The befuddling imagery will appeal mostly to aspiring cubists.

PENPALS FOREVER

Here’s a little-known fact: Elephants and mice look exactly alike.

Annabel and Freddy are both gray, and they both have big ears and big noses, so they decide instantly to become pen pals even though—because mice are smaller than elephants—Freddy can stand comfortably inside the envelope from one of Annabel’s letters and Annabel must use a microscope to read Freddy’s. The artwork doesn’t entirely support the belief that they look identical. But none of the characters in this picture book looks like any real animal. Freddy, with his tall, stylized ears, is shaped like a pair of scissors. Another mouse has a bowl-shaped head and freckles, making it look rather like a colander. Distractingly, almost every corner of every page is crammed with detail, including many commercial products put to use as mouse furniture. The layout is so haphazard that readers may have no idea where to look. Fortunately, the story is simple enough that it sometimes resembles a fable, like a reverse “Town Mouse, Country Mouse”: Annabel and Freddy visit each other’s neighborhoods (in South Africa and the U.K., respectively) and make them better. Annabel, for example, uses her trunk to vacuum up a nasty gang of rodents and send them flying. The pictures are less traditional. Some characters appear to have both eyes on the same side of their face. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-16.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 87.6% of actual size.)

The befuddling imagery will appeal mostly to aspiring cubists. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-908714-71-8

Page Count: 44

Publisher: Cicada Books

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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A solid if message-driven conversation starter about the hard parts of learning.

THE MAGICAL YET

Children realize their dreams one step at a time in this story about growth mindset.

A child crashes and damages a new bicycle on a dark, rainy day. Attempting a wheelie, the novice cyclist falls onto the sidewalk, grimacing, and, having internalized this setback as failure, vows to never ride again but to “walk…forever.” Then the unnamed protagonist happens upon a glowing orb in the forest, a “thought rearranger-er”—a luminous pink fairy called the Magical Yet. This Yet reminds the child of past accomplishments and encourages perseverance. The second-person rhyming couplets remind readers that mistakes are part of learning and that with patience and effort, children can achieve. Readers see the protagonist learn to ride the bike before a flash-forward shows the child as a capable college graduate confidently designing a sleek new bike. This book shines with diversity: racial, ethnic, ability, and gender. The gender-indeterminate protagonist has light brown skin and exuberant curly locks; Amid the bustling secondary cast, one child uses a prosthesis, and another wears hijab. At no point in the text is the Yet defined as a metaphor for a growth mindset; adults reading with younger children will likely need to clarify this abstract lesson. The artwork is powerful and detailed—pay special attention to the endpapers that progress to show the Yet at work.

A solid if message-driven conversation starter about the hard parts of learning. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-368-02562-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion/LBYR

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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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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