Books by Joy Cowley

SONG OF THE RIVER by Joy Cowley
CHILDREN'S
Released: Aug. 13, 2019

"A lovely homage to nature. (Picture book. 5-7) "
A curious mountain boy follows a trickle of water all the way to the sea. Read full book review >
THE WARLI PEOPLE by Hye-Eun Shin
by Hye-Eun Shin, illustrated by Su-Bi Jeong, edited by Joy Cowley
CHILDREN'S
Released: Aug. 28, 2017

"Not of general interest to the intended audience. (cultural, historical, and art-historical notes, glossary, timeline) (Informational picture book. 6-9)"
The women of the Warli people of western India first produced wall murals, but now men commercially produce these designs on paper and canvases. Read full book review >
LION, KING, AND COIN by Jeong-hee Nam
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 31, 2017

"Lovely to gaze upon and offering characters with promise, but the story doesn't hold up to scrutiny. (glossary, timeline) (Picture book. 4-8)"
Nam presents a fleeting, exotic introduction to the invention of coinage. Read full book review >
GRANDFATHER WHISKER'S TABLE by Eun-Jeong Jo
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 31, 2017

"Visually evocative of time and place but spoiled by apparently incomplete research and debatable historical claims. (afterword, timeline) (Picture book. 6-8)"
Italy's famous horse race, the Palio di Siena, serves as background for a medieval child's first experience with a banker. Read full book review >
STORIES OF THE WILD WEST GANG by Joy Cowley
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2012

"Episodic enough to dip in and out, this New Zealand import charms in small bites. (Fiction. 9-12)"
Ten interrelated, longish stories, originally published individually, explore the relationship between only-child Michael's family and his cousins who have moved to town. Read full book review >
THE BEDTIME TRAIN by Joy Cowley
BEDTIME BOOK
Released: Oct. 1, 2008

A tired little boy has trouble falling asleep so he calls the bedtime train—whose engineer looks remarkably like his father. The train, which contains the bed, the boy and his toy penguins, chugs through town and country and meets wolves, bears, alligators, dinosaurs and more. By pulling the handle of a gumball machine at the head of his bed, the boy can release items that help defuse scary situations. Although there's more than a hint of homage to the whimsical fantasy of Maurice Sendak, Cowley doesn't quite pull it off. The pallid verse is joyless and bland, and sometimes tortured ("Bright red popcorn can be seen / pouring from the gum machine"). The fantasy lacks cohesiveness and has no real sense of adventure. Odone's illustrations, also inspired by Sendak, are filled with endless details and surprises and are far superior to the text. But in the end they are too over-the-top, without focus or direction, thus making it difficult to for young viewers to sort it all out. A promising effort that falls short. (Picture book. 4-7)Read full book review >
SNAKE AND LIZARD by Joy Cowley
ANIMALS
Released: Sept. 1, 2008

A sensitive snake and her lovable lizard companion enjoy a warm and touching relationship, shattering the stereotypes that commonly plague their cold-blooded species. The two become fast friends, first as housemates and later as business partners counseling fellow desert-dwellers on life and love. Cowley carves developed characters through concise dialogue, as Snake often balances her primal reptilian instincts against her shy disposition, creating witty moments within each chapter. Snake did, after all, eat one of Lizard's 97 siblings in her past: "Lizard was right," she reflects. "The little guy had been real sweet." She shudders, however, at the thought of addressing a baby rattler. "You know all about snakes. It's your cousin!" protests Lizard. "Some cousins I don't speak to," Snake exclaims. Bishop's rich watercolor-and-pen illustrations complement the story, often portraying Lizard upright next to slithering Snake. His contained lines and splashes of color breathe air into the setting's dry surroundings. The New Zealand author-and-illustrator team solidly develops this pair's formidable friendship under the scorching desert sun. (Fiction. 7-10)Read full book review >
CHICKEN FEATHERS by Joy Cowley
ANIMALS
Released: May 1, 2008

Channeling Dick King-Smith, Cowley offers a warmhearted tale set on a chicken farm featuring a lad with a feathered confidante that talks—though only to him. In the double-stranded plot, Josh's mother is abruptly off to the hospital to prevent another miscarriage, while back on the farm eggs are disappearing. Josh's hen Semolina fearfully tells him that there's a fox on the prowl, but Josh can't convince his distracted dad. Then Semolina disappears, leaving blood and scattered feathers. Though the humans in the cast display individual quirks and feelings, it's Semolina, temperamental and occasionally poetic—"Sun egg or moon egg, fast time or slow time, foxes hunt chickens with big sharp teeth"—who's the most vividly drawn character here. Elliot provides an aerial view of the farm, plus a spare selection of spot art. Tucking in just the right number of subplots, the author builds to a climax infused with the sense of the miraculous, leverages happy endings all around (except for the fox) and closes with a twist. Not a standout, but expertly done. (Fantasy. 9-11) Read full book review >
MRS. WISHY-WASHY’S CHRISTMAS by Joy Cowley
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2005

In this latest addition to the series, Mrs. Wishy-Washy's favorite animals (a cow, a pig and a duck) are left alone with instructions to take a bath outdoors in a tub of icy water. Instead, they creep into the farmhouse and take a relaxing bubble bath with "rose pink soap" in the fancy pink bathroom. Due to the warm spirit of the holiday season, Mrs. Wishy-Washy forgives the worried but clean animals for invading her house and rewards them with their own bath-themed Christmas gifts. Cowley is an old pro at this appealing format: pitch-perfect, rhyming text with a catchy rhythm, rich vocabulary such as "splashes and sploshes" and amusing antics causing exaggerated reactions. Fuller's charming watercolor illustrations are a major component of Mrs. Wishy-Washy's appeal, and her sweetly funny animals and delightful added touches (pink monogrammed towels in the bathroom, for example) add another layer of whimsical humor. Though the series was developed for new readers, this offering also will work well as a read-aloud for younger children. (Picture book. 3-7)Read full book review >
CHAMELEON, CHAMELEON by Joy Cowley
ANIMALS
Released: April 1, 2005

In a lush companion to Red-Eyed Tree Frog (1999), a brilliant blue-and-green panther chameleon runs out of food in his tree and descends to the forest floor in search of a more populated hunting ground. The unadorned present-tense narration takes him past various harmless critters and a scorpion (not harmless) until he finds another tree, complete with new bugs ("ZAP!") and a friendly female chameleon. Cowley's simple text, aided by clever page design, emphasizes the chameleon's deliberate pace as it navigates its way "step . . . / by step . . . / . . . by step." Bishop's gorgeous photographs invest their subject with enormous character, allowing expressive poses to amplify the text and develop the story. Images are set into boxes against pages that, appropriately, shade gradually from green to yellow to orange as the chameleon creeps along. End matter provides further information about chameleons, and a photographer's note explains the methodology, but these are truly additional features. The book's real success, as with its predecessor's, lies in the way words and pictures come together to deliver a satisfying nonfiction adventure for very young children. (Picture book/nonfiction. 3-7)Read full book review >
THE WISHING OF BIDDY MALONE by Joy Cowley
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 2004

A nifty tale with a Gaelic lilt to its language and structure, resolved with a sweet message. Biddy Malone loves to sing and to dance, but she's not very good at either, and that makes her angry, "her temper being a fine fierce thing." So one twilight she stomps out after her brothers' teasing and finds a faerie village, where a loveling "with skin like an acorn and hair as soft as midnight" tells her that wishes come in threes. She wants to sing, to dance, to master her temper. When the faerie village vanishes, Biddy finds she's been gone two months, and she can dance and sing no better than before. But the loveling's words stay with her, and she works hard at both, as well as at the loving heart he said she has. Eventually, she's the best dancer and singer around, but as for love, she longs only for the beautiful faerie boy. The illustrations, attractive enough, do not quite mesh with the text, the boy not exactly beautiful and missing his "silver rings," but the warm colors and faerie spirit ring true. (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
MRS. WISHY-WASHY’S FARM by Joy Cowley
ANIMALS
Released: May 1, 2003

When Mrs. Wishy-Washy returns to give Cow, Duck, and Pig yet another scrubbing in the old tin tub, the animals declare, "No more washing!" They run away to the big city where the hustle and bustle feels like a farm stampede to them with no barn haven in sight. They get lost, wander into a restaurant, and stumble through paint cans in a hardware store, ending up in the animal jail. The chug-chug-chug of an old truck signals their rescue by Mrs. Wishy-Washy—and of course, once back on the farm, she gives them a good scrubbing. This latest tale of fastidious "Mrs. Wishy-Washy" is as delightful as the first. The watercolor-and-ink illustrations are down-and-dirty funny, from the animals' facial expressions to Mrs. Wishy-Washy's pink cheeks, bandana-covered curls, and red, fuzzy slippers. Even the typeface has a clean look; the easy-to-read, 19-point AvantGarde Demi adds punch to the rhyming text. Pair it with other "dirty" picture books for a rollicking story time. (Picture book. 3-5)Read full book review >
AGAPANTHUS HUM AND THE ANGEL HOOT by Joy Cowley
ANIMALS
Released: March 1, 2003

Good little Mommy and good little Daddy are back with their irrepressible, growing daughter, Agapanthus Hum (Agapanthus Hum and the Eyeglasses, 1999; Agapanthus Hum and Major Bark, 2001). She has finally lost her first tooth and that wonderful gap between her remaining teeth allows her to make a wild, whistling noise. Her parents call it an Angel Hoot and even her dog, Major Bark, gets into the celebration by howling along every time he hears the sound. Soon, canine and human have their own little hoot-and-howl vaudeville act for Agapanthus's class at school. Cowley's genius with new readers is that she knows her audience. Loose teeth, growing up, friendships, animals, and school are all topics that fascinate young children. They long to be as joyous as Agapanthus, so they enjoy her exuberance, even when it goes over the top. Her teacher, Miss Ryan, good little Mommy, and good little Daddy are the perfect adults: they nod, they repair life's little accidents, they smile and wink, and mostly they stay blessedly out of the way. Plecas's light, colorful illustrations are the ideal foil for Cowley's world, with the heroine jumping right out of the background frames in her celebration of life. Major Bark comes into his own in the latest installment. He could very well join Gloria, of Officer Buckle fame, on the stage as he rolls on the floor and howls along with his beloved friend. A howling success. (Easy reader. 5-8)Read full book review >
MRS. GOODSTORY by Joy Cowley
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2001

Mrs. Goodstory and a young friend explore the world of fiction in this adventurous tale that attempts to show readers that stories can take you anywhere. The beginning is a disjointed group of episodes that detract from the main thread: the two travelers feed words to parrots, meet a rude crocodile (whose author should have written him better-mannered), and see safari animals on the run on the African savannah—away from Dead-eye Dayton, who, as they point out, is in the wrong story. But as Mrs. Goodstory says, "Stories should be full of surprises," and that's what it is. The pair explore the Arctic Ocean and swim with the whales and seals because, of course, in stories, you can breathe underwater. They meet the captain of an icebreaker who takes them on a cruise. How far? Two pages—"We'll skip the boring parts." They get lost and begin a new adventure, this time losing their way in midair as Mrs. Goodstory forgets how the plot goes. Her young friend quickly imagines the ending, and it is literally out-of-this-world. The idea that the creators of stories use language to make new worlds may have to be explained to children. But they'll surely understand the second half of the book as the adventures build one on top of another. Dornbusch's (Finding Kate's Shoes, not reviewed, etc.) illustrations are colorful and detailed, but somewhat flat, especially the faces of the characters. Cowley's (Agapanthus Hum and Major Bark, 2001, etc.) topic is promising, but the finished result is disappointing—readers may want to "skip the boring parts." (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
AGAPANTHUS HUM AND MAJOR BARK by Joy Cowley
ANIMALS
Released: Jan. 1, 2001

Cowley's (Agapanthus Hum and the Eyeglasses, 1999) spunky, bespectacled heroine acquires a pet as unabashedly unique as she is when a trip to the local shelter results not in the intended cat, but a dog. The energetic pup soon earns the name Major Bark—and a permanent place in the hearts of Agapanthus and her family. In fact, Agapanthus feels Major is so splendid that he should compete in the local dog show. Even in the world of purebreds, Major's individuality shines like a beacon, earning him a snazzy blue ribbon—for the pooch with the smallest eyes. Cowley's vivacious prose wraps readers up in its ebullience. In her signature whimsical style, she adroitly conveys the heady feeling of love that owners, new and old, have for their adored pets. "A hum fizzed in Agapanthus like cherry soda pop as she cuddled the little dog in the back of the car." Separated into seven brief chapters and filled with pictures large and small, this works well for independent reading but can also be shared aloud with fledgling readers. Plecas's playful full-color illustrations humorously portray canine ardor and high-spirited hijinks of both puppy and child. This sparkling addition to the adventures of Agapanthus gently reminds us all that it's more than okay to be different: it's cause for celebration. (Fiction. 5-8)Read full book review >
STARBRIGHT AND THE DREAM EATER by Joy Cowley
CHILDREN'S
Released: June 30, 2000

An alien predator that strikes through dreams threatens all humanity in this contrived but suspenseful import from the versatile Cowley (Red-Eyed Tree Frog, 1999, etc.). Spindle Sickness, a mysterious plague that begins with nightmares and ends in death, has struck several of Starbright Connor's schoolmates. She learns of a widely ridiculed message purportedly sent through time and space by the "Guardians of the Universe" decades before. This message has warned of an all-devouring danger that can be countered only by a "Bright Star" who is without fear. Having always been able, to a certain extent, to control her dreams, Starbright finds that only she can resist the Dream Eater's attacks. As the spread of the disease brings public anxiety and local quarantines, off she hies to do battle, in a series of dreamscapes, against an enemy who proves as wily as it is powerful. Thanks to unexpected help from her brain-damaged older sister (who, in a pointless, badly fumbled subplot turns out to be her mother!), Starbright discovers that just confronting the Dream Eater with love rather than fear or anger vanquishes it so thoroughly that time itself rewinds, settling on an alternate "overlay" in which the creature never existed. Though not up to the standards of such terror classics as Neal Shusterman's Eyes of Kid Midas (1992) or Margaret Mahy's Changeover (1984), this will still provide readers with some unnerving moments and a resourceful, self-confident heroine. (Fiction. 11-13)Read full book review >
THE VIDEO SHOP SPARROW by Joy Cowley
Released: Oct. 1, 1999

Skateboarding on New Year's Day, sunflowers drooping over a fence hung with a holiday wreath, rooftop Santa Claus decorations—these things are not only possible but probable in New Zealand, where this story is set. Also probable, given the ubiquity of sparrows, is the conflict the book's young protagonists, Harry and George, must resolve. The problem is that a sparrow, trapped in the video store and frantic for release, seems doomed. The store's owner is on a two-week vacation and no adult in town cares much about sparrows because there are so many of them. But the two boys can't ignore the sparrow, with its "special trusting look," and when the town's mayor, Mrs. McKenzie, recognizes a photo op, she steps in to rescue the sparrow. As for Harry and George, they've begun to notice that all sparrows have that special trusting look. This tale is well- plotted, although the outcome is never in doubt (and why can't the boys pour bird seed or even water through the mail slot, where they drop off their video?). The illustrations, largely for their glimpse of life in New Zealand, combine with a text for a book that is inoffensive, competent, yet ultimately uninspiring. (Picture book. 5-7) Read full book review >
RED-EYED TREE FROG by Joy Cowley
Released: March 1, 1999

Bishop's spectacular photographs of the tiny red-eyed tree frog defeat an incidental text from Cowley (Singing Down the Rain, 1997, etc.). The frog, only two inches long, is enormous in this title; it appears along with other nocturnal residents of the rain forests of Central America, including the iguana, ant, katydid, caterpillar, and moth. In a final section, Cowley explains how small the frog is and aspects of its life cycle. The main text, however, is an afterthought to dramatic events in the photos, e.g., "But the red-eyed tree frog has been asleep all day. It wakes up hungry. What will it eat? Here is an iguana. Frogs do not eat iguanas." Accompanying an astonishing photograph of the tree frog leaping away from a boa snake are three lines ("The snake flicks its tongue. It tastes frog in the air. Look out, frog!") that neither advance nor complement the action. The layout employs pale and deep green pages and typeface, and large jewel-like photographs in which green and red dominate. The combination of such visually sophisticated pages and simplistic captions make this a top-heavy, unsatisfying title. (Picture book. 7-9) Read full book review >
AGAPANTHUS HUM AND THE EYEGLASSES by Joy Cowley
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 1999

Agapanthus Hum is always in motion, a packet of energy who also happens to wear glasses, which cause her no end of trouble. When she smothers her parents—called good little Daddy and good little Mommy—with kisses, her glasses come off and swing from one ear. When doing a handstand, the glasses drop off entirely and get crushed when Agapanthus crashes down upon them: "Her hum puffed out like a birthday candle, and her head went quiet," but only briefly. Her parents are sweet and kind and utterly forgiving (absurdly so, as Cowley makes clear) and mention that she is one fine acrobat all the same. The ultimate solution is for good little Mommy to hold Agapanthus's glasses during practice. When Agapanthus attends an acrobat show and learns that at least one professional acrobat who wears glasses gives them to her mother when she performs, one little girl's fate is sealed. This story is just like Agapanthus, full of beans, song, and heart; she's so disarming in both text and Plecas's comic illustrations that readers will hope for an encore. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
SINGING DOWN THE RAIN by Joy Cowley
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 30, 1997

The declaration ``Sweet wonder!'' ends this book—an apt assessment for an uplifting story from Cowley (The Mouse Bride, 1995, etc.) and Gilchrist (Madelia, p. 1304, etc.). Drought has struck Brianna's town, and the grown-ups gathered on the porch of Mr. Williams's store, usually ``good and kind neighbors,'' are ``getting real scritchy with each other.'' Something's got to change or the corn will die. The possibility of that change roars into town in a pickup truck, a woman with a ``smile so big, it used most of her face,'' who specializes in rainsong. The adults don't take her seriously, but Brianna can smell the coming rain. She joins the woman in singing; the other children follow, as does Brianna's mother. The rain begins, and only Brianna notices the woman leave. A universal message reaches out of this warmhearted book. (Picture book. 5-9) Read full book review >
THE MOUSE BRIDE by Joy Cowley
ANIMALS
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

A mouse, tired of being small and weak, decides to find herself the strongest husband in the world. First, she proposes to the sun, but he informs her there is someone even stronger—a cloud; the cloud, in turn, sends her to the wind, the wind to a house (that he can't blow down), and the house directs her to the cellar, where ``there is a creature who nibbles and gnaws at my timbers.'' Cowley (The Silent One, 1981, etc.) renders a delightful story from the traditional elements of its structure; the text does not ignore the absurdity of the situations—such as the mouse's proposal of marriage to the sun—but warmly mocks them. The pictures—pencil and sturdy, solid watercolors— play up the comic aspects of the story. Christiana gives the enormous sun, cloud, and wind sympathetic human features; the tiny mouse, comically foreshortened and in her wedding gown, is heroically awkward to the end. (Picture book. 3-7) Read full book review >