Readers probably won’t be curious enough to revisit this story after the first time.


A mechanical bear’s curiosity doesn’t run like clockwork.

On a tower high above a town, Elbert is one of five bears that parade in and out of a clock on the stroke of every hour. His companions steadfastly carry out their marching duties; Elbert doesn’t, constantly distracted by myriad wonders. When his unquenchable curiosity disrupts routines badly, his fellows give him 24 hours to dispose of it or risk permanent banishment. On the ground, new experiences engender many new questions, but what to do with curiosity? Elbert tries various disappearing methods, but, frustratingly, nothing works…until, finally, something does—to his and the other bears’ benefit. This is an odd tale, with jarring elements. Curiosity isn’t portrayed altogether positively, and punitive aspects—threat of exile, Elbert’s self-reproach—may seem harsh or confusing. The story’s conclusion, however, reassures that curiosity is acceptable and rewarded with treats and a walkabout for all, suggesting Elbert’s clockwork partners will thereafter strut happily. The pencil and digitally colored illustrations serve the tale serviceably, with Elbert depicted as blue and inexpressive. (He is an automaton.) His smart, reflective questions appear in italics to differentiate them from the otherwise lackluster narrative. Frequent depictions of analog-clock faces throughout should pique the curiosity of readers/listeners who will ask what time the clocks show or proudly demonstrate their own prowess.

Readers probably won’t be curious enough to revisit this story after the first time. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-51398-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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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. 29, 2018

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


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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