Pichard blends modern interests with the old-fashioned charm of receiving letters by post, proving in this digital age of...

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PEN PALS

A friendship blooms in this homage to the handwritten letter.

Oscar the ant and Bill the octopus are school pen pals. Through their correspondence, the two seemingly different creatures find much in common. Their communication, full of innocent questions and the sharing of wish lists and thoughtful mementos, brings them together. Through the letters (the book’s sole text), readers will experience the delight, disappointment, surprise, and anticipation each post brings. The digital illustrations, done with some collage, are reminiscent of Ed Emberley’s, with neon colors that pop on the page. A simple format helps clarify who is penning the letter (Bill’s are on the left with yellow stationery; Oscar’s are on the right with blue). Accompanying each message is an image of its author, almost always in the same pose—but with small additions. Finding what’s changed in the simple setup is part of the fun, allowing readers to notice the gifts sent to see how meaningful they are to their recipients. This illustrative device works well; however, this American translation fails to distinguish between the two characters’ handwriting (all text is set in a clean, sans serif typeface), missing the opportunity taken in the French original to further differentiate between the characters’ styles and personalities.

Pichard blends modern interests with the old-fashioned charm of receiving letters by post, proving in this digital age of social media, texting, abbreviation, and brevity that there’s still magic behind the stamp. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-7247-0

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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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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Whimsy, intelligence, and a subtle narrative thread make this rise to the top of a growing list of self-love titles.

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YOU MATTER

Employing a cast of diverse children reminiscent of that depicted in Another (2019), Robinson shows that every living entity has value.

After opening endpapers that depict an aerial view of a busy playground, the perspective shifts to a black child, ponytails tied with beaded elastics, peering into a microscope. So begins an exercise in perspective. From those bits of green life under the lens readers move to “Those who swim with the tide / and those who don’t.” They observe a “pest”—a mosquito biting a dinosaur, a “really gassy” planet, and a dog whose walker—a child in a pink hijab—has lost hold of the leash. Periodically, the examples are validated with the titular refrain. Textured paint strokes and collage elements contrast with uncluttered backgrounds that move from white to black to white. The black pages in the middle portion foreground scenes in space, including a black astronaut viewing Earth; the astronaut is holding an image of another black youngster who appears on the next spread flying a toy rocket and looking lonely. There are many such visual connections, creating emotional interest and invitations for conversation. The story’s conclusion spins full circle, repeating opening sentences with new scenarios. From the microscopic to the cosmic, word and image illuminate the message without a whiff of didacticism.

Whimsy, intelligence, and a subtle narrative thread make this rise to the top of a growing list of self-love titles. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-2169-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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