If the story is not dazzlingly original, it's at least an entry point to learn about one of the ways animals are...


In the story of a "Tortoise and the Hare"–like race by way of the Chinese zodiac, a friendship between a cunning mouse and a snack-obsessed kitten is tested.

Shu the mouse and Mimi the kitten are invited by Jade Emperor to a palace race promising "Cupcakes! PRIZES! Did I mention cupcakes?!" While Shu, a crafty, industrious planner, strategizes, Mimi daydreams of sweets. Soon, they're outwitting and outracing Dragon, Rabbit, Ox, and other fierce competitors. It only takes a moment of bad judgment, however, for Mimi to lose sight of her friendship with Shu and to not only lose the race, but her spot on the zodiac. Why do you think there's no Year of the Cat? Apart from its pourquoi-tale aspect, the book presents an opportunity for young readers to learn about the rewards of hard work as well as the merits of forgiveness as thoughtful Shu saves the last cupcake for his wayward kitten friend. Illustrations throughout are action-packed, with big, bright, expressive faces of animals in motion. The closing endpapers present all 12 Chinese zodiac animals, years (not the lunar ones, though), and personality traits ("Horse: You are outgoing and funny! Make sure to finish what you start! 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026").

If the story is not dazzlingly original, it's at least an entry point to learn about one of the ways animals are anthropomorphized in the histories of different cultures. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4814-2330-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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Hee haw.

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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 sweet reminder that it’s easy to weather a storm with the company and kindness of friends.


Is it a stormy-night scare or a bedtime book? Both!

Little Blue Truck and his good friend Toad are heading home when a storm lets loose. Before long, their familiar, now very nervous barnyard friends (Goat, Hen, Goose, Cow, Duck, and Pig) squeeze into the garage. Blue explains that “clouds bump and tumble in the sky, / but here inside we’re warm and dry, / and all the thirsty plants below / will get a drink to help them grow!” The friends begin to relax. “Duck said, loud as he could quack it, / ‘THUNDER’S JUST A NOISY RACKET!’ ” In the quiet after the storm, the barnyard friends are sleepy, but the garage is not their home. “ ‘Beep!’ said Blue. ‘Just hop inside. / All aboard for the bedtime ride!’ ” Young readers will settle down for their own bedtimes as Blue and Toad drop each friend at home and bid them a good night before returning to the garage and their own beds. “Blue gave one small sleepy ‘Beep.’ / Then Little Blue Truck fell fast asleep.” Joseph’s rich nighttime-blue illustrations (done “in the style of [series co-creator] Jill McElmurry”) highlight the power of the storm and capture the still serenity that follows. Little Blue Truck has been chugging along since 2008, but there seems to be plenty of gas left in the tank.

A sweet reminder that it’s easy to weather a storm with the company and kindness of friends. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-85213-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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