Hest and Bates’ previous joint dog project, The Dog Who Belonged to No One (2008), was a more tender and effective narrative.

MY OLD PAL, OSCAR

Alone at the beach, a black-and-white puppy huddles under the pier until it spots a child.

The blond, white child plays alone with the puppy nearby, feigning indifference even while cataloging the puppy’s lack of tags, big feet, “soft puppy beard,” and “big black eyes.” The persistent, perky pup doesn’t accept the child’s emphatic goodbye and gets an earful about the late, beloved Oscar. “You want to be pals. / Well, we can’t be pals. No sir. No way. / Won’t. Ever. Do. That. Again. Ever. / You know who was my pal? Oscar.” Bates’ striking watercolor-and-pencil illustrations let an autumnal spectrum of muted oranges, yellows, and grays flow across the pages. The spray of the waves, the far-off cries of the gulls, and the salted breeze of the sea are expertly evoked in these frames. But the deficit of honest emotion in Hest’s scenes between puppy and child serves to rebuff rather than involve readers. Even the child’s pervading melancholy is communicated in a sterile, forced manner. “The waves were really, really big, and I was really, really sad.” No one will be surprised that the child eventually takes the puppy in, though readers who might have lost dogs themselves will be taken aback that there is no evidence of a search for this puppy’s owner.

Hest and Bates’ previous joint dog project, The Dog Who Belonged to No One (2008), was a more tender and effective narrative. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4197-1901-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2016

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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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Wins for compassion and for the refusal to let physical limitations hold one back.

TINY T. REX AND THE IMPOSSIBLE HUG

With such short arms, how can Tiny T. Rex give a sad friend a hug?

Fleck goes for cute in the simple, minimally detailed illustrations, drawing the diminutive theropod with a chubby turquoise body and little nubs for limbs under a massive, squared-off head. Impelled by the sight of stegosaurian buddy Pointy looking glum, little Tiny sets out to attempt the seemingly impossible, a comforting hug. Having made the rounds seeking advice—the dino’s pea-green dad recommends math; purple, New Age aunt offers cucumber juice (“That is disgusting”); red mom tells him that it’s OK not to be able to hug (“You are tiny, but your heart is big!”), and blue and yellow older sibs suggest practice—Tiny takes up the last as the most immediately useful notion. Unfortunately, the “tree” the little reptile tries to hug turns out to be a pterodactyl’s leg. “Now I am falling,” Tiny notes in the consistently self-referential narrative. “I should not have let go.” Fortunately, Tiny lands on Pointy’s head, and the proclamation that though Rexes’ hugs may be tiny, “I will do my very best because you are my very best friend” proves just the mood-lightening ticket. “Thank you, Tiny. That was the biggest hug ever.” Young audiences always find the “clueless grown-ups” trope a knee-slapper, the overall tone never turns preachy, and Tiny’s instinctive kindness definitely puts him at (gentle) odds with the dinky dino star of Bob Shea’s Dinosaur Vs. series.

Wins for compassion and for the refusal to let physical limitations hold one back. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4521-7033-6

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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