THE TROUBLE WITH NORMAL

A squirrel realizes his lifelong dream of becoming a Secret Service agent in this picture book that is long on quirky concept and short on story. Narrated by the squirrel’s friend Doug, this bit of fluff details Finnigan the squirrel’s ambitions and his pursuit of his goal via an illustrated report of the goings-on at Doug’s apartment building, Normal Towers. The report, after official investigation, yields no arrests but does give Finnigan his ticket to Washington as an official Secret Service squirrel. The bright acrylic-and-collage illustrations are pleasingly busy and feature a variety of unusual perspectives, both of which suit a story that is all about observation. Harper (There Was a Bold Lady Who Wanted a Star, 2002, etc.) has a nice sense of squirrel psychology—Finnigan celebrates his new job by “rushing around the park digging up all his hidden nuts,” accompanied by a bird’s-eye view of the path that he takes, marked by a frenzied red dotted line—and a unquestionable sense of irony. Still, there is little plot to hang this joke on, and it is doubtful that many in the likely audience will have enough sense of what the Secret Service is to get it. More than a little squirrelly. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: March 24, 2003

ISBN: 0-618-15626-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

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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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Waiting for Godot imagined for the playground population’s sensibilities.

THE ROCK FROM THE SKY

If Samuel Beckett had written an early reader, it might look something like this one.

In the first of five chapters, Klassen places his now-familiar turtle and armadillo (wearing bowler hats) on a minimalist gray/green landscape with one flower and—on the facing page—one plant. Personalities are revealed through occasional, slow movement across the gutter together with color-coded dialogue that feels as if it is being invented in the moment, sans script. Turtle is inflexible, not wanting to relocate, even when Armadillo moves farther away after a bad feeling about the space. It is only when Snake (sporting a beret) appears near the mammal that Turtle joins them—just in time: A huge asteroid falls on the vacated spot. Readers have watched it coming, suspense effectively building as they turn the pages. In subsequent episodes, Armadillo attempts to be helpful; miscommunication abounds; and Turtle is stubborn, proud, and jealous of the unspeaking snake, now near the rock: “I see how it is. Just enough room for two.” Turtle playing the martyr: “Maybe I will never come back.” As daylight turns into a striking, rose-tinged sunset and then a starlit evening, a life-zapping extraterrestrial (created previously in Armadillo’s futuristic forest fantasy) stalks Turtle. At the last minute, a second asteroid annihilates the creature. Klassen’s animals react to their seemingly absurd—but never tragic—universe with characteristically subtle, humorous postures and eye maneuvers. The weirdness of it all exerts its own attractive force, drawing readers back to it to wonder and ponder.

Waiting for Godot imagined for the playground population’s sensibilities. (Early reader. 5-8)

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5362-1562-5

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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