A slight story coupled with puzzling illustrations, this doesn’t quite hit the mark.

ALMOND

Sometimes it takes meeting someone new to help us learn what we can really achieve.

Almond, a young pale-skinned girl with dark hair, encounters another, similarly complexioned young girl at school. The New Girl can play violin beautifully, evoking visions for Almond as she listens. Almond, though, is facing anxiety about being in a play and having to read lines; she is convinced that she has no talent. Her insecurities lead her to feel inferior to the New Girl and thus diminish her own abilities, though Almond’s mother assures her that she will find her way. It takes an encouraging teacher, a unique moment during the play, some crows, and, perhaps, a bit of the supernatural for Almond to discover her true talent. The story’s themes—self-confidence, believing in oneself—are universal and should resonate with young readers, yet the characters feel overly specific. The New Girl’s sudden appearance in and then disappearance from Almond's life opens up multiple interpretations that young readers may find hard to pin down. The narrative seems to jump in places, lacking smooth transitions to carry young readers through Almond’s inner, and outer, journey. Say’s unusual approach here mixes realistic photographs with often blurry charcoal and pastel techniques, leading to slightly unsettling translucency in places, with repetitive vignettes of Almond’s not-always-expressive face and enigmatic views of windows and hallways.

A slight story coupled with puzzling illustrations, this doesn’t quite hit the mark. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-30037-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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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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This seemingly simple tale packs a satisfying emotional punch. Scarily good! (Picture book. 4-7)

LOVE MONSTER

Monster lives in Cutesville, where he feels his googly eyes make him unlovable, especially compared to all the “cute, fluffy” kittens, puppies and bunnies. He goes off to find someone who will appreciate him just the way he is…with funny and heartwarming results.

A red, scraggly, pointy-eared, arm-dragging monster with a pronounced underbite clutches his monster doll to one side of his chest, exposing a purplish blue heart on the other. His oversized eyes express his loneliness. Bright could not have created a more sympathetic and adorable character. But she further impresses with the telling of this poor chap’s journey. Since Monster is not the “moping-around sort,” he strikes out on his own to find someone who will love him. “He look[s] high” from on top of a hill, and “he look[s] low” at the bottom of the same hill. The page turn reveals a rolling (and labeled) tumbleweed on a flat stretch. Here “he look[s] middle-ish.” Careful pacing combines with dramatic design and the deadpan text to make this sad search a very funny one. When it gets dark and scary, he decides to head back home. A bus’s headlights shine on his bent figure. All seems hopeless—until the next page surprises, with a smiling, orange monster with long eyelashes and a pink heart on her chest depicted at the wheel. And “in the blink of a googly eye / everything change[s].”

This seemingly simple tale packs a satisfying emotional punch. Scarily good! (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-34646-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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