Booklist (May 1, 2014 (Vol. 110, No. 17))
Preschool-Kindergarten. They don’t make dog racers better than Sam: “He was number one in speed. He was number one at turns. And he was number one at finishing races in the number-one spot.” On the day of “the big race,” he is happy and confident and steers his racer (which looks rather like a hot dog) around the track, neck and neck with elephant buddy Maggie. Then, with an effective color shift from bright pastels to moody blues, “Sam lost.” Young readers will identify with the shock of unexpected failure, as Sam arrives at the next big race quiet and nervous. (Observant sorts will notice the 1 on his race car has been crossed out in favor of 2.) But there are more important things than winning, as Sam gives up the lead to scoop some duckies off the path. Pizzoli’s follow-up to the 2014 Geisel Award–winning The Watermelon Seed (the starring crocodile makes a cameo here) again uses cheery Rocky-and-Bullwinkle-style illustrations and sparse text to pull off a far more emotional feat than you’d expect.