Out Now from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; 40 pages
Content Warning: Oppression, prejudice, acts of violence, fire
About the Author: “Alex Cousseau has published over eighty books for children in his native France. His works have been honored with many awards, including the Premio Andersen Prize in 2021 and the Bologna Ragazzi Fiction Award in 2018. The Brothers Zzli is Alex’s English-language debut” (Bio from the publisher’s website).
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About the Illustrator: “Anne-Lise Boutin is a French artist and illustrator whose work is inspired by the mysterious and marvelous. She studied art at the Duperre Art School and at the Arts Decoratifs School, both in Paris. The Brothers Zzli is Anne-Lise’s English-language debut” (Bio from the publisher’s website).
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The Brothers Zzli tackles the difficult topic of oppression and the challenges of being a refugee in a lighthearted manner. The narrator lives alone in the forest and is excited when her bat friend mentions a family of three bears that were driven out of their home and need a place to stay. She welcomes the brothers Zzli warmly and quickly falls in love with their silly antics and helpful nature. However, when the brothers throw a party, the neighbors refuse to come because they are prejudiced and feel the bears are dangerous. The townspeople grow violent and force the bears out of the forest, leaving the narrator to question why she should be skeptical of someone just because they come from somewhere else. Handled with poise, The Brothers Zzli teaches children to be more accepting and open-minded toward others who may be different from themselves.
The Brothers Zzli got my attention from the three cute bears on the cover, and the heartfelt story does not disappoint! Discussing difficult topics, such as oppression, within children’s literature can be challenging. However, Cousseau balances the heavy subject matter with lighthearted, funny stunts to keep young readers engaged. I appreciate that positive moments within the bears’ journey were also highlighted, like swimming in a stream, trying different kinds of mushrooms, and playing with an umbrella. Nevertheless, the serious subject of oppression and the struggles refugees face when driven out of their homeland are not overshadowed. I think it is important that not only are these acts of hatred toward the bears from the neighbors shown, but the narrator and bears also question why the townspeople feel this way and explain how this behavior makes the bears feel. Similarly, the story may enable children to envision how they would feel in the bears’ situation and consider how they would want others to treat them. My favorite part of The Brothers Zzli is the adorable, eye-catching illustrations. I love the bright colors and play on scale. These fun images also help to bring another cheerful aspect to the heavy subject. Check out The Brothers Zzli to see firsthand the effect prejudice can have on those searching for a place they can belong.
Pine Reads Review would like to thank Eerdmans Books for Young Readers for sending us an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change upon final publication.
Emilee Ceuninck, Pine Reads Review Lead Writer & Editor