Poor Xander the panda really wants to throw a panda party at the zoo where he lives, but he’s the only panda there. After he decides to invite all the bears instead, he soon comes to realize that Koala is not actually a bear. So, he invites all the mammals, but Rhinoceros won’t attend without the bird who always sits atop his horn. And so it goes until eventually Xander, ever-patient party planner extraordinaire, invites the entire zoo to the big shebang.

Linda Sue Park’s rhyming text rolls right off the tongue, making this one a wonderful read-aloud. It’s hard, I’m sure, to do rhyming picture books well; some are insufferably sing-songy and threaten to put everyone to sleep, but we’re in good hands with Park. There are internal rhymes in many sentence constructions (“Xander planned a bear affair”), as well as rhyming lines (“Xander sat and chewed bamboo. He changed his plans and point of view”). Mixing up her meters and rhythms a bit, Park keeps the story from ever getting dull.

Also delightful are Matt Phelan’s soft ink and watercolor illustrations. Anyone who enjoyed his illustrations for Alice Schertle’s Very Hairy Bear (2007) will be happy to see more Phelan bears here, as well as lots of other creatures. Phelan conveys humor via Xander’s frustration in trying to get this party right—and his immense patience in putting up with all the demands placed upon him.

Park closes with a lengthy author’s note about pandas, their classification, their threat of extinction and more. She even throws in a note about the oxpecker, a bird with a symbiotic relationship to rhinos, which explains our grumpy yet devoted rhino.

This is a sweet and tender story about true blue friends. Don’t miss the party.

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