Willow is “the gentlest bear you ever will meet” in these lovely and dulcet picture books. He lives where Paradise Fields meet the river at the foot of Appleby Downs, and the misty, delicate images are painted in watercolor, pencil, and nostalgia. In the first, Willow decides he must spend the day on the river. After he does all his work on the farm: feeding some of the animals, gathering others, moving the sheep to the meadow, he takes a picnic and meets Finley, another bear. They sing and play and eat, and then Willow goes home to say goodnight to all the animals. In Willow by the Sea, Willow dreams of Salt Cottage, his house in the dunes, and decides to go there for a holiday. He takes all his farm animals with him: horse and sheep, cows, chickens, and geese, and Little Pink Pig. The cows gaze into pools, the horse chases waves, Little Pink Pig and Willow build sandcastles. And Willow sings golden-shore and silver-sand songs before they all settle in for the night. Pig and Willow are obviously anthropomorphic, while the rest of the animals behave pretty much like themselves—during the picnic, for example, Willow and Pig sit at a makeshift table, while the other animals eat their hay, corn, and apples from the ground. Children—and adults reading to them—will be seduced at once if they are in the mood for a bit of sweetness and light. (Picture books. 3-7)

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-1088-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2002

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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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Aims high but falls flat.


Through 20 short poems, Maestro Mouse invites readers to meet a series of animals who have lessons to impart and a symphony to perform.

Brown, author of The DaVinci Code (2003) and other wildly popular titles for adults, here offers young listeners a poetry collection accompanied by music: a “symphony” performed, for readers equipped with an audio device and an internet connection, by the Zagreb Festival Orchestra. From the introduction of the conductor and the opening “Woodbird Welcome” to the closing “Cricket Lullaby,” the writer/composer uses poems made of three to eight rhyming couplets, each line with four strong beats, to introduce the animals who will be revealed in the final double gatefold as the players in an all-animal orchestra. Each poem also contains a lesson, reinforced by a short message (often on a banner or signpost). Thus, “When life trips them up a bit, / Cats just make the best of it” concludes the poem “Clumsy Kittens,” which is encapsulated by “Falling down is part of life. The best thing to do is get back on your feet!” The individual songs and poems may appeal to the intended audience, but collectively they don’t have enough variety to be read aloud straight through. Nor does the gathering of the orchestra provide a narrative arc. Batori’s cartoon illustrations are whimsically engaging, however. They include puzzles: hard-to-find letters that are said to form anagrams of instrument names and a bee who turns up somewhere in every scene.

Aims high but falls flat. (Complete composition not available for review.) (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12384-3

Page Count: 44

Publisher: Rodale Kids

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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