NOBODY RIDES THE UNICORN

This modern fairy tale tells the story of a fearful and paranoid king who summons the gentlest girl in the kingdom to trap a unicorn in order to kill it for his own selfish purposes. The king of Joppardy, convinced that his enemies are out to poison him, follows the advice of his councilor Doctor Slythe, who tells the king that there is only one solution—the king must drink from a goblet and eat with utensils made from a unicorn’s horn. The nefarious Slythe, dressed all in black and looking thoroughly evil, also advises the king that there is only one way to catch the elusive unicorn—a quiet young girl with a gentle voice must call to it. Zoe, the quietest girl in the land, and an orphan who is considered a nobody, is sent for and unsuspectingly invites the unicorn into the open. All of a sudden, hunters and hunting dogs intrude upon the idyllic scene and capture the beautiful beast. Zoe, furious that she’s been deceived and determined to make it right, sneaks into the palace gardens and frees the animal. Incensed that the little girl has bested him, the king banishes her. But Zoe finds her way into the secret valley of the unicorns: a magical and welcoming land that certainly will be more of a home to her than Joppardy ever was. Beautiful, soft illustrations mostly in earth colors, but interjected with jewel tones and interesting design make this a visually compelling book. Details in the illustrations—an animal hidden in the bush, topiaries in the shape of whales—encourage the reader to look again and again at the enticing pictures. One jarring, anachronistic note, though—on the opening page, the illustration shows a car on the road to the medieval-looking palace, marring the timeless, otherworldly feel of the book. And the name of the kingdom ineluctably makes one think of the popular game show. Despite these minor quibbles, this will certainly please the unicorn crowd and will be a popular read-aloud. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-439-11204-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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Hee haw.

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THE WONKY DONKEY

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. 29, 2018

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Feels like a retread—it may be time to put this series to bed.

YOU DON'T WANT A DRAGON!

If you thought having a unicorn as a pet was hard, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve tried owning a dragon.

The young protagonist of You Don’t Want a Unicorn! (2017) is back, and they clearly haven’t learned their lesson. Now they’ve wished for a pet dragon. As the intrusive narrator is quick to point out, everything about it seems fun at the beginning. However, it’s not long before the doglike dragon starts chasing squirrels, drooling, pooping (ever wondered where charcoal comes from?), scooting its butt across the floor (leaving fire and flames behind), and more. By now, the dragon has grown too huge to keep, so the child (who appears white and also to live alone) wishes it away and settles for a cute little hamster instead. A perfect pet…until it finds a stray magical cupcake. Simple cartoon art and a surfeit of jokes about defecation suggest this book will find an appreciative audience. The dragon/dog equivalences are cute on an initial read, but they may not be strong enough to convince anyone to return. Moreover, a surprising amount of the plot hinges on having read the previous book in this series (it’s the only way readers will know that cupcakes are unicorn poop).

Feels like a retread—it may be time to put this series to bed. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: June 9, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-53580-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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