Song lyrics don’t always make great children’s books, and that’s the case here, but the pictures are so poignant that...

IF NOT FOR YOU

Walker illustrates the 1970 Dylan tune with an adorable parent-child canine pair.

Using minimal backgrounds and props to keep the focus on the relationship, Walker masterfully conveys emotions in his acrylic illustrations. Over three pages, the text reads, “If not for you // Babe, I couldn’t find the door / Couldn’t even see the floor / I’d be sad and blue / If not for you,” while the pictures show a game of hide-and-seek, the parent with paws over eyes, then seeking, and finally joyously finding the pup. Indeed, the parent’s life would not be the same without the little one’s exuberance: waking the older dog up with a trumpet, jumping in rain puddles, catching butterflies, watching the clouds and birds in the sky, and taking imaginary journeys together. And as if those weren’t enough, the final two spreads spell it out: the parent sits forlornly on one swing, the adjacent one empty. A turn of the page reveals parent and child gleefully sailing through the air together with the titular phrase underneath. But while this refrain lends itself very well to the parent-loves-child-so-much genre, the rest of the song’s lyrics don’t always. For instance, “Babe” is not usually an address used with a child.

Song lyrics don’t always make great children’s books, and that’s the case here, but the pictures are so poignant that parents could make up their own words and turn this into something greater than it is. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4881-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 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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Charming characters, a clever plot and a quiet message tucked inside a humorous tale.

YOU ARE (NOT) SMALL

From the You Are (Not) Small series

Fuzzy, bearlike creatures of different sizes relate to one another in an amusing story that explores the relative nature of size.

A small purple creature meets a similarly shaped but much larger orange critter. The purple creature maintains that the orange creature is “big”; the orange one counters by calling the purple one “small.” This continues, devolving into a very funny shouting match, pages full of each type of creature hollering across the gutter. This is followed by a show-stopping double-page spread depicting two huge, blue legs and the single word “Boom!” in huge display type. Tiny, pink critters then float down by parachute, further complicating the size comparisons. Eventually, these brightly colored animals learn to see things in a different way. In the end, they decide they are all hungry and trudge off to eat together. The story is told effectively with just a few words per page, though younger readers might need help understanding the size and perspective concepts. Cartoon-style illustrations in ink and watercolor use simple shapes with heavy black outlines set off by lots of white space, with an oversized format and large typeface adding to the spare but polished design. While the story itself seems simple, the concepts are pertinent to several important social issues such as bullying and racism, as well as understanding point of view.

Charming characters, a clever plot and a quiet message tucked inside a humorous tale. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4778-4772-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Two Lions

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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