Perhaps “Sweetie” would more aptly be named “Bittersweet.” (Picture book. 2-7)



A bird learns the value of freedom in this import from China via Australia.

Sweetie the wild myna (a type of starling native to Asia) loves freedom and the ability to sing at will that comes with it. Soon Sweetie comes across an urban human family that seems “happy and friendly,” and the bird decides to join it, surrendering to captivity and the family’s joy in its new pet. Sweetie recognizes the family’s kind treatment: Sweetie has a comfortable cage, excellent food, and company now and again. But no matter what the family does, something still feels wrong to Sweetie, who has lost all desire to sing and thinks only of freedom. When the family finally realizes why Sweetie is “always so melancholy,” they drive the bird “back to the mountains” and to what appears to be a cross between a zoo and a nature preserve (the lettering above the entrance is the only text not translated into English from Chinese). Sweetie, now joyous, flies blissfully over the “jungle” of captive animals, unaware or uncaring of the other animals who stare, perhaps longingly, after the bird. Black, cut-paper silhouettes backed on tan paper mix with sporadic background pencil sketches to create quiet but intricate illustrations. Stiff language (“I am a myna who loves to fly and sing joyfully”), as flat as the silhouettes, undercuts the effectiveness of the emotional message.

Perhaps “Sweetie” would more aptly be named “Bittersweet.” (Picture book. 2-7)

Pub Date: April 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-76036-035-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Starfish Bay

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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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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A sweet reminder that it’s easy to weather a storm with the company and kindness of friends.


Is it a stormy-night scare or a bedtime book? Both!

Little Blue Truck and his good friend Toad are heading home when a storm lets loose. Before long, their familiar, now very nervous barnyard friends (Goat, Hen, Goose, Cow, Duck, and Pig) squeeze into the garage. Blue explains that “clouds bump and tumble in the sky, / but here inside we’re warm and dry, / and all the thirsty plants below / will get a drink to help them grow!” The friends begin to relax. “Duck said, loud as he could quack it, / ‘THUNDER’S JUST A NOISY RACKET!’ ” In the quiet after the storm, the barnyard friends are sleepy, but the garage is not their home. “ ‘Beep!’ said Blue. ‘Just hop inside. / All aboard for the bedtime ride!’ ” Young readers will settle down for their own bedtimes as Blue and Toad drop each friend at home and bid them a good night before returning to the garage and their own beds. “Blue gave one small sleepy ‘Beep.’ / Then Little Blue Truck fell fast asleep.” Joseph’s rich nighttime-blue illustrations (done “in the style of [series co-creator] Jill McElmurry”) highlight the power of the storm and capture the still serenity that follows. Little Blue Truck has been chugging along since 2008, but there seems to be plenty of gas left in the tank.

A sweet reminder that it’s easy to weather a storm with the company and kindness of friends. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-85213-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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