THE LAST ZOOKEEPER

Epic storytelling erupts on the page without the use of a single word. Superb.

Caldecott Honoree Becker’s dystopian imaginings once more find fruit in picture-book format.

The biblical Noah as a gargantuan robot? Stranger things have been conceived of. In flooded lands replete with incredibly detailed architecture (think David Macaulay meets WALL-E’s world) but with no humans in sight, a towering yellow robot, the word NOA on its arm, powered by wind turbines from its back, sets forth to collect all the animals of the world. The waters rise to NOA’s knees, but still our robotic avatar collects with infinite kindness every giraffe, panda, tiger, and elephant it can find. The crumbling world around them hints at the zoos and circuses where once these creatures made their homes. Now, they sail away with NOA on a boat built by the automaton. This wordless tale outlines their struggles, from storm to shipwreck and, ultimately, to hope. The allusions to both Noah’s Ark and Eden are sly but ever present, set as they are against Becker’s sumptuous watercolor and pen-and-ink backdrops. Here, the very existence of life on Earth hangs in the balance, and the stakes have never been higher. Minute details pepper each scene, giving sharp-eyed readers the chance to find something new every time they page through this book (like the fact that the meat-eating tigers are kept in their own separate cage on the robot’s boat). True fans will find themselves poring over these pictures for hours.

Epic storytelling erupts on the page without the use of a single word. Superb. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 26, 2024

ISBN: 9781536227680

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2024

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THE WONKY DONKEY

Hee haw.

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The print version of a knee-slapping cumulative ditty.

In the song, Smith meets a donkey on the road. It is three-legged, and so a “wonky donkey” that, on further examination, has but one eye and so is a “winky wonky donkey” with a taste for country music and therefore a “honky-tonky winky wonky donkey,” and so on to a final characterization as a “spunky hanky-panky cranky stinky-dinky lanky honky-tonky winky wonky donkey.” A free musical recording (of this version, anyway—the author’s website hints at an adults-only version of the song) is available from the publisher and elsewhere online. Even though the book has no included soundtrack, the sly, high-spirited, eye patch–sporting donkey that grins, winks, farts, and clumps its way through the song on a prosthetic metal hoof in Cowley’s informal watercolors supplies comical visual flourishes for the silly wordplay. Look for ready guffaws from young audiences, whether read or sung, though those attuned to disability stereotypes may find themselves wincing instead or as well.

Hee haw. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: May 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-545-26124-1

Page Count: 26

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2018

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MAMA BUILT A LITTLE NEST

A good bet for the youngest bird-watchers.

Echoing the meter of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” Ward uses catchy original rhymes to describe the variety of nests birds create.

Each sweet stanza is complemented by a factual, engaging description of the nesting habits of each bird. Some of the notes are intriguing, such as the fact that the hummingbird uses flexible spider web to construct its cup-shaped nest so the nest will stretch as the chicks grow. An especially endearing nesting behavior is that of the emperor penguin, who, with unbelievable patience, incubates the egg between his tummy and his feet for up to 60 days. The author clearly feels a mission to impart her extensive knowledge of birds and bird behavior to the very young, and she’s found an appealing and attractive way to accomplish this. The simple rhymes on the left page of each spread, written from the young bird’s perspective, will appeal to younger children, and the notes on the right-hand page of each spread provide more complex factual information that will help parents answer further questions and satisfy the curiosity of older children. Jenkins’ accomplished collage illustrations of common bird species—woodpecker, hummingbird, cowbird, emperor penguin, eagle, owl, wren—as well as exotics, such as flamingoes and hornbills, are characteristically naturalistic and accurate in detail.

A good bet for the youngest bird-watchers.   (author’s note, further resources) (Informational picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4424-2116-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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