An unusual refugee story that may open doors for empathy.

SAVING STELLA

A DOG'S DRAMATIC ESCAPE FROM WAR

In this book, based on a real-life story, Bassel, a young Syrian man, becomes a refugee because of war and escapes his city for Europe, leaving his beloved dog, Stella, behind.

When gunfire wakes Bassel and Stella up at night, he tells her it is OK but knows that’s not true. Soon, living in his war-torn country is no longer safe, and, like millions of others, he must leave. Saying goodbye to family, friends, and Stella, he makes the arduous journey to Europe—on foot and by rubber dinghy, spending months confined in a refugee camp. A Belgian family opens their arms to him, and his host and friends from back home help him reunite with Stella. The dog’s journey will not be easy either, but the story ends on a happy and hopeful note. Both she and Bassel will have two lives now, one “lost” and a new one “found.” Expressive, softly stylized illustrations pay great attention to Bassel’s and Stella’s emotions throughout the book, and notes by the Syrian co-author and illustrator share details about their lives and the war. An afterword sheds more light on refugees around the world and includes a call to action to support them. It also provides further information about the Syrian conflict but unfortunately contains significant errors: saying that Turkey supports Assad and calling the Kurds (Syria’s largest ethnic minority) a rebel group; moreover it frames the conflict as one waged against Assad by rebel groups with different agendas and elides the role of civilian resistance to an authoritarian government. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-17-inch double-page spreads viewed at 38.7% of actual size.)

An unusual refugee story that may open doors for empathy. (Picture book. 5-11)

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0133-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 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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Inspiration, shrink wrapped.

WHAT THE ROAD SAID

From an artist, poet, and Instagram celebrity, a pep talk for all who question where a new road might lead.

Opening by asking readers, “Have you ever wanted to go in a different direction,” the unnamed narrator describes having such a feeling and then witnessing the appearance of a new road “almost as if it were magic.” “Where do you lead?” the narrator asks. The Road’s twice-iterated response—“Be a leader and find out”—bookends a dialogue in which a traveler’s anxieties are answered by platitudes. “What if I fall?” worries the narrator in a stylized, faux hand-lettered type Wade’s Instagram followers will recognize. The Road’s dialogue and the narration are set in a chunky, sans-serif type with no quotation marks, so the one flows into the other confusingly. “Everyone falls at some point, said the Road. / But I will always be there when you land.” Narrator: “What if the world around us is filled with hate?” Road: “Lead it to love.” Narrator: “What if I feel stuck?” Road: “Keep going.” De Moyencourt illustrates this colloquy with luminous scenes of a small, brown-skinned child, face turned away from viewers so all they see is a mop of blond curls. The child steps into an urban mural, walks along a winding country road through broad rural landscapes and scary woods, climbs a rugged metaphorical mountain, then comes to stand at last, Little Prince–like, on a tiny blue and green planet. Wade’s closing claim that her message isn’t meant just for children is likely superfluous…in fact, forget the just.

Inspiration, shrink wrapped. (Picture book. 6-8, adult)

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-26949-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2021

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