A mix of fact and fiction, this is a lovely tribute to the muse of music. In the summer of 1893, the composer Anton Dvorák traveled with his family to Spillville, Iowa, a town settled by people from his homeland of Czechoslovakia. A bird called a Scarlet Tanager also made a journey to Spillville, and when the two met, beautiful music was made. Schaefer (Down in the Woods at Sleepytime, 2000, etc.) tells the story of Dvorák’s search for the elusive bird whose song had captured his imagination. He wandered the countryside, listening to the sounds of nature that inspired his music—sounds that ripple across the pages of the book. Meanwhile, the bird found a mate, built a nest, sang with its ladylove, and trilled messages to the other birds. Within days of his arrival, Dvorák filled a notebook, and his shirt cuffs, with musical notes—his American Quartet. And as the four musicians played the new piece of music, the Scarlet Tanager heard the sound of his own song, and stopped in the window to sing along for just a moment. Rosen’s (The Soul of Africa, 2000, etc.) oil paintings truly bring this story to life. Her bold brush strokes and bright colors are reminiscent of Van Gogh, and bring a warm feeling to the entire story. The author’s note fills in the details of Dvorák’s trip to Spillville. What a wonderful way to introduce children to the world of music, and to the inspiration that is all around them. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-81022-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

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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 lesson that never grows old, enacted with verve by two favorite friends


From the Elephant & Piggie series

Gerald the elephant learns a truth familiar to every preschooler—heck, every human: “Waiting is not easy!”

When Piggie cartwheels up to Gerald announcing that she has a surprise for him, Gerald is less than pleased to learn that the “surprise is a surprise.” Gerald pumps Piggie for information (it’s big, it’s pretty, and they can share it), but Piggie holds fast on this basic principle: Gerald will have to wait. Gerald lets out an almighty “GROAN!” Variations on this basic exchange occur throughout the day; Gerald pleads, Piggie insists they must wait; Gerald groans. As the day turns to twilight (signaled by the backgrounds that darken from mauve to gray to charcoal), Gerald gets grumpy. “WE HAVE WASTED THE WHOLE DAY!…And for WHAT!?” Piggie then gestures up to the Milky Way, which an awed Gerald acknowledges “was worth the wait.” Willems relies even more than usual on the slightest of changes in posture, layout and typography, as two waiting figures can’t help but be pretty static. At one point, Piggie assumes the lotus position, infuriating Gerald. Most amusingly, Gerald’s elephantine groans assume weighty physicality in spread-filling speech bubbles that knock Piggie to the ground. And the spectacular, photo-collaged images of the Milky Way that dwarf the two friends makes it clear that it was indeed worth the wait.

A lesson that never grows old, enacted with verve by two favorite friends . (Early reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4231-9957-1

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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