Party is heart-warming, entertaining, and eminently read-aloudable. It is not to be missed.
Publisher: Clarion Books (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: September 3, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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